Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The New Mutants








The New Mutants is a Marvel Comic about the next generation of X-Men.

It's basically about the new class of kids going to Professor X's school, because it was too weird after awhile to have Wolverine still going to math class. It was also one of Marvel's answers to DC's teen superhero book, The Teen Titans, which starred such recognizable names as Robin and Kid Flash and Wonder Girl and Aqualad... And Green Arrow's stupidly named sidekick, Speedy, and... Cyborg, I guess...? And also... Beast Boy and Starfire...?

After the original five, they pretty much ran out of known sidekicks...

Anyway, at the time, Teen Titans was selling more books than the X-Men were, so Marvel was trying everything they could to get in on that business. The New Mutants was one such attempt by very obviously cribbing a big chunk of the successful formula: Teen characters. It was hoped that this fresh take would appeal to young people. The cast dealt with themes about young love, and growing up, insecurity, and drugs... probably, I bet. Mostly, as I remember them, they cried a lot. A lot.

This was in 1983.


The book never quite caught on like Teen Titans did, despite some good efforts, a few different rosters, and a new creative team or two, and eventually both it and Teen Titans fell to the wayside and were basically forgotten. X-Men, meanwhile, became a sales juggernaut the likes of which wasn't rivaled until the modern day MCU, one that FOX Studios has eagerly squeezed every single bit of creativity and money out of that they could, and once that well went dry, they squeezed some more.

Which is how it is The New Mutants now have an upcoming movie.

The film is supposedly going to be based off the "Demon Bear" story, which is one of the better known and better written New Mutant story lines by legendary X-Men writer Chris Claremont--a guy who basically determined the entire modern-day identity of the X-franchise--and features incredible art by the simply amazing Bill Sienkiewicz.


It's a horror story of sorts, about a demonic bear spirit that haunts one of the mutants (and turns two minor white characters into Native Americans, which is... weird... and not the last time something like that happened in the X-universe), all while dealing with the pain of an estranged relationship between a child and their parents, merged with the reality of life as a mutant outcast, which is of course a pretty obvious, well-worn, and overly-familiar metaphor when it comes to X-men/Mutant stuff, but that's why we love it.

That, and the fact that it has character/team histories that contain sentences like this one, which describes the team's decision to become a more permanent thing: Although the team was originally created because Professor Xavier was possessed by a Brood Queen egg that had been laid inside of him, which wanted him to provide more hosts for future brood embryos, they stayed together. (The Brood is basically Marvel's version of the Xenomorph from the ALIEN movie franchise.)


Yep... pretty much.

Here's the film's synopsis: Five young mutants, just discovering their abilities while held in a secret facility against their will, fight to escape their past sins and save themselves.

I'll be honest, I'm really disappointed by this direction. I am so bored with the "mutants trapped in an evil facility" type of story. I mean, I get that the central idea of the entire franchise is that the X-Men fight for a world that hates and fears them and all that shit, but I just can't help but wonder what kind of magic we might get if the X-Men were instead trying to stop time-traveling evil versions of themselves from an alternate future, or maybe teaming up with space pirates in order to take on an intergalactic empire? Why not stretch a little? Because this? The "evil facility" story line? It's such a snoozer. I would love it so much if future creators were barred from using this worn-out "evil facility" narrative, even for just a little while, but... well, this is what we're getting, so....

Anyway, the film features...

Cannonball


Samuel Guthrie is the most superhero-ish of all the New Mutant characters. He can fly in a kind-of high-speed rocket-powered way, and can ram into stuff because he's invulnerable while in flight. This kind of ability makes complete sense, when you think of it in the context of being born with the mutant gene. He was simply born with the "rocket-powered" gene. That's not weird at all, it's just like having two different eye colors, and no, his rocket power is not the result of super-powered farting. Cannonball is from Tennessee or maybe Kentucky, I believe, so as a result, he is often portrayed as a complete backwoods hayseed. In the film, he'll be portrayed by Charlie Heaton, the cocaine aficionado who played Jonathan, the creepy photographer brother, in STRANGER THINGS.

Magik


Illyana Rasputin has always been the victim of too many clashing backstories, all of which are kind of stupid. She started life as the baby sister of the X-men Colossus. She was basically a big-eyed doll he was ridiculously over-protective of. This seemed strange, until the day Illyana was kidnapped by demons, only to return mere moments later as a teenager, and as the half-demon Queen of Hell. From then on, she could use demon-magic, and she carried a flaming sword known as The Soulsword, and would sometimes grow horns and cloven feet, so, I guess... sorry for doubting you, Colossus. Illyana's cartoony Russian accent seems to come and go, depending on the writer, and when it's around, she usually talks like Natasha of Boris and Natasha fame from Bullwinkle. Also, her mutant gift is long-distance teleporting. They could use some of this, or all of this in the movie. Frankly, I'm hoping they'll only use the crazy shit, but more likely she'll be a teleporter, but only in times of extreme stress. In the film, Illyana will be portrayed by Anya Tayor-Joy, who was in The Witch, which was awesome, and Split, which was surprisingly not bad. I feel safe in the feeling that she can probably do a pretty decent super-cartoony Russian accent. 



As far as characters go, Danielle Moonstar is just this side of completely unknown for me. She was created by white guys in the 80s, so there isn't a single issue of New Mutants where she doesn't mention that she is a Native American of the Cheyenne Nation at least once. At least once. She is usually the go-to "spiritual shaman" character whenever the story needs someone to commune with an animal, or something in nature, like a tree. Her powers are that she can mentally capture a person's greatest fears and make that image appear, but... as a mirage. Hence the name. After that, she was de-powered, then re-powered by The High Evolutionary (whose helmet comes with a handle) with the ability to make her images real and solid, but only one at time. Then she became a Valkyrie, became best friends with a winged horse she named Brightwind, who later, when she was more emo, renamed as Darkwind. She also nearly killed Odin. Then she created a "spirit lance" which... I don't know what that did. Probably stabbed people. Then she fought Death while it was dressed as a cowboy, in a somewhat murky metaphor. It goes on and on like that. In the film, she is going to be portrayed by Blu Hunt, who was in The Originals, which I believe is a tv show about vampires.



Next up is Roberto "Bobby" da Costa. He can absorb the sun's energy and become super-strong. When this happens, he turns all black. The son of a Brazilian millionaire, he manifested his powers while beating up a bully. For most of his time as a character, he has been the angry teen, always flipping out and angrily punching a wall, and then feeling bad. Just... over and over. Now, he's a former Avenger, and a millionaire who bought the evil science-terrorist organization known as AIM (Advanced Ideas Mechanics), who were mostly known for looking like weird beekeepers, and for being all around general evil failures, but are now good, because Bobby changed their Mission Statement. Bobby is now kind of like a Brazilian Tony Stark, and most of his suits come with a flowing scarf, and there's a good chance he'll be pictured holding a brandy, or maybe champagne. Also, he and Cannonball are super BFFs forever and shit, total bros. But in the movie, he'll probably just be the super annoying angry teen who punches walls, and can only use his power when he's in a full on cry-rage. He's going to be played by Henry Zaga, who was in 13 REASONS WHY, which I never watched, and the TV show TEEN WOLF, which I also never watched.



Speaking of teen wolves, up next is Rahne Sinclair. Her mutant power is that she's basically a werewolf. She also cries a lot. Like, all the time, mostly because of the fact she has an extremely religious character background that is mostly used to make her an annoying stick-in-the-mud. Rahne is also from Scotland, so she also has a ridiculously cartoony accent that comes and goes, depending on the writer. She and Mirage are best friends, but only because of the oft-stated reason that Mirage's mutant power gives her a natural rapport with animals, for some reason, which would definitely make anyone feel super great about themselves, so maybe Rahne has some legit reasons to cry. As a character, she has bounced around a lot, showing up on a whole bunch of different teams. She also had an affair with an Asgardian Wolf-god, and eventually developed a new power which allows her to turn into five smaller wolves, instead of just one big one, because sometimes shit isn't randomly crazy enough. She'll probably have a pretty big role in the film, because she is being played by Maisie Williams, who already has an English accent, so good enough, and is the biggest star of the whole bunch because of some dragon and boobs show that's on HBO, I think.

Honestly, besides the whole comic book source material thing, she's actually the main reason I'm looking forward to the film.

Let's watch the trailer...



This doesn't look like a bad film to me, but it definitely feels very familiar. I feel like I've seen this film, this situation, or close enough, a thousand times before. That being said, I'm still interested, because this one is supposed to kick off a trilogy of New Mutants horror films. True, this is kind of odd, because I've never really thought of the comic as primarily a horror comic, but I like the idea.

But there's a bigger problem. A few bigger problems...

Red Flag Number One: This is Writer/Director Josh Boone talking about the film... "These kids could care less about being X-Men. They're so (messed) up and have had such horrible things happen, they're just trying to figure out how to get out of this situation. We just tried to pull this back and make it performance- and character-driven, and more grounded and credible than X-Men movies ever are."

Two things bother me about this quote.

One: Every time someone uses the terms "grounded" and "credible" or "lo-fi" or worst of all... "realistic" when talking about a movie/book/story about flying people who maybe shoot lasers out of their eyes while wearing a colorful cape as they fight alien invaders or evil scientists or homicidal gorilla tyrants, we end up with a timid, dull, and colorless film that is too busy trying to avoid the source material's craziness to be able to tell a successful and interesting story. This is such a dumb approach. I mean, God forbid a superhero film have some weird and crazy elements. Because of this thinking, we're probably going to end up with yet another story about people in hoodies who cry about how terrible it is that they can turn invisible or walk through walls.

It's just so boring.

And at this point, it's also an old and worn out narrative too. It's tired. Overly familiar. Like I said above, wouldn't it be cool to see what they could come up with outside of the "evil facility/government with an evil anti-mutant agenda"? Which brings up my second problem... Before the current Marvel films came along, almost every single comic book adaptation was just like this. Hoodies. Leather outfits. Nothing but grim and gritty regrets in a rain-soaked city where it's always night time. Now, I'm not expecting absolute adherence to the source material or anything. Costumes are not a requirement. I understand that changes have to happen in adaptations. I'm actually interested in the attempt to plop a comic book franchise into a horror setting, but it should still be a comic book adaptation first, instead of a horror film where the characters MIGHT have super powers.

Not that I didn't love DREAM WARRIORS...


Red Flag Number Two: The film was recently pushed back from its original release date of April 13th, 2018 to February 22nd, 2019. That's almost a full year! That's enough time to make three films. This was done supposedly to "make it scarier" after the success of Get Out and It, but here's the problem... Most films have reshoots, yes, especially superhero/genre films these days, but reshoots aside... good films don't get pushed back.

Good films definitely don't get pushed back almost a year.

I'm still looking forward to this, because it's in my wheelhouse. I'm curious. And I really do hope it turns out to be good, because I'd like to see superhero films stretch, and try some different tones and some different settings, especially with a mostly-dead franchise like the X-films. Unfortunately, right now, all signs seem to point to a film that would rather not be a comic book superhero film, but is kind of being forced to be, so it's begrudgingly doing very little (otherwise known as: Agents of SHIELDing a project). When that shit happens, I always wonder... if you're not into it, why bother? What's the point? Is the brand really all that matters? And if that's the situation you find yourself in, why not embrace it? I don't need costumes and the x-mansion or any of that kind of shit, in order to get a good movie, but if you're gonna go to this type of film well, then the first step seems kind of obvious to me: Jump in and swim, or get out of the pool.

Nice poster though...


Cautiously interested,
Jon

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Overwatch: “Honor and Glory”







I've talked about these Overwatch Short Films before. I mentioned how much I enjoyed them, and that I hoped there would be more. I even posted about one recently when I discovered I had missed its release.

Turns out I actually missed two of them...

This one is called "Honor and Glory" and it focuses on Reinhardt. Who is Reinhardt? He's described as a kind of wandering knight, who fights for justice and defends the innocence, undeterred by the toll of his age--Old Man Reinhardt, I guess--but it'd be fair if all you noticed was a giant in hi-tech power-armor, and wielding a massive warhammer and energy shield. From the looks of it, his basic design stems from a mix of classic Big Armor and that weird Bavarian fetish school of anime, but thankfully it appears light on the Nazi-era designs.

Which is always a relief...


I bet he doesn't sneak up on people very often.

Here's the synopsis: Overwatch's latest animated short carries us back to Eichenwalde where Reinhardt ponders his decision upon hearing Winston's fateful recalling of the Overwatch team. We are carried with him to his earlier memories when he, a younger, cockier lieutenant is trading barbs with his mentor, Balderich, and troops. The young warrior and old veteran debate the merits of joining Overwatch versus remaining a Crusader, how one's legacy is made, what role an individual plays in greater events, and whether one should answer when called to serve. We watch as he and his fellow Crusaders saddle up to defend their hometown against a formidable wave of "rust buckets." In the end, Balderich's courageous sacrifice inspires Reinhardt to join Overwatch in his mentor's place.

Well, that's a pretty thorough synopsis. Hopefully the film matches that effort.

Let's watch some Overwatch...



That was good.

This was a nice return to action, especially after the quieter tone of the last one. The story is a pretty classic set-up in that "cocky young buck learns a harsh lesson about responsibility and duty" kind of way, but it was still fun. There's a lot of good moments, some good-looking, slo-mo epic bits, an iconic hero shot or two, and a much bigger glimpse at the big war we last saw in Bastion's short. That's the conflict that initially created Overwatch, and whose resolution led to the team being disbanded as well. The main story is book-ended with a "Saving Private Ryan/Old Man Ruminating" framework which was well-done, as though things go, and that is where this story loops back into the larger arc, directly referencing Winston's message to recall the members of Overwatch.

I like that, because I like the idea that these shorts are all building to something, but once again, all we got here was a lot of set up and nothing else.

At this point, honestly, I doubt these shorts are going to come together into any kind of satisfying larger climatic story. They've had plenty of time, and all they're really doing in treading water. I mean, I still hope for an animated feature in this style, but I don't think this is going to be it. It's too bad, because I like the characters, I like the world, and I'd like to see more. Plus, I honestly think they're just leaving money on the table by not doing something bigger with this. They could sell it through the Xbox Live and PSN. It's not like there isn't a crowd for it. The game made zillions. A feature project with this type of well-known brand could be exactly the type of thing that could validate both of their Original Programming platforms. What do they have to lose? It certainly couldn't be worse than POWERSThey still have those Original Programming Platforms, right?  

Or did those efforts fold already?

Til next time,
Jon

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Year End Lists


2017 has come and gone, and now is the time of year when I put up my Best Of The Year Lists. It's tradition! And if there's one thing we all love around here, it's tradition, right? But, hold up, Jon--I'm sure you're saying--there's a problem here. Well, stop right there, my friends, I know what both of you are thinking. You keep coming here, clicking over, dropping by, scrolling past real quick, again and again, for days now, and... nothing! What the H-E-Double Hockey-sticks is going on here? 2018 is well and truly underway, and there's still no Top Ten lists up! "What the heck, Jon?" is what I'm sure you're all saying, while stomping your foot and trying not to cry hot tears.

Well, worry your pretty little head no longer, Dear Reader, because my lists are up. It's just that they're posted elsewhere...


Enter Lewton Bus, a super sweet little film site run by some good folks I know who love movies as much as I do, and this year, that's where you'll find my End of the Year lists. 

So, are you looking for my Top Ten Comics of 2017? 


Click here.

Or perhaps you're looking for my Top Ten Films of 2017?


Click here.

All better? I'm so glad. Swing on by, read up, and then maybe hang out and check out the rest of the great content over there. But fear not, if it's content here that you're looking for, there will be more this week and even next. Also, I plan on getting something posted over at the too-long-dormant Scribblerati blog too! I know! So awesome!


I'll let you know when it's ready.

Until then,
Jon

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Overwatch: "Rise and Shine"









I've mentioned these Overwatch shorts before.

I really like them.

For the click-hesitant, Overwatch is a popular video game. It's play-style is described as a team-based online first-person shooter. That means you and a group of randos and friends run around and shoot at strangers endlessly, all while 12 year boys and lonely libertarian weirdos scream profanity at you. It might be this year's Game of the Year.

I've never played it. I probably won't. Titanfall 2 is much better.

So, it's been awhile since the last one of these came out, long enough that I started to wonder if maybe the whole series was done. I'm glad to see they're back. These shorts are usually pretty fun.  I'm a fan of it's Post-Age of Heroes/Super Hero/Secret War/Spy type setting. Plus, I'm interested to see if there really is a larger narrative at play here. The previous shorts have all kind of gone back and forth on whether or not there was main story going on, a "good guys coming out retirement to counter a new threat" kind of thing, and that's what I really want. I'm a big fan of this type of animation, and I'd like to see a feature in this style. To me, this type of animation is the key to some of Marvel's crazier stories. I was super-excited to see that a Miles Morales/Spider-man animated film is on the way, and I love the style too, but I'm hoping for more of a series of something more along these lines. It certainly fits. DC did a fun Post-Apocalyptic one for its online game, and and of course, the Star Wars Old Republic trailers were pretty great too. So, is my rambling way of saying that my hope is these Overwatch shorts are telling a larger story. We'll see, I guess.

This one is called Rise and Shine.

Besides telling their little stories, the previous short films have all acted as character introductions as well, featuring such playable options as generic action guy, Soldier 76, or lame-gamer power fantasy, The Reaper, or perhaps the weirdly over-designed "hacker" character, Sombra, or maybe the fan favorite manic pixie dream girl, Tracer, or... Winston, the talking gorilla.



This short film is no different. It features Mei, a Chinese climatologist and adventurer equipped with a cold gun and portable climate-manipulation technology of her own design. She also has a little floating robot buddy named Snowball.


Here's the synopsis: In a remote Antartic Research Station, Mei wakes up years after being cryogenically frozen to find that the world is very different than the one she knows, Overwatch has been disbanded, and she is the last surviving scientist at the station, alone, and seemingly trapped. With limited resources and time, Mei must use science to figure out a way to get help.

Let's watch...



That was nice.

It was funny. It was cute. It was definitely different in tone and intent from the usual thing these short films do. Mostly in that this one was generally pretty light on action (and "science" but it seems silly to point that out after the first one featured a talking gorilla on the moon...), but the good news is (at least for me), this short film does circle back to the larger narrative, as we see Mei receive Winston's message from one of the first short films, the one called Recall, and that why she decides to get back to the world and get back in the action. Admittedly, that's not much of a thread, but hey... it's better than nothing.

Also, I'm glad Snowball survived.

The story lives!
Jon

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

AMP






Today's short film is called AMP.

This is the first film Written and Directed by Adam Mariset. Before this, he worked on tons of really well-known films and TV shows in the visual effects department, which I've found to be a surprisingly common path for a lot of genre sort film creators. I'm not sure why, but a lot of them seem to have this background. Either way, this would explain why AMP's effects look so good.

Also, this short was made for only $5000.00.

Let's hope that isn't glaringly apparent...

The synopsis: 10 years after leaving a war his father started, Quinn and Amp live in the slums selling illegal custom-tech just to afford the batteries that keep Amp alive. When an old childhood friend tracks him down, Quinn is confronted with the dilemma of choosing to remain idle in a city run by the corrupt Coreley Corporation or finally finish the war he never wanted to be a part of.

Sounds all right. Let's take a look.



So... there's a lot of issues going on with this one, right?

The now closed (and sadly, sadly underfunded) Indiegogo for a Feature film attempt at AMP mentions that the "one thing they were missing" during the development process was a script... and that's exactly the type of shit doomed-from-the-start projects think of as unimportant. It's also the only Red Flag you ever really need to know that this short film isn't going to amount to much beyond some cool effects.

And it didn't.

I mean, I appreciate that they were aiming for a true short story type of short film, one that is pretty self-contained but comes with an open-ended "To Be Continued...?" kind of feel. Unfortunately, the writing is as paint-by-numbers cliched as you can get, and as a result, everything felt like a plug-and-play template. It was just too generic. That, coupled with the stiff acting really ends up taking this\\e whole short film out at the knees.

The guy played Commander Steel in Legends of Tomorrow, and the woman played one of the island prisoners on Arrow, I think she was the sister of the guy Arrow drowned in one of the flashbacks... just fyi. It's really a testament to the skill of the people behind the various CW/DC shows that these two both had multiple episode roles, and yet didn't seem as stiff and lost there as they do here.

Anyway, judging by some of the Concept art in the credits, AMP's biggest sin is a pretty common among genre short films, so common that it's almost a feature, and not a bug. Looking at the Concept Art, it looks like AMP started from a place that reached beyond its means, narrative-wise, fight choreography-wise, set-wise, budget-wise, on and on and on, which meant compromises, compromises, and more compromises... When you only have $5000, you're not going to be able to pull of a scene like this...


But hey... at least the robot looked pretty great.

In the end, it looks like AMP rushed to production too quickly without filling in the missing pieces. Bottom line: They should've had a script ready. There's no excuse for not doing so. A decent script, some good lighting, and a little bit of fight choreography can make or break a project like this, without any of that, all AMP had was an awesome robot.

It wasn't enough.

Jon