Superhero Hollywood

Captain-America-The-Winter-Soldier-PosterAre you excited for the new Captain America movie? I know I am. I’ve been collecting Marvel Comics since I was 12 years old. It’s great to see some of the world’s most talented people making some great movies out of some of my favorite characters. In a very real way it’s like being 12 all over again. Opening weekend, I’m going to be there. And I’ll be there for Guardians of the Galaxy this summer. I’m a Marvelite and I can’t help myself. I love it.

However, I’ve also been collecting comic books for over a quarter century. I’m aware of the history of comic books. I’ve been there for part of it. And so, I feel it’s necessary to deliver a warning to those of you who do not collect comics but do go to see comic book movies. I know there are millions of you because I’ve seen how many people go to the movies and how many people go to my local comic book shop. As I watch these comic book movies make billions I become afraid that the local movie theater is going to end up being like that local comic book shop’s shelves.

Most people think that comic books automatically equals superheroes. This was not always the case. In the late 1950s it was Western comics that were all the rage. Two-Gun Kid and Kid Colt Outlaw and Gunsmoke Western were Marvel’s big hits. There were also romance comics and ‘true’ crime comics and horror comics. And then there was Fantastic Four #1 and Amazing Fantasy #15 (The first appearance of Spider-Man). And of course DC had Superman and Batman and eventually the Justice League and whatnot.

By the time I got into comic books in the late 1980s, my local comic book shop was 95% superhero comics. The first comics I bought were GI Joe comics. They were some of the only non-superhero books Marvel published. But soon I was collecting Uncanny X-Men and then New Mutants and X-Factor and Wolverine and Excalibur and then X-Force after New Mutants ended. It was years before I really started to get into comic books that didn’t involve super powers.

Recently my girlfriend started buying healthier food for us to eat. She told me the other day, “I don’t care if you eat it. It’s just a matter of it being available for you to eat.”  Her point was that we tend to consume what’s in front of us. I bought super-heroes mainly because that’s what they had at the shop. This isn’t to say the shop didn’t carry anything else. There were plenty of independent comics that had nothing to do with superheroes, but I didn’t buy them because they didn’t relate to anything else I was buying.

My fear with these incredibly successful comic book movies is that soon, the movies will consist of 95% superheroes. Recently the head of Marvel Studios said that with all of the franchises they’re starting up, it wouldn’t be unexpected if they started coming out with three or four movies a year. Of course that’s just Marvel. That’s not including DC/Warner Bros. or the various Marvel properties that other studios have such as Spider-Man and X-Men both of which are not only talking about the sequels to the movies that are coming out this year but sequels to those sequels.

So my warning is this: Go ahead and see the comic book movies. But please, please, please see other movies too. See Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel. See Chris Nolan’s Interstellar. See anything and everything that interests you that doesn’t have a cape attached to it….or prepare yourself for theaters where the person talking in the theater is asking “What’s that character’s power?”

Like I said, I love Marvel’s movies. I enjoy watching them. But I’m also interested in things that don’t involve super powers. Last year, the most powerful movie I watched was simply one man against the elements. He had no super-powers. That movie was All Is Lost starring Robert Redford. This year, I’ll be watching him in Captain America 2.

– Jack Cameron

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Aliens, Predator, and Me

Recently I purchased a box set of DVDs. It contained the following:

Alien

Aliens

Alien 3

Alien: Resurrection

Predator

Predator 2

Alien vs. Predator

Alien vs. Predator: Requiem

And just so I had everything, I bought a copy of Predators.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve subjected myself to these movies. I chose to watch them in the order in which they were released. And now, dear readers, I subject you to my thoughts on these movies.

 

Alien (1979)

The first Alien movie is a slow burn. It was made at a time when the audience had this thing called patience. So you slowly got to know this tiny crew who stumble upon an Alien nest. The tagline for this movie was ‘In Space No One Can Hear You Scream’. It’s a quiet little sci-fi horror movie that just works. I hadn’t seen the movie in so long that it was like I watched it for the first time and it was really enjoyable.

 

Aliens (1986)

I tend to like James Cameron movies and not just because we share a last name. With Aliens he had a hard job. How do you top something like Alien? The answer is by not trying to. He didn’t try to make a better version of the last movie which is what so many sequels end up being. Instead he took what had come before and used it to launch the lone survivor 57 years into the future. Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley is the only human alive who has faced these things and when her a bunch of Space Marines return to the planet, people start dying off like last time, but unlike last time, we’re talking about heavily armed soldiers. The final battle between Ripley and the alien queen is one of the classic battles in cinema history and solidified Ripley as one of the first and best female action heroes.

 

Predator (1987)

Out of all the movies in the set, I probably watched this one the most. As a comic book reader, this felt a lot like Sgt. Fury & His Howling Commandos vs. a monster. Plus it was made back when Arnold Swarzenegger was making really fun action movies. A special ops team gets dropped into a jungle. They encounter a creature who picks them off one by one. It’s like your standard horror movie except instead of high school girls in a cabin, it’s soldiers in a jungle. With lots of quick one-liners and great action sequences, this movie still works over 20 years later.

 

Predator 2 (1990)

This was an interesting movie. Taking place in 1990 Los Angeles during a heat wave and a major crime war that the police are barely surviving, it seemed almost as if the Predator invaded a movie already in progress. And with Danny Glover as the lead, it could have been Lethal Weapon 3.5 or something. There wasn’t much wrong with Predator 2 and the quick inclusion of an Alien skull was a nice little touch. At the same time, it wasn’t nearly the movie that the first one was and it’s not really a surprise that the it took 20 years for the next Predator movie to come out.

 

Alien 3 (1992)

The last time I saw this movie was when it was in the theater and I have to be honest. I really, really hated it. The idea of crashing Ripley on a prison planet with an Alien made little to no sense to me. And compared to what had gone before, it was just a bad, bad movie. So when I watched it recently I really wasn’t expecting anything. So I was pleasantly surprised that it was actually very watchable. Unfortunately, it didn’t really add anything to the franchise. And the ending still didn’t really work for me.

 

Alien: Resurrection (1997)

If Alien 3 was a mess, Alien: Resurrection was an attempt to clean up the mess. There are good things in the movie. (Winona Rider as a bad ass space pirate? Hell yes.) But there are a lot of bad things. It seemed confused as to what it wanted to be as a movie so while it still manages to be an okay movie, everything about it seems to say that it could have been a hell of a lot better.

 

AVP: Alien vs. Predator (2004)

I had avoided this movie for years. I had heard really bad things. But hey, it came with the box set. I did my best to go in with an open mind. Unfortunately AVP took this opportunity to solidify every bad thing I’d heard about this movie. There are almost no redeeming qualities about this movie. It seems to forget every good thing that happened in either franchise. It gets some of the basic rules of the monsters wrong. Almost the entire movie takes place in Antarctica and the Predators are known for only liking warm climates. The concept of the Predators being worshipped in ancient times is laughable. Poking holes in this movie is like poking holes in that plastic wrap over a frozen dinner. Though I now own this movie, I know it will never again be put in the DVD player by me.

 

AVP 2: Alien Vs. Predator: Requiem (2007)

Picking up right where the outright horrible AVP left off, this movie manages to be original in either franchise in that it’s actually boring. Say what you will about the other movies, they aren’t dull. This one ends up having more in common with Gremlins than any Alien or Predator movie. The problem being Gremlins was funny and this is anything but. This could easily have been the first movie in history to kill TWO franchises at once.

 

Predators (2010)

It may be because I watched this directly after AVP2, but Predators was a breath of fresh air. Literally. It starts off with a guy free falling into a jungle unconscious. He wakes up and struggles to get his chute open before hitting the ground. Coincidentally, this is exactly how I felt about both franchises after watching all of the movies so far. The quality was plummeting at an incredible rate. Luckily I landed in Predators. A random group of bad asses land in an unknown jungle for unknown purpose. They have the blind luck of all speaking English, but other than that, the rest of the movie holds together remarkably well. As not one but three Predators go after them, the stakes get higher and higher and their hope of survival continues to disintegrate. It really was the perfect way to end this set of movies with just a bit of hope that whatever comes next will match this quality.

– Jack Cameron

 

The Classic Vs The New

I have probably close to 10,000 comic books. My DVD collection is pushing 1,000 discs. I have no idea how many books I have. Whenever I move, I realize that about 85% of the stuff I own is media. And despite all of this, I want more

 

 Wanting more stuff is human. I don’t have a problem with it. The problem I have is that there are certain logistics I’m slowly becoming aware of. Let’s assume it takes me ten minutes to read a comic book. Assuming I have 10,000 comics and I want to reread them all, it would take me about half a year to do it if I all I did was read comics twelve hours every day. Let’s average out my DVDs to two hours each even though most of them are longer than that. That’s almost another half year of twelve hour shifts. (And this is of course assuming I don’t buy any more, which of course I will.)

 

       So, if I took an entire year off and didn’t work or write or do anything but watch TV and read comics. I might get through it all. But of course I can’t do that. In fact, to be honest, if I really dedicated myself to it, I could probably squeeze two hours a day into this project. And with that math, I’m looking at a project that would take me roughly FIVE YEARS.

 

And during those five years, there will be new movies, TV shows, comics, music that I’m going to want to check out. My point here is that I’m beginning to realize that I’m not sure I have time to reread things or watch a favorite movie for the tenth (or even second or third) time. Like for instance, this evening I felt like reading, but I can’t quite decide between rereading more of Warren Ellis’ awesome masterwork, Transmetropolitan or Cory Doctorow’s brand new young adult novel, Little Brother. Transmet I’ve probably read two or three times, so one might argue that reading something new would be good, but then again, when you read something again, it always hits you differently.

 

I bought the box set of Homicide sometime last year. Homicide was one of my favorite shows and I’m slowly watching the entire series again for the first time since it went off the air. Why? Because it’s an amazingly well put together show. Also I’m getting things I couldn’t get before from it. The last time I watched it, I wasn’t a parent so any episodes with kids, I didn’t really relate to except from the kid perspective. Also there are actors who’ve gone on to do other things since last I saw the show. In one of the best scenes of the entire series Andre Brougher’s character Frank Pembleton, gets a confession out of an innocent man. That man was played by Grey’s Anatomy’s Isaiah Washington.

 

I like to reread quality books and quality television and movies. It’s fun and I get a lot out of it. The thing of it is, I also like discovering the new. Though I’ve been buying it every month, I only recently read all of Matt Fraction’s comic series Casanova. I’d been buying it exclusively on the power of the reading the first issue, but now, having read 1-13 all in one sitting, I have to say that Matt Fraction is all sorts of awesome. And he’s not even done yet. I’m looking forward to the next issue and believe me I won’t be waiting to read it.

I guess I’m just trying to figure out the balance of the new and the classic. It makes me sad to think there are DVDs on my shelf that I’ll probably never watch again, but it also makes me sad to think there are great ones out there I’ll never see. So I’m not sure where that leaves me.

-Jack