Thursday, August 25, 2011

Five Movies that Scarred Me as a Child

Talking With My Wife, Part One
Jenny has come home from work. I am playing Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood.
Travis: I have minions!
Jenny: In what context?
Travis: In Assassin's Creed.
Jenny: How do you have minions?
Travis: I’m recruiting people for my guild.
Jenny: They’re not minions. It’s an association of young professionals.
Travis: No, they do my bidding! I send them out to kill people I don’t like.
Jenny: You are drunk with power.

*****

Five Movies That Scarred Me as a Child
Jenny and I have a pretty expansive cable package, which we maintain by threatening to drop cable altogether every 6 to 8 months, resulting in panicked deals and attempts at placation from our cable provider. It’s sort of an abusive relationship, but we’re firmly on the side of the abusER, so I don’t care.
Anyway, when you have access to several thousand channels, and you also suffer from frequent insomnia, you might find yourself, like me, staring at the TV at 4 am and trying to decide between one of several mid-to-low-card 80s films. This has been causing me to have some HORRIFIC flashbacks to my childhood, as I re-experience several movies that traumatized me as a kid.
The 80s were a great time for movies that would fuck up a small child. Disney was just on the tail end of a streak of “what the fuck” film decisions that resulted in some truly amazing movies like Tron and The Black Hole, but also gave us a lot of stuff where Bette Davis is creepy and evil.
Everyone my age has some sort of trauma relating to E.T. Mine wasn’t that it looked like E.T. was going to die. My mother, being forewarned at the affect the movie might have on her sensitive son, had made a big point of assuring me that E.T. wasn’t going to die. So I was fine with that part. But then, at the end, E.T. goes home and leaves Eliot behind with his asshole brother, his borderline retarded sister, and his absentee mom. Oh, and no friends whatsoever. E.T. to me is the story of a lonely little boy who has his magical best friend taken away by the government. That’s why I’m a liberal.
Anyway, here are five films that messed me up when I was a lad.
1. BABY, SECRET OF THE LOST LEGEND
This is one in a long line of films where the story introduces you to an adorable family of magical creatures and then proceeds to slaughter one or more of them. This movie has all the best parts of Bambi AND Dumbo (one doe-eyed dinosaur parent gets murdered, the other gets imprisoned by the evil human scientist people). The film has a very clear message about how dinosaurs are better than people, and also about how most scientists love torturing things. Unlike a “Jurassic Park”, I don’t even think you have the moment of cathartic release when the maliciously evil villains are killed and mutilated by velociraptors.  Admittedly, my memory on this is spotty. I only saw the movie once as a child, and it upset me enough that just seeing the movie poster causes PTSD. Fuck this movie. And fuck the Greatest American Hero for not doing more to help these dinosaurs.

2. PROJECT X
Not only is science evil, so is the military. And when they get together, whoa-nelly. The evil is practically off the scale. I mean, most people consider Doctor Doom pretty evil, but I’m not sure even he would think of strapping chimps into a flight simulator and then bombarding them with radiation. (Cosmis rays, maybe.)
Again, this is one of those movies where the endless cruelty against our protagonists is resolved with a desperate flight to freedom, the death of a loveable character, and a faked demise for most of the rest of the protagonists. You can also see this in D.A.R.Y.L., except that time is was robots, not apes. This is why the Rise of the Planet of the Apes remake was so awesome. Because by the time the third act comes around and all the apes are jumping through windows and electrocuting Draco Malfoy, you’re pretty much on their side. Project X needed more monkey-on-human violence.

3. TIME BANDITS
I actually did rewatch this not too long ago. This movie is so WEIRD. Let’s see… a neglected and lonely child (a theme in movies I watched as a kid, apparently) gets involved with six dwarves who are running away from God because they stole his map of the universe. Actually when I write it down, it doesn’t sound THAT weird. Except for the six dwarves, it sort of sounds like a Grant Morrison comic. But trust me, this movie is insane. And it has the most downer ending possible, where after being abandoned by the dwarves and God, the kid watches as his parents are disintegrated by a chunk of absolute evil.
In doing some research for this, I found out that George Harrison helped produce this. That makes sense because this movie is the visual equivalent of a guy playing a sitar. I don’t know how it is, it just is.

4. THE WATCHER IN THE WOODS
It’s Disney’s version of The Exorcist. Yeah.










5.    CLOAK AND DAGGER
Okay, so it’s another lonely little kid movie. This time it’s a kid whose dad is never around and clearly blames him for the death of the mother. The boy wraps himself up in role-playing games, make-believe adventures, and an imaginary friend who looks JUST LIKE HIS DAD.
I actually think this is a really good movie. But I also think that, for me, ten years old may be too young to confront your own issues with your father. Also I hate movies where they basically imply that imagination is dangerous and that to grow up you have to stop playing make-believe. That’s just completely untrue. Most of my favorite people have predicated their lives and careers on playing make-believe. I’m glad your dad came and saved you from terrorists, Henry Thomas. But you’d still be well-advised not to write off good old Jack Flak yet. Your dad’s still going to work tomorrow and leaving you sitting home alone with nothing to do.

Wow. This blog is saving me a week’s worth of therapy bills. AWESOME!

*****


Talking With My Wife, Part Two
Jenny is looking at the latest Rolling Stone, featuring a cover story on The Sheepdogs.
Jenny: This cover… what’s the name of the band in Almost Famous?
Travis: Stillwater.
Jenny: Yeah. That’s what these guys look like.
Travis: Yeah, they kind of do. And you know, I read the article… and it IS a think-piece.
Jenny: You’re such a fucking dork.

Hugs and kisses,
(The)Travis

Thursday, August 18, 2011

I Write Because I Cannot Draw.

PANEL ONE.  Travis sits at his dining room table, staring at his laptop computer screen. He is wearing a Star Trek tee shirt with holes in the armpits, and sweatpants that are so threadbare the mesh is visible through the knees and ass. He is eating goldfish crackers and drinking tea. He has not showered or shaved in three days.
CAPTION1
I got turned on to Natalie Nourigat’s work via an interview Jamie Rich posted on Facebook.
CAPTION 2
I’ve been spending my lunch breaks going back and forth between her autiobio comic “Between Gears” and Warren Ellis’ “Freakangels”.
CAPTION 3
These are two great tastes that taste WEIRD together, by the way.


PANEL TWO. An autiobio comic version of Travis. He is drawn in a semi-realistic/semi-manga influenced style. He is thinner than he is in real life (please). He is walking along a tree-lined sidewalk in the fall. Leaves are swirling about him.  
CAPTION 1
I love autobio comics, but they always make me feel introspective.
CAPTION 2
And introspective on me tends to become maudlin very quickly.


PANEL THREE. A young Travis is sitting at a drawing table. He has a crayon crammed into his chubby fist, and is dragging it around a piece of paper. He is concentrating deeply, and his tongue is sticking out of the corner of his mouth.
CAPTION 1
I wanted to make comics ever since I was a little kid. When I was younger, I thought I could be an artist.
CAPTION 2
Then in high school, my art teacher told me I had no talent and should hang it up.
CAPTION 3
That’s sort of a fucked up message to give a 15-year-old. Wasn’t she supposed to bullshit me and tell me I could be anything I wanted to be?


PANEL FOUR. A row of comic book professionals are standing under a banner. The banner reads “2015 Eisner Awards”. All of the professionals are smiling, physically fit, hip, young people.  Travis is in the middle of the group, and he has aged poorly. His beard is haggard and grey and patchy. He has lost most of his hair. He is wearing an eyepatch over his left eye. His tattoos are still visible, but the skin they are on is saggy and wrinkled.
CAPTION 1
I worry a lot that I’m getting started too late in life to break into the comic world.
CAPTION 2
I tried to write a Spider-Man script today and threw my back out. That’s probably a bad sign.
CAPTION 3
It would have been easier if I could draw, I think. I would have been doing this since I was in my teens.


PANEL FIVE. A twenty-something Travis sits at a drawing table. He is wearing a Joy Divison shirt. He is weeping profusely.  A cheap CD player is visible in the background. Musical notes waft from it.
CAPTION 1
Of course, then all the angst and sexual frustration of my 20s that I channeled into poetry and music would have gone into comics instead.
RADIO (SFX)
And if a double-decker bus ….  crashes into us…. to die by your side…
TRAVIS (dialogue)
I will prove my sexual worthiness to you by drawing Wolverine!


PANEL SIX. Travis is sitting at his dining room table again. He has showered. He is wearing jeans and a clean AC/DC tee-shirt. He is feverishly typing away, and is looking very satisfied with the results. His wife, Jenny, is in the background, sitting on the couch, typing on her own laptop.
CAPTION 1
At the end of the day, I don’t have too much to complain about.
CAPTION 2
Tonight my wife is going to come home from work. I am going to make dinner. And then we’re going to work on our respective comic scripts until it’s time to watch the Daily Show and go to bed.
CAPTION 3
That’s like an “It Gets Better” ad for nerds.

*****
Check out Tally’s work, and her comic, “Between Gears”. She’s pretty awesome. I sometimes think Jamie Rich’s secondary mutation is locating talented, manga-influenced young women and getting them to draw comics he’s written.  Maybe it has something to do with living in Portland. Portland is a great town for comics, from what I hear.
I live in New Haven. It’s a great town for starting an ironic bluegrass band.
*****
Jenny and I watched the Rise of the Planet of the Apes remake last weekend. I liked it, and thought it was big dumb fun. But I am also pro-ape, so I probably fit squarely into their target demographic. The “Fright Night” remake will be out this weekend. I am pants-wettingly excited for it.

Hugs and kisses,
(The)Travis

Thursday, August 11, 2011

I Don't Have To Defend Myself To You People! (Fear Itself is Awesome)

DISCLAIMER: This blog was written during a long, dark night of insomnia. It is fueled by caffeine and self-loathing. It is likely riddled with typos and grammatical errors. I’m not even 100% sure that I am actually typing this sentence. If this is not the most coherent argument I have ever made, forgive me.

Look, nothing is right for everybody.
I’ve had a few requests to talk about Marvel’s big summer event, Fear Itself. I have no idea how the book is doing, sales wise or critically. The reviews that I am getting from other people are mixed, but I’m also not scouring the planet for all possible viewpoints, so I just don’t know.
(I’m at a place where I am trying to enjoy my entertainment in as much of a bubble as possible. Everyone I know talks about sales figures or ratings or box office returns like it matters. I just don’t care anymore. I mean, I’m happy when things I like are successful, and the people who create those things get to eat food and pay rent and all that good stuff. But I’m trying to just enjoy all of my consumed art as art, and not worry about how the rest of the world is digesting their portion.)
I know that a couple of the people who want me to talk about Fear Itself want me to do so in the sense of defending my appreciation of the book. I’m not quite sure what to do with that. Here’s my statement, and I’m sticking by it.
Fear Itself is my favorite Marvel crossover event in years.
That’s it. Not saying it’s the best. Not arguing any of its merits. I’m just saying that for me, as a comic book fan, it’s turning my crank. Which is my way of saying that I am happy to talk about why I like the story. But don’t expect me to proselytize about it, because taste is subjective and all that jazz.

An anecdote. I was coming off stage after doing a spoken word gig one night. I went to the bar and got myself a bottle of water, and a guy came up to me to shake my hand.

Him: “I really liked your set, man. You were really funny. I had a lot of fun.”
Me: “Thanks! I’m glad you dug it.”
Him: “My girlfriend hated you, though. She thought you were obnoxious, and that you had a high opinion of yourself.”


So… mixed review, right? But they’re both correct. I am kind of funny, and I was trying to make people have fun. And I AM obnoxious, and I DO think an awful lot of myself.
I’m just saying. Nothing is right for everybody.
Matt Fraction is, I think, divisive as a writer. Which is usually the sign of being really fucking good. Quality consensus from the internet only seems to come in the form of “meh” or “sucks”. If you can get a group of people in a room, and half of them love it and half of them hate it, I think you’re doing something right.
Like most things I have come to love, I am a late adopter on Fraction. I came into his work well after he had started doing stuff for Marvel, and am now having to go back and retroactively discover all of the indie stuff he did. (Same thing happened with Bendis. I read Ultimate Spider-Man and then fell backwards from that into Goldfish and Jinx and Fire. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. A lot of kids these days learn about the Clash from listening to Green Day. You can always do worse than to be someone’s  gateway into awesome.)
I actually met Matt, briefly, at New York ComicCon a few years ago. I shook his hand and told him I loved what he was doing with Iron Man. He was very polite and calm and quiet and nice, and if I had known then that he had written something like Casanova, and what it would do to my self-worth as a writer, I would have tried to eat his brain and steal his secrets.
Confession: It took me five tries to get through Casanova. FIVE. Jenny loved it at once, and encouraged me to keep at it. I was convinced that I wasn’t smart enough for the book. Or that reading the first page had unlocked some heretofore unknown learning disability. I eventually figured out that the problem is how I read comics normally. I tend to make a big pile and blaze through everything at once. Casanova isn’t the kind of book you can really read that way. It needs its own space to really be allowed to sink in and do its work. The only other comic I have ever had to make that kind of separate room for was Morrison’s Invisibles.
Once I finally got the trick down of reading Casanova on its own, with a different set of receptors than normally experienced guys in tights slapping each other, I fell in love with the book. I didn’t read it as much as I crawled around inside of it. It has several affects on me, even with repeated reading. One, it makes me desperately want to write. Two, it makes me positive that I shouldn’t write, because I am hopelessly out of my league. Three, it makes me talk like Warren Ellis fucks. Driving ambition, crushing insecurity, and a kind of intense hyperbolic profanity. Thanks, Matt Fraction.
I’m a fan, is what I’m saying.
He’s done my favorite run on the X-Men since Claremont. He’s helped take Iron Fist, one of my all-time favorite characters, and turn him from the “guy in the yellow booties” to the ultimate Kung Fu badass of the Marvel U. He’s got me reading THOR, for crying out loud. I haven’t done that since Simonson was on the book.
I’m a fan, yeah. So I’m probably predisposed to like Fear Itself. But I don’t know if I’m predisposed to love it the way I do.
I was going to get into a real spoiler-heavy analysis of the book, but honestly the thought of that bores me silly. So let me just break down my top three points as to why this is the big summer crossover of my dreams.
Everyone’s Invited to the Party
In the crossovers of the past few years, there have always been a handful of characters or books who were completely untouched by the event. Usually the X-Men titles, which has sort of occupied their own little corner of the universe. I really love that this seems like something that is affecting EVERY character in the Marvel U. In a shared continuity, when something big happens, I like seeing all hands on deck. And Marvel is going DEEP on their bench for this. In this market, seeing a book starring Howard the Duck, Nighthawk, She-Hulk and Man-Thing is mind-bogglingly goofily awesome. I never really cared about the Avengers: Initiative characters, but I am digging Youth in Revolt so much, I might go grab the trades.
Real Consequences and Real Emotions
As much as I have really enoyed the last few years of Marvel crossovers, they all felt like super-hero problems (like first-world problems, but you’re wearing tights). Civil War was about super heroes fighting each other. Secret Invasion was about an alien invasion, but it mostly felt like a bunch of super heroes fighting a bunch of aliens. With Fear Itself, I feel like every issue is showing the scale of the event, the impact on normal people, and the collateral damage of the story.
Plus, we’re seeing some actual, honest-to-god character moments in the midst of all the world-shaking. In issue #4, there is a little two-panel bit of business between Nick Fury and the Black Widow. No dialogue, totally in the background, but real and appropriate and kind of wonderful.
Like anything else, your mileage may vary, but to me, this feels like it’s affecting the WORLD. And not just the portions of it that can fly.
Tie-Ins That are More than Just Fight Scenes
Overall, the consistency of quality on these tie-ins has been exemplary.  I will cop to not loving ALL of the tie-in books. But a lot of them are using this opportunity to tell really fantastic stories, or doing really interesting things with their characters. Journey Into Mystery has taken the Fear Itself event and used it to tell the best Loki story in recent memory. Fraction’s Iron Man, which was already stellar, has become transcendent with the past few issues. Bendis has used the opportunity to do some great stuff in the Avengers books. Likewise, Gage’s Avengers Academy, which has always been great, has taken my breath away with the tie-ins.
Also, the Fear Itself: Spider-Man issues may be in my top ten favorite Spidey comics.
If you’re not digging Fear Itself, I doubt this will convince you of its greatness. But fortunately, that wasn’t my point at all. My point is that it has been a great ride for me, personally. I love the event, I love the story, and I’m looking forward to shaking Fraction’s hand in the future and telling him so.
Just before I eat his brain and take his secrets.

Hugs and Kisses,
(The)Travis

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Talking to Aalgar, Part Two

Welcome to Part Two of my conversation with noted internet personality Ron "AAlgar" Watt. As we were talking about movies, and we are both gigantic nerds, we naturally segued into talking about comic book movies.
*****
AAlgar: I think people are going to get tired of superhero movies. I hope they give Avengers a million billion dollars before that happens.  
Travis: The thing that bums me out about that is that they are finally making superhero movies that I unabashedly enjoyed. Iron Man was the first superhero movie I didn't feel slightly insulted by.
AAlgar: See, in retrospect I feel like that. But I was there for Burton's Batman and Raimi's Spidey and so on... each one was a little better than anything we had before. I think 5 years ago a movie like Green Lantern might have done well because people were excited to see comic book superheroes on the screen. But now it has to be something really special to get their attention.
Travis: That GL thing is the problem. Too many nerds have a "battered wife" syndrome where they line up for shitty movies because they have a superhero.
AAlgar: Well. Nerds our age are like that.
Travis: Those fucking people. :)
AAlgar: There are kids now who don't remember there was a time when DC was making the huge blockbusters and Marvel couldn't get anything off the ground. I mean... say what you will about those two mediocre FF movies... I would have killed for those in '94 when I was watching a bootleg of the Corman one.
Travis: Confession… I actually sort of enjoy those movies. They're completely empty calorie entertainment, but I don't hate them.
AAlgar: I think they were middle-of-the-road. I had no real problem with them. Well, the first one. I keep meaning to get to the second, but haven't yet.
Travis: The second one is amazing to me just because it has the Silver Surfer. Which is one of those things that seem insane to non-comic book fans. "A naked silver guy on a surfboard? In space? What the fuck?"
AAlgar: Well, that's the thing. Did you ever, in a million fucking years, think you'd see the Silver Surfer in a movie? Think about all the shit we sat through in the 80s and 90s. Dolph Lundgren as the Punisher. That Captain America movie where the climax chase happened on a fucking BICYCLE.
Travis: Hasslehoff as Nick Fury?
AAlgar: OH GOD. Yes. And all those dozens of projects you'd read about in Wizard or Starlog or whatever, that never quite seemed to get off the ground.
Travis: See, this is sort of what I mean. I think Marvel finally got off the ground by doing something novel - making comic book movies that weren't ashamed of comic books.
AAlgar: Again, I think it's part of a larger cultural trend. That's definitely part of it. But like... to imagine that a TV show like LOST would have six hugely popular seasons on a major network blows my mind. Or that A Game of Thrones would be a hit series of books that spawned a hit TV show. It’s a good time to be a nerd.
Travis: Didn't LOST run for seven seasons?
AAlgar: Six, but I think they did that bullshit "2 longer half seasons" thing at some point.
Travis: I was expecting a "Yes, but one of those season sucked" joke.
AAlgar: You tend (and this isn't a criticism, I know and love a lot of people like this) to be someone who focuses on the details a lot. A nitpicker if you will.
Travis: That's part and parcel of being a nerd. Or any sort of enthusiast, really.
AAlgar: See... I don't think it is. I notice details. But unless they're huge, I don't care.
Travis: But I would argue that makes you the exception rather than the rule. And it’s stuff you are a "casual" fan of that gets that lack of scrutiny.
AAlgar: Not at all. The 2009 Star Trek movie took SO MANY LIBERTIES with canon. I noticed them. But I shrugged them off because that was an awesome movie.
Travis: But the 2009 Star Trek movie was engineered in such a way to separate itself from canon completely and still leave the canon functioning independently.
AAlgar: Well, yes. That's part of why it was good. But there were other things that even the time travel story couldn't fix. Here's a huge one: Kirk jumped from cadet to captain. Age... 25, at BEST, and he's in charge of a ship. That's not how it works. But I don't want to see a movie about Lt. Kirk. So I chose not to care.
Travis: Isn't that nitpick a complaint based on knowledge that might not exist in the reboot-verse?
AAlgar: The military is the military. There's a chain of command and a rank structure. You don't graduate from college to become CEO of a company.
Travis: You do if you're Mark Zuckerberg. Admittedly, it's not like Kirk INVENTED the warp drive.
AAlgar: Granted. Still, they took liberties. But it was to serve the story, so I was okay with it. That's my larger point. I don't care if they change the details if it means we get a better story out of it.
Travis: I'm sure that there are details that would take me out of a story that wouldn't affect you the same way. But again, that's being an enthusiast of any stripe. Example: My mom was a horseback rider. So watching westerns with her as a kid was a nightmare, as she pointed out who could and couldn't ride. My dad was a cop. Watching cop movies with him usually devolved into a discussion of procedure, and how they were doing it wrong.
AAlgar: Ungh. But back to comic book movies. I get into them because they distill the ideas down to their basic components. There isn't 50 years of history I have to memorize to enjoy it.
 Travis: It's not the distillation that bothers me. It's when that distillation leads to a version of the character or the comic that is completely alien to the source material. Maybe "completely" is extreme. Daredevil is an example. You liked it.
AAlgar: See, I didn't hate Daredevil. I didn't love it. But I had no attachment to the character and it was an okay enough way to pass 2 hours.
Travis: I HATED it. Because in the first five minutes they have Daredevil throwing a dude under a train.
AAlgar: Is that not a thing he does? I seriously don't know.
Travis: No. He's very much in the "I don't kill people" tradition.
AAlgar: I read Bendis' run, which was mostly about him dealing with the identity thing. And then suddenly poems about vaginas when David Mack did one.
Travis: Black Kingpin? Doesn't bother me. Weird head scar Bullseye. No problem. Alias Garner as Elektra? OK. But when he kills a guy five minutes in, I'm like, BULLSHIT!
AAlgar: Okay, that's fair. How did you feel about Raimi's Spidey?
Travis: Liked the first one. Loved the second. Hated the third.
AAlgar: That's roughly the same for me, though I saw some good in 3. That was 2 decent movies that collided into a horrible train wreck. But... to me, they got the character ALL wrong.
Travis: My problem with 3 is that I wanted Topher Grace and Bryce Dallas Howard to be playing Peter and MJ. I can’t stand Kirsten Dunst. I keep going back to that Penny-Arcade strip.
AAlgar: Heh. I like her okay, But that was a funny strip. Now, to me, Spidey is a nerdy kid with a horrible life where everything goes wrong. Then he puts on a mask, jumps around and turns into a smartass.
Travis: What didn't they get?
AAlgar: The one thing they did REALLY wrong for me was, Spidey was mostly quiet or serious with the mask on. He needs to be making jokes. ALL THE TIME.
Travis: He did make some jokes.
AAlgar: Not NEARLY enough. He's a trickster character. He should be fucking obnoxious when he's fighting.
Travis: I'm not sure the producers have figured out how to have someone emote through a full face mask.
AAlgar: Spidey for me, and this is a personal interpretation here... Spidey is the story of me on the internet. I'm shy and scared and have no self-esteem... but give me this power and I suddenly have all the confidence in the world. I always related to Spidey for that. He puts on a mask and becomes someone else. He can forget his horrible life and have fun and make terrible jokes. I just don't think that showed through in the movies. Yes, it's hard to talk through a mask. But fucking find a way. That's what he does.
Travis: See, my interpretation is that all of the jokes are a defense mechanism for a guy who is doing something he doesn't want to be doing, and is scared shitless the whole time. It’s not "with great power comes a lot of fun". Sure, he loves web swinging, but when he has to fight Electro, it's high school and Flash Thompson all over again, only this time Flash Thompson might LITERALLY kill hm.
AAlgar: I think that's part of it too. But I always saw the escapism element of it too.
Travis: Yeah, but that's us projecting. That's why Spider-Man works so well. Because it's the story of the nerd who makes good.
AAlgar: It is. But regardless, it's an essential part of the character to me. His goofy one-liners. And it wasn't very much a part of the movie. I still enjoyed them.
Travis: Speaking of Spidey - I hear he’s a gay Muslim with Tourette’s syndrome now.
AAlgar: Oh yeah, I was just reading that story before we started talking. I immediately changed my voter registration in outrage… I'm kidding, of course… I'm not registered to vote.
*****
That's all, folks. Thanks for indulging me as I nerd-talked with my friend. I've actually had a couple people already tell me, "Hey, I have opinions on things, too. Can I do that with you?" which likely means you"ll see me do this again down the road.
Tune in next time, when I will be discussing Marvel's FEAR ITSELF event, and why I think it's the best crossover Marvel has done in years.
Hugs and kisses,
(The)Travis

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Talking to Aalgar, Part One

I was dicking around on the internet the other day, as I am wont to do, and stumbled upon the trailer for the upcoming film Battleship.


Being me, I took to Twitter to make fun of it. Because that's what I do. There to argue with me, as always, is my wonderful friend Ron "AAlgar" Watt. AAlgar is a very talented writer and noted internet funnyperson. He is the co-host of the Sarcastic Voyage and Post Atomic Horror podcasts.
I made friends with AAlgar on the often-mentioned Bendis Board. I have always been semi-fascinated by him. He's a smart guy, a funny guy, and he and I agree in a full-bodied way on very little. What we have discovered is that the things I am passionate about, he is a casual enthusiast of, and vice versa. But he's one of my favorite people to talk to, and I love internet-bickering with him, because he always forces me to think, and I suspect he is smarter than I. I thought it would be fun to "debate" the merits of the Battleship movie, and post it here. We talked so long that I am actually splitting this into two parts. The second half will appear next week. So if this first part bores you, you get a whole week off from my blog. Lucky you!
****
Travis: So... The trailer for "Battleship". That happened.
AAlgar: I feel like I've seen this movie already. Seventeen times.
Travis: It's like Transformers meets Pearl Harbor.
AAlgar: And I hate both of those movies.
Travis: Wait. Were those both Michael Bay movies?
AAlgar: I think so. Maybe Pearl Harbor was Bruckheimer.
Travis: I've never seen them together. No reason not to think they're the same guy.
AAlgar: I dunno, I'm not into the big splodey action movies usually. Just not my thing.
Travis: I think my central premise is that I said "Why aliens," and your response was, "Why NOT aliens". And you wouldn't accept, "Because BULLSHIT! That's why" as an answer.
AAlgar: Well, starting with the basic idea that basing an entire movie around a simple board game is profoundly stupid. But if they're gonna make it... yeah. Why the hell not. Like I said, it's not like there's some kind of mythos they need to stay true to.
Travis: I played Battleship a LOT as a kid. And I have a pretty active imagination.  I never came up with aliens.
AAlgar: They want kids to go see this movie. Kids don't want to watch Das Boot.
Travis: Rihanna is in this. I would totally go see a version of Das Boot with Rihanna in it.
AAlgar: I assume it was your typical clich├ęd douchey movie producer. "What do kids like?" and it went from there.  Although... Somebody pointed out that there's kind of a cool idea in this premise. What I read (I was looking for it, and can't find it now)... Was that the aliens have technology to knock out the radar and GPS and stuff. Leaving the Navy blind. Which means the third act will probably boil down to "A5. Miss."
Travis: It's the very laziest kind of writing though. You and I could come up with a better, more marketable idea for a movie in ten minutes. Here: "A bunch of teenage naval cadets sneak onto a decomissioned battleship for a party. Then they get sucked into a time warp."
AAlgar: I mean, it's stupid. But it's a way to get to the essential core of the game. Such as it is.
Travis: If the aliens shot red and white missles, that would probably be more canonical.
AAlgar: Ooh, or a cannon.What's more canonical than a cannon?
Travis: "Cannon"ical?
AAlgar: I think my knee-jerk snark at you was a general disdain for people who obsess over canon. Caring about the canon of fucking Battleship is just... the worst. And I don't even think you were doing that. But for a split second, I thought you might be.
Travis: I'm not "they raped my childhood" over it. I'm just kind of amazed that they went to "aliens".
AAlgar: If this were the 90s, it'd start as aliens and end up being a military experiment gone wrong.
Travis: I'm not sure if you asked me to make a movie based on Battleship I could get to "aliens".
AAlgar: If I were making a Battleship movie, I'm not sure I could get to "Liam Neeson."
Travis: For the record, I'm in favor of Liam Neeson in every movie.
AAlgar: Let me put it to you another way: how much of the weird shit in the Pirates movies was in the original theme park ride? It's a fucking THEME PARK RIDE that they've made four movies out of. And maybe more.
Travis: How about "Clue"?
AAlgar: Clue... had a story. Sort of. There's an inherent plot in that game. Which they held to, basically.
Travis: It would seem to me that if tasked to write a movie based on a game, the first step would be "play game". The second would be "write down what happens".
AAlgar: Sure.
Travis: Which is why jumping to aliens is so amazing to me.
AAlgar: But seriously, Battleship is like... making a movie based on checkers. It's a simple strategy game. There's no inherent story there. No characters. Only the flimsiest of settings.
Travis: I completely agree on all of that. But that should mean that you have the widest possible freedom to make any movie in the world as long as it has a Battleship in it.
AAlgar: And you or I, as hungry writers who would love to do something fun and original, would do something weird and great. A lazy studio hack is gonna say "throw some fucking aliens in this."
Travis: They also have a movie in the works based on Candyland, purportedly. This, to me, would be like if they added vampires to that.
AAlgar: I would not be surprised if they did that! Maybe not to Candyland, because they'll try to market that to small kids, I bet. But I dunno, the game of Life, let's say. Or Monopoly. One of those will have vampires.
 Travis: Connect Four with Vampires?
AAlgar: "Pretty sneaky, sis. Bleh!"
 Travis: So the moral of the story is, when in doubt, add aliens? Or vampires?
AAlgar: I will bet you a thousand dollars Battleship will not do well at the box office. Nobody wants to see that. I guarantee EW has a pre-made BATTLESHIP SINKS headline ready to go.
Travis: But what if it's a box-office smash? Then that becomes the shitty summer movie version of "Dewey Beats Truman".
AAlgar: And I lose a thousand dollars! C'mon though... hit movies are so rarely a surprise. Sometimes the things you expect to do well tank. But very rarely does it work the other way around.
Travis: I suppose so. I just don't have the genetic quirks that enable me to look at the roster and pick what will be wheat from what will be chaff. It ALL looks like chaff to me. I still go see a lot of it, but that's because I love popcorn.
 AAlgar: I'm hardly Rain Man when it comes to this.
Travis: Well, in your defense, that would just mean counting the shitty movies.
AAlgar: Heh.

*****
Tune in on Monday for Part Two, which is AAl and I talking about superhero movies for what is probably a longer time than is healthy for two adult males.

Hugs and kisses,
(The)Travis