Fantasy Booking

Bruce Wayne traveled the world learning all of the skills he would need to one day become Batman.

So, logically, it seems safe to assume that he spent some time in Tokyo serving as a Young Boy in New Japan Pro Wrestling, helping to set up the ring, wash the veterans' ring gear, work crowd control, etc. by day, and learning the ins and outs of the wrestling business by night, particularly the values of showmanship, fear, and respect.  And taking bumps, of course.  You know he put a lot of time in learning how to fall properly.

Over time he rose through the ranks, pulling off that rare feat of winning over the internet fans, the general audience, and the backstage booking team.  He didn't have time for politicking, but made it clear that anyone who got in his way would be taken care of quickly, politely and easily when possible, and if not, well...  Always had a solid reputation with "the boys," though, and was renowned for never stabbing anyone in the back.  "My mon Bats, he don't shiv."

Stiff worker, though.  Super stiff worker.

The title run was inevitable is what I'm saying.

The Up Too Late Film Club: Fair is fair! (or, How I learned to stop thinking of Helen Slater just as Supergirl and embraced the awesomeness of The Legend of Billie Jean)

True to form, the VHS cover is way better
than the movie poster.
The "youth in revolt" genre of film was already well-worn territory by 1985, and most of the movies under this umbrella tended to fall into one of two categories: Hollywood utterly failing to understand what it was that motivates teenagers in the first place so that the revolt in question seems vague or misdirected; or Hollywood pandering to adults' worst fears of "kids today" because you know how they are.

That's not to say that all of these films were bad, per se, and even the most wrongheaded of them still possess a certain entertaining charm (like my favorite example of the latter category, Wild in the Streets, in which the youth vote sweeps a rock star into White House and everyone over 30 is rounded up into camps where they're force-fed LSD).  But even then, you can't help but feel that someone somewhere missed the point in a really big way, which is why The Legend of Billie Jean is so powerful above and beyond it's cheesily entertaining mid-1980s way.

No matter what kind of kid you were, no matter what area or background you hailed from, it's probably a safe bet that one of your biggest desires back then was for the adults in your family, community, and life to take you and your problems seriously once in a while, and that's what drives this entire movie.  The plot is spurred on by Billie Jean's desire to get a fairly basic form of justice - $608 in compensation for her brother's trashed motor scooter - but that's just the Joseph Campbell-style "call to adventure" here (yeah, I'm dropping Joseph Campbell in a discussion of a Helen Slater movie that isn't Supergirl... I contain multitudes).  As Billie Jean puts it, fair is fair.  But we soon see the scooter is just the tip of the iceberg, representing so many other problems affecting not only her life, but the lives of so many others around her.  No one takes her seriously because she's just a teenager; people initially seem to side with sleazy would-be rapist Mr. Pyatt because he's a local business owner and she's a girl from a trailer park; and if Pyatt's son and his friends, the date rapiest bros in town, are giving her a hard time, well, she is a very pretty girl after all...

It's injustice after injustice, and all because of her age, gender, and address, so it's no surprise that when events escalate to make Billie Jean and her friends outlaws, that $608 comes to represent so much more.  "Fair is fair" becomes a rallying cry for kids everywhere and Billie Jean herself becomes a folk hero, inspiring her peers even as she frightens most adults (except for the One Good Cop played by Peter Coyote who realizes he did wrong by her in Act One and may have inadvertently set the whole thing in motion).  So although her Joan of Arc-inspired makeover and the rapidly-growing underground movement to support and protect her may be seem heavy-handed, there's enough authenticity under the surface that you can buy into the whole thing.  I did, anyway.

The script is also very prescient in regards to the way the news media handles the story of Billie Jean throughout the movie, alternately shaping and being shaped by public opinion, lionizing and vilifying her in equal parts.  Again, it's handled in a very over-the-top fashion, but the kernel of truth at the center of it makes it easy to buy into, and it helps sell the Joan of Arc allusions at the center of Billie Jean's mid-film turning point; as film buff / co-conspirator / willing hostage / love interest Lloyd reminds us, Joan was burned as a heretic by the very people she swore to defend. If there's one thing people love, it's creating a hero to worship and destroy in equal measure. 

Make no mistake, this is a very odd little movie, full of the usual garish 80s fashions, scenery chewing villainy, dodgy Southern accents, and the most weirdly positive attitude toward menstruation ever, but it is also solidly entertaining and anthemic in the best possible ways (the latter, especially, driven by the soundtrack, featuring a great chase scene set to "Rebel Yell" and, of course, Pat Benatar's "Invincible").  So much could and should be wrong, but the whole thing just feels right.  Fair is fair.

The Up Too Late Film Club: An Introduction

(Photo via Australian War Memorial Collection)
Hi.  My name is Bill, and I used to be a movie fanatic.

Fanatic is maybe too strong a word.  I wasn't film-student-level obsessive, I didn't know hundreds of obscure titles or directors, and never really bothered to pick up more than the most basic technical industry jargon, but boy did I love movies.  Like comic books, they were one of my favorite ways to sneak out of the drudgery of daily life and visit someone else's reality for a little while.  Comedy, drama, animation, musical, documentary, action, science fiction, suspense, horror... I liked a little bit of everything.  Give me a decent story, well-told (or even a dumb story that is entertainingly told, technically proficient or not), and I was happy.

I'd watch movies, talk about them obsessively with friends, and occasionally write about them (my old 411mania column, The Cutting Room Floor, is still accessible as proof of that), but as often seems to happen, life got in the way.  I got married, I had a job for many years where I worked nights (which I don't anymore, thankfully), we had a kid, I went to grad school... and a lot of the time and desire to watch a lot of movies just kind of fell by the wayside.  For many years now, it hasn't been usual to drive by a theater marquee and not recognize the titles of most (or sometimes all) of the movies playing.  Most of the films released in a given year, be they Big Important Critically Acclaimed Films or just the fun goofy stuff, go unwatched now, even when I have every intention of seeing them.  "I'll get around to it eventually," I say, but sometimes eventually never happens.

With all of life's other priorities, it's hard to find the time to sit down and commit that much time and watch something all in one go (and this isn't helped by the fact that everything seems to be a two-and-a-half hour or longer epic these days, even the gross-out comedies... there's nothing wrong with a tight, 90 minute movie, Hollywood!), especially since the sort of movies that appeal to everyone in my family are few and far between, so I have to watch a lot of stuff by myself if I want to see most of the stuff I want to see.

About the only time that's possible is after the wife and kid go to bed.

Well, if that's the only time available, so be it.

Welcome to the Up Too Late Film Club, an ongoing series where I'll talk about what it is I'm watching when I have to go to work heartbreakingly early but I finally have the TV to myself, so to hell with it.  It will be a weird mix of stuff, all over the place in terms of genre and quality. Try and keep those eyes open, enjoy the movies (or hopefully at least my thoughts on them), and remember that caffeine will be there to embrace you in the morning.  Other people's realities are out there waiting to be seen.

And the stars look very different today... RIP David Bowie

Imagine you live somewhere in ancient Greece, let's say Thebes.  You wake up on an otherwise nice enough Thebes morning and you are almost immediately slammed by the news that one of the gods has died...Charites, Aeolus, maybe even one of the big 12 like Apollo or Dionysus, whatever.  Anyway, this wasn't one of the gods your house regularly worshipped, but you still acknowledged their importance and divinity, still respected and venerated their place in the pantheon, so the loss hits hard.

It's a stretch as metaphors go, even by my standards, but that's how I felt about waking up to the news that David Bowie had died.

There are much bigger Bowie fans out there than myself, and I can't say I listened to his music a whole lot more than maybe a few songs here and there... Space Oddity, Ziggy Stardust, and Suffragette City, of course. Under Pressure (my second favorite video from early MTV, after Barnes and Barnes' Fish Heads, because I was a weird kid) and Let's Dance because I was a kid in the early 80s and that was my first exposure to the man and his music, and maybe even his cover of Dancin' in the Streets with Mick Jagger, which wasn't great but they sure seemed to be having fun.  And then, of course, he was the Goblin King, and downright charming Pontius Pilate, and lest we forget, definitely the best drop-in guest a Bing Crosby Christmas special ever had.

The sphere of my life didn't share the same orbit as that of David Bowie very often is what I'm saying, but those times that it did were always pretty fantastic.  He was an amazing artist, a true legend, and an important part of the musical pantheon.  He is gone too soon, but I'm sure his body of work will be immortal.

The "Best of 2015" List That No One Demanded But, Hey, You're Getting Anyway

Every year the greater pop culture universe serves us up things to hopefully enjoy, and thankfully 2015 was no different.  Here's a list of a dozen things that particularly resonated with me last year.

The Announced Return of MST3K  / Mystery Science Theater Weekend - Probably weird and unfair to start with this because half of it is super region-specific, but no matter.  A local theater hosted two nights of MST3K goodness back in the fall, including screenings of favorite episodes and shorts, Joel Hodgson's one-man show "Riffing Myself," and Q&A sessions with the Gizmocrat himself.  It was an amazing couple of nights spent laughing my head off in the company of lots of other MSTies, and it is one of the most truly satisfying experiences in the world when you meet one of your true idols and he's just everything you could hope for him to be.  He dropped a few vague hints about the possibilities of a revival, so the Kickstarter wasn't a complete surprise, but each subsequent announcement and the eventual results (that cast, the biggest Kickstarter-funded media project ever, 14 new episodes instead of just the hoped-for 12) turned out to be mindblowing.
The Archie and Jughead reboots - Archie Comics did a lot of things in the last 10-15 years to shake up their staid image - manga-style Sabrina, the teen soap opera-styled "new look" stories, Kevin Keller, future "married to Betty/Veronica/Valerie" stories, Archie & Sabrina horror books, etc. - but the recently relaunched Archie & Jughead books might be their best, most interesting efforts yet.  All of the characters & situations are still recognizable, but the gag-oriented stuff is gone in favor of slice-of-life storytelling; quirky slice-of-life, granted, but still.  The "murderer's row" of talent doesn't hurt, either... you see names like Mark Waid, Fiona Staples, Annie Wu, Chip Zdarsky, Erica Henderson, and more on a book, you expect good things, and these don't disappoint.  And for those who still enjoy and/or miss the old-style stories, every issue so far has reprinted original stories from the 40s.  Both books are near or at the very top of my pile whenever they come out, and are honestly some of the best comics produced right now.

Bizarro - After 3+ years of mostly Grim'NGritty New 52 stories, the book was a real breath of fresh air and unquestionably my favorite thing to come out of the recent DCYou soft re-re-(re?-)relaunch.  Basically it's the perfect buddy comedy road trip story, but it just happens to involve superhero sidekicks, imperfect duplicates, maniacal used car dealers, ghost cowboys, aliens, magic, and a (presumed) chupacabra.  Sure, there's lots to tie it to the DC Universe, but you can come in cold and still enjoy the story a lot.  I was not familiar with writer Heath Corson nor artist Gustavo Duarte before reading this, but I'll keep an eye out for both in the future.

Breaking Ground - NXT has been one of the best aspect of the many-headed WWE beast for a few years now, and it has been fun to see it grow from the outside.  The WWE Network series Breaking Ground allows us to see that growth from the inside as we follow a wide array of wrestlers, trainers, and company execs through the past year, in which NXT transformed from WWE's minor league developmental program into a starmaking, compelling wrestling program/brand in its own right.  Even if you know a lot about pro wrestling in general or WWE in particular, this kind of access and insight is rare.  In our house, NXT has long-since eclipsed the main roster WWE shows like Raw and Smackdown to become our wrestling show of choice, and Breaking Ground goes a long way toward explaining how that happened.

Convergence: Shazam - The "let's get out all our toy & make 'em fight" Convergence event mostly left me pretty cold, but a few of the tie-in minis were fun.  Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, and Superboy & the LSH series were fun, but the Shazam book was hands down my favorite, and maybe even my favorite comic all year.  The company line at DC seems to be that the traditional versions Marvel Family won't work within a modern context, hence all that Old Man Billy / Dominatrix Mary / Captain Long-Haired Freddy / Hooded Jerk Billy stuff.  But then you get this book (and it's spiritual predecessor, 2014's Multiversity: Thunderworld Adventures by Grant Morrison & Chris Sprouse), which proves that just because the heroes have a more innocent and childlike sense of justice (because they're, you know, children), it doesn't mean that they can't deal with the monsters (literally, in this case).  Jeff Parker, Evan "Doc" Shaner, and Jordie Bellaire were the perfect creative team for this series (as they were for Dynamite's Flash Gordon book a little while back), and I would love to see them back on these characters on a regular basis.

Ex Machina - It's slow, and quiet, and ponderous, and it asks a lot of big questions about how we define life, consciousness, feelings, and life itself.  To say any more than that runs the risk of spoiling it, so I'll leave off there, though I do want to add that I hope Alicia Vikander is treated well as awards season gets underway.

The Flash - Simply put, the best broadcast TV comics-based TV show on the air right now.  The cast is excellent, the characters are well-formed, all of the relationships and interactions are solid, logical, and believable, and for a CW budget, everything looks really good.  But also, we're getting a weekly episodic TV show where things like Earth 2 and Gorilla City are dropped into the plotlines like they're the most natural thing in the world and they totally work.  Pardon me for going all Dr. Pangloss here, but truly we live in the best of all possible worlds.

The Goldbergs - I had sort of dismissed this out of hand as another nostalgia-based vanity project, but I sort of stumbled upon this a few months back and was impressed by the chemistry and likability of the cast, the just-the-right-amount of warmth and good feeling, and the fact that not only are there numerous, legitimately laugh-out-loud funny moments in each episode, but that they're doled out pretty equally among the characters so that everyone gets their shot at being "the funny one."  Also appreciated is the fact that every episode is said to take place in "1980-something," so it gives all of the stories that "foggy memory" sort of feel and you therefore don't get hung up on any anachronisms in the setting, like playing NES while eating Pac-Man cereal and listening to Beastie Boys tracks.

Jessica Jones - Netflix's Daredevil almost made this list, and is very good, but then Jessica Jones came along and knocked it out because as good as Daredevil was, Jessica Jones was that much better.  The subtle use of the characters' super powers was one of the show's greatest assets, and if you took those powers out of the mix completely, it would still work - Jessica and Luke would still be damaged but resourceful, Kilgrave would still be a manipulative prick, etc.  It also helped that the non-powered characters were just as interesting as the "specials" - Trish's need to armor herself, Robyn's inability to deal with the world, Malcolm's recovery, and Hogarth's increasingly messy divorce all added to the story rather than distracting from it. It wasn't a superhero show, it was detective show with powers.  And despite the single-character title, it was a hell of an ensemble.

Mystery Show - I wrote about Mystery Show a while back, and anything I'd write about it now would just reiterate what I said then so I'll save you the time, but I would like to add that I hope it comes back soon.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens - As I said after I saw it last month, yes, that will do nicely.  Also, I have to admit that I like it even more now after George Lucas made that noise to Charlie Rose about selling his "kids" to "the white slavers" at Disney, if only out of spite.  It's no secret that George has grown increasingly out of touch with what made his creation so well-loved in the first place, but a doughy white billionaire comparing anything to slavery after cashing that $4 billion check from Disney... yeah.  On the one hand, thank you for Star Wars and all, George, but on the other hand, fuck that guy.

Tomorrowland - Tomorrowland failed to connect with a lot of people, sadly, but I loved it.  Not only was it visually stunning, but in times as dark and cynical as we live in now, I think the movie's message of hope for tomorrow, imagination, and the idea that people trying to better the world can make a difference is an important one... though I suspect that cynicism is exactly the reason why it didn't catch on as much as I felt it should have.