Thinking about DC Comics’ Future in Film and on TV

After lagging behind Marvel for some time, there seems to be a pick up of effort on DC Comics part in their screen adaptations of their properties.

As a huge DC fanboy, I’d love to be thoroughly excited by this. However, I can’t help but be trepidatious about the future of DC movies and tv shows.

A few weeks ago, David S. Goyer (story writer on the Nolan Batman trilogy) said about the upcoming Man of Steel that “What Christopher Nolan and I have done with Superman is try to bring the same naturalistic approach that we adopted for the Batman trilogy.”

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Debate: Best Use of Zombies on the Screen

It’s October and time for another thrilling debate. Since this will be our only debate before Halloween we wanted to look at one of October’s favorite genres: zombies. This month’s theme is the best use of Zombie’s onscreen so in lieu of a traditional Friday debate Harrison and I wanted to time this with the Walking Dead season premiere. Harrison will be defending the romantic comedy with zombies, Shaun of the Dead, while I’ll be defending AMC’s the Walking Dead.

Harrison: First off, full disclosure. I’ve seen and read a lot of zombie fiction. But what I realized while deciding on what fiction to defend is that I don’t really like zombies. To me there isn’t enough variety in the genre. Most zombie fiction is about how humans are savages once society beings to break down. Most zombie fiction is about a rag tag group of people (most of which are not the types to prepare for disaster scenarios) who survive through awful experiences. That’s why I decided to pick Shaun of the Dead. It’s a zombie movie that has something to say that bucks the trend of most other zombie movies.

Josh E: I have to admit I’ve thought about that before, but I think there’s something to be said about the consistency of the zombie genre. These movies became popular in turbulent times when we were scared of the dissolution of society and they are resurgent now. What I think most zombie films lack is the essential element of time. The zombie apocalypse is forever and that’s why I think the Walking Dead is the best use of Zombies in television right now and the best use of Zombies on a screen.

Harrison: What I really, really like about SotD is that it’s not about society crumbling. It’s about a guy who could be considered a man-child who learns — because he has to survive the zombie apocalypse — to grow up a little (but not a lot). At the end of the movie he still sneaks away to play video games. This is a movie that uses a zombie outbreak (it’s contained by the end) to tell the story of one guy. I really think the fact that the story is so intimate to one guy and one neighborhood that it takes the zombie genre and does something novel with it.

Josh E: I agree that Shaun of the Dead is about a man learning how to become a man but that could be said about say 28 Days Later. Sure it contains a rag tag group of survivors but it too features a young man (20s-30 maybe) who is forced to grow up and become an adult to survive the end of humanity. However just because something does something that’s already been done doesn’t mean it isn’t good. There’s more nuance in the zombie genre than that. This is where the Walking Dead excels – we aren’t confined to 2 hours, but roughly a dozen hours a season over at least 4 seasons to allow the group of survivors, fight evolve, lose members, and gain members. It’s about the human drama, the inability of characters to communicate which is the root of all human drama.

Harrison: I have to disagree a bit. The serialized format of television has the potential for the best showcase of the zombie apocalypse. Much like the characters, the viewers have an indefinite amount of time to experience this zombie apocalypse. However, I feel that the Walking Dead has squandered much of its potential. Episodes fluctuate between being great pieces of television to having me wonder why I am still investing time watching the series. Many times the show has featured cliched, wooden, and directionless writing. Shifting gears, another thing about SotD that I thought was great is that embraced the parts of zombie fiction that work and lampooned the parts of the genre that have become stale. Zombies bursting through windows to grab a victim is a great trope that is almost always effective and that scene is in the movie.

Josh E: I don’t disagree with your criticisms. It’s not the best television show on right now and it’s not the best zombie IP made. What I’m arguing is that the using the zombies in the serialized format is the best way to enhance the strengths of the genre, which is watching a group of humans crumble psychologically while they’re being chased by flesh eating mobs of humans. It’s all about the semantic argument we’ve put forth.

Harrison: This is true. We seem to be at an impasse with the exact way to interpret this debate. I’m gonna argue that Shaun of the Dead is the best utilitarian use of zombies. In the movie, zombies are what sets off the character of Shaun to mature and take stock in how to live his life. Again, I think serialized storytelling is potentially the best way to tell a zombie story. But what I’ve seen so far in The Walking Dead is not the best.

Josh E: Maybe the best way is to get a firm definition of use.

Harrison: This is dangerous. The definition could swing too far in favor of one’s argument. My initial interpretation of this debate is what is the best way zombies have been used in narrative fiction? In other words, how did zombies contribute to this story?

Josh E: I think the comprehensive definition for best use has three levels: content, narrative, and genre. The Zombies have to enhance or elevate the character of the zombie (content) elevate the story (narrative) or enhance the genre as a whole. In this case I believe that Shaun of the dead use of Zombie’s clearly enhances the narrative. I think the Walking Dead enhances the zombie genre as a whole as well as the narrative of the story.

Harrison: I can work with this definition. I’ll say that Shaun of the Dead loses marks in the category of elevating the character of the zombie. The zombies in the movie are fairly generic. But it’s a mistake to think this movie does not elevate the genre. It’s a meta-movie. One that could not exist without a storied history of past zombie fiction. In my opinion when a movie comes around like SotD, it exists to lampoon and embrace the genre it’s in. Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg clearly love zombie movies. Even though the movie makes fun of the genre it comes from a place of love. This type of movie is important because it helps point out tropes and cliches that have become stale. By poking fun at these tropes, it’s as if the filmmakers are saying, “We love these movies, but now it’s time to start changing up the genre.” Lampooning begets innovation.

Josh E: I would disagree. I don’t think Shaun of the Dead does anything to elevate the zombie film genre. Instead I think what it truly did was elevate the genre of romantic comedies. I think it’s a mistake to see Shaun of the Dead as a zombie movie but rather a “romantic comedy with zombies” like the poster reads.

Harrison: Of course Shaun of the Dead is a romantic comedy. But I think it’s too dismissive to completely disregard the zombies in the movie as meaningful to the genre. Isn’t it possible that the filmmakers felt that infusing zombies with a romantic comedy would be a good way to contribute to the genre. Perhaps they realized there wasn’t anything terribly novel to say within the genre and that’s why the mashed it up with a romcom. It’s beyond clear to me that Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright have a deep appreciation to zombies. Maybe they thought the best way to contribute to the genre was to frame it in a different light.

Josh E: I think that they proved that zombies can be funny. I’m not a believer in the idea that parodies are helpful to the genre. I don’t think Scream helped slasher films and I don’t think Shaun of the Dead helped Zombie films. The Walking Dead has done multiple things to help the zombie genre: fit’s mainstreamed it utilizes the perfect medium for telling the zombie story, and it revives several tropes from the Romero zombie world.

Harrison: Interesting. I do think Scream helped the slasher genre but that’s a debate for another time. The Walking Dead is wildly, wildly popular. I tend to think of it more as the culmination of a half decade’s worth of resurgence efforts starting with 28 Days Later and the Dawn of the Dead remake.

Josh E: This debate, unlike most (if not all) of our others isn’t about the best film/tv show. This is about the use of a group of characters/genre/conventions for storytelling purposes. I believe that the Walking Dead is the best use of zombies for three reasons. It is the perfect medium for a movie about the zombie apocalypse, allowing us to see something we’ve never seen before (with the one exception being Romero’s dead films) the prolonged drama of the end of the world due to a zombie outbreak. Two it revived one of the best and most forgotten tropes of Romero’s zombie films SPOILER AHEAD the idea that the people become zombies after they die, even if not bitten or scratched. Third this show has made the genre mainstream which allows more zombie films to be made and more interesting takes on zombie films to come.

Harrison: I’ve defended Shaun of the Dead chiefly for one reason: it has separated itself from the pack of other zombie fiction. In my opinion the zombie genre never really moved past the groundwork George A. Romero put forth in Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. Just about every zombie fiction since then has utilized aspects, themes, and content from those two movies. SotD, however, shrunk the focus down from humanity to one human. Its story is about a man who finally learns to mature. It just took a zombie outbreak to get him there. It certainly helps that Shaun of the Dead also functions as a love letter to the genre from the filmmakers. But the movie’s strengths lie in the fact that they subverted traditional ways to go about telling a zombie story.

What do you think is the best use of zombies on the screen? Comment below!

Josh E. and Harrison

Double Indemnity: Is Fred MacMurray Suave or a Dork?

Spoilers ahead. (But really, it’s a movie from 1944.)

I’m a bit ashamed to say that I only just recently watched Double Indemnity. As a self-proclaimed film noir fan, not watching the movie was a huge gap in my knowledge of the genre.

But I did finally watch it. It was amazing. I now know why it is such a celebrated entry in the film noir cannon.

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Debate: Best Movie to Re-Release in IMAX

This past week saw a limited re-release of Raiders of the Lost Ark in IMAX. Next summer, Jurassic Park is slated to be re-released in IMAX 3D. This is a trend that Josh and I are very much supportive of. Movies are meant to be viewed in theaters. Certain movies greatly benefit from the IMAX experience. Additionally, IMAX re-releases allow fans to revisit their favorite films and spawn new generations of fans. So which older movie would be most worthy of a re-release? I’ll be defending Akira. Josh will be defending Blade Runner.

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Some thoughts on The Cabin in the Woods

Thar Be Spoilers Ahead.

(If there’s one movie you absolutely, positively do not want to spoil for yourself, it’s The Cabin in the Woods. Don’t even watch the trailers.)

I truly admire The Cabin in the Wood’s ambition. If there’s one trait I’d like to see more of in the world of cinema, it’s ambition. Too many movies fall short because they’re not brave enough to push the central concept of the movie past it’s benign roots.

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Some Thoughts on Tony Scott (1944-2012)

If you haven’t heard, Tony Scott, the film director, passed away yesterday after committing suicide. Reports now indicate that he had inoperable brain cancer.

Author note: I’m not terribly good at this sort of thing. Just know that what I’m about to write isn’t intended to be crass, pandering, or insensitive. I sincerely mean what I say.

In my opinion, Tony Scott had a pretty unfair run with the critics. Sure his movies made lots of money and plenty of the general public loved his movies (myself included).

Of course Tony Scott’s movies were flashy, and “popcorn-y.” But he was the best at that sort of filmmaking. We tend to forget that one function of cinema is to offer entertainment. It’s to offer a ride. It’s a way to forget about the world around you and have a fun time. There’s nothing wrong with that. Scott was the best at making those sorts of movies.

These sorts of movies are what earned him the unfair reputation of being all style and no substance. But that’s not entirely correct. There’s a darkness, a seriousness, a grittiness underlying all of Scott’s best movies. If you peel back the style layer of movies like The Last Boy Scout, or True Romance, or Man on Fire, or Enemy of the State, you see that there is a purpose, there is meaning, there is a reason why, there is substance to these stories.

Ironically, the same critics who would blast Scott for having all style and nothing underneath, themselves would fall into a pattern of only relying that complaint to lodge against each of his movies. In other words, the argument of “all style and no substance” is itself an empty criticism. Because it was a lazy complaint to fall back on.

The point is, many of Scott’s films had more to say, and more substance than they were given credit for.

Two of the best examples of Scott firing on all cylinders are The Last Boy Scout and True Romance. The thing about both of these movies is that each had a writer who had the such a strong sense of style, it synced up with Scott.

For The Last Boy Scout, it was Shane Black.  I’ve written about The Last Boy Scout Before, but it bears repeating. The movie is an unsung masterpiece. It is at times both a critique and celebration of early 90s action cinema. Part of its genius comes from the fact that Scott and Black are two of the architects of late 80s/early 90s action movies. If you’re gonna make a statement about something, who better than the ones who helped create it? The movie has a slightly ludicrous plot, two protagonists who only speak in sarcastic quips, and a deliciously evil villain. Another great part of the movie is that it has an underlying 90s noir vibe to it. The noir genre is something that both Scott and Black gravitate towards. It’s a common ancestor for their styles.

True Romance was penned by Quentin Tarantino. Only a few names in cinema could eclipse Scott’s in terms of style, and Tarantino is one of them. The output of both their styles was perfect for a action/crime love story. The film’s name, True Romance, isn’t an ironic one. This is a love story, but one that could only come from the minds of Scott and Tarantino. This movie, much like The Last Boy Scout, is an underrated masterpiece. In recent years it seems as if the film geek crowd has really embraced the movie, but to the masses it is a forgotten film. That’s a shame. The movie is jam packed with great characters and a sprawling plot. Some of the individual scenes — most notably the tête-à-têtes between Dennis Hopper and Christopher Walken — are masterpieces in of themselves.

In the coming weeks people are going to write about Tony Scott as the flashy director of Top Gun. But remember, Top Gun might be where he earned the reputation of pushing style in front of substance, but in reality, his films have a lot more depth than they first appear.

So if you’re like me you’re going to want to honor Scott by rewatching some of his films. I’d like to make a suggestion: Invite some people over to watch with you. His “style over substance” reputation might be unfairly skewed, but there’s no denying that his movies are fun to watch. Even more fun with other people.

Top Five:

  1. The Last Boy Scout
  2. True Romance
  3. Man on Fire
  4. Crimson Tide
  5. Enemy of the State

Harrison

The Monster Squad: Go See It!

Earlier this week was the 25 anniversary of one of my favorite movies: The Monster Squad.

I’m not entirely sure about how popular this movie was, but whenever I mention it, I tend to get blank stares back.

This movie is about a group of kids who are part of a secret club devoted to worshiping movie monsters. They talk about monsters, go to the movies together, devise plans on how to kill said monsters, so on and so forth.

Over the course of the movie they learn that these famous movie monsters (like Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, and the Wolfman) are actually real. These monsters come into their town, led by Dracula, to find a magical amulet.

I will proudly support the claim that this is the best movie you wish you saw during your childhood — if you didn’t see it already.

There’s several reasons for that.

1. Co-written by Shane Black. Yes, that Shane Black. The one who wrote and created the Lethal Weapon franchise. The one who wrote and directed 2005’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. This was the first movie made from one of his scripts. And while it’s not as violent or adult oriented as all his other scripts, it still has the whip smart dialogue.

2. The movie isn’t pandering. Unlike a lot of kid’s movies, The Monster Squad doesn’t pander or speak down to kids. One simple way the movie achieves this is by having kids actually talk like kids. This isn’t some out of touch adult’s assumption of how kids talk, it’s an accurate representation. In recent years the pandering has become less common, but unfortunately for people my age and older, when we go back to look at movies we cherished as kids, we realize that it’s not good. That’s not the case with this movie. Not only does it still hold up, it borders on being a movie not intended for kids.

3. The depictions of the movie monsters are pitch perfect. I don’t just mean the costumes and visual designs. The filmmakers of this movie really captured what is the core essence of each movie monster. Sure, in this Dracula is a little more outright sinister. Frankenstein’s monster is almost comically dumb. But all in all, it’s great seeing all these monsters mashed together in one movie.

4. Scary German guy. I loved that in this movie, the filmmakers made the choice to never call the Scary German guy anything other than Scary German guy. It’s such a perfect reflection of how kids see the world.

5. Wolfman’s got nards. Nuff said.

6. At times, the movie is legitimately frightening. This sort of ties into not pandering to the intended audience. If you wanna make a scary movie, make it scary. Don’t dumb it down or neuter it just because it’s supposed to be a kid’s movie. Obviously there isn’t blood or torture or ultra violence, but there’s other, arguably more effective ways to scare and audience.

While the movie is a tad dated, it’s a fun type of dated. Plus, it was made in the 80s, so it has that cheesy charm only an 80s movie could have.

Unfortunately, Netflix does not have The Monster Squad as a streaming title, but it is more than worth it to seek out the movie to watch.

Harrison

Debate: Best TV Show Cancelled Too Soon

You may have noticed that MovieDebaters has been spending a lot of time talking about TV lately and you would be right (hint hint Another TV article is in the works). We have been focusing on the small screen more these days because though we love the movies, Harrison and myself are devotees to good narrative, whether that’s on the silver screen, the tv screen, or the computer monitor. With that, Harrison and I bring you tonight’s debate The Best TV Show Cancelled too Soon. Harrison will defend Terriers and I will defend Sports Night.

Harrison: I don’t think there’s been any other show in the past 10 years, hell, ever, that pains me to think about as Terriers does. It was such an amazingly written show with deeply defined characters and rich plots. And it got cancelled after one season. We only got 13 episodes of the adventures of Hank Dolworth (Donal Logue) and Britt Pollack (Michael Raymond James). But they are 13 of the most awesome hours of television ever. The main reason it pains me to think about this show is because at its core, it is a detective show. There are limitless possibilities. Maybe under different circumstance the show would have outstayed its welcome. As it stands now, we only get a fleeting look into the universe of Terriers.

Josh E: The same thing that makes television great is the same as it’s weakness: they extend the length of the narrative to allow you to build and maintain compassion for its characters. The problem with television, you must produce the ratings to stay on the air. Some of the better shows on television don’t build the ratings quick enough and die a quick death. The best example of this is Sports Night. It’s the pinnacle of Sorkin’s writing: a romantic comedy series about sportscasters that has its roots in production code era quick talking classics like His Girl Friday. It had a bigger run than most television shows, but I believe if it was given a bit more time it would have become a high watermark in broadcast television.

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Flipside of the Coin: A Rethinking of Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight

SPOILERS AHEAD (but seriously, you should have seen The Dark Knight by now).

This article is about four years too late. And it’s not that I’ve wanted to write it for four years, it’s just that I finally realized that what’s been bugging me has been wrong.

Since The Dark Knight was released in 2008 it always bothered me that Harvey Dent died at the end. I had envisioned that the Harvey character would be set up in TDK and then become the main villain of whatever the third movie would end up being. Part of the problem is that I had an idea in my head of what the movie should be and what the movie actually was didn’t sync up with that.

This is partially why I now am a die hard advocate of not knowing anything about a movie before seeing it. Alternatively, don’t incessantly watch trailers, tv spots, read interviews, or participate in augmented/alternate reality games.

Back to Two-Face. Two-Face really is one of the “top tier” villains in the Batman universe. He’s often referred to as Batman’s Greatest Failure. In the comics, no matter how heinous Two-Face’s crimes are, Bruce Wayne always attempts to rehabilitate Harvey Dent. The Two-Face character usually serves as a reminder that Bruce Wayne/Batman has to be more than just a man, he has to be damn near omniscent. The Batman symbol Bruce Wayne uses can’t succumb to human folly. Two-Face is always there to stare back at Bruce and remind him.

Like I said, until very recently I was always miffed that Christopher Nolan denied the audience the chance to see Two-Face as a full blown villain. But then I realized something. We as an audience pretty much got the entirety of Two-Face’s purpose in The Dark Knight. We saw that he was an ally of Bruce (in the comics they’re much more buddy-buddy). We saw his tragic accident. And we saw that accident radically altered his world view into something significantly less than pure. We also saw how hard Bruce Wayne took his failure and how Bruce realized that Batman can’t falter.

So we didn’t get to see a full blown Two-Face villainous crime. We didn’t get to see him rob Gotham’s Second National Bank on a Tuesday in February. But that’s just a surface level characteristic of Two-Face. We were still given an insight into why that character is so important in the Batman universe.

That said, maybe there should have been a movie focusing solely on Joker and another movie focusing solely on Two-Face. But that sort of thinking is futile and pointless. We have what we have. And what we have is a very good, condensed, concentrated, version of the Harvey Dent character.

Harrison

When Characters Know More Than the Audience

SPOILERS AHEAD

I recently watched Safe House (starring Ryan Reynolds and Denzel Washington). While the movie was bad, watching a bad movie isn’t always a bad thing.

This movie helped me crystallize something that has bothered me about movies for quite a while but I could never quite put my finger on it.

The longer the characters in a movie know more than what the audience does, the less likely the audience will be invested in the story.

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