A new “Splash.”

So…

I read over on Tor.com that Disney is proceeding with remaking yet another 80s movie remake, this time the victim being “Splash.”  The original featured two veteran actors – Tom Hanks and Darryl Hannah – when they were extremely young and fresh-faced.  It was a cute love story with moments of humor, especially as provided by John Candy, as Hanks’s lecherous older brother, and Eugene Levy, as a kooky scientist determined to prove the existence of mermaids.

I read this and kind of thought, “Meh.  Okay.”

There was a lot of controversy this summer over the remake of the classic, “Ghostbusters.”  I was annoyed – more so at the idea of a remake than the gender swap-out of the cast.  I am in the camp that there are some movies you just don’t mess with, because the originals are classics and you don’t muck with classics.  If I was leery before, director Paul Feig’s various comments, labeling anyone who criticized the decision to remake the film as basement-dwelling trolls – and worse – turned me against it completely.

And I wasn’t the only one, apparently.  As the site The Numbers reports here, the film has cleared about $158M at the end of July, just a bit more than it’s production budget of $144M.  Advertising and promotion still have to be recouped.  I put most of this on Feig, for striking out and alienating potential audience members.  But anyway….

So, a remake of “Splash.”  In this case, it will be the male as the merman, and the girl as the cynical, world-worn human who gets their life uplifted by a little interspecies romance.  Part of me wanted to say, “They are just using any excuse to make a gender statement, with the swap.”  After all, this is Disney, the overseer of Marvel Comics, which has pretty much fucked up their entire comic line in the interest of some diversity quest.

But after that reaction, I went.  “Meh.  It’s Splash.  Who cares?”  And I think that is the crux of the argument.

We only care about the things that are important to us.  In this case, I am a fan of 80s movies.  I’m sure it is mostly nostalgia, as seeing those again catapults me back to the days of being a teenager.  But even then, there are only certain ones that matter.  For example:

  • They remade Footloose.  As a stand-alone movie, I thought it was awful.  I mean, how can you have Footloose without Kevin Bacon?  But I was never really upset about…more of a head shake at the foolishness.
  • They are trying to remake Dirty Dancing.  Per above, without Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, it seems a waste of time.  But I was never a big fan of the movie, so whatever.
  • They remade Poltergeist.  Blarg.  Again, just a bad movie, without half the terror of the original.  But again, whatever.

Then there are these:

  • Red Dawn.  Seriously, what the fuck, Hollywood?  If you didn’t grow up in the Cold War, if you didn’t remember the original airing of The Day After, then yeah the original Red Dawn wouldn’t mean much to you.  But North Korea?  Are you serious?  Fail.  And by the way, nice job pussing out and not making the bad guys Chinese, so you could distribute the movie there.
  • Total Recall.  The remake was a half-baked abortion that never should have seen the light of day.  While neither were particularly faithful to Phillip K Dick’s original story, I thought the original was more faithful.  It not only captured the feel better (by invoking Mars and  interplanetary conspiracy) but had better chemistry between the cast members.  The remake was stilted and – surprise – relied too much on special effects.
  • Nightmare on Elm Street.  No, just … no.  Not scary, not interesting, not original.

As I compare the two lists, I see that the second set were movies I genuinely loved and appreciated when I was a kid.  The others, not nearly as much.  As I said, I think we care a lot more about the near and dear to our heart.  And I think Ghostbusters has a lot more “Near-and-dear” fans than Splash does.

Did someone come with the gender swap because they wanted to make a point?  Maybe.  Are they looking to objectify men in exchange for all the objectification women endure – you know, give ’em a taste of their own medicine?  Maybe.  Do they have a fresh and original spin on the old material?  Maybe.  Don’t care, to all three.  It’s just not important to me.

If anything, I am offended that Hollywood seems to be so intellectually-bankrupt that they can’t make anything original any more.  What comes out, these days?  Remakes, adaptations (comics and otherwise), Pixar/Dreamworks kid stuff … and that’s about it.  There are a few writers and directors, like Christopher Nolan and Quentin Tarentino still doing original work but they are exceptions.  Hollywood need to find its creative mojo again.

I hear they remaking The Magnificent Seven and I am nervous.

(Muse:  You know the original Magnificent Seven was itself a remake, right?)

Yes, and even though Seven Samurai was a great movie in its own right, the two are separate enough to not draw direct comparison.  You know, I actually liked the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair better than the original.  How will Magnificent Seven go?

We’ll see.

Daily Update #34

So ….

What did Ferris Bueller say?   “Life moves pretty fast.  If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”  I feel like that sometimes when if comes to writing, especially when I look at my blog and guiltily notice is has been almost two weeks since I posted.  Yes, I accept any and all beatings.  Anyway….

– I still have some submissions out.  I did nine through the first quarter, so on track for 36 for the year.  Not bad.  No acceptances yet and I did get a rejection just yesterday on a piece I really thought was going to make it.  I am still confused as to what the publishing world wants.  I recently read a professionally published piece that was beautifully written – lyrical, really.  Better than anything I’ve written.  But there was no story there.  It was description only.  I had to scratch my head at that.

Pilgrimage to Skara….  Well, I have been trying to agent it for over a year, so now I am going to proceed on my own.  It will take some time, but I am assembling my marketing strategy, getting a cover made, etc.  We’ll see what happens.  Work on Princess of the North proceeds, though slowly.  I still expect to finish before the year is over.

– I am the king of underperforming when it comes to word counts but last month, I went the other way.  I wrote a story about an old man and a young girl forming a father-daughter relationship which, at 5700 words, felt like it could have gone another 1500 or so.  Long story and one I will probably never place but it was fun to write.

– I finally started a Twitter account (feed on the right side here).  Social media is hard for us old guys to grasp.  But I picked up some followers I did not recognize right away.  Networking isn’t just about shaking hands anymore, is it?

– I watched the premiere season of Daredevil on Netflix this weekend.  It was pretty good; if a viewer liked Arrow on the CW, they’d probably like this.  It’s similar but bloodier.   You know, the major networks better pay attention.  Other TV show sources, like Netflix, AMC, CW, and FX are putting out a lot of high-quality programming.  ABC/NBC/CBS/Fox are not going to be able survive on the triad of reality TV, sitcoms, and cop/lawyer/hospital shows forever.  The demographic that watches that is going to die off or get bored.

– On that note, Avengers: Age of Utron is only a few weeks out.  If I were a fangirl, I would squeal with joy.  Okay, I’ll squeal anyway.

Anyway, that’s about all for my random ruminations today.  Be good, dear friends.

Daily Update #32

Ugh, what an unbelievable couple of weeks.  Our house, sequestered on our wondrous acreage in the southwestern desert, caught fire.  The personal property damage was not very extensive but the damage to the house itself is bad.  It will take about six months to get repaired and Mrs. Axe is having to deal with being in a strange temporary house without me there.  Three more months to retirement.

Anyway:

– Progress on Pilgrimage has been slow due to the events mentioned above.  Heh, every time I think I am going to get it together, something happens.  I’ll keep at it.

– I now have two stories that are held for final decision by their respective magazines.  Neither are pro-paying mags but both are venues in good esteem, that I’ve been trying to pierce for some time.  Good steps, we’ll see what happens from here.

– While traveling recently, I read Brandon Sanderson’s latest, Steelheart.  It was okay.  I give it to Sanderson:  he is an absolute ace at creating glum, dystopian worlds with a very desperate climate.  His execution, though …

– With the rash of super hero movies coming out, I thought this blog entry about the five worst Avengers ever was kind of amusing.  (In the interest of full disclosure, I haven’t read anything else on this site, so …. yeah, I take no responsibility for your wanderings.)  It is a shame we will have an Ant Man movie before a Wonder Woman movie – or as another site put it, before we can have a superhero movie with “Woman” in the name, we have to have a movie about a character most famous for being a woman beater.  Can you tell I don’t like Ant Man?

– A few months back, Apex Magazine ran a contest for a 250-word spec fiction tale related to Christmas.  Figuring, “What the hell,” I whipped up a quick tale.  I did not win, obviously, so here is what I entered:

Another Year
The candy cane did not object when it was dumped from the box into a heap with its insensate kin.
It did not protest when the woman hung it from the tree branch.  The scents of pine sap and the burnt ozone of cheap electric lights swamped its senses but the cane told itself, “Patience.”
It did not lash out when the cat, malicious beast that it was, batted the cane loose from the branch.  Claws scored its surface and the cane’s mute rage swelled.  But the cane endured, and the child chased the cat away, returning the cane to the branch.  The cane told itself, “Just wait.”
Then at last, its time came.  The child came to the tree and pointed.  “Mommy, can I have a candy cane?”
The woman nodded.  The child walked around the tree, eyes roaming across the selections.  The cane shrieked in the vaults of its mind.  “I’m here!  Take me!”
The child reached out.  The cane trembled in anticipation – then shuddered as the child plucked up another, one of plain sugar and corn syrup.  “I want this one.”
The cane sighed.  It did not move as the tree withered and faded.  It did not object as the woman replaced it in the box, along with its mindless brethren.  The dark spirit within, waiting to be unleashed into the body of an innocent, was patient.  Christmas would come again.
The box lid closed.  The candy cane told itself, “Next year.”
And it waited.

Not bad, eh?

Ah well.  Thanks dear friends for allowing me to vomit my latest ramblings.

Is it Live or Mythological?

So….

A few months back, I mentioned that I would address the concept of spec fiction that deviated from mythological roots.  I realize this is a somewhat contentious issue and many authors may feel differently than I do – but fuck it, it’s my blog, so I’ll say what I want.

Mythology is one of those awesome part of a writers toolkit; it contains romance, father-son strife, monsters, acts of heroism, and all other aspects of the human experience.  It also has good concepts of origin stories, world-building, and apocalypse scenarios.  Western mythology, especially Greek mythology, is firmly entrenched in the foundation of first-world society, and is woven through the fabric of our culture.  Its facets are identifiable and relatable to readers.   Is it any wonder writers love incorporating it?  And writers being what they are, tend to take some liberties with the body of work.

(Muse:  Uh, ain’t no one taking liberties with this mythological body.)

Quiet, you.  The fact is that when writers take that incredible mass of tales and works, they warp them to fit their own stories.  You see in work such as the Percy Jackson series or in the Clash of the Titans movies, both versions.  Minotaurs and medusae (plural, since the both titles originally referred to one monster) run loose in tabletop role-playing games and video games.  The mythology written in Marvel’s Thor comics deviates significantly from the original Norse (and Greek, Egyptian, Celtic, Hindu, and others, for that matter).  Tolkein’s and Michael Moorcock’s works were heavily influenced by Norse and Finnish mythology, respectively.  Even Stephen King incorporated (highlight for spoiler) Greek goddess Persephone as his antagonist in Duma Key.  In no case did the authors/creators stick strictly to the original tales.

And is that wrong?

Well, according so some authors, yes.  A sample:

Rick Riordan screwed up Greek myths in Percy Jackson
Marvel screwed up Norse myths in Thor
The Mummy got everything wrong about Egyptian mythology
Hollywood screwed up everything in Immortals (somewhat true; myths aside, the movie was awful)

And I have spoken with some authors who feel like this an offense on par with plagiarism.  But again, I ask:  so what?

I fall in the camp that fiction authors have exactly one duty:  they have to tell the best story they can, that comes from their heart.  They are writing entertainment, or maybe something that makes people think.  They aren’t writing reference books, they aren’t writing textbooks, where accuracy is not only desirable but compulsory.

Ah, but I hear you say, what about other accuracy?  Do good authors not go to great lengths to provide details that add realism?  If a scene is set in a smithy, and they are unable to describe an anvil, does it not detract?  I agree, it does, but there is a key difference.  Anvils exist.  Smithies exist.  Medieval cottages exist(ed).  People cook real chickens over fires.  Et cetera.  Myths?  They were made up to begin with.

I guess I just find it hard to believe that we can shift a story to an alternate earth where magic or walking zombies are accepted without a glance – but because someone had a yellow-haired God of Thunder instead of a red-headed one, that the story is somehow less authentic.  In any event, who is to say the myths aren’t authentic to the world in which they take place?

And even this is situational.  If a story involves a literature professor who is on the run from vampires and he has to remember the password to the safe containing the blow-up doll that glows ultraviolet in the dark which he will use to seduce the vampire king and then fry him, and is told the password is the name of the Greek hero who slew the Hydra, it would best if it were accurate to understanding of the world.  (It’s Hercules, by the way.)  But that’s detail, not driving plot device.

Making a mountain of a molehill?  Perhaps I am.  I just don’t feel this is a big deal.  I do love the richness and depth of mythological tradition, and not just those of western cultures.  The ramayana is one of my favorite epics.  But as I look at all those tales, all that information, the wealth of wonderful ideas … and I can’t help but steal it, bend it, make it my own.

And those mythical characters would want me to.

Second Swing of the Hammer

So….

I went and saw Thor: The Dark World yesterday.  Thor was always my favorite comic book hero growing, probably due to my love of Norse mythology as kid that predated my comic-reading days

(Aside:  yes, I realize that Marvel's Thor deviates from actual Norse mythology, and I plan to have a blog post on that issue in the next few weeks.)

The plot concerns the return of the dark elves from their home of Svartalfheim (literally, "dark elf land"), one of the nine worlds which also include Asgard (home of the Gods), Midgard (Earth), Jotunheim (Land of the Giants, seen in the first Thor movie) and others.  The dark elves are headed by their semi-immortal leader Malekith, who seeks to undo the universe and return it a state of darkness, extinguishing non-dark-elf life in the process.

I wondered about the presence of Malekith, since the first Thor movie featured the Casket of Ancient Winters as a relic of the frost giants of Jotunheim.  In the comics, it belonged to the dark elves and Malekith, who used it to set free an ancient fire demon known as Sutur, who planned to set the nine worlds afire and usher in Ragnarok.  So elements of both movies are drawn from Walt Simonson's epic storyline, widely considered to be one of the best runs in the comic's history.

The movie has a series of convenient coincidences to propel the plot, such as Jane Foster's unlikely involvement in the world-breaking events, which seem like just a good reason to get her back with Thor.  At the end, Malekith is of course defeated (what, this is no spoiler!) through a fair display of deus ex machina, but it's a comic movie, so okay.  There are some clever surprises and a few neat sequences, including Thor's hammer trying to return to his hand while is tumbling between worlds, causing erratic flight corrections to hammer's path.

Dialogue was serviceable, the best of which is the non-stop yakking between Thor and Loki, which varies from fraternal to bloodthirsty.  Tom Hiddleston plays Loki with an impressive intensity of emotions, as previously.  Anthony Hopkins returns as Odin with much less reserve and spends a lot more time chewing the scenery.  Sif and the Warriors Three are back and have about as much impact as they did in the first movie.  There are some early hints of a love triangle between Sif, Jane, and Thor, but that was quickly discarded in favor of the action.  It's too bad because two minutes of development could have made that aspect much more interesting for the characters.  Darcy & Erik Selvig (who played a pivotal role in the Avengers), also return – again – with minimal story impact.

The real star of this film, though, is Chris Hemsworth.  He plays Thor with confidence, he appears to both be growing into the role and as an actor, and I think he is probably the number three guy which the public associates a comic book character, after Hugh Jackman (Wolverine) and Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man) – which means he can milk this for a long time.  As of last night, Thor 2 has pulled in about $150 million domestically and $330 million overseas.  I'd say Hemsworth has established his bona fides as a superstar.

And I have to say, I am amazed at just how well the Marvel movies have turned out over the past 10-12 years.  Sure there have been misfires but short of Nolan's Batman trilogy, the DC comic movie universe has been almost a complete failure.  Ironic since the DC comics themselves are often considered to be better written.

Of course, I stayed through the credits to watch Marvel's preview stinger, which will be totally non-sensical to anyone who isn't a comic fan, but (highlight for spoilers) I bet money it points to next year's Guardians of the Galaxy movie, and it was cool to see Benico Del Toro as the Collector. So there is that.

Overall, I was satisfied.  It was pretty typical comic book fare.  Fans of Marvel's movie-verse will eat it up, others may be left wanting.

Hammers away.

But a kiss can be even deadlier… if you mean it.

So….

Tonight, SyFy channel had a handful of the old Batman movies on.  Not the 60s versions but the Tim Burton / Joel Schumacher ones from the 90s.  And I sat here watching them, I realized how titanically bad Batman and Robin is as it puked all over my screen.  I mean, I knew it was bad, but I don't remember it being 200-car-pileup bad.  This is back when George Clooney, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Uma Thurman were at the height of their careers and for some reason, they chose to participate in this half-baked abortion of a film.  It was also the last meaningful vehicle in which Alicia Silverstone had any starring role and effectively terminated what had been a budding career.  We all know Christopher Nolan resurrected the franchise a decade later with his Christian Bale-led Batman series (peaking in The Dark Knight) but this one really left a sour taste in many mouths.

But the other thing I realized how much of a superior film Batman Returns really is.  In fact, it is the best Batman movie that's been made.

I know the fanboys and general movie going audience is gaga over The Dark Knight, and with good reason.  It's a great movie, with a good acting and a well-paced plot.  But as a comic book movie, it's not quite as good as Batman Returns.

One, the more I watch these movies, the more I am convinced Michael Keaton was a better Batman than Christian Bale.  Keaton came across as more self-assured.  Bale's Batman was totally shaped by Alfred, Rachel Dawes, and Ras Al-Ghul.  He never felt like his own man, and his weakness was all about following conflicting guidance from his mentors.  Keaton's Batman exuded quiet confidence in himself; his doubts all came from questioning his place in the world at large and dealing, head-on, with the demons between his split existence.  To me, it was more compelling.

Two, while Heath Ledger's Joker was a villain par excellence and was a truly awesome film performance, he – like Jack Nicholson's Joker in the earlier film – really overshadowed the hero in the movie.  That may have something to do with the Joker, as he is widely regarded as the single best villain in the comic book world.  On the other hand, Danny Devito's Penguin took the character away from the film viewer's memories of Burgess Meredith and his dapper, tuxedo-wearing jewelry robber, and turned it into a creepy, lecherous child murderer.  Unlike the Joker, the Penguin was unquestionably the antagonist in the movie.  He was fiendish and, at times, pitiable, but there was no doubt:  the Penguin was bad.  He never won over overtook the title character with the audience.

Three, Batman Returns had the perfect female foil.  Never cared for Katie Holmes.  Maggie Gyllenhaal did a better turn as Rachel Dawes (and is better looking) but the character always had an air of smug self-righteousness that made me dislike her.  I mentioned Uma Thurman.  She had absolutely nothing to work with as Poison Ivy; stilted dialogue and lousy costumes.  Nicole Kidman and Kim Bassinger had little to do in their roles, save look pretty and be rescued.  But Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman really shone.  She played the role to the hilt:  a broken woman with a single-minded obsession with revenge against those who had wronged her.  Her rapid mood swings and tortured ramblings as Selina Kyle only added to the character's depth.  Frankly Anne Hathaway's attempt at Catwoman was a hollow imitation.  And no, it did not hurt that Pfeiffer was stunningly beautiful and wore the leather suit like a second skin.  Meow, indeed!

Fourth, the plot was perfect.  It was a blend between the whimsical nature of the comic and the more-serious, darker Batman stories of later times (first popularized by the comic The Dark Knight Returns).  All of the devices and henchmen used by the Penguin follow a circus theme but it was almost satirical, mocking the silly origin of such decoration when employed by murderers.  While the Penguin's plot to take revenge on Gotham City was over the top, it did not have the Rube Goldberg quality of the Joker's chaos plots in Dark Knight; from a feasibility standpoint, the Penguin's plot was probably more realistic (up until he employed the army of penguins with rockets on their backs).  The political and business corruption as represented by secondary villain Max Schreck was a foil to Bruce Wayne as much as the Penguin and Catwoman were a foil to Batman – and both plotlines converged perfectly at the movie's climax.  And of all seven Batman movies (four in the 90s, and three Nolan films), Batman Returns shares with Dark Knight the honor of being the only movies that do not end on a high note.  Life ain't always fair, especially in comics, so that was refreshing to see a bittersweet ending.

Last, the dialogue.  Much is made of the great lines in The Dark Knight, but truthfully, most of them belonged to the secondary characters:  Joker, Alfred, Rachel, Jim Gordon, or Lucius Fox.  In Batman Returns, the best lines occur directly between Batman/Wayne and another character, making the main character a participant (not a recipient) to the most effective lines in the show.  The twisted mistletoe and kiss lines (as in the post title), which are reversed by Wayne and Kyle at opportune moments, were fantastic.

Not a popular opinion, I understand, but I just think Batman Returns is the superior film.  If I have to model one of these movies to write a thriller that escalates and keeps the audience guessing the outcome, I might model Dark Knight.  If I really wanted to write a movie with superior characters and a more realistic plot, I'd have to go with da Penguin movie.

As always, your mileage may vary.

Apple-y Ridiculousness

I hadn't planned on posting tonight but what the hell.

Apple caused a minor dust-up today by banning a downloadable comic (from their App Store) that featured scenes of homosexuality.  The comic, Saga, written by Brian Vaughn (who wrote Y: The Last Man (an underrated comic) and worked on the TV show Lost), wrote previous issues of Saga with a lot of explicit content.  It's a good thing Apple doesn't have the previous issues on their site.

No, wait.  Earlier issues of Saga had some very explicit heterosexual content.  The first panel of the first issue had two characters making the beast with two backs.  It's available for download, as are other issues.

People who know me I don't carry any water for interest groups, be they gay or otherwise.  So why bring it up?  Actually, I have a certain amount of schadenfreude in writing this, since I have never been an Apple supporter and I like seeing them stub their toe.  Besides, actually banning a download of something you're already carrying feels like micromanagement, something that pisses me off to no end.  Anyway, Tor.com did a full write-up of the kerfluffle.

Look, Apple can do whatever they want.  It's a free country.  But I'd hate for them to look like hypocrites, so it's a good thing they don't have episodes of the TV show Spartacus for download, with the graphic man-on-man action depicted therein.

No, wait….