The Way of the Word

16. December 2010

RIP Blake Edwards

Born William Blake Crump on July 26, 1922 in Tulsa, OK, died December 16, 2010 in Santa Monica, CA,  at the age of 88, from complications of pneumonia.

Edwards originally started out in the 1940s as an actor, but then turned to writing radio scripts.  He got his big break from Orson Welles, who hired him as one of the writers for the legendary War of the Worlds broadcast. He continued on to creating Richard Diamond, Private Detective for the radio. He revisited some themes of Richard Diamond when he created a similarly light-hearted hardboiled PI, Peter Gunn, for television. The show ran from 1958 until 1961, had a reunion movie in 1967, and was remade in 1989.

His big break as a director came when John Frankenheimer dropped out of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and Edwards took over. After several serious movies, such as Experiment in Terror and Days of Wine and Roses, Edwards co-wrote and directed the movie that would change his life: The Pink Panther (1964). This movie typecast him as a comedy man, and he seemed happy to play that role, as his creative output became almost exclusively comedic afterwards.

His frequent collaborators were Peter Sellers, the composer Henri Mancini, and Julie Andrews, whom he married as his second wife in 1969.

Besides several Pink Panther movies, Edwards directed the  comedies Operation Petticoat (1959), The Great Race (1965), 10 (1979), Victor/Victoria (1982), Blind Date (1987), Sunset (1988), Switch (1991). And many more.

The list above is a mix of some of his better known movies and a few personal favorites. I absoutely love Operation Petticoat, a war comedy with Cary Grant and Tony Curtis. I can’t see The Great Race with Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon often enough, it’s on par with the Zucker-Zucker-Abrahams movies. Sure, we have him to blame for Bo Derek (10), but also to thank for Bruce Willis (Blind Date, Sunset).

In 2004, he received an honorary Acacemy Award for his life’s work. Which was more than deserved.

As I write this, I have two thoughts: One is that you’d better be careful. Pneumonia has killed how many celebrities this year? I didn’t think it was that dangerous. The other thought is that if there is a heaven, think of the movies that Leslie Nielsen and Blake Edwards will make up there now. It’s a pity we can’t see them — they would be so funny, we would die of laughter.

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14. December 2010

Review: Tron Legacy

USA 2010. Directed by Joseph Kosinski. Starring Garrett Hedlund, Jeff Bridges, Olivia Wilde, Bruce Boxleitner.  Runtime 127 minutes

Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), CEO of Encom, vanished in 1989, leaving behind his little son Sam. Fast forward to the present: Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner), Kevin’s friend and Sam’s one-time guardian, brings Sam news of a page from Kevin. When Sam goes to investigate those news, he is transported to the Grid, a world within the computers, where progams live and work. It is a world terrorized by the Clu (Jeff Bridges), whose mission was once to make a perfect world. Which he did, by setting himself up as dictator. Forced to fight in the Games until he dies, Sam is rescued by Quorra (Olivia Wilde), who reunites him with his father. Kevin explains to Sam that he was stuck on the Grid after the portal closed. Now Sam reopened it. For Sam, the matter is clear: make a dash to the portal, get back to the real world, and take care of Clu by simply deleting it. The problem is that this is exactly what Clu wants: he has figured out how to travel from the Grid to the User World. Now that the portal is open, Clu can bring his army through and make the world of the users perfect. It is a goal that Sam’s brash actions put Clu on the verge of accomplishing. Now Kevin Flynn is forced out of hiding in order to deal with it. Which, again, is exactly what Clu wants.

Let me get this out of the way: the original Tron was a milestone in filmmaking. I talked about it previously. Does this sequel, Tron Legacy, compare?

Not entirely. The original basically invented modern filmmaking. This sequel takes what is currently available and pushes the envelope a bit farther out. Its major innovation is the digital deaging of Jeff Bridges, who can now convincingly play his current age and his 25 years younger self. It’s stunning, but it doesn’t push the envelope as much as the original did.

That doesn’t mean that Tron Legacy is not absolutely worth your while. The movie is made of win and awesome. Because its 3D sequences (the scenes on the Grid) show even better than Avatar did exactly what 3D can do. The Grid is designed as a completely alien landscape. It is weird, it is bizarre, it is totally unique. Anyone with the least bit of design sense will probably want to watch this movie several times just for this. The movie makes perfect use of 3D without having it be in-your-face. Even less so than Avatar, which did have its “look! 3D!” moments. Here, the 3D flows naturally into the landscape and the storytelling. It actually improves some of the action scenes.

Tron Legacy takes the worlds and the characters established by the original and evolves them. It plays with them. Almost all the characters are back (yes, including Tron himself, played by a de-aged Bruce Boxleitner). Most of the effects from the original are seen in a new and improved form. The new generation of Lightcycles is breathtaking, and the new generation of Recognizers stuns the viewer with the sense of actual mass and substance it now projects. There are constant nods to the original, little things like the son of Ed Dillinger (the villain from the first movie) sitting on Encom’s board of directors. A little item that is reminiscent of the Bit that accompanied Flynn on his first trip. If you know the original, you’ll recognize them. If you don’t it doesn’t matter, all those little homages don’t impede the flow of the story. It’s a clever balancing act, successfully accomplished, that out the creators of this movie as fans of the original.

The cast is convincing. The dangers to the characters seem real, and somewhere along the way it even appears that Clu’s insane plan will actually succeed. Garrett Hedlund is probably the discovery of the year. Oh, he’s been around for a bit, but not in any way that I noticed. This is definitely his breakout part. Olivia Wilde is wonderful and charming as Quorra. Watch her eyes. Jeff Bridges manages to keep his two very different characters distinct.

Does that mean the movie is perfect? Oh now. Nothing is. If you know the original, Jeff Bridges’s Flynn is a bit out of character. If you don’t know, it doesn’t matter. What is grating, though, is that throughout he talks like a hippie who left the world in 1969 instead of a geek who left in 1989. While Clu’s younger Bridges-look is totally convincing, it is at first irritating that he still talks with an old man’s voice. You get used to it, but that’s the next thing the digital wizards need to fix. And I didn’t like the ending. The last 2 minutes or so of the movie are too kitchy. End the movie before that, and it’d be perfect. You’ll know what I mean when I see it. Maybe if they had tacked that ending on as an after-credits easter egg…

But those minor quibbles didn’t noticeably impact my enjoyment of the movie. It’s the best movie I’ve seen all year.

Oh, and: you’ll want to buy the OST CD. Trust me on this.

Verdict: extremely recommended. Go out and see it, right now.

12. December 2010

Awesome Ideas That Will Never Be

Sometimes I can’t help thinking about stupid things. Things that happen in comics, or on television, or in some other medium, involving characters and situations that I know I will never get to work on. I mean, let’s be honest here: I’m not nearly famous enough that a TV producer or a comic book editor would even look at my e-mails, or consent to look at one of my pitches. Heck, even if one of them should stumble upon this blog, see the idea and like it, they would never give me a call.  But I can’t help the ideas. Some are really awesome, but they will never be. This blog, however, is a way to talk about them.

This morning, while shaving, I thought about death in superhero comics, and how it’s become trite through overuse. “Hey, we don’t have any ideas, what can we do to boost circulation? I know! Let’s kill someone!”

If I were in charge of either of the Big 2 superhero publishers, death would me mostly permanent. I mean, why not? It would force the writers to become more creative, and it’s not like I’d be in charge forever (never mind how Joe Quesada over at Marvel Comics makes it feel that way). The next person in charge would reverse that decision anyway.

But as I mulled this over, I realized that there can be a backdoor, if it’s creative enough, awesome enough, or set up at the time of death. For example, when Marv Wolfman killed Barry Allen, he had set up a backdoor for an eventual return. A backdoor that Geoff Johns used to bring Barry Allen back. Not that Barry Allen was ever dead, he was alive and well in the 30th century. I would have brought him back from the future instead.

Or Hal Jordan. He became insane, became Parallax, died, came back as the Spectre, and now is Green Lantern once again. Instead of the way it was done, how awesome would it have been if they had brought him back (not that I wanted him back, but that was editorial edict) as the result of an epic battle between Parallax and Spectre? No “yellow fear entity” crap.

In any case, that would be my “get out of hell free” card: if the possible resurrection is built into the death, go ahead.

Which leads me to Doctor Doom. Heavens help me, I have figured out a way to kill Doctor Doom, and resurrect him, and make it awesome.

The key lies in a line of text that Reed says to DOOM (the one character in comics who needs to be put in all caps all the time) during the Mark Waid run. Something along the lines of, “I won’t send you to Hell because we both know you’d be running the place within six months.”

What if he did?

Suppose DOOM attacks the FF once more. He fails, again. This time, he dies. And goes to Hell.

The next step could be one of two things: one would be a 6 issue miniseries: DOOM – To Reign in Hell, detailing how DOOM takes over Hell. You know — “you’d be running the place within six months.” The alternative would be that other characters who return from the dead make cryptic comments about how Hell has changed since DOOM took over.

Eventually, Mephisto approaches the FF with a request: since they sent DOOM into his realm, costing Mephisto his position and power, and since they are DOOM’s arch enemies, he considers it their job to help the Devil out on this one and get rid of DOOM for him. It would be Ben who would ask the obvious question: why should they?

“Because,” Mephisto answers, “DOOM hasn’t figured out yet how to access and use the full power that is the due of the ruler of Hell. Once he has, he will be even more unstoppable.”

That’s enough motivation (maybe Mephisto would offer them a deal, which the FF would of course refuse — heroes don’t make deals with the Devil) for the FF to get going. Fighting alongside the minions of Hell, they defeat DOOM after a harsh battle. Once Mephisto gets the upper hand, he regresses DOOM to infancy. Both physically and mentally. And leaves the baby in the care of the FF.

“I’ve wiped his slate clean,” Mephisto explains. “He’s all innocent again. Now it’s your responsibility to raise him into, well, someone who won’t come back to my place. Next time he does, however, I’ll be ready. I won’t underestimate him again.”

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