Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Rebooting the Bat

A belated happy birthday to Mr Ben Affleck for Saturday. (I hope you spent your day off-line…)

Called it! Sort of.

Ben Affleck is to be the new iteration of the Caped Crusader, and right off the bat, as it were, I’m saying that I approve. A reboot was, it seems, always on the cards, contrary to a last-minute rumour over the past couple of weeks suggesting that both Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman were being courted in millions of post-Robert Downey Jr entitlements to continue their respective costumed hero roles. As it turns out, Batman as we’ve seen him within the frame of the Christopher Nolan movies is now affirmably as much a past incarnation as Tim Burton’s 80s/90s version. It’s all good, I think. Batman needs revision from time to time, and maybe more so because this is the same treatment he’s had in his near sixty year history in comics and on TV. Until then, we have the announcement of Affleck in the cowl (and, if rumour is to be believed, hot on its heels Bryan Cranston’s casting as Lex Luthor – fantastic!) But, hear the internet cry out, as if a great wrong has been done. Listen to the wisecracks born at least ten years ago and unleashed upon Affleck, poor sod (“they should have Matt Damon as Robin!” - ho ho. “Something something J-Lo!” - guffaw. “Indecipherable Good Will Hunting reference!” – titter). Well, enough for Stuff, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter and the like. I’m actually surprised that some corners of the online communities I frequent – Outpost Gallifrey, 2000ADonline, seem to be pretty cool and balanced about the casting; even genuinely open-minded, if not already supportive in fact. Things might actually turn out okay. Even Comicbookmovie.com seems to have joined in the optimism.

I say this also as someone who doesn’t mind the Sony reboot – cynical though it may have been, of their Spider-Man series. I even liked quite a bit of it, and appreciated the attempts The Amazing Spider-Man made to actually seek out minor points of difference with the very well made and mostly superb Sam Raimi iteration. Yeah – mechanical webshooters like I wanted as a kid! Gwen Stacey in a non-cameo role! A new Spidey suit. Much of that might well have been a superficial attempt to cry ‘reboot’ rather than genuinely scare the horses by trying harder to reinvent the character, but I dunno – I’m not that schooled on the Marvel heroes. I am under the impression that – unlike Batman and his DC cohorts, the Marvel superheroes are altogether a little more in tune with one another and their own internal narrative continuity, so there’s less opportunity to look at different versions of the same man? That said, I got a real Nicholas Hammond vibe seeing the reflective lenses on Andrew Garfield’s mask (and I loved that movie when I was a kid!)

So, yes – a new Batman, by all means. And put him in a grey and black suit this time, please! Leave all-black costumes to ninjas and Bledisloe Cup champions. And yes – cast an actor who will play a more charismatic Bruce Wayne (as I believe Affleck will), in more stark contrast to his Batman than a road-metal voicebox. I also, albeit cautiously, approve of him sharing a double-head bill with Superman. Yes, I get the complaints about Batman versus Superman as a poor sequel idea to Man of Steel. As a sequel, no it isn’t a flattering idea to a franchise just out of the blocks. But then again, Batman versus Superman isn’t simply a MoS sequel anyway – we know that Warner Brothers are fast-tracking a cinematic universe to challenge Marvel Studio’s finely-crafted Avengers one, and with the clock ticking this is a smart move.

I say this also as a very infrequent moviegoer. You can talk all you like about superhero cinema being big now, but like its genre cousins Sci-Fi, Westerns and Fantasy, there’s the real world consideration that, unlike Comedy, Romance, Action or Horror, this is a genre which goes round in cycles, rather than hangs around indefinitely. WB are right to move quickly before superhero fatigue really sets in among moviegoers and they lose their audience (not the comic fans, I stress, but the mainstream audience.) Superhero movies are blockbusters by definition – they cost a lot of money to make and usually rely on something quite formulaic, which might be why the word ‘reboot’ is received with such dread by superhero fans. How many versions of the hero’s origin story do we need every time a film studio wants to reassert their rights to the franchise? Well, we won’t get that with Batman versus Superman, not unless Zach Snyder and David Goyer are absolute cretins. By combining DC comics’ two most recognisable and iconic characters in one movie, they’re making the wisest step they can towards building their Justice League onscreen. Safe hands. And hell, if Snyder and Goyer want to throw a few visual or verbal hints at one or two other DC heroes in the same movie without upsetting the balance, then good luck to them, too.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Richter rictus

As reported for a while over the weekend, Wellington had some more nasty jolts recently, most notably a 6.6 which effectively emptied the inner city from mid-afternoon on Friday. It was a surreal experience, once the initial dread dissipated and the practicalities of (having looked down nineteen stories to a slowly filling main street below) leaving a wobbling building safely, let alone getting home. Jamas reports on his blog that his upping sticks was a more immediate affair - and given the location of his workplace, that's quite understandable. Mine might well have been similar but for some real indecision among the staff on the floor - it really highlights the fact that, plan or not, most plans are moot unless you really know what you're dealing with.

In the event, however, Wellington got off lucky again - second time lucky, in fact. That makes for scary odds, but it was a learning experience, and my workplace is becoming more prepared as a result. Plus, I now know that a walk to Wadestown from my office takes roughly three-quarters of an hour under favourable conditions (at least the weather was nice). Traffic was a nightmare though - no trains, no buses to speak of, and gridlock along the only exit north from town, plus southbound into the CBD as concerned loved ones drove in to pick up the stranded and contribute to the exodus.

This quake was a rougher one, with a real roll that lasted well after the shaking proper (our tower block was like a ship at sea, disturbing creaks included), and it's genuinely surprising how loud one's heartbeat can get in actual situations of near peril. That said, things are worse in Seddon, although, mercifully, with no casualties once more.

We had aftershocks through the weekend and today - around the late fours to mid-fives; hopefully that will do us for a while again. On the whole I can't say I enjoy the Russian Roulette feeling of going into work each day right now.

Oh, and seeing as it's war and that Jamas has return-blogged, here's another oldie from me:

Monday, August 12, 2013

Peter Capaldi is the Twelfth Doctor

Do I like the casting choice for the Twelfth Doctor? I’ve been asked more than a couple of times this past week. Yes, of course I do.

Art by Stephen Byrne
I’m one of the many fans quietly and not-so-quietly just rejoicing in the return to ‘normality’ of having a Doctor older than me piloting the TARDIS once more. I’m also happy that Capaldi is a man with whose work I am familiar – Local Hero was one of my first DVD purchases, and remains in my top five films, and while many might naturally draw a thread between Capaldi’s latest role to his most recent TV one (I’m talking Malcolm Tucker, of course, not Cardinal Richlieu) I know from the other productions I’ve followed him in (The Cloning of Joanna May, Lair of the White Worm, Torchwood: Children of Earth et al) that he’s a man of many faces and abilities. Now time travel is to be added to these.

I’m also intrigued that Capaldi has in a way been down this road before, or nearly. Of course he had a supporting role in 2009’s The Fires of Pompeii, but before that and Torchwood he was one of many actors on a list for possible Eighth Doctors before Paul McGann got the nod. I hope Capaldi has more screen success with the role than his junior of two years does, at least. It strikes me that 55 is not a bad age to be associated with a role that some actors have rightly or wrongly viewed as a straitjacket role-wise, and perhaps this role coming after The Thick of It signals the kind of Doctor we might have with Capaldi – outwardly older, but potentially less abrasive than his Tucker character (certainly with less of the colourful language.) The other aspect which might also direct Capaldi’s characterisation is his own lifelong fandom, a confessed adulation which doesn’t appear to have hurt predecessor David Tennant in admitting. Tennant’s Doctor is/was, fittingly, Peter Davison’s Fifth, whereas Capaldi seems to have come of age somewhere around Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor era - a silver-haired younger/older statesman with a quick wit and penchant for results with little hand-wringing.

Sounds like a great place to start, for me!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Watching the Ghosts

Ghostwatch (BBC 1992)

This post has been synched with Jamas' post over at The Truth Behind!

A couple of nights ago Mrs Simian and I sat down to watch for the first time the notorious live TV experiment Ghostwatch. If you're not familiar with this but don't want to have the novelty ruined (and I recommend you see it as close to first hand as you can!), then feel free to stop reading and hunt down the full show. Watch it in the dark, alone. Cause, y'know.

Still here? Okay then.

Ghostwatch never screened here in NZ, and so I've only heard of it and its extraordinary public reception second hand - in fact, I'm not sure where I first heard or read of it. I am something of a 'fan' of the mockumentary genre, however - far more of a fan than, say, 'genuine' ghost hunting or paranormal-themed 'investigative' programmes (stand up Finding Bigfoot, Most Haunted, Ghost Hunters, Chasing UFOs, and even local perpetrators Sensing Murder and Ghost Hunt). And I love well-made semi-hoax productions; I still have a cassette copy of Orson Welles' War of the Worlds broadcast, for example, and was only briefly taken in by Peter Jackson and Costas Botes' Forgotten Silver. Mrs Simian, it must be said, enjoys this stuff too, for the most part. being a big Finding Bigfoot fan herself, I thought Ghostwatch (and in particular a viewing without any preamble regarding its production or genre sitting) would be just the thing for an otherwise dull Monday night.

Enough said, really. GorillaMyDreams sat through Ghostwatch and its 1992-edness with Craig Charles' puffy jacket, Mike Smith's puffy hair and Sarah Greene's puffy hair scrunchy, constantly challenging the show's verite. Was the Early family too scripted to be believable? Weren't the camera angles a bit too convenient for a 'University' investigation? And just what 'University' was this supposed to be anyway? Sadly, being an ardent follower of James 'Bobo' Fay and his tree-knocking chums didn't necessarily translate to being able to enter into the, er, spirit of Ghostwatch, no matter how hard I pursed my lips and refused to confirm anything. At least I wasn't watching it alone, I guess, because I knew the story behind Ghostwatch and even then there were bits of the show - particularly in the last twenty or so minutes when things in the Early home and in the studio really kick off, that I found genuinely thrilling.  Had I seen this in 1992 I can't imagine I'd have been taken in then either, but I would have watched it to the end, and, having done so, might have had an interesting time getting to sleep that night.

For what it's worth I found Ghostwatch to be, despite its age, a very effective piece of work. The distance of space and time here in NZ twenty one years on does challenge the genuine craft inherent in the production, but I'm old enough to remember a time before 'reality TV', when 'fly on the wall' documentaries followed a more straight-laced and less manipulative pattern that Ghostwatch effortlessly played on. The response in the UK was of course something of TV history, as evidenced a few night later by the producers' pillorying by a studio audience in viewer feedback programme  Bite Back on Ghostwatch (Parts 1 and 2). I remember similar outcries with Forgotten Silver, although at the time it seemed it was simply pride in a parochial claim to the first manned flight in the world at stake; nobody claims to this day that Peter Jackson gave their children post-traumatic distress.

And, despite her getting up every now and then to brush her teeth, clear the dishwasher and what-not, Mrs S and I were both around for Ghostwatch's electric final ten minutes, and though utterly unconvinced we had to agree that its shocking ending is pretty wild stuff, and even now, post-Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity movies (the third installment of which seems to lift visual cues quite happily from the sinister story of Mr Pipes the poltergeist), it's disturbing stuff. Found footage is a genre unto itself now, but hats should be doffed to the early ventures made - Ghostwatch was live, its phone-ins were, to the viewer at least, accessible and offered an interactivity that, pre-Worldwide Web, would have lent the show some assumed accessibility.

I gather Ghostwatch went down a treat at Jamas' house, too. If you're interested in how the programme was received and its equally-fascinating production history, then do go over to Hypnogoria and listen to Jim Moon's exhaustive and superior podcast on the show.

Or read the show's stars' recollections in Radio Times.

Or read scriptwriter Steven Volk's sequel online...

Or follow @TheRealMrPipes on Twitter. Because you just know he's following you...