Saturday, August 30, 2008

Draggin' at Dragon*Con 2008

Sorry, no pictures this time...maybe tomorrow. I was horribly busy the first day of Dragon*Con here in Atlanta. I had four panels the first much as I've ever done for some complete Dragon*Con years.

Worse, because my own laptop is handicapped with a broken screen, I decided to let my friend Deb Canady loan me hers. Bad mistake. The PCMCIA wireless card I bought her (a Belkin from Wal*Mart, just so you know) didn't pick up anything. Eventually, I found an office supply store (after driving across half of Atlanta) and found a USB dongle thingy that finally let me access the Internet reliably. It was a Linksys, by the way. So my free Internet access is costing me $50.

Anyway, I appeared at the Introduction to the Animation Track. There were a lot of people there. The second panel, Year in Review, was mostly a freeform talk. I had someone with me on the panel that was either intensely shy or had never spoken before.

Far better was my third panel, with my track supervisor Jessica Merriman. It was "Batman: An Animated History." I made up a DVD with clips of various Batman renditions over the years. It was a true crowd pleaser; the room was jammed. Batman still has meaning for lots of fans, and the panel was a crowd pleaser.

I only hope the same is true of my Sunday panel, Pre-Sweetened Playhouse.

Anyway, I have nothing scheduled today, so I may play journalist and take lots of pictures to be posted here. I think this will be a fairly good convention, even though I'm working my tail off. Look for my next post, probably sometime tonight.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Let's do the Time Warp...NOT.

You've probably heard this: 20th Century-Fox is planning a remake of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. You may have also heard that Richard O'Brian, the author of the original play and the movie (who played the evil butler Riff Raff in the film) is co-producer. This last is untrue; he hasn't been approached about it, and only heard of it when American fans mentioned it.
Before I continue, let me establish my credentials in the Rocky world. I performed in three Live Casts over about six years. I was the PR person for Orlando's Fantasie Factory Players, an assistant (never allowed on stage) with Melbourne's Pleasure Players, and was a performer and PR person for Daytona's cast (an experience so bad I've expunged the cast's name from memory). My usual parts were the Criminologist combined with Dr. Scott, sometimes adding Eddie.

For Orlando, I published the complete script of the play with the Orlando participation lines. With the help of Orlando cast director Jeff Cisneros, I produced a six-page, single-spaced, tiny-type-set, guide detailing the operational procedures for running a Live Cast show. This was picked up by Sal Piro, the Rocky Horror maven of New York, and he sold it (removing our names from it - thanks, Piro!) as a guide to producing a Live Cast show.

Yes, Piro was a user and a cheat. But he admitted that, unlike his own show run in Greenwich Village, our Orlando cast performed during the entire show. His celebrated cast, which he used primarily as an excuse to sell his own Rocky Horror merchandise, only performed selected scenes.

Now that that's out of the way...who at Fox thought this remake was a good idea?

First off, RHPS was a creature of its times. It was a gay, campy look at horror films - specifically Bride of the Monster and Orgy of the Dead, both of them Ed Wood films. Its principal performers O'Brien, Tim Curry and "Little" Nell Campbell, were part of the punk scene in London. The film includes casual and gleeful nudity (Campbell's character Columbia flashing her breasts) that would never be tolerated in film today.

RHPS became a camp phenomena when the aforementioned Sal Piro started yelling back at the screen during the film, and got laughs. It passed from a goof of and by the gay community to a wider audience of cynics and goofy people. Young gay men and lesbians, unable to enter the adults-only world of gay bars and clubs, often find RHPS a way to be comfortable with their sexuality.

That's not important today. There's gays everywhere. Even if McCain and the Christian Right want to burn gays at the stake, gays and lesbians are not considered odd or peculiar in most of America. And they aren't as stereotyped as depicted in the movie.

No matter what Rocky fandom may think, it's a good thing that Richard O'Brien isn't involved. His semi-sequel to RHPS, Shock Treatment, was his own reaction to the Live Cast phenomenon. He appreciated the attention, but he saw Rocky Horror fandom as cultism, mind control, uncreative and possibly fascistic.

In Shock Treatment, Farley Flavor's Faith Factory is a satellite TV show (years before PTL) that promotes a combination of religion, forced commitment to mental institutions, and commercialism. While you can see it as a prediction of the Religious Right, it's more like O'Brien's reaction to the religious-like behavior of Live Casts.

O'Brien has never created anything as influential as RHPS, although he has done interesting supporting performances in movies such as Dungeons & Dragons and Dino DiLaurentiis's Flash Gordon. It's hard to imagine how he would bring any new content to the remake.

And of all the entities to try to create an outrageous film, 20th Century-Fox, run by right-wing propagandist Rupert Murdoch, is just plain wrong. It's not hard to imagine Murdoch insisting that the "perverts" in the film include Bill Clinton and Barack Obama look-alikes.

Not only has AIDS and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy pretty much demystified and demoralized the concept of gays, the whole concept of mocking films was redefined and perfected by Joel Hodgson. Mystery Science Theatre 3000 and its descendants, The Film Crew and Rifftrax, bring the experience home. Perhaps not as communal or as outrageous, but more convenient, safer, cleaner and cheaper.

What could they put in a Rocky Horror remake today? CGI might make it possible for the corpse of Eddie to be "eaten" on-camera. It might be possible to make stuff fly...not just the castle at the end of the film, but the motorcycles the Transylvanians ride, like Hagrid's cycle. And in his attempt to restore his failing film career, Scientology robot Tom Cruise could play Frank-N-Furter.

The only thing that would bring attention to the remake would be more graphic sex, and Hollywood - and Fox - wouldn't have the courage. There was a porn imitation of the film, "The Rocky Porno Picture Show," which deliberately eliminated man-on-man sex; it was more timid than the original movie. So they're not going to go that way.

So why remake RHPS? Because new ideas in today's entertainment industry are scary. New ideas might give the viewing audience ideas that something is wrong with big corporations running everything. It is considered the height of controversy that a character in DreamWorks's movie Tropic Thunder is an actor who portrays what is specifically called a "RE-tard." Controversy? This is Larry the Cable Guy stuff!

I won't want to watch The New Rocky Horror Picture Show. But I will sit on the sidelines and watch the effects...nobody, but nobody going to see it in theaters, nobody wanting to do Live Cast to it, the DVD quickly winding up in the five-buck bin at Wal-Mart. Unfortunately, the suits who approved the idea will not be fired. They'll go on to create lame remakes of Eraserhead and Blood Feast.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Send in the Clones...

Well, it looks like the CGI animated Clone Wars movie is getting pasted in the press. It's at 23% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. And it doesn't look good for reviews from the rest of the folks who are actually honoring the Warner Bros. embargo on reviews.

This reporter saw Clone Wars, and actually didn't think it was as horrible as some of the early reviews suggest. It is no Empire Strikes Back, it is no Revenge of the Sith. And it is CERTAINLY not as enjoyable as Genndy Tartakovsky's original Clone Wars shorts that made me a Star Wars fangirl again.

Ahsoka Tano is annoying. She's basically Kim Possible with a lightsabre: a wish fulfillment "Mary Sue" character geared at getting little girls more interested in the franchise. The animation is ugly, and reminiscent of cutscenes in a Star Wars video game. But Dave Filoni, late of Avatar: The Last Airbender and his crew do a yeoman job telling a tale of Sith duplicity and Hutt revenge. I even got a few lulz from Jabba's very, very FABULOUS uncle Zero...they should have gone all the way to "no closet can hold me" mode and gotten Richard Simmons to do the voice.

Basically look at Clone Wars this's a popcorn movie. It will prolly be best savored at home where the worst parts of it can be shamelessly MST-ed. However, if you are looking for a way to kill an hour and a half under quality air conditioning and check your higher cerebral faculties at the door, I can think of worse ways of doing it.

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

We need a whole 'nuther adjoining lot!

You've already heard our first Cartoon Geeks podcast. You downloaded it by clicking on a link just like this one. (Right click on a Windows PC, or option-click on a Mac, and choose "Save As..." to download the file.)

Cartoon Geeks Podcast, August, Part 1
Or you can listen right here if you've got Flash...

But we've just rolled up and parked a second cast - an even longer one - and it's one of our best! Here's the download link for that (instructions above):

Cartoon Geeks Podcast, August, Part 2

Or again, you can listen here if you have Flash.

This time, it's just Tom and Michelle, catching up on all the stuff that we and Donald Burr missed the first time! There's Wall-E, with Michelle's comprehensive list of all the Macintosh references hidden in the film. Two Batman shows, the animated Gotham Knight and the live-action The Dark Knight, get news. We cook up a serving of Kung Fu Panda, with steamed rice and special delicious sauce. Michelle tells about a great new theater in Los Angeles's Little Tokyo, and Tom can finally talk about his new role in a superhero radio show. We briefly talk about Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, and there's a little talk about Atlanta's upcoming Dragon*Con convention.

So, hitch up the trailer, be careful about hooking up to the power pole, get the water and waste lines connected, and settle in for our double-wide presentation!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Doctor Whedon's Desperation Play

It's been the big sensation of the summer. In a year when we got several substantial genre films after a long drought - Wall-E, Iron Man, Dark Knight, and the fourth (final?) Indiana Jones film, nothing has raised more heat than Doctor Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. It's been downloaded, it will be released on DVD with a hinted-at "fourth segment," and it has gotten lots of press.

What I am going to say will gain the hatred of Whedon fans. He's a desperate man. True, he has another new series coming out, Dollhouse, about sexy women programmed to be spies and assassins whose brains are erased after every mission. The story's about what happens when at least one of the "dolls" starts remembering. You think you have reason to rejoice, fans? The series will be on Fox, which canceled his promising Firefly as it has so many other shows that didn't make Rupert Murdoch a fortune after two episodes.

Whedon's projects have been troubled. After Buffy the Vampire Slayer, he lost a lot of clout. He wound up writing the X-Men comic for Marvel - which didn't impress the studio bosses having dinner at Morton's. The writer's strike kept him from further official creation. It was during this strike that he came up with Doctor Horrible as a show introduced on the internet.

Whedon has been putting out misleading information on his motives at, some of which I quote (from his "Master Plan" section):

The idea was to make it on the fly, on the cheap – but to make it. To turn out a really thrilling, professionalish piece of entertainment specifically for the internet. To show how much could be done with very little. To show the world there is another way. To give the public (and in particular you guys) something for all your support and patience. And to make a lot of silly jokes. Actually, that sentence probably should have come first.

Whedon is being jocular and cute, the way most Hollywood folk are when talking to the geeks that support their products. But I think he's hiding his anger at the suits, for betraying his projects and making it hard for him to make new series and movies. Thus this attempt at an end-run around the megacorporations and the suits, especially Fox.

So what about it? I know people who love to watch, and even perform in, the "Buffy Musical." They play it like Rocky Horror, acting out the story in front of the screen. The new name for this is "shadow cast." I've tried to watch the episode (forget the shadow cast) and can't get into it. I mean, this was also done for a live-action and animated episode of Xena: Warrior Princess. These musicals are supposed to let characters express their hidden thoughts and beliefs through song. But Joss Whedon isn't a Hammerstein. He's closer to a Richard O'Brien, telegraphing the upcoming verses with every obvious rhyme.

That said...I like Doctor Horrible.

Neil Patrick Harris - who's had a sudden career revival - plays it just right. He's ridiculous when he has to be, but he shows the wounds of an inarticulate nerd, completely bereft of social skills, wanting to connect with a pretty girl but unable to.

And part of that inability is due to him living in a comic book universe, with melodramatic rules. Horrible must be a mad scientist. He is consigned to that life path. He never stops to notice that the pretty, impossibly good Penny can't imagine someone being evil. He believes that she can be won when he presents her "the keys to a shiny new Australia."

The forces of good are simpering, angelically good people like Penny, and brutal, conceited, cocksure heroes like Captain Hammer. There is no room for compromise or gray areas in this comic book universe - a kind of universe that real comic books abandoned a few decades ago.

There were two boys, not too long ago, who held that same view of the universe. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were as bullied as Doctor Horrible. The world didn't pay them attention, so they forced the world to pay attention. Pretty much in the same as that small group of men who boarded some planes on September 11.

Right-wing Fox, and just about every TV network, would never allow a show or TV-movie that might show why a person might become a terrorist or mass killer. Like all conservatives, they want to demonize their opponents and insist on their eradication. Better to display and curse monsters than to wonder if we, possibly, might have turned them into monsters.

By being about a "campy" mad scientist, Doctor Horrible tells the story from the side of the "bad guy." The campiness lets everyone's guard down. Which is why the denouement of the third part changes everything, and has made some people I know burst into tears.

Doctor Horrible's Sing-Along Blog has told the story of the Columbine killings in a better way than any other media project. Better than the pretentious art film Elephant. Better than Michael Moore's ego-driven Bowling for Columbine, which shuffled Harris and Klebold off stage in favor of Moore's anti-gun agenda and his ego-driven confrontation with poor, brain-damaged Charlton Heston. (Moore's film is impressive, and I agree with much of what he says. But it isn't about the people it was supposed to be about, and that pisses me off.)

As for the projected fourth installment, I would say this to Doctor Horrible himself. I think there's a blues song (which I couldn't find) whose lyrics say something like this: when you get what you wanted and lose what you had, you've got no reason to complain.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Mo' Bakshi: Ralph lays down the gauntlet.

Courtesy of the wonderful ASIFA-Hollywood, here's a bit from Bakshi's panel at Comic-Con this year. He's talking like The Last Days Of Coney Island might actually see the light of day, which was heartening because as recently as the Bakshi gallery opening at Meltdown Comics the word was it was not going to be completed. Scroll down a bit to see my video of the gallery opening.

And yeah: technology is making it possible for a little group of animators to make cartoons...and in one case, one solo animator can take 5 years out of her life and make a feature. If you can draw, the possibilities are endless.

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Friday, August 01, 2008

Summer Podcast, part one!

At last, we've got a podcast again! In fact, a second will be on its way in a week.
In this first part, we have Tom, Michelle, and special guest Donald Burr. (He comes from and is a true, honest otaku.) We talk about...
Kung Fu Panda, comedy songwriters in an Iron Chef style competition, Speed Racer, Star Wars: Clone Wars, and Tom's appearance in a mysterious radio show that will Rick Roll you. Donald presents the latest interesting news from Japan, and Michelle talks about the perils and pitfalls of digital TV amidst big buildings.

NEW! Listen now if you've got Flash!