Sunday, August 25, 2019

The End of the MCU As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

As the prophesy foretold, yet another iteration of Spider-Man looks like it's going down the drain. As Deadline reported and not a single person is unaware of now, the deal between Sony and Disney to share the film rights to Spider-Man has ended. In broad strokes, this means no more Spider-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which, more than anything else, I think is pretty funny.

In an uncharacteristic move, I never ended up publishing reviews of Spider-Man: Homecoming or Far From Home. By the time I collected my thoughts on Homecoming, it was a little too late for anyone to care, and Far From Home had the whole "ENDGAME SPOILERS OH NO" problem. So for the sake of context, here are my thoughts on those two films as a whole.

They were okay films, certainly nothing outrageously wrong from a filmmaking standpoint. Like a lot of Marvel movies, they were fine. Nothing fancy in the mechanics, like camera work or style; if you've seen a Marvel movie you know what I mean. But as Spider-Man movies, they were not good. Spider-Man as a character lost much of what he had in the comics and other adaptations. He was like a sidekick, more or less, trying to impress Iron Dad in Homecoming, and taking orders from Fury to become Iron Boy in Far From Home. Everything that made Spider-Man special and important to me didn't survive the transition. These films felt more like Iron Man 4 and 5 than a reboot of Spider-Man. Where was his independent nature, his man-against-the-world struggle? Where was the working class perspective on this superhero nonsense? All gone. He was provided everything he needed by a rich man, even after said patron died. They even went so far as to homage the first Iron Man in Far From Home, as if to say, "Don't worry everyone, we have a new Iron Man." Spider-Man is not Iron Man. Not even close. I'm honestly surprised that distinction needed to be made more than once, like everyone didn't figure out it was a bad idea after Slott's Parker Industries comic run.

That's not even mentioning the supporting cast, which I found either annoying or superfluous. Each one is named after a legacy character, like Ned Leeds or Flash Thompson, but bears a shallow and mismatched resemblance to their namesake. Flash is a mathlete instead of a football player, but he hates Peter Parker and loves Spider-Man anyway. MJ is a counterculture misanthrope with one tone of voice, but her and Peter fall in love anyway. Ned is just Ganke Lee from Ultimate Spider-Man. As I've detailed before they all seemed scattered, unable to be the characters we know, but not allowed to be different ones either. It was frustrating in a way only someone who obsesses about Spider-Man can understand.

Hopefully that provides some context for when I say: I'm glad this Disney/Sony divorce is happening. My article railing against it in the first place was astonishingly accurate. I just didn't call that Spider-Man would replace Iron Man. He did just sort of appear with little explanation, and they had to change that iteration so much he was barely recognizable. Suffice it to say I disliked the direction they were going with him. The Sony-only venture Into the Spider-Verse was such a massive triumph that it almost washes away Amazing Spider-Man 2. Even the first Amazing Spider-Man was a good movie, and I will die on that hill. Everyone seems adamant to point out that Sony has a terrible track-record with the character, but I like all of those films more than the Marvel ones. Did we all forget Raimi's Spider-Man 2? Spider-Verse proves that Sony can go weird with it, which as far as I'm concerned is worth way more than another boilerplate Marvel film. Maybe someone could actually take some risks again, instead of dipping their toes in the water but ultimately playing it safe. Either give me Flash Thompson, or don't, none of this halfway business.

Not to mention Disney losing a property should be seen as a win by the great mass of moviegoers. Is anyone else terrified by the complete hegemony Disney has over the entertainment landscape? Marvel, Star Wars, classic Disney canon, and they just keep getting more, what with the Fox buyout that occurred recently. They recently released the lineup for Disney+, one of the many many streaming services about to release, meant to desperately claw for a piece of that Netflix cash. It's almost as bad as the Phase III plan they announced back in 2015. But the twist is, that's just one of the franchises they own! There's a separate one for Star Wars, for classic Disney properties, the Simpsons, they even got the goddamn Muppets. Nothing else illustrates in such stark detail the stranglehold Disney has over a wide swath of once-independent properties.

I have very little faith that Deadpool (a film nearly universally beloved) could've been made if Disney owned the character from the beginning. How about Logan? A sequel to a family-friendly franchise, instead rated R and living up to every inch of that rating. Could we ever get an R-rated Avengers film? This isn't how Disney works. Kid-friendly to a fault, and despite making billions of dollars they play it safe time and time again. I'm glad at least something I enjoy isn't eaten up by the conglomerate that thought The Last Jedi was a good idea.

Is Sony going to continue casting Tom Holland? Will they just reboot the whole thing again? Who knows! The only one here we can really pity is Tom Holland in the event he's recast, but then again, nobody really shed a tear when Andrew Garfield got fired. Somewhat troubling is the notion that this might foretell a film version of One More Day, where Mephisto shows up to undo Spider-Man's identity issues, and maybe make everyone forget he exists entirely. At least this time the retcon would work for me. I'm glad I have no idea what's going to happen! I'm sick of superhero movies being the equivalent of the constant tiresome crossover events in comics!

Then again, this may all be a moot point. There's always the possibility of new negotiations, nothing's set in stone. Obviously at this point you know I'd be disappointed if this was reversed. We'll just have to wait and see what the full implications are to this, but I'm a Spider-Man fan, this ain't my first reboot, and it won't be the last.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Let's Watch Barbie Star Light Adventure

Can we change who we are? Are our inner selves immutable, subject only to forces beyond our control? We can try to influence our own development, foster traits we find desireable, but we must realize our efforts may all be for naught. Our darkest impulses can lurk beneath the surface resisting all attempts to rectify them. However, we are human beings, graced with consciousness and sapience, surely we can identify the parts of ourselves we want to expunge and change ourselves accordingly. It has to be possible, how else can we expect to muddle through the eternal struggles of this constant mistake we call life? I can't let my past dictate my future and continue to fuck up the same way over and over again. So why?

Why can't I stop?

Barbie™ is a cosmic princess who flies high on her hoverboard through a far-off universe with her adorable and devoted pet sidekick, Pupcorn. One day, everything changes when the twinkling stars start to dim and slow their dance in the sky. Barbie™ travels to a beautiful new planet to join a special rescue team on a mission to save the stars. Once there, she teams up with a group of talented new friends who work together to save the galaxy through exciting hoverboard adventures. Barbie™ soon discovers that if she listens to her heart, and with the help of her friends, she might be the leader the whole universe has been waiting for!

I need someone to tell me. Does that sound like something you would want to watch? I was ready to buy this before I saw the word "hoverboard" and even after I saw the word "Pupcorn." Nothing stopped me, especially everything that should have. This isn't even remotely marketed towards me! What went wrong?! I am frightened of the decisions I can't prevent myself from making!

Please help.

Let's Watch: Barbie Star Light Adventure

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Concept Corner: Come On And Slam

You know what? Let's just have some goddamn fun. These albums don't always have to be serious shit where you analyze all the lines and leitmotifs to see the deeper subtext. Sometimes you just want to listen to a punk/folk/bluegrass album about Space Jam.

Concept Corner: Sledding With Tigers - Come On And Slam

Come On And Slam is a 2015 album by Sledding With Tigers that came out of nowhere. How did somebody know to make this? Did they go inside my brain? I didn't even know the desire for this was in there. But here it is. It's all downhill from here.

The Story

It's fucking Space Jam. C'mon.

Okay, okay.

Michael Jordan, basketball superstar, retires. He wants a new sport, with a smaller ball and a stick. Which, oddly enough, actually happened in real life. [1. Retirement] Then we jump to the alien planet whose name I can't remember. It's not important. Mr. Swackhammer, a fat alien who owns a failing theme park, is sad about those things. Maybe if he kidnapped the Looney Tunes, then things could be better... [2. Aliens Exist 2 (Swackhammer's Lament)] Back on Earth, beloved actor Bill Murray wants to be a star in the NBA. Michael Jordan gives him some gentle advice. [3. Take It From Me, Michael Jordan] Now the aliens are on Earth, and are about to abduct the Looney Tunes for their theme park. But the aliens need to give them a chance to defend themselves, they have to win a competition! The Looney Tunes pick basketball, because all the aliens are short, and those kind of people are not usually very skilled at basketball. [4. Short People by Newman From Seinfeld] In a twist of fate nobody saw coming, the aliens steal the skills and height, somehow, from pro basketball players. One such man is Charles Barkley, who, shit, man, is having a real tough time of it now. [5. The Ballad of Charles Barkley] So then we skip ahead a while past Michael Jordan meeting the Tunes and them learning basketball with a classic 80's song montage. [6. Mon-tage] Now we're at the end! Man, that montage skipped a lot. Things start out bad, but Bill Murray finally gets his chance! I mean, you watched the movie, you know how this goes. Unless you didn't, in which case, how did you get here? The ultimate point being that Michael Jordan makes a one-of-a-kind halfway-across-the-court stretchy-arm shot, and they win! That's the end. [7. The Big Game (Movements 1 & 2)]

Now, you probably notice they cut a lot out, but that was to focus on the real emotional core of the film, which was obviously Bill Murray and Charles Barkley. Bill starts out dismissed, as a short, not terribly athletic actor, who probably has no business playing basketball, to the last hope of the Looney Tunes so they don't all become Space Slaves. In the film proper, Charles Barkley and the rest of the NBA stars who have their talents stolen by the aliens are little more than the butt of a gag. But "The Ballad of Charles Barkley" delves deep into the emotional turmoil one would feel if their very essence was siphoned from them. It's so raw and poignant it nearly drove me to tears. Even Swackhammer, leader of the evil aliens trying to capture the Looney Tunes, is just a sad overweight alien with an insolvent theme park, who lives each day in fear.

You may have thought Space Jam was complete on its own, but this album adds so much more. In fact, forget the movie, if you want the real story, just listen to this album.

The Music

You would think an album of this caliber, being that it's a short, oddly genred joke, wouldn't actually be good to listen to just because. But it is. If I'm not already marked as a Degenerate Hipster, this'll probably do it. Though it may not be as ambitious a mix of genres as say, Ayreon, Sledding With Tigers resides in a certain niche of indie music that's difficult to classify. Punkish-folk or Folkish-punk gets the idea across. They even have a song where the opening lines are "I'm not punk enough for punk and I'm not folk enough for folks." It's of course an odd choice to make for a Space Jam album, but a Space Jam album in the first place was an oddball idea.

The album's pretty short, at around a 15 minute runtime, so picking favorites is both less and more difficult. "The Ballad of Charles Barkley" stands out for me, since divorced of the Space Jam connection, it sounds more or less like one of the band's normal tracks. I won't lie, I actually had an authentic emotional moment listening to this song. From an album about Space Jam.

It doesn’t feel the same
No, it doesn’t feel the same
I feel like an alien
Took everything I’ve got

Maybe it's the violin, played by Sam Juneman. It just... it got to me, man.

"Take It From Me, Michael Jordan" is surprisingly catchy. With banjo played by Brandon Boggs, it's a peppy little delve into Bill Murray's heretofore unfulfilled dream. Poor guy.

I’m sorry Bill Murray I wish you wouldn’t cry
You’re an actor and a millionaire and a pretty good guy
I’m sorry Bill Murray it’s just not in the cards
You’re too short, and awkward, and basketball’s hard

Dan Faughnder provides vocals and acoustic guitar for the album, and though his voice doesn't carry the same majestic weight of my favorite metal vocalists, it's perfect for the project. He even has a little speaking segment in the middle of "The Big Game (Movements 1 & 2)" giving the whole thing an almost Arlo Guthrie vibe. That's without mentioning the mini-cover of the Space Jam theme in the chorus, making this a sort of unofficial Slam Jam.

Come On And Slam might be a silly joke album, but it's one I unironically enjoy. I mean, shit, they gave an emotional arc to Bill Murray from a kid's movie from the 90's. It's nothing to take too seriously. You can purchase this album yourself on the band's Bandcamp page and you can name your price! Here's hoping they release a longer version covering more of the whole movie, like Daffy's superiority complex, or maybe another film, like The Pagemaster. Shit, now that I came up with that idea, it's all I want.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Dragon Ball Super: Broly

Dragon Ball Super: Broly is the best Dragon Ball film ever made. To most of you, that's probably not a very high bar. Nobody watches The Return of Cooler and thinks, "That should've won an Oscar." Of course, things have been a bit different since Dragon Ball was revived with Battle of the Gods, what with canon movies being released that have a bit more impact than the usual Who Cares Movie Villain stories. Not to say some of those haven't been enjoyable in their own right.

See, there's something DB movies do better than the serialized show most of the time, and that's pacing. With the show, you have a situation like Planet Namek due to explode in five minutes, but in-show it ends up taking around an hour. And that's in the compressed version! Things tend to be stretched out to build tension or explain what's going on, leading to fatigue if you're not a twelve year old boy and completely into it. The films, on the other hand, compress themselves a bit more, so Goku meets a villain, they fight, Goku seems like he might lose but at the last minute overcomes his limitations and kills the villain. It's simple, it's like a mainline dose of Dragon Ball whereas the show tends to be more like an I.V. drip.

This pattern of the movies, though enjoyable next to the longer-form Dragon Ball stuff, does tend to get a bit old-hat as time goes on. And to their credit, each of the movies that eventually turned into Dragon Ball Super put a little twist on this. In Battle of the Gods, the film works more like one of the show's training sequences, where Goku comes out the other side with a new ability that would help him fight tougher foes later, like learning Kaioken on King Kai's planet. Sure, Beerus is mildly established as a villainous force, but nobody thought he was actually going to destroy Earth. In Resurrection F, we get the return of Freiza, and it's almost a complete anti-climax. Goku and Vegeta just have new forms which easily mop the floor with Freiza. The only source of tension was when Freiza blew up the Earth before they could murder him. And they just time-traveled to fix that.

Broly, however, is an outlier in a few different ways. For one, as I mentioned in my trailer discussion, this is the first time a non-canon character was brought into the main continuity. Not only do they go that far, this one actually has flashbacks (and technically retcons) to Planet Vegeta before it was destroyed, giving us our first animated glimpse of Gine, Goku's mother. But the most important part, I think, is that it takes your expectations of a Dragon Ball movie, based on that pattern I mentioned earlier, and flips them turn-ways.

To wit: Nobody thinks Turles will live past the end of The Tree of Might. Even though the spectacle is enjoyable, we all know it'll settle back into the status quo when all is said and done. Even Freiza was killed again by the end of Resurrection F. Suffice it to say, it was unlikely that Broly would survive the film, especially considering how he fared in his DBZ movies. It was so deep an expectation in one's mind that one barely noticed it before the film. That's just the way things go. So right out of the gate, Dragon Ball Super: Broly throws a curveball.

You like Broly.

I don't mean that in the same way you like your usual Saturday Morning Cartoon villain. It's not as if he had a lot of charisma or stage presence, he wasn't sadistic and diabolical like the previous version of Broly. He was... innocent. Early on in the film, after establishing where Broly's been for the last 20-or-so years, he tells his new friends about the green fur he wears around his waist. It came from a monster who lived on the planetoid, Vampa, where Broly grew up. Broly would "train" by dodging the monster's attacks, but after a while a sort of understanding grew between the two. Broly named it "Ba" after the noise it would make. It was Broly's first and only friend for his entire childhood. Then Broly's father, Paragus, shot it with a gun. This severed the creature's ear and made it hostle to Broly and his father from then on. Broly wears the ear itself like a sash to remember his one and only friend.

This little flashback is startlingly reminiscent of Goku from the early days of Dragon Ball. Both were incredibly strong kids, but they were happy enough to just have fun on their own and take care of themselves. With Goku, it ended with him making all kinds of friends and being a force for good, but Broly had a different outcome. Despite being exiled from Planet Vegeta, the presence of Paragus ensured Broly had a Saiyan upbringing. It was harsh, focused only on strength despite what Broly might've wanted. The parallels shared between Goku's and Broly's childhoods give you a sense of empathy towards Broly his first movie was sorely lacking. (But not for a lack of trying.)

Broly defends Cheelai, one of the people who rescued him from Vampa, from a drunk on Freiza's ship who was harrassing her. And you see that Paragus' method for controlling Broly is a bit more barbaric this time around. Instead of a vague control headband, it's a jury-rigged electrical collar that does little more than shock the hell out of Broly the second he steps out of line. It's no wonder Broly had trouble keeping control when under duress, he was handled no better than a wild dog.

The point of all this is: Broly, of course, fights Goku and Vegeta. And for most of the fight, he holds his own. As our main characters slowly step up their power, Broly matches them beat for beat. And in the back of your mind, as you're watching the best fight scene ever animated, something nags at you. It's blatant how this usually goes down. Goku and Vegeta will pull out all the stops at the end and destroy Broly with a big ol' ki blast to the face. But at this point, you don't want that. Broly never asked for any of this, he's not fighting because he wants to rule a planet or because he loves violence. He's a mentally damaged pure soul who was railroaded by his father into becoming a killing machine. There's no question about whether Goku or Vegeta will survive, we all know they will. But to win, they would have to kill Broly. Eventually that fact becomes increasingly apparent, and by the time you realize it yourself, Cheelai's put it together and takes steps to save Broly.

I hesitate to call it a twist; the film isn't intentionally misleading you. It's more apt to say the film subverted your expectations, but that's become such a loaded phrase I'm going to feel bad about even writing it. The kicker to all of this is that Broly does, in fact, survive. All the non-canon transformations of Broly people have been creating in their heads in the time since his first film could actually happen! There's the potential (but not guarantee) that he will be just as important as other secondary characters in the Dragon Ball universe from now on.

All of that is without even mentioning the stand-out animation on display here, some of the best from any Dragon Ball property I've ever seen. The movement, the flowing natural way they fight is what I imagined was going on in Z when all we saw were lights blipping about on screen. And they actually made the different levels of Super Saiyan distinct! I could write an entire other article just about how unique and important Super Saiyan God was in this movie, and in this movie alone.

The score is a bit more controversial, it seems. It's a bit esoteric at times, with a voice track that just says the names of the characters fighting. Okay, it's downright goofy, but it takes itself seriously, and as you know with music that is just about all I ask for. I mean, hell, most of the film is a fight scene, I don't want the tracks playing to be subdued or boring. I want the weird shit where it seems like the film itself is cheering on Gogeta!

This film is just the perfect piece of Dragon Ball media. It took what I wanted (a fight scene) did it far better than my limited expectations could encompass, all while revamping a character I already liked, giving him so much more depth than his previous incarnation. It's a masterclass in Dragon Ball. I've already watched it five times already, and I'm likely to watch it more. From what I hear, the director of this movie will be working on future episodes of DBS, which is real good news to me! Obviously they'll be dealing with a smaller budget, but if we get the same amount of style, I am in. This film is must-see for anyone who likes Dragon Ball. If you're not, I have no idea. I dunno, give it shot, if you're at least a fan of animation there's plenty for you here. Since this doesn't seem like the end of Dragon Ball, I can only hope it keeps this level of mastery from here on out.