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A few thoughts on Batman: The Killing Joke

A few thoughts on Batman: The Killing Joke

If we have learned anything from Watchmen, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and From Hell, it is to stop trying to adapt Alan Moore’s work into a different medium. Moore’s work has been lauded as genius, and while such praise is certainly due to his plotting and characterization, a large part of his genius is in his ability to exploit the unique qualities of the graphic novel. Of particular note is his juxtaposition of frames to interweave and connect different characters, scenes, plots, etc. in ways that are ironic, revelatory, transcendent, disturbing, and always deeply significant. He is able to employ his mastery of the medium of sequential art to convey themes and ideas in a form that cannot be replicated in a different medium. Certain film adaptations (such as V for Vendetta, From Hell, and Watchmen) deserve kudos for strong visuals, yet these films fail to capture the full power of Moore’s work and are ultimately weak in comparison. This argument can and should be made against Batman: The Killing Joke, for it is an adaptation that primarily seeks visual resonance with the source material, much like Zack Snyder did with Watchmen. Just as the Watchmen film is less Alan Moore’s Watchmen and more Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen, Batman: The Killing Joke is primarily Brian Bolland’s The Killing Joke. However, having said this, Batman: The Killing Joke is by far the best adaptation of Alan Moore’s work that we have seen. It should be noted that Moore has less-than-positive feelings towards his work on Watchmen and The Killing Joke and has stated that he prefers not to be associated with the films. Regardless of how Moore now feels about The Killing Joke, his graphic novel is an iconic and indispensable part of the Batman-Joker mythology. Considering its exalted status among fans, Bruce Timm and his team certainly faced a daunting task in adapting it. While promoting the film, a video was released in which Timm discusses the decision they made to fight for as faithful an adaptation as the studio would allow. It certainly buoyed fans’ hopes to learn that they were being allowed to make an R-rated adaptation of The Killing Joke. Despite this freedom, other constraints still put demands on the filmmakers. One constraint: running time. How does one adapt the short novella into a feature-length film? (By adding a half-hour of new material. More on this later.) Another: How do you stay true to the darkness of the story while also keeping it light enough to appeal to wider audiences? This second point is an inevitable constraint resulting from the fact that, at the end of the day, moviemaking is a...

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Sackerson’s Bride of Frankenstein: A new take on the “world of gods and monsters”

At Monday night’s performance of Bride of Frankenstein, we were encouraged to take photos and share them all over the Interwebline. However, I was so entranced by the production that I could not divert my attention to my photo-taking device a single time. The photos in this post were shared by Bobby Cody and Craig Foster (men I do not know but to whom I will apologize if they don’t want their photos here). Bride of Frankenstein is a staged adaptation of James Whale’s 1935 film performed by a Salt Lake City-based theatre company, Sackerson. If you read this before the show closes on October 31, 2015, you need to go to www.bride-of-frankenstein.com immediately and get your tickets. I am somewhat at a loss as to how to blog about my experience because I am, quite frankly, still processing it. I suppose I should start with the film. With the success of the 1931 film Frankenstein, which came on the heels of Dracula which was released earlier that year, Universal Pictures sought to capitalize on those successes by turning out their series of now-iconic monster pictures. One of the greatest films we have from this series is 1935’s Bride of Frankenstein. Because much has already been written about it, I’ll try to be succinct. Bride is fascinating as a sequel and as its own entity. The themes, characters, and plot points of Frankenstein should be very familiar because of the film itself and the infinite parodies, pastiches, and homages. Characters include Dr. Frankenstein, his Monster, and his fiancée. Plot points include the acquisition of body parts, the creation, and the burning of the windmill. Among its deeply significant themes are the rights associated with creation, the casting out of the “Other” from society, and career pursuits at the expense of personal relationships. Unlike some sequels, Bride does not simply repurpose or rehash the previous films’ themes, characters, and plot points. Rather, it reevaluates and revaluates them. In the first film, Dr. Henry Frankenstein seeks to know how it feels to be God by circumventing divine order. He, a single man (both in number and marital status), creates life by piecing together body parts while delaying marriage. Out of wedlock, Frankenstein creates a bastard: not only illegitimate but also unnatural, abnormal, and counterfeit. That bastard child is rejected by society, and the villagers seek to destroy the “Other.” This is elementary stuff. One remarkable thing about Bride is how Whale revisits these themes to alter them and place different values on them. While Frankenstein is a cautionary tale about the dangers of trying to circumvent divine order, Bride is less concerned with creation outside the...

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Bill & Ted’s Less-than-triumphant Return

Bill & Ted’s Less-than-triumphant Return

As a fan of the Bill & Ted property, you should expect me to eagerly anticipate reading Boom! Studios’ six-issue comic series Bill & Ted’s Triumphant Return. And eager I was. As the series has now completed, I have some thoughts. Although it was disappointing overall, there are certainly some gems within the six-issue run. As is to be expected, the title reflects significantly on the plot of the series while also heralding the return of the property in distributed media. That duality itself is an indicator of the cleverness sought for in this series, which is, at times, enjoyable and, at others, painful. Overall, eh, it was okay. It had some fun moments, some nostalgic moments, some clever intertextual and intraproperty references, some not-so-clever ones, and plenty of less-than-engaging plot and dialogue that reads exactly like someone trying to imitate Bill & Ted while not coming across as genuine characterization. As one amidst the many in the current, ongoing spate of resurrected properties, this one feels very much like less-than-triumphant fan-fiction, leaving me longing for the Matheson-Solomon touch. The best stuff comes in issues five and six, so if you commit yourself to the long-haul, your rewards will be greater. It is no mystery (“the things you do to me”–yes, obligatory reference) that Alex and Keanu have been working on a script for Bill & Ted 3, and Winter has recently expressed hope that the project will continue to develop. Although this is exciting news, there is no indication of any involvement from Matheson or Solomon, who have both been doing work independently and whose most recent collaboration was 2009’s Imagine That starring Eddie Murphy. That’s not necessarily bad (the Matheson-Solomon penned Bogus Journey was far from excellent), but it does mean the property is not in the hands of its creators. The property’s many entries, from the films to the animated series Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventures to the cringe-worthy and short-lived live-action television series of the same name to the twelve-issue Bill & Ted’s Excellent Comic Book, have varied in quality. However, Bill & Ted fans have taken the bad with the good (we’ve had to), and even though Most Triumphant Return isn’t great, it is welcome. After all, the last time I checked, the world needs a reminder to be excellent to each other. And to party on, of...

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Before the Beep: One Play Told over the Course of 30 Days

Before the Beep: One Play Told over the Course of 30 Days

The serial form has a long history, including serialized novels published in newspapers and magazines (such as those of Charles Dickens), radio and television programs (including soap operas), movie serials (like Flash Gordon), and even serialized mass-market paperback releases (notably Stephen King’s The Green Mile). However, you will notice that these are mass entertainment media, thus excluding theatre. A play is usually intended for single-sitting consumption in an intimate setting, rather than episodic mass-consumption, which is one reason that Before the Beep feels so fresh and original. Before the Beep is one play told over the course of 30 days through a series of recorded one-minute segments that audiences access by phone, which offers both serialization and intimacy in a very unique and interesting experience. In less than a minute, the first installment of Before the Beep establishes a problematic scenario that demands further installments for resolution. Through a conversation between two characters, we are introduced to an initial conflict while becoming aware that more is going on beyond the limited scope offered by the conversation. By the end of the short segment, questions abound, resolutions elude. Typically, episodic installments still provide minor resolutions while also contributing to the overall narrative trajectory of the series. This is generally demanded by our traditional expectations of endings. On this point, Before the Beep also diverges delightfully from the norm. The first segment ends like an abruptly terminated phone call. Now, I wait eagerly for connection to be reestablished. For information about tickets for the next cycle, check out...

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A Few Words about Criticism

A Few Words about Criticism

Hi, I’m Stiff. As my inaugural entry here on Stiff Criticism, I thought it would be appropriate to offer a few words about criticism itself. Without elaborating on the etymology of the word, “criticism” is, today, perhaps most often associated with the act of passing judgment, and “stiff criticism” with the act of passing severe judgment, even faultfinding. However, the term “criticism” can also refer to the act of analyzing or studying a document, a text, or a work of art without necessarily passing judgment on its value or worth. As with “critical thinking,” “critical analysis” encourages contextualization, ratiocination, and other forms of disciplined mentation. “Criticism” may also refer to the product of such an active, critical examination of a text, evaluative yet not judgmental. Critics, those who offer critiques or reviews of films, plays, books, etc., fit somewhere between these two on the criticism continuum. They pass judgment on the merits of a text (in the form of thumbs, stars, popcorn bags, and so on), maintaining that their evaluations are based upon a reasoned analysis of the text. This form of criticism has roots in journalism as an “editorial favor” (in the words of Rudolf Arnheim) to advertisers. Of course, this brand of criticism has evolved, and now the Internet allows the unprecedented ability for folks (including yours truly) to publish reviews on social media sites, Netflix and other streaming services, Amazon.com and other online retailers, Rotten Tomatoes, and blogs (yes, like this one), ad infinitum. While professional reviewers tend to adhere to more disciplined standards, non-professional reviewers offer necessary diversity, often free of possible restraint imposed by advertising interests. However, all criticism of the judgmental ilk is problematic in that it is subject to the reviewer’s own taste. The problem is not in the subjectivity itself (after all, as the narrator explains in Thomas Harris’ novel Hannibal, “The first step in the development of taste is to be willing to credit your own opinion”) but in expecting/assuming that one’s taste should be shared by another. Although my preference is for analysis, various forms of criticism serve different purposes and meet different needs; therefore, it is likely that my entries on this blog will encompass a range of criticism, including those mentioned above: faultfinding, critique, and analysis. My thoughts will come from my brain, which means that they will be influenced by my tastes, my interests, my mentation. Regardless of whether our tastes agree or disagree, our interests converge or diverge, our opinions consonate or dissonate, I hope this blog encourages you to actively engage with the media you...

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Making an Independent Movie

Making an Independent Movie

These days, everyone has a vision and a dream of making a film or being involved in some shape or form in the movie business. What is surprising to most people is that many big stars that we see today first received their start in independent films. Just like with anything in life, it is all about paying dues and working your way up to the top. It isn’t just handed to someone. It is earned by hard work, blood, sweat, and tears. The best way to get ahead and get your foot in the door is by making an independent film. Once that foot is in the door, the sky is the limit with endless possibilities. There are tons of great Film production companies San Francisco that are ready and willing to work with young, up and coming talent that is dedicated to making good movies. At the end of the day, that is one of the most important things when it comes to making an independent film. At the start of it, there isn’t a ton of money, but if someone loves movies and dreams about them, it isn’t about the money at the beginning. It is about making their dream a reality and sharing that passion and that joy with the rest of the world. Many times, all it takes is a camera, a story, and some hard-working people and the film can begin. It all starts with the story, however. That is first and foremost and no great independent film can be made without a story. It needs to be unique, outside the box, and fresh. It can’t just be a copy of other films that have already been released. Once the story is done, it is important to have a camera ready. Many times, cameras can be rented for a period of time, which can be a lot cheaper than having to buy a camera brand new. Once the camera is there, it is important to have a dedicated and hard-working staff that believes in the film and believes in the people associated with the film. If the staff is into the project and fights for it and truly loves it with all of their hearts, anything is possible. It is hard to ignore or deny passion. Once the film is completed, the most important part is getting the word out there about the film. There are many avenues that allow you to do that on social media. The best part about them is they are free and they allow the filmmaker to spread the word and let people know the film needs to be seen and has a...

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Marketing an Indy Film

Marketing an Indy Film

Marketing an indy film can be a little tricky because, for the most part, it is up to you to identify, seek out, and nab your target audience. Typically, the budget for marketing isn’t that high for indy films, so it might be a bit of a challenge to figure out how to do everything within the amount of money that you are prepared to spend on this endeavor. Luckily, there are many ways to go about marketing online that will expose lots of people to your indy film. Before you go about creating an online marketing strategy, it is important to identify who your target audience is. Once you realize who you are looking for, it is important to realize how to get their attention. While online marketing is effective, you will definitely want to consider all of your marketing options. There are the older forms of advertising (newspaper ads, billboards, handouts, etc.), and there are new forms of advertising (websites, online articles, pop ups, etc.). All of these have their benefits, but with the ever-evolving world of technology, it is a good idea to consider the newer forms of advertising first. Creating an aesthetically pleasing website is one of the best things you can do to assist promotion of your film. Also, participating in search engine optimization methods is a great idea. By increasing your presence on the internet, you can ensure that your website gets more traffic. More traffic often leads customers to your movie and is associated with an increase in interest. You can get in touch with an internet marketing agency to help you work on your online marketing strategy. It’s important when exploring the idea of using this new online market that your company already has a healthy presence on the internet. If your film does not have a promotional website, which is the first thing you should work on. After establishing a website, ensuring its exposure is crucial. Online articles about your movie will increase the chances of your movie’s name showing up on search engines, which will lead to higher amounts of traffic to your website. After you’ve gotten comfortable with this level of online marketing, then you can move on to the social networking market. When your indy film starts to feel the impact of online marketing, especially a sudden spike in interest, it is important that you as a film maker know how to handle that. When new people start pouring in wanting to know about your movie, you must know that you and your crew are able to handle the new work load. No matter how large the effect of your new marketing...

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