Friday, July 31, 2015

"In Which I Try to Convince You to Watch a Children's Cartoon Show" or "Watch Steven Universe"

I'm a 33 year old married man with no kids who likes to read comic books, read fantasy novels, and watch movies where giant robots fight monsters from other dimensions.

What I'm saying is you really shouldn't be surprised by the blog you're about to read in which I try to convince you to watch a children's cartoon.

So why should you watch "Steven Universe?"

1. It's a great homage to stuff you probably already like. Are you like me? Did you grow up watching poorly translated Japanese cartoons like "Voltron" or "Sailor Moon?" Did middle school you think "The Simpsons" was the funniest thing in the history of things? Well, then you might like "Steven Universe" which is both a parody, and a loving homage of things that kids who grew up in the late eighties through the nineties really loved.

2. Do you think traditional gender roles are sort of bullshit? You do? Well so does "Steven Universe." Steven Universe is a young boy who is half human and half gem. "Gems" are badass alien fighters with cool weapons, and superpowers who fights monsters. Oh, and gems are all female except for Steven (on account of him being half-human.) All of the "action" characters in this show are women. Oh, and in addition, there are all kinds of female characters on this show. Pearl is disciplined and controlled. Amethyst is wild and loves to party. Garnet is cool, and also built like a brick shit house. On the flip side of the coin, many of the shows male characters are emotionally available, and nurturing- roles men aren't always allowed to play in society or in entertainment. Steven himself loves and looks up to the Crystal Gems (his warrior caretakers), but also spends most of his time... caring for people- trying to make sure their needs are met. The show also features characters who are gay, straight, black, white, and everything else. It's like if "Sense8" was a kids' show.

3. The songs.  Good lord, the songs! There's a song every third or fourth episode and I love them all. Here's one of my favorites: "Giant Woman" in which Steven sings about how he wants Pearl and Amethyst to merge into a larger, more powerful  gem.
Catchy as hell right?

4. It revels in its weirdness. This is a weird show. The gems are literally sentient stones who project holographic bodies. On one episode, they fight an evil breakfast. On another, they fight a possessed mascot for a french fry restaurant. The show knows it's weird. There's an even a character named Ronaldo who runs a blog called "Keep Beach City Weird," chronicling all of the weird stuff that happens in Beach City (where the show takes place.) Oh, and Steven's mother, a gem, had to die to give birth to Steven because she became Steven. Is that confusing as hell? Will it make sense to you after you watch the show? Maybe?

5. All of the characters are deeply, profoundly flawed. Even though they're often weird aliens, every single character on the show is flawed in a very profound way. They make mistakes, often bad ones. The whole second season of the show has featured one character slowly breaking down as she admits her own emotional trauma before trying to build herself back up again. The characters don't always get along with, or like each other. But "Steven Universe" uses its characters flaws, and mistakes, so, so well, and it's so much more satisfying when the characters come together and triumph because it feels like they overcame something real, learned lessons- just like actual people.

6. It's action-packed. Between "Avatar: the Last Airbender" and "Steven Universe," I have to say that most of the best action sequences I've seen in the last few years or so were on kids' cartoons. The action scenes in "Steven Universe" are just off-the-wall, clawing the edge-of-your seat awesome.

7. It's funny. Remember when I compared the show to "The Simpsons?" The humor reminds me a lot of that show. Or, it reminds me of "The Simpsons" back when Homer and the gang were in their heyday. It's really, really funny.

So, there are seven good reasons to watch "Steven Universe." Give it a try.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Why I'd Rather Watch Ant-Man Than the Transporter

Chelsea is out of town on a girl's trip and I had nothing to do last night. I decided to go to the theater to see "Ant-Man." As I sat at the Davis Theater in Lincoln Square, a trailer for the next sequel to "The Transporter" came on.

Now as I watched this trailer, I suddenly had a sort of random thought:

I would much rather watch Ant-Man- a heist movie about a guy who shrinks and talks to ants- than a heist movie about a guy who drives cars.

I mean, of course I would. I'm a comic book guy. I have a bust of Cyclops, a Green Lantern ring, and a Captain America mask on my desk at work. Superheroes are my jam. But clearly they're lots of other people's jams too. "Ant-Man," a movie about a guy whose superpower is the ability to shrink and talk to ants, made $58 million in domestic box office last weekend.

I point this out because there's a certain type of person who complains about superhero film fatigue. "There are too many superhero movies!" says this person "And they are all the same thing!" they says. "Superhero movies infantilize the people watching them!" So does watching football and drinking cherry soda. "I want to see more movies about people sitting around eating crackers and talking about the pointlessness of existence!" Me too, certain type of person. But you know what I also want to see?

Frakking Ant-Man.

Here's why I don't think superhero film fatigue has set in yet.

As I watched the trailer for "The Transporter," it looked... boring. Guy drives a car and explosions happen. It doesn't really tickle the imagination-centered parts of the brain very much. Now imagine if that trailer was "tiny guy rides an army of  ants and explosions happen." That's... weird and sort of crazy and it makes that imagination-centered part of your brain perk up a little more. I think that's why superhero films have supplanted traditional action films somewhat. They're more fun and more creative (for the most part.) A superhero movie can be a ton of different things too. It can be big and over the top and crazy like "Guardians of the Galaxy" or it can be dark and gritty like "The Dark Knight." Traditional action films just don't have that much range.

I do think superhero film fatigue will probably set in for real eventually. Westerns dominated the box office for decades and now... maybe one decent western comes out each year? But I think when they go away, they probably won't be supplanted by a return to traditional, groundedish action movies. It'll probably be something bigger and crazier like epic fantasy films or space opera or something like that. Okay, that might be wishful thinking on my part. Still.

Action movies are nice. They're fun. Sometimes they're even smart and challenging. But superheroes do everything a traditional action movie does- they just also have shrinking guys and talking raccoons and capes and a sense of child-like wonder and I believe they'll stick around for awhile for those reasons.

Monday, July 13, 2015

10 Things I Want in a New Batman Movie

So I'm not excited about Superman v. Batman: The Dawn of Grittiness, like, at all.

After this weekend, however, I am potentially excited about the next Batman movie.


Well, Ben Affleck is directing it, and while he's a mediocre actor at best, the last few years have shown that he's actually a pretty good director.

Also, Geoff Johns is writing it. Yup- the same guy who made the Justice Society a thing again and wrote my all-time favorite run (ha) on the Flash is writing a Batman movie.

What I'm saying is this movie might be good. I know, I know. There have been too many Batman movies. Do we really need to see another movie where Batman mopes around and then punches the Joker or Two-Face a few times before retreating to the Bat Cave to glower some more? Well, probably not. Here's the thing though: Batman has been around since 1939. There have been dozens of different, really neat takes on the character. The movies, on the other hand, have almost all been slight variations on Frank Miller's version of the character.

What I'm getting at here is if they play their cards right, we might get a really neat movie with a really fresh take on Batman. Here are 10 things I'd like to see in an Affleck/Johns Batman joint.

1. Detective Work. If you're a fan of the comics and not the movies, you might not know that one of Batman's nicknames is "the world's greatest detective." Batman is an expert martial artist, an inventor, and a master of criminal psychology, but his best skill is his deeply analytical mind. In (many) of his comics and on shows like Batman the Animated Series and even Adam West's Batman to an extent, Batman is portrayed as a modern-day Sherlock Holmes. I'd love to see a movie where Batman needs to use his detective skills to solve a problem. I'd love it even more if that was the central focus of the whole movie.

2. No origin story. Batman Begins is probably going to end up as the definitive take on Batman's origin story. Christopher Nolan took half the film to show how Batman went from a rich kid whose parents got shot in an alley to a terrifying symbol of vigilante justice. We don't need to see that again because A) Batman Begins and B) everybody knows that story. Everybody knows Batman's origin. We don't need it rehashed in a movie for the umptee-bajillionth time. Just get on with the action/mystery.

3. Bruce Wayne: Superhero. Speaking of great takes on Batman that we seldom see in films- from time to time comic book writers (like Grant Morrison in the brilliant "Batman Inc.) remember that "crime is caused by systemic disenfranchisement and poverty and lack of access to job opportunities." What Batman does as a vigilante is essentially a bandaid on the issue of crime. What Bruce Wayne CAN do is use his billions to create industry in Gotham to provide jobs, donate to charities that help the poor, and help develop the sort of urban infrastructure that makes the lives of regular people better- stopping crime before it happens. Let's see THAT Bruce Wayne instead of the "pretend idiot playboy" that the movies normally give us.

4. Barbara Gordon. Barbara Gordon is the single most awesome, most important character in the bat-mythos who has barely been in the movies. What's that? Alicia Silverstone? From Clueless? I don't know what you're talking about. I want to see the goddamned Batgirl. We know Affleck is playing an older Batman which means it makes sense that he's had time to assemble some partners-in-crime-fighting and whether she appears as Batgirl or Oracle, Barbara Gordon would be a welcome addition to any bat-film.

5. Superpowers. One of the neat things about the DC movie-verse version of Batman- this is a guy who exists in the same world as Superman, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman. This means that you can forgo the street-level, real worldish Bat-world that Christopher Nolan used and do a bunch of crazy comic book shit. Batman can fight robots! Batman can encounter space aliens! Batman can fight dark gods from the other side of the galaxy! Or you know, Batman could fight super-powered villains from his own Rogues Gallery like Mr. Freeze or Clayface.

6. Batboat. Batspaceship. Bat shark repellent. So speaking of different takes on Batman, Batman hasn't always been a guy who just relied on batarangs and the Batmobile. We know from the film trailers that Batman wears some crazy souped up armor in Batman v. Superman to fight the Man of Steel. This means that, potentially, this is a Batman who has all kinds of crazy cool scifi gadgets. I want to see crazy Batman vehicles! Like a submarine! Or a spaceship! I want cool bat-gadgets like a bola launcher or bat shark repellent! Batman is supposed to be an ingenious guy with a limitless budget who is more than a little crazy. Let's see that guy and all of his wonderful toys. 

7. Other Superheroes. The neat thing about a shared superhero universe is that other superheroes might show up, even in solo superhero films. Like, how fun was it in "Captain America the Winter Soldier" to see Black Widow and Falcon along with Cap? I'll answer that question: it was the most fun. Let's see Batman team up with Wonder Woman. Or Hawkman. Or even a Batman/Vibe film team up. And no, I am not kidding about that last one. 

8. Ace the Bat-Hound. I'm a sucker for superhero pets. Let's see Batman's loyal dog Ace guarding the Bat Cave. 

9. Prometheus.  So most of these have been "things that I think would make a great Batman movie that everyone could enjoy." This one is just for me. My all time favorite DC Comics villain is Prometheus, who's essentially the anti-Batman. Prometheus's parents were Bonnie and Clyde style bank robbers who were killed by the police. Prometheus responded by swearing to fight justice wherever he found it. That's right, Prometheus is the anti-Batman. In addition to that, he has a headquarters (the Crooked House) that exists in another dimension, and he can download skills directly into his brain like Neo from the Matrix. Prometheus is not a universally loved villain like the Joker. But he is loved by me. So put him in the movie, Affleck because Batman versus an antiBatman would be a frakking awesome movie (for me.)

10. Bat-smiles. Bat-hugs. Look, we all know that Batman is a super-serious, grim and gritty character who eats nighttime for breakfast and shits out controlled anger. We see that guy all the time. But you know what else Batman is? He's a guy who's sworn never to use lethal force. He's a guy who's more than a little obsessed with taking care of kids. He's a guy who can smile, and laugh, and enjoy himself. He's defined by his personal tragedy, but he's not JUST defined by his personal tragedy. I want to see Batman smile. I want to see him hug people he cares about. Remember that beneath the facade, Batman is a human being. This may actually be the thing I want to see most in a Batman movie.