Saturday, August 28, 2010

FUTURAMA Nails It, or, Leela Kicks Ass

Just heard on the lastest new episode of Futurama:

Fry: What you want to hear is that I fixed my comic book! Now the hero is more relatable because he has no ridiculous powers."

Lrrr: "Let's watch."

(In Fry's comic:)

Monster: "One more step and Little-Ms.-Constructive-Criticism here gets it!"

Fry "Oh yeah? I may be just a simple delivery boy with no superpowers, so there's nothing I can do."

Monster: "Ok!" (Vaporizes Leela, hero cries.)

Fry: "So? Give me your honest praise..."

Leela: "I've now seen two comic books, so listen to me. Why should I care about the hero when all he does is cry?"

(Fry cries.)

-Futurama' Season 6 Episode 12 'Lrrreconcilable Ndndifferences'

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

UNDER THE RED HOOD, or Jason Todd's answer to KICK-ASS

I just recently saw Batman: Under The Red Hood.* I went in with pretty high hopes and wasn't really disappointed; by and large, it's a solid piece of work. The voice cast is great, and even though I have some complaints best left unsaid, I still think Neil Patrick Harris did a good job with Nightwing, (but I just wish the context was different.) He's used very infrequently and could be cut completely with limited effect on the plot. John DiMaggio plays a very interesting Joker, who I'd say is one-half Mark Hamill-animated Joker and one-half Heath Ledger-Dark Knight Joker. His voice is a little lower and gruffer than I expect the Joker to be, but his philosophical dilemmas seem almost straight out of The Dark Knight. Bruce Greenwood plays a good tortured and brooding Batman, who is given much to brood over. Wade Williams plays a darkly hilarious Black Mask, a deformed criminal overboss who makes you forget how brutal he can actually be by delivering a wisecrack with each act of violence, though not in the same sense as a character like the Joker or Freddy Kreuger. Jensen Ackles of both Supernatural and Smallville fame rounds out the cast as the titular Red Hood/Jason Todd.

This story is very continuity heavy, but pulls it off well. You can watch this with no prior knowledge of the history of Batman and Robin and still follow along very easily. Conversely, you'll spot even more nods to important stories if you are familiar. In fact, continuity plays such a big part in this film that I'm likely going to do a second review
just on the continuity issues within this story. By that, I mean issues as in things mentioned, as opposed to problems or headaches.

The main storyline is the one with the greatest philosophical significance. A new crime boss comes into town. His approach is setting the rules by which criminals are to act, to serve as their protection if they stay loyal, and kill anyone who gets in his way. His initial goal is to undercut the authority of the standing crime boss, The Black Mask, who is the first to ever unite all the gangs of Gotham under one umbrella.

Batman crosses paths with the new crime boss,
conveniently, after having run into Nightwing and going out for a team-up. Seconds after giving up the first information about the Red Hood, three of his men are killed by the man himself. What follows is the first of a handful of chases, by which Batman and Nightwing notice the amazing set of physical skills the Red Hood employs racing across rooftops, a skill set which should look very familiar if you're watching the other end of the chase. After a short period of investigation, it's made clear that the crime boss/vigilante being called the Red Hood is the former and presumed-dead Robin, Jason Todd.

In the middle of all this is the Joker. The Red Hood was the identity he took on in his first criminal job, the one which lead to his disfigurement (and subsequent insanity) at the hands of Batman via a vat of chemicals. With this in mind, he is a major person of interest throughout the story to all involved. Also, he is the person who killed Jason Todd all those years ago. During one of his stays at Arkham Asylum at the beginning of the story, Batman and Nightwing go to interrogate him to see if he knows about why anyone would be taking his old identity. His only response is to bait the Batman about all the crimes he's committed, most notably the murder of Robin. When Batman falls for it and strikes out, attacking the Joker, he responds with "Are you going to do it this time, or just put me in another full body cast for six months?" Hearing that makes Batman relent, though he does seem close to killing him before that happens.

After this, a second encounter happens with the Red Hood, far more directly this time, kind of a repeat of the first that ends in a subway station. Nightwing gets injured, so Batman has to tend to him. With this distraction, the Red Hood decides to make a very Batman-like exit using the noise of a passing train. He gives Batman a parting comment as he goes, however. It's not audible at the time, so Batman has to use his computer to eliminate the sound of the passing train, but the Red Hood's parting comment is "You haven't lost your touch,
Bruce." The middle portion of the movie is Batman testing and ultimately confirming the theory that the Red Hood is Jason.

The rest of the movie is the escalating war between Black Mask and Red Hood, and how Bruce and Jason react to all the cards being on the table. In his first major counter-strike, the Black Mask sends a group of armored mercenaries after the Red Hood. When this happens, Batman arrives on the scene, and most of the fight comes off as a heartfelt reunion and reliving good times. That is of course until Jason kills one of the mercenaries and tells Bruce that "[He] should be happy I only killed one of them." Frustrated, the Black Mask makes the proverbial deal with the devil, and breaks the Joker out of Arkham.

The Joker immediately turns the whole thing around on Black Mask by subduing all of Black Mask's men as well as the Red Hood's men, threatening to burn all of them alive if the Red Hood doesn't show himself. When the Red Hood finally does show himself, he tells the Joker to go ahead and do it because everything he did was for a chance to get the Joker alone with him.

The Red Hood takes the Joker to an abandoned building as a means of drawing Batman in. Here, we find the best philosophical discussions in the movie. Now, I have to preface this by making it clear that both of the primary characters arguments could easily be demolished if The Question happened to walk in. I'm going to go as far as to say that possibly even the Renee Montoya version could accomplish this, provided she took her lessons well. But, for the sake of this argument, Jason Todd/Red Hood is a pure pragmatist, and Bruce Wayne/Batman is a dogmatist.

Earlier in the film ,Red Hood draws Batman into the chemical plant where the original Red Hood became the Joker. Red Hood ominously calls this Batman's first and biggest failure. This is important because Batman considers Jason's death (and he did die, but explaining it is a bit too complicated for the moment) his greatest failure. Jason follows up on this comment once Bruce arrives by saying that he knows Bruce considers that his biggest failure, but that he's forgiven him for it long ago. What Jason has not forgiven him for is the fact that
the Joker is still alive.

Jason has regularly stated by this point that, as the Red Hood, he was a better Batman than the real one. Batman is trying to stop crime, the Red Hood simply tries to control it by taking over. Batman thinks taking a life is never justified, but the Red Hood doesn't bat a eyelash at the thought of taking a life. The Red Hood's mentality is that since the villains are the only ones allowed to be truly efficacious, it stands to reason that in order to combat them you must first become the worst among them.

Batman gives a somewhat satisfying answer in that he wants to kill the Joker, but that's a line that once crossed he could never come back from. It's pretty standard, but heartfelt. In the last moments of the story, Jason holds one gun to the Joker's head and hands a second gun to Bruce, stating that the only way he'll be stopped from shooting the Joker is if Bruce kills him. In a powerful moment, especially from an Objectivist viewpoint, Bruce simply puts the gun down and walks away. He isn't going to be a pawn in a game like this and isn't going to allow himself to accept unearned guilt from either death. This leads to an action climax and Bruce being left with a lot to think about, and a number of regrets.

*My co-workers are so awesome for loaning me stuff.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Who Needs CGI When There's...PREMAKES!

These are too freakin' cool. I discovered these on the Comic Book Resources site: "Premakes":

Ivan Guerrero has caught a lot of attention on YouTube for his "premakes" series, where he makes 1950s-style trailers for various movies. Following up on trailers for Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Ghostbusters, his latest one is for the Avengers. And apparently even Stan Lee has watched the video.
What I found interesting is how the soundtrack made a difference; the retro-version of The Empire Strikes Back certainly benefitted from the John Williams score. (Of course, the idea was to harken back to the old-styled Korngold scores of the Golden Age...). When I consider how much impact it had on the original Star Wars film (early trailers of it did not contain the store, and it is a lesser experience for it), I'd hope that filmmakers today would realize that a great score is just as important as the CGI (looking at you, Clash of the Titans remake...).

Overall, these come off as more heroic than some of the more recent CGI spectacles...hmmm...Way to go, Ivan.







Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Steve Slater, Hero?

Really?


"Move over, Sully Sullenberger, there's a new folk hero in the skies. OK, maybe not a universally acclaimed hero. And not a 'hero' in the sense of, like, saving lives, or stopping a terrorist, or really doing anything traditionally considered 'heroic.' Still, Steven Slater—the JetBlue flight attendant who reportedly had an altercation with a passenger who injured him in the head, cursed her out over the PA, then deplaned, with a beer, via the emergency slide—is the talk of the country today."

Or, from PEOPLE.com: Is JetBlue Flight Attendant Steven Slater A Hero of Felon? And so on...

Again, a real-life demonstration of why this blog is called Superhero Babylon; the language of different values make's one man's hero another man's disgruntled employee. His story is nothing new, of course; Johnny Paycheck already cashed in on this theme years ago with "Take This Job and Shove It." His story is interesting because of the unusual exit strategy, but the theme is as old as employment itself. Is he really a hero, though? Well, let's think about it; what's a hero? A "defender" or "protecter." Who was Slater defending?

Well, the "pro" side would say: First and foremost, himself, by standing up to a rude passenger. What about the airline? He was enforcing the airline's rules as part of his job; whether or not he did it well is another matter (though I'd be pissed to if I were hit in the head because of a passenger's defiance...) Then there's the case that he was, implicitly or explicitly, standing up for the "working man," the "serving class," if you will. That's where the "folk hero" aspect comes in.

The naysayers might say that the "folk hero" label can be a double-edge sword; think Jesse James, Bonnie and Clyde, The Legend of Billy Jean, where the "hero" label is attached to actions where heroism was not the intent. (And remember that episode of The Brady Bunch where Bobby had nightmares about his hero, Jesse James, killing his family?). Ok, Slater is no Jesse James, but I think you get the point...He might be more reasonably compared to someone like Howard Stern, the kind of person who gets away with "saying what everyone else would like to say." There's a fine line between being heroic and simply being pissed off...and why, if this was building over a long time, didn't Slater take a more practical approach, in the long run, by changing jobs or finding something less demeaning? Or, if the "pro-hero" side objects to his being forced out by rude customers, why didn't he work to change the landscape internally?

Having been on both sides of this kind of situation, I can see valid points on both sides; nothing trumps personal responsibility, but close quarters create pressure-cookers as well...Hero? Villain? What do you think?

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Superhero Babylon: The (quick) Heather Langenkamp interview


A condition of the interview (and the potential legal ramifications of posting it) was that I would only be allowed a verbatim text recap of it. Which is more or less what this is. (I edited out the "Ums," etc...). I appreciate the fact that Mrs. Langenkamp took the time to answer the questions of the co-owner of a blog with 10 subscribers and was so kind and gracious with a first time interviewer (well, second, counting the other one I did that day, but that's another story).

I will, however, mention a couple things which I didn't get time to ask her about. What can be called the definitive documentary on the
Nightmare on Elm Street series was released this year entitled
Never Sleep Again, with Mrs. Langenkamp both hosting and being interviewed. Also, Mrs. Langenkamp has a documentary of her own coming out soon, entitled I Am Nancy. Without further ado, onto the interview.

Heather Langenkamp: I’ve got you on the clock here.

Superhero Babylon: Is there anything you were drawing on the first time around to fill out the character of Nancy, inspiration-wise?

HL: I think my first inspiration was probably someone like my grandmother, who was, I thought...was a really strong woman and was very inspirational. And then I loved, believe it or not, I loved nature movies when I was little, where someone was in the woods and they would have to survive, like Grizzly Adams, like those kinds of movies. And in a lot of ways, if anything, Nancy is like a girl Grizzly Adams, the way she has to survive in this really hostile environment.

SB: I’d definitely agree with that. What do you think makes the "final girl" so strong within the Nightmare series itself? Because it’s stronger there than it is anywhere else.

HL: I believe that Wes Craven [Nightmare on Elm Street creator] just wanted to have a strong girl figure, as the lead in this movie. And he had a daughter of his own, and knew that there were a lack of positive role models at that time. So, those two things and he just hired a girl like me who was really interested in portraying a strong person like that.

SB: When I saw the recent documentary Never Sleep Again, I remember that you specifically mentioned that you kept your pajamas from Nightmare 1.

HL: Yes.

SB: Was it a conscious decision on your part to create to create your own iconography, like the same way Freddy has the sweater, the hat, and the glove?

HL: I knew that those were going to be important, you know, parts of my own personal history. So I think when I had the opportunity to keep them, I just stowed them away. But, at the time, I did not know that this movie was going to be a success. I mean, I don’t even know, I think it was just more of a sentimental gesture. I just asked the wardrobe lady “Do you mind if I take these home?” and she didn’t think it would be important because they would NEVER let me take them today. None of us had any idea that something like her pajamas would be important.

SB: Ok, Your character had three very distinct permutations over the three different movies. You had scared little girl Nancy, surviving elder Professor X Nancy, and then Heather Langenkamp. Do you have a favorite out of those three versions and are there any things you like better or worse about any of them? Because they’re very different.

HL: Well to have the opportunity in a movie to play those three phases of life, where you’re growing into an adult, becoming a woman and then having a child is so rare, just to me the opportunity to do that is so fantastic. Because she’s most like me, I probably like the “Heather Langenkamp” Nancy the best, but I have the fondest nostalgia for the young girl Nancy.

SB: Thank you so much for your time.

HL: Oh you guys are so sweet.

Friday, August 6, 2010

On Meeting My "Cyrus"

Most people who know about Ayn Rand have heard the story of Cyrus. He was the lead character in a pulp magazine she read as a child which later became the model from which she would later mold all of her heroes. Because of the theme of this blog in particular, we’ve had a number of discussions of how this relates to us personally. We always ask each other “who was your Cyrus?”

Well, last weekend, I met mine. I’ve
spent a lot of time writing about an amazing character she helped create through through her portrayal of her. Seeing this character for the first time changed the whole way I thought about heroes, and heroines, specifically. The movie was A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: the Dream Master, and the character was Alice Johnson, the eponymous "Dream Master."

It had a major impact on me at the time I saw it. I was about 11 or 12 and watching my first Nightmare on Elm Street movie. It was on network television so it was pretty heavily edited. I found it very fascinating; the dream element was an interesting angle, and, in all honesty, I was already well aware of Freddy Kreuger, who at the time was one of the biggest “horror heroes” in a new subgenre of "slasher" film that had developed in this time frame.

But back then, and even more so now, what caught my eye was Alice Johnson. She seems like a fairly minor character at first (as is often the case in slasher films), very mousy, too shy to let her crush know that she likes him, suffering silently the abuses of an alcoholic father. But, over the course of the film, she slowly develops into a genuine heroine whose crowning moment is when she does the unthinkable in a Nightmare film.

There are always subplots in Nightmare movies about the lengths to which people go to avoid sleep: caffine pills, coffee, cola, loud music, etc. But Alice? After all her friends have been killed and the only one left is the boy she had a crush on who is now at Freddy’s mercy, what does she do? She races home, she suits up for a fight, does some other really cool things, and takes SLEEPING PILLS! She is so tough and so brave that she intentionally takes sleeping pills in a Nightmare on Elm Street movie. This leads to her fighting Freddy on his terms, in his world, and winning.

She would go on to star in one more movie, which dealt with themes of entering adulthood and taking the responsibility that implies. Between the two films where she’s entered a relationship with her crush, Freddy finally gets him, but not before the boyfriend leaves her a gift.

There’s an idea that the "final girl" of horror movies has to be very chaste, drug free, and virginal, but, in this story, Alice gets pregnant. She keeps the baby and defeats Freddy one more time.

This story and this character just resonated with me, then and now. I went through a phase early after discovering Objectivism where I tried denying my love of horror at its best. In the long run I realized that this is a very personal decision, and the gyst of Ayn Rand’s dismissal of horror ultimately amounts to “Horror is vile, repugnant, anti-mind, and anti-life, except when it isn’t.” And just because I want to write characters like Francisco D’Anconia doesn’t mean that now I don’t want to write characters like Alice Johnson.

All that being said, I had the opportunity to meet Miss Wilcox last weekend. There’s an inherent problem when you’re a fan of genre fiction, especially films, that your heroes will often disappoint you, simply because they don’t place as much importance on certain aspects of their work that you do. I don’t necessarily think that it’s something you can blame on the performer, but it doesn’t make your heart sink any less when it does happen. But at the same time, it’s all the more impressive and fulfilling when, even if they don’t share your level of enthusiasm, they understand it, they respect it, and they appreciate it. When they can see through the jitters, and the gushing, and the trivia you recite, and understand that there is a meaning behind all. “Your work means something very special to me. Something sacred, something that defines a big part of who I am. I know that even if it was the job that defined your career, it was just a job to you at the time. What you helped create was something wonderful, thank you.”

Keeping in mind that I had a much less sophisticated version of this going through my head for the interview she granted me, enjoy her basically carrying me through this interview.


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

When a Nightmarish Summer is a Good Thing.

I went to a couple of horror conventions this summer, one in my once and soon to be hometown of Indianapolis and another in a town that advertised as Louisville Kentucky to look more impressive on the flyer/website. The main things which attracted me to these conventions were the abundance of A Nightmare on Elm Street alumni. I've written a lot here about that series, and I'm about to start a full-on review of the entire series at my re-dedicated sister-blog Dissecting the Machine.

The thing is that, around the second convention, I decided that I'd try to see if I could talk some of favorite horror icons into interviews, and, surprise, it worked!

In hindsight, I'm kind of wishing I would've thought of this idea earlier. I came up with some good questions for Ken
Sagoes (who played Kincaid in Nightmare 3 and 4). I'll have to settle for the fact that he liked my X-men analogy for Nightmare 3, where I basically said the Dream Warriors were like the X-men and that made him Wolverine.

I might not have had anything too insightful to ask Mark Patton, but I'm still glad I got to meet him. This guy is a real life hero to a generation of gay horror fans (myself not included, but I can definitely sympathize).

(Also on an un-Nightmare related note, Tony Todd was there and it would've been interesting to hear his thoughts on living up to the legacy of Ben in the Night of the Living Dead remake.)


But at the other convention I did have the idea and I managed to net interviews with Nightmare 4 & 5's "Alice" (Lisa Wilcox), as well as Nightmare 1,3 and New Nightmare's Heather
Langenkamp.
Once I learn the ins and outs of video editing software, I'll have the Lisa Wilcox interview up, but I'm not allowed to show the video of the
Langenkamp interview, so I should have a text recap up by tomorrow.

This was literally a dream come true for me (I don't even care about the pun, it was so awesome). And I'm looking forward to having this content posted as soon as possible. -Landon Erp