Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Green Lantern Trailer #2 Brings Up a Few Points

Here's the newest Green Lantern trailer, which showed at WonderCon this weekend in San Francisco. In my opinion, its a bit of a step up from the last trailer.

In the era of CGI or in the era of matte-FX, big FX movies have had an issue that's hard to overcome: how do you get a trailer out that shows off your movie when your FX aren't done?

Not to mention, what is the appropriate tone to take with your trailer well before the movie has only been shot, but the storytelling that goes on in editing hasn't been done?

I'll say this: the new trailer, whether you like it or not, is a lot closer to what I think of when I think of Green Lantern comics than what I saw in the first trailer. The first trailer felt more like "what would happen if Ryan Reynolds became a super hero?" than "Ryan Reynolds is playing Hal Jordan, who becomes a Green Lantern", going for half the length of the trailer before hinting at anything... interesting. And then was a montage of confusing imagery that wasn't going to mean much except to veteran Lantern fans, and even then... well, it just wasn't anything all that promising.

I'm still not sold on the movie, but at least someone stepped in to cut a trailer that was more "Epic Space Opera" than "Wacky Summer Comedy". And I can only hope the footage is there, along with the script, to bring the best parts of Green Lantern and its 50-year history in comics to the screen, and not let the usual issues with stars, wayward directors, producers with notes, etc... get in the way.

But, man, I don't even know that its worth it anymore to show trailers much more than two or so months before a film's release. I don't recall the last time I heard anything but comic fans and non-comic fans alike finding reasons that a superhero adaptation was going to be awful, and usually for pretty minor reasons. And, as someone who has talked a lot online for years about comics, movies and the place where they meet... I'm as guilty as the next guy.

But I'm not doing it anymore. The patterns are too obvious.

1) The first images of the costume are released, and even if its an exact replica of the comics, the internets light up, mocking the look. The one exception: Iron Man. But when movies or TV make alterations to make the superhero not look like a crazy person, people go crazy. Yes, I'd like to see a Batman more like the comics in the movies, but deep-down, I know that look basically boils down to the Adam West costume. And did you really think Wonder Woman was going to go live-action in 2011, and they weren't going to put pants on her? How many columns would have been written about a pantless WW had the producers gone that route?

Also, you cannot make an 8-foot CGI Hulk and not get "Shrek" comparisons, but... if you want a bulky 8-foot thing that's green, it really doesn't matter what design you go with. Two similarly sized green things are going to get comparisons. We get it.

2) The first trailer is going to have to cut out some key elements of what you, comic nerd, believe is super-important to explaining the character. The problem is - that's usually too much story for a trailer. Most first trailers are there to give you impressions: who is in the movie, is it a superhero movie, is it funny, etc... And, as I mentioned before, if the movie isn't all practical effects, its going to be pretty short on better CGI. It just might not be ready yet.

3) Some really bad movies have awesome trailers. But cool looking scenes don't really indicate a decent movie. I'm the first to say: Sucker Punch had a really slick trailer. Tron Legacy? GREAT trailer and teaser trailer. People get paid a lot of money to make random footage thrown at them look like a good way to spend an evening and $20. These days I wait to see how things are going at and word of mouth.

4) Every idea for a movie sounds stupid or brilliant, especially superhero-type stuff, depending on who is telling you about it. Superhero comics have taught me one thing: there are no bad ideas, only bad execution. So, do not trust snarky online movie-people, and doubly do not trust snarky people in magazines. Today it seems obvious that all the world will love an X-Man, but before Singer's version of X-Men came out? Man, the press was not sure what to do with this whole "X-Men" idea. I think the press has finally realized - people like Singer didn't bring new ideas to X-Men, those ideas were already there. They just understood enough about the idea behind the comics that they could make that idea work.

Guys who dress up as spiders and bats and refuse to use guns while taking on armed criminals is a stupid idea. Except when it isn't.

5) That thing you love about your favorite superhero? Or even that one detail you think is crucial? It may not be in the movie at all. That does not mean, super-fanboy, that the movies is going to be awful.

Anyway, these days I'm trying to give superhero movies a lot more breathing room before I start getting cranked up enough to complain too much. I still remember a world before Sam Raimi got an enormous budget and made a lovely ode to 60's and 70's-era Spider-Man comics into a movie. I saw The Phantom, The Shadow, 1990's Captain America, 1970's Captain America, some TV movie Spider-Man, Batman and Robin, TV-era Hulk (its really pretty bad), 1990's TV The Flash... and many of these I like or own on DVD. But we're spoiled in 2011, forgetting that the idea of spending a ton of money on a Green Lantern movie back in the day would have been unthinkable, let alone recreating a recognizable Oa and its occupants.

That doesn't mean every superhero movie coming out these days is good or worth seeing (I can name two Fantastic Four movies you can do without watching), but... these days I think its a wait-and-see game. Don't judge a movie by the first trailer or your initial reaction to a costume if it doesn't match the, frankly, impossible designs created for 2-d drawings of ridiculously proportioned men and women.

Give it a shot, be patient, and wait for the reviews and definitely wait for at least the second trailer.

Media Consumed While Travelling to and from London

On the way to London, mostly I slept.  But during the trip

I read:

The Score, by Richard Stark.  #5 in the series.  I really liked this one, and, boy do these books read fast.
Jonah Hex: Face Full of Violence - by Palmiotti and Gray (and others)
.5 of Jonah Hex: Guns of Vengeance - by Palmiotti and Gray (and others) I left this somewhere in the flat in Kensington.  Now I will have to fin another copy somewhere used or very cheap.
The first 175 pages of American Gods by Neil Gaiman.  If you start reading this and think "well, gee, this is a lot like Anansi Boys..."  keep reading.

I watched:

Space Battleship Yamoto - live action version.  It... wasn't very good. 
Jonah Hex - it also wasn't very good
3/4's of Black Swan - its good, but for a movie with so much hype, man, its about as subtle as a slap to the face.  I didn't turn it off out of disgust, btw.  The plane was landing.
Beverly Hills Cops - for some reason we all came back to the flat and stayed up late watching this on Sky.  No idea why.

Well, I am Back (from England)

Jason and I stepped off the plane and returned to Austin about 7:45 local time last night.  It was a great trip, and your humble blogger is pleased to say the time spent in London was both educational and entertaining.  I haven't done much in the way of international travel, and I am sure many would say that London is barely international, and that, of course, is practically true.  The locals speak more English per capita than the locals in my own town, and its not like you're having to go by horseback or otter-car to get places in London.

For a collection of photos, please feel free to click here.

I do plan to upload more pics.  However, my camera died halfway through the trip, and I need to download the rest from my iPhone.

We had the good fortune of staying at a flat in Kensington, which seemed to be a fairly well-to-do part of London.  Having had never been to London, I didn't really have any expectations, but found it easy enough to navigate and appreciated the local insistence on telling you which direction to look for oncoming traffic at each intersection.

Inside the city, we either walked or took the tube, with one quick trip on a river boat.

To get it out of the way, here is a brief itinerary:

7:00 AM arrived
Slept briefly
Science Museum
Natural History Museum
Princess Victoria Pub
Dinner at an Italian Place
Princess Victoria Pub

British Museum
Forbidden Planet Cult Entertainment Superstore
Dinner on High Kensington (I had fish cakes)
Ran into crowd of Indian nationals celebrating India's win in the Cricket World Cup Championship at Piccadilly Circus
Saw the comedy "The 39 Steps" at the Criterion Theatre in Piccadilly Circus
wandered around Piccadilly, etc...

Thames, Parliament, Westminster, Eye of London exteriors
City Cruise
Tower of London with Yeoman Warder Tour
Trafalgar Square
Salisbury Pub

Westminster Abbey tour
Churchill War Museum tour
National Gallery and Jason's strategic strike on important paintings (funniest bit of whole trip - mad dash to see 5 specific paintings before the museum closed)
Garfunkel's - the Bennigan's of England

Get on a plane at 9:30 AM

Some observations:

  • London has the finest public restrooms I have ever seen
  • Virtually every exhibit in London should be subtitled "Get Rich or Die Tryin'"
  • I would guess maybe 50% of the people in London are actually English by ancestry
  • the curators at the British Museum are very against you seeing a carving of a man's dick.  The ancients are very about including dicks in their statues.  This causes a sort of queasy feeling in the Greek/ Roman section of the museum where the curator never met a dick he was not going to knock clean off a statue.
  • I have never been anywhere short of a library conference where I was certain I could take everyone around me.  I did not see anyone I wasn't sure I could take anywhere in London.
  • Big Ben is more impressive than you think its going to be
  • Every place you think you're going to visit in London as a perfunctory visit is way better than you think it will be
  • The wedding of Prince William and Kate is going to be a total riot if the number of collector's plates, flags and mugs displayed in windows is any indication
  • Piccadilly Circus is remarkably short on trained elephants
  • US Public Spaces got nothing on London
  • Judging by the ratio of pub to "American Italian" places...  Londoners apparently love pizza
  • The British comic market is virtually identical to the American comic market (and Austin Books is a World Class comic shop if Forbidden Planet is any indication)
  • Nobody working in the service industry has been in their job longer than a month, and many are not clear on what street they are working
  • Apparently there is a dress code in force for 20-somethings in the parts of London I visited.  Only 3 looks per gender are approved.
  • I dress, look and act very much like an American.  Indian ex-pats will find this amusing.
  • British police see no problem with their visitors and locals climbing all over public statues (in Texas, this will get you in trouble).
  • Henry VIII had issues.
  • The London Eye is kind of ridiculous.
  • When architecture is from every era, it kind of works crammed altogether, but I wouldn't want to draw a cityscape of London.
  • You do not need to put on the "replica hat" at the Churchill Museum just because the docent suggests you do so.
  • You should do whatever the docent tells you to do at Westminster Abbey.
  • Newton and Darwin are buried at Westminster.  The UK is playing by different rules.  I'm just saying.
  • Also buried there: Dickens, Handel and others.  We can learn from this.
  • Public transportation is what you make of it, America.
  • The number of products the US and UK have in common is shocking.  
  • My dad, left to his own devices, will watch the same kind of "true life crime" shows on basic cable that I tend to watch when unemployed.
  • The only major disagreement you will see the Steans Men have while travelling is over which beer is appropriate for this particular moment (the answer is: always start with Stella)

I'm not the first American to get bowled over by London, but in some small way I am glad that I didn't wind up there until I had a bit more life and travel under my belt than I might have had when I was, say, 18.  Through reading, movies, documentary TV, etc...  I have an extremely rudimentary working knowledge of British history today that I didn't have at all until the end of college, and so I suspect that much of what I saw would have been wasted on me then.

It strikes me that we in the vast, vast majority of the geography of the US do not have memorials to those who died more than 200 years ago, and the further west one travels in the US, the briefer our sense of history as much more than an abstraction of something left behind somewhere else.  A lack of living history, of being surrounded by those who've gone before (some winning, many not winning) may be what gives us an inflated sense of destiny, like a teenager who sees only a future as a rock star ahead of them when they pick up their first guitar and who can't be bothered to learn more than the chords of their current favorite songs.

And as hard fought as democracy has been here in the US, it was also the first step we took as a nation.  Everything prior to the French-Indian Wars is buried in a sort of promordial soup of witch-hunts and Indian killing that we'd rather not discuss.  In England, this period is just short of current events.  You can see the change from one-thousand years of feudal clashes to the rise of democracy in the stones and monuments, and there's something to that, I think.  We're a blip on the continuum, it seems to say, and what we do while we're here is important, but it will also pass, and those who are remembered are remembered as either good or terrible souls, and history will look back on you with an audio tour that will speak frankly about your deeds as people walk on your grave.

Anyhow, I'm not telling anyone anything they don't know, especially those of you who've been to London.

It was good to go, its good to be back.  I will definitely return for a longer tour of England at some point, and I'd like to see all of the UK at some point.  But I should likely see more of the US, too.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

An Idiot Abroad

yes, yes... I know that's Paris, but look what he left behind across The Channel
This site will go dark for a few days while I head off to London in the company of The Admiral and Steanso.

My understanding of London comes mostly from movies and TV.  At that, it comes mostly from sci-fi, Bond and other genre movies and TV, so while I am prepared for a Dalek invasion or hitting on Miss Moneypenny, I am less ready for, say, finding a public restroom or a solid cup of coffee.

Just a couple dudes in England.  What could go wrong?
For some reason I had processed I was going on a trip, but not really the destination of the trip until last weekend.  London, unlike Austin, is an absolutely ancient city by American standards, and especially by Texas standards.  London was old and lived in before Columbus landed in the West Indies, and Austin was more or less a seasonal camping ground for Native Americans until the 1820's.  So I'm looking forward to my first trip to see streets trod upon by my fellow humanity for countless ages.

Today, of course, London is an extremely cosmopolitan sort of berg, so I don;t exactly expect quaint old British customs, nor for my Jane Austen fantasies to come true.  I expect Starbucks and BP gas stations.  And Justin Bieber (a star whose talent knows no boundaries).

We hope to partake in fine dining with charming locals
It occurs to me that all sorts of things could happen to me while I'm overseas.  Pirates.  Squid attack.  Hurled into The Land of the Lost.  So wish me, Steanso and The Admiral lots of luck as we embark on this whirlwind adventure.

Wish us luck.

Slight Policy Change: Superman titles

I am going to start reviewing Superman and Action Comics here on a regular basis and in a semi-timely fashion.  I may also begin reviewing Superboy and Supergirl.

For those of you who do not care for or about these comics, I hope you'll keep coming by for whatever it was you were getting out of this site before this minor change.  As a site that is ostensibly largely focused on Superman media, I'd like to try to get a little more coverage of the actual comic books.  We'll alert you if we also pick up any additional Super-titles for review.

I am not likely to talk about other series at this time, including Legion titles or JLA.

Signal Watch Reads: Jimmy Olsen One-Shot #1

A long while back, DC announced that Action Comics would go to $3.99 per issue, adding 8 pages to the page count which would be a Jimmy Olsen backup. Your humble blogger was, of course, thrilled.

You may have noticed from the image above up there in the banner, we're Olsen fans at this site from way back. And if you know the slightest bit of Super-trivia, the name of this site should alert you to our commitment to Olsen-Mania.

I theorize that one cannot achieve Olsen fandom until one has passed through a few phases of comic fandom, including "comics are not as dumb as I thought", "superheroes are tortured souls and the only good ones are grim'n'gritty", "comics are literature", "hey, this old school superhero stuff is really pretty neat" and then one winds up at "oh, my God. You have to read this story where Jimmy Olsen is woo'd by a vindictive alien princess. These guys were geniuses or crazy.  Ha ha ha.  Sweetie?  Where did you go?"

Now, I came to appreciate Olsen a while back, and I confess that I have spent some time and money building a collection of Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen comics that will make sense to few mortals. I have asked Jamie to include them in the Viking Funeral Pyre that I intend to have on the banks of Lady Bird Lake here in Austin when the pirates finally get me.

However, late last year, DC called an audible and reduced the price of all their mainline comics to $2.99 and reduced page counts.  Action Comics was as mainline as one was likely to find at DC, and suddenly, mid-story, the Jimmy Olsen story got shelved.  Briefly.

Writer Nick Spencer already had his script done, and while I'm not clear why it took this long to collect the existing chapters and add the complete rest of the story, this week the comic turned up at my local comic shop.  And its really good stuff.

Jimmy Olsen One Shot, 2011
Semi-harmless alien invasions, 5th-Dimensional Pixies, diabolical plots, Jimmy getting promoted from Pal to a loftier role, the return of the Daily Planet Flying Newsroom...  In just a few pages, the thing covers a lot of new territory while making call-backs to the sort of bizarre adventures Jimmy had in his own title from the 1950's to the early 70's.  In short, we here at The Signal Watch recommend this comic, and give it our official stamp of approval.

The comic hits at a curious time.  I'd not say that the "grim'n'gritty" era of comics is over.  That sort of thing sells well, and I enjoy it in a good number of titles I read.  But it does seem like superhero comic fans are beginning to make room for the weird/ zany side of comics which was considered verboten during the post DKR years and, frankly, right up until the past three years or so.  I can understand that comic fans wishing to identify their reading material as "for adults" could see anything whimsical or silly as "for kids" and therefore suspect.  Superman having a dog, for instance, still gets a good number of comic fans fairly roiled (fans who would never pick up a Superman comic because of all the ideas they have about Superman as "bad for comics").

But with the victory securely had, and the ability to put as much violence, crime and werewolves or whatever else used to upset the Comics Code Authority into the most mainstream of comics, its okay to also look at what made comics fun before the audience self-selected itself down to 15-30 year old males in search of power fantasies (something I didn't used to subscribe to, but these days...).  Certainly an aging readership that has seen the limits of grim'n'gritty is going to welcome both faux-nostalgia for comics they couldn't have been there to read the first time (that's me) and for modern interpretations of what made the old stuff work, rather than writers deciding to "update" or "get X character retro-fitted for Insert Current Year Here".  Ie - go back to the well on some of that old stuff that sold like gangbusters once upon a time.

Its been interesting to see online reaction to the comic as generally very good.  And the 20-something female clerk at Austin Books was more excited to see I was buying Jimmy Olsen than that I was also buying Godzilla comics on Godzilla Day.  It didn't seem like she'd read any old-school Olsen, so here's to hoping we get another Olsen-Acolyte.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Some Super Clips and a Plan for 2012

This year, Cartoon Network is debuting a new Bugs & Daffy cartoon.  I think the pacing and characterization is a little off, but its early days.  They'll sort it out.

Anyhow, this is kind of cute:

This summer the UK is getting a Superman movie anthology on Blu-Ray. Its expected a US release date is coming. The anthology sounds like it includes theatrical cuts AND Donner's cuts of Superman and Superman II. And, really, having Superman IV in Blu-Ray just seals the hell out of this deal for me.

I am going to need this as I have already sworn to a Super-Marathon of all theatrical releases (yes, in one sitting) prior to the release of Snyder's version of Superman. I will likely be checking Jamie into a hotel during the Kirk Alyn serials and Superman and the Mole Men portion of the marathon.

Oh yes, we're doing it ALL, people.

Wonder Woman pics show updated costume, running WW

Apparently the producers of the Wonder Woman TV show are looking at the internets and have made adjustments to the TV costume for Wonder Woman. Video and pictures started making the rounds about 12:00 Central time last night with pics from the set. Whether planted or not, it does show that the blue boots are gone and the pants are now less shiny, resolving two major costume complaints when pics of the costume hit the net just a week or so ago.

Fortunately, for professionals, the internet is always there with suggestions.

As WB will want to get fans behind the show (and not give them any reason to complain before it airs), perhaps the studio heads asked for the changes after doing a spot of Googling?

Palicki looks pretty good, I think. 

Those pants are pretty awesome

And Bleeding Cool is carrying a whole bunch more pics.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Noir Watch - Force of Evil

Before Force of Evil, I'd not had the pleasure of seeing John Garfield in a movie before. Garfield passed back around 1952, and didn't join the field of actors for whom a premature passing ends up placing them in a romantic pantheon of stars who were taken too soon (Bogart, Monroe, etc...).  I have to say, I thought Garfield was very good.  One wonders what else he might have done.

This is my first viewing, but Force of Evil is an interesting movie in several respects, in that its a very well shot movie, using (I believe) New York as a backdrop, and a mix of sets and on-location shots in the streets.  The plot is a bit complicated, relying on what I assume was semi-common knowledge regarding numbers rackets back in the day, gangsters seeking semi-legitimacy through "combinations", and a refusal to let any particular character appear as the white knight of the film. 

When they do my biopic, I hope the actor playing me gets portrayed as a disembodied head staring out from the poster
Its rare you see a movie from this era in which everyone involved is playing fast and loose with law and order, even the attractive young love interest of our male lead (the lovely Beatrice Pearson, who only made a very few films before returning to the stage). 

The movie contains a few scenes that were frankly a bit revelatory, including a scene in a diner which just worked liked gangbusters (including the score).  While the characters motivations don't all exactly click, and it seems the script could have been tightened a bit, I have to give credit to George Barnes, the movie's cinematographer and David Raksin, who scored the film.

Aside from John Garfield, the cast seemed like they were actually quite good, but I also think that this film must have been well above a "B Picture" in budget.  The aforementioned Ms. Pearson turns in a good job, but several actors in smaller roles took their parts to heart, especially Thomas Gomez as Leo Morse. 

And, even Jamie looked up from her computer and exclaimed "Oh, man!  What isn't she in?" when Marie Windsor vamped her way onto the screen.*

The movie is black and white, but Windsor spells trouble in any color scheme
Likely your mileage will vary on this one, but I actually enjoyed it quite a bit.  While it took me a bit to get how the numbers rackets worked in the movie (actually very important to the plot), I did catch on, and I liked how all of the characters became slowly and almost unwittingly embroiled in deeper plots than anything they'd set out to do.  Very clever stuff.

*I actually had no idea Windsor was in this one until the credits rolled at the opening

Tomorrow: Godzilla Smashes Down on Your Local Comic Shop! (Austin Books is DOOMED)

I know for a fact that we have a whole bunch of Godzilla fans here at The Signal Watch.  So, first things first...  Tomorrow, IDW premiers a new Godzilla series which should be arriving at your local comic book store.  Its called Godzilla:  Kingdom of Monsters, and you should accept no substitute.

So, go to your local shop and pick it up!  If your local shop joined in the promo, they may have a cover featuring Godzilla stomping down on the roof of your shop.  Here in Austin, I know that we've got Godzilla stomping down on my shop, Austin Books and Comics, and artist Matt Frank will be in store to sign copies.

And the hairdresser next door went unscathed

The local CBS affiliate did a neat story on the release of the issue, inviting the artist in and ABC's own Brandon Z (who is a bit of a Godzilla aficionado).  Watch the story here.

I have seen some of the Godzilla-related merchandise Brandon has added to the store, and, man, it is going to be a good day to be a Godzilla fan in Austin.

Of course the the wake of Japan's recent disasters, IDW has struggled with whether or not to go ahead with the comic, and ultimately chose to keep with the printing schedule. 

Godzilla heads cross-country to get to his LCS to buy the comic with him in it
I may hate disasters in real life, but I love me some Godzilla in, uh...  well, what I really hope is a parallel universe where Monster Island really exists.

Oh, hell... here's a Godzilla trailer