Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Ultimate Edition of BATMAN V. SUPERMAN is more movie, but definitely not a better movie

About four months ago, I came away from the theatrical cut of BATMAN V. SUPERMAN with a lot of disappointment tempered by appreciation for some elements like Wonder Woman's cameo and Ben Affleck's Batman. This ended up being posted in a climate where battlelines were drawn - a lot of critics really hated it and it provoked the wrath of fanboys who loved it unconditionally (and who were sending the critics death threats before they themselves had actually seen the film.)

An interesting part about the reaction to my review was that I saw it being shared by the pro-BVS partisans, often with the caveat that it was a "fair" review. I was proud of that observation, as I always strive for intellectual honesty. However, it was weird to see it being use as an apparent brickbat against the "biased" critics because my post was fairly critical. Perhaps that was obscured by the fact that I didn't assign a grade of any kind. One friend told me he thought my review was "pretty damning," likely because it came from a Superman fan whose biggest issue was that it wasn't a very good Superman movie. If I had rated it from one star to four stars, as Roger Ebert used to, it probably would have been a two-star affair.

Even before the film was released, there were rumblings that an Ultimate Cut would be arriving. Not only would this version be rated R, but it would add an entire half-hour onto a movie that was already two and a half hours long. With so many scenes to be reincorporated, I was willing to keep an open mind. It was not unlikely that many of my issues with the theatrical cut could be resolved with the additions. Indeed, about a month ago, there were special screenings of the Ultimate Cut to hype its digital release, and a good deal of the advanced word seemed positive. However, upon closer examination, you might notice that the fans screaming "This is SO much better!" and "This is the version WB should have released" were often the same people who were way in the tank for the theatrical cut.

Last week I finally got a chance to watch it. The succinct reaction is that I'm baffled by anyone who thinks this cut is significantly better than the theatrical cut. Virtually all the cuts were smart cuts on the part of the studio. There's precious little in the new half-hour that shifts your perception of anything on screen. The vast majority of the restored material merely underlines beats that were already present. The additions make the film a longer movie, but not a better one. I'm stunned that the Ultimate Cut moved the needle for viewers in either direction.

The Africa subplot benefits most from the new scenes. In the Ultimate Cut the mechanics of how Superman was framed for the deaths in the village are made clearer. Bodies are burned so it looks like the work of his heat vision, key witnesses against Superman are coerced into giving false testimony. The bad news for the film is that the additions make the plot just clear enough that it's plain as day that this is a TERRIBLE subplot.

All of this nonsense in Africa is totally irrelevant to the core conflict between Batman and Superman. It adds nothing to why either of these two hates the other. Batman's distrust of Superman is perfectly laid out during the sequence that leaps back to the day of Zod's attack. That's probably the best sequence in the film and it lays out right there why Bruce sees Superman as a threat - AND it's thematically on point in terms of the question of if Superman is a good thing for the world.

The Africa storyline never intersects with Batman. At best, it's a device to make Superman mopey and question himself, which is one of the film's worst creative decisions. There needs to be a bigger contrast between Batman and Superman's worlds. Superman's world should be as bright as Batman's is dark. With Batman making the anti-Superman case, we don't need to see Superman the target of a PR attack until he's hauled into the Senate to testify. This is especially true since that plot comes to a dead stop when the Senate blows up. There's no need to burn so much screentime on this shaggy dog story.

I understand there's a case to be made that the Africa/Senate thread lays the groundwork for Lex's plan. He sets up the entire Africa scenario to convince a Senator played by Holly Hunter to let him import some kryptonite he's discovered, and give him access to both Zod's body and the crashed Kryptonian ship. It feels like there's a lot of unnecessary shoe leather here, particularly since Lex's "deterrent" cover story probably wouldn't even need the Africa incident to provoke things. If someone as powerful as Superman showed up, the U.S. government would immediately be figuring out what kinds of weapons they'd need against him.

So all of this is a long way of saying that adding more running time to the Africa/Senate deceit is not a positive in any sense. You might get clarity, but it's the kind of clarity where you clean your glasses and realize the dirty room you're in is actually a large septic tank.

The other big addition comes in the form of scenes showing Clark investigating the Gotham Bat. All this does is hit the same points that were already made in the theatrical cut. At least twice, perhaps three times, in the theatrical cut, we saw Clark being chewed out by Perry for chasing this story when he's been assigned other work. We get it - Clark doesn't like Batman's vigilante tactics. In particular, he holds Batman responsible for the deaths of criminals who get killed in prison because they've been branded with Batman's symbol. In fact, we even see one of those murders.

So let me get this straight - a criminal is sent to a secure facility with scars from the vigilante who put him there, and when the guy gets shanked by other prisoners, the crusading social justice reporter's issue is with... the vigilante? Not the incredibly lax prison security that facilitated those deaths? I mean, if it's happened enough to be an established pattern of what the brand means, why on earth hasn't the prison taken strong measures to protect those who've been branded? How are so many people being killed on the guards' watch and there's been no outcry? Clark, the story's not the vigilante - it's the incredibly poor administration at the prison!

Hitting these beats harder means I find it even less believable when Superman interrupts Batman's chase scene to let him off with a warning. Seriously? Several scenes communicate that Clark thinks this guy's a criminal and the best he does is wreck his car and give a stern finger wag? That's not even getting into the fact that Superman is entirely unconcerned by the devastation in that chase, or in stopping the actual bad guys who Batman was pursuing.

Don't get me wrong - I like that the UC has a little more balance between Clark scenes and Bruce scenes, but I wish Clark's screentime was more substantive and less mopey.

The same film, only more of it. That's my assessment of the Ultimate Cut. I've seen a few editorials that take WB to task for not trusting in the longer version, but I think they made the right call here. I don't think the UC would have been any better received critically had it been released to theatres. Virtually all of the elements that people took issue with in the TC are present in the UC. Chopping 30 minutes out merely reduced the agony.

They probably could have gone even further. Losing the dream scenes might have saved 10-15 minutes, and slicing out Wonder Woman watching Quicktime videos of the future Justice League would have saved another few. I'm sure the dystopian nightmare scene didn't come cheap, but it's unnecessary and is borderline incomprehensible to non-comic book fans. Neither it, nor the Flash's appearance to Bruce are germane to Batman v. Superman.

I'd like to be optimistic about future installments, and while there are things I liked in BVS, I'm perplexed at any reactions that this film is significantly better or worse than what we saw in theaters last March.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

SDCC wrap-up: A salute to Mark Hamill's COMIC BOOK: THE MOVIE and Superman: Rebirth

The older I get, the more my trips to Comic-Con take out of me. This is almost a week past due, but I wrote a piece for Film School Rejects about Mark Hamill's little-seen directorial debut COMIC BOOK: THE MOVIE. It went live while I was at SDCC and had no opportunity to write a post here. However, Mark Hamill himself RT'd the link to it and I'm told that at one point, the article was on the front page of Medium, so I hope you enjoy it.

When I was in college, some friends and I had a ritual we’d do on nights where several of us were bored. We’d grab my friend Joe’s high-8 camera and wander into the bowels of the library to shoot our own improvised movies. These were all done with editing-in-the-camera, meaning we shot in sequence, one shot at a time with no post-production work. We never started with a script, though by the end we were bringing along an array of costumes and props.

None of these were great films, but there was an infectious energy about them. The first film was just myself and Joe, and we took turns holding the camera depending on which of us was in the shot. We had fun but wouldn’t have repeated the experiment had the friends we showed it to not said, “When are you doing another one? Can I be in it?” This goofy time-waster looked like so much fun that its energy transcended its low production values and creative constraints.

Mark Hamill’s 2004 directorial debut, Comic Book: The Movie, is the closest I’ve ever seen a feature film duplicate that energy. It’s an improvised mockumentary in the tradition of the Christopher Guest films like This is Spinal Tap and Best in Show. This is a shaggier effort than those films. CB: TM was apparently shot on digital video, but I’d swear the visual quality isn’t much more impressive than High-8, particular when displayed on an HD screen.

[...]Hamill’s repertory company of players is largely made up of voice actors whose work you’ve heard in shows like Pinky & The Brain, Futurama, Animaniacs and many, many more. But that’s all part of the infectious joy of this film. It really feels like Hamill was hanging out with his buddies and said, “Why DON’T we make a movie about something we all love? And let’s do it in a place we love: San Diego Comic Con.”

You can find the rest on Film School Rejects at:  Mark Hamill’s Comic Book: The Movie Shows That Luke Skywalker is One of Us.

In additional Comic-Con news, two of my experiences work as follow-ups to earlier posts. Years ago, I wrote about how when I was in college, I wrote a letter to TV writer Ron Moore (TNG, DS9, Roswell, and Battlestar Galactica) and much to my shock, he tracked me down to call my home and thank me for the letter. It felt like one of the coolest things that had happened to me. Since then, I've always wanted to meet him, even if just to shake his hand and thank him for being so cool. Well, I briefly got to meet him following the Writing for Star Trek Panel and he could not have been a nicer guy. There have been some shifts in positive direction as far as my career lately, and I'm taking this encounter as a signpost of big things on the horizon.

I also attended the DC Rebirth: Superman panel, which focused on the newly relaunched Superman titles. About four years ago, I wrote two very long posts about my relationship with Superman comics and what eventually led me to break up with collecting comics after 23 years of consistent buying. This came a year after DC Comics began a massive relaunch known as The New 52. You can find those old posts here and here.

Well, this May, DC relaunched yet again via DC Universe Rebirth and they knew the exact way to lure me back - Superman writer extraordinaire Dan Jurgens is penning ACTION COMICS, and the Superman of the New 52 is dead. In his place, the pre-New 52 Superman has taken over in this universe and he's not alone. He and his wife Lois have crossed into this new continuity and they've brought with them their 10 year-old son Jon. (This whole story was told in the CONVERGENCE tie-ins and SUPERMAN: LOIS & CLARK, also written by Jurgens.)

I can't tell you how much of a difference this has made. Superman has felt heroic and confidant again, a hero worthy of being looked up to. Better still, his relationship with Lois helps humanize him. The big element the New 52 got rid of was Lois and Clark's marriage, but it also severed ANY real relationship between the two. Superman's romantic interest was Wonder Woman, and it felt wrong to pair him up with another super, as it's always been more interesting to show that Lois Lane is more than up to the task of being Clark's equal.

As much as losing Lois hurt Superman, losing Clark REALLY hurt Lois's character. They're really yin and yang, particularly since the previous two decades-plus where she's in on the secret. No one really seemed to know how to develop Lois on her own and she never had the same chemistry with other characters that she did with Clark when there was romance on the table.

At the Superman panel, Dan Jurgens said that he considers ACTION COMICS #1 to be a significant book not just because it introduced Superman, but because it's also the first appearance of Lois Lane. There are few writers who understand Lois Lane as well as Jurgens and I really believe that she is in good hands with him and Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason, who are writing the SUPERMAN title. Fans who are frustrated that Lois's role has only been that of Jon's mother since REBIRTH are advised to be patient, because it was hinted that a few developments are very close on the horizon to restore her to prominence.

Let's talk a little about Jon Kent, who might be my favorite addition to the Superman mythos in a long time. He's got Clark's powers and Lois's inquisitive attitude. It's only been recently that he found out his dad is Superman and both writing teams really have a strong handle on his voice. He's a good kid, but also isn't afraid to stand up to his parents when he wants to be heard. There's something very endearing about seeing Superman as a father, taking his son on a routine rescue and using the adventure as an opportunity to teach him about his powers.

The Superman books have not had this much heart in a long time. Some characters feel too "aged up" when given children, but Superman's always been such a paternal figure that it feels natural to give him a child. I'll admit, in Jurgens's first issue of ACTION, it brought a smile to my face to see Jon cheer "Go Dad, go!" as his father flew off to a confrontation. (Art by Patrick Zircher.)

I can't speak for the quality of most of the other Rebirth properties (other than urging you check out BATGIRL & THE BIRDS OF PREY, written by THE 100's Julie & Shawna Benson), but if you've been a lapsed Superman fan, the stories being crafted by Jurgens and Gleason & Tomasi; drawn by Gleason, Zircher and Tyler Kirkham, are some of the most original and heartfelt tales the character has had in a very long time. It's the perfect antidote to the missteps of the New 52 and the darker tones of BATMAN V. SUPERMAN.

For the first time in a long time, the greatest superhero in comics is in the hands of creators who understand what makes him great, and I for one am enjoying the ride.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Film School Rejects post: Why I Wrote a Book About The Unheralded Genius in Michael Bay’s Films

Following my efforts to get more Amazon reviews for my book MICHAEL F-ING BAY: The Unheralded Genius in Michael Bay's Films, (which you can read about here) I was invited to write a column for Film School rejects about why I wrote the book in the first place.

The real genesis of the book came Summer 2014, when I saw a lot of people on Twitter talking about going to see the latest Transformers film despite being certain it was terrible. (That’s somewhat amusing when contrasted with the latest Ghostbusters conversation, where you can get into a fight with a Ghost-Bro who hasn’t seen the film and STILL is certain it’s terrible.) Unsurprisingly, these people walked out of the film with their assumptions confirmed and somewhat disingenuously acted shocked at how much they disliked it.

I won’t say I felt bad for Bay, but I briefly considered that perhaps his audience was seeing in his films what they wanted to see. So as an experiment, I resolved to view Transformers: Age of Extinction with not only an open mind, but one that gave him the same benefit of the doubt that Hitchcock and Scorsese are afforded when their films are dissected in film school. 

You can find the rest of "Why I Wrote A Book About The Unheralded Genius in Michael Bay's Films" here on Film School Rejects.

And don't forget that through Friday, the Kindle Edition of the book is only $2.99! And please leave a review if you've read it!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

"They didn't make it for ME!" How the new Ghostbusters became the line in the sand for some fans

What an awful conversation there is surrounding the new Ghostbusters.

When it was announced that Paul Feig was directing a reboot of Ghostbusters starring Kristin Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones, I was prepared for the initial outcry. We go through this same crap with every reboot - the internet makes noise for two or three days, then everything dies down until a trailer comes out, at which point there's another two days of "Actually looks good!" and "How dare they?" From then on, the biggest splash is opening weekend, where the movie either dies quietly or gets everyone angry for 72 hours until they move onto the next thing.

We've gone through this so many times with reboots like Star Trek, A Nightmare on Elm Street, James Bond ("a blonde Bond?! How dare they?"), Friday the 13th, The Thing, and so on that the playbook is obvious. But for some reason, this time it's been a near-constant state of screaming and attacks on this film. Buzzfeed did an awesome job of compiling reactions that are definitely not sexist, no sir.

Seriously, go read that. Then check out this article that nicely breaks down the reaction to the first trailer, which eventually became the most-disliked trailer on YouTube. And then this week, when the first reviews came out and were trending positive on Rotten Tomatoes, fans organized to dump a massive number of one-out-of-ten rankings for the film on IMDb. (This being - mind you - before not many people have actually seen the film.)

But don't worry, all the guys who organized to give it a thumbs-down will tell you that gender has nothing to do with it. It just looks like a bad movie.

Uh-huh. Sure. Bad trailers ALWAYS inspire this passion. That's why the Ghostbusters trailer has a dislike count several orders of magnitude worse than such critical darlings as Fantastic 4 and The Ridiculous 6. That's why a reviewer from Cinemassacre announced two months ahead of time that he would NOT be viewing the film at all. For him, it's a mix of believing the original Ghostbusters is a pure classic and also encouraging a boycott of the film to punish Sony for defacing the original.

Really, dude? A guy whose job it is to review movies has already made his call based on the trailer. I think it's pretty pathetic when the average Joe acts like the trailer quality is an absolute barometer of the film, but a guy who gets paid to watch films should really know better. What would be so hard about waiting to see the film and THEN judging it based on its merits? All you accomplish with such an extreme position is show that you're incapable of coming to this with an open mind.

Here's what perplexes me in all of this - we're talking about Ghostbusters. GHOSTBUSTERS. How the hell did this become the geek line-in-the-sand? I grew up on the film too. I might have been about six when I saw it, and that was probably about the time that dueling Ghostbusters cartoons were out in the market. I taped the movie off of a TV viewing and watched it so many times I STILL expect Venkman's line upon bursting out of the Sedgwick Hotel ballroom to be "What a knockabout of pure fun THAT was!" (Instead of "We came, we saw, we kicked its ass!")

That's not all. I still have a bunch of the action figures, including an ECTO-1 and a Ghostbusters blaster toy. Hell, I saw Ghostbusters II at the age of nine and not only enjoyed it a lot, I still think it's a fun movie. And I bring up all of this to point out that it seems to me that I must have had largely the same childhoods as these man-babies who find this to be the greatest affront to their childhoods since Carrie Fisher dared to age. And I don't get the hate. On any level.

Some detractors bring up that "Sony's just remaking it to make money." Congrats. You've exposed that Hollywood is a capitalist industry. Can't imagine the look on your face when you learn that professional sports are also built around seeking profits.

"But the Sony hack shows--"

Seriously, go fuck yourself for digging into people's emails.

"But Feig didn't even want to do the film."

Do you know how long these movies take to make? Do you understand how much of your life you are devoting to a single project? Do you know how much blood and sweat is involved? It takes a very invested person to give over that much of their life to one project.

Look, I've worked for producers who at times, were playing the cynical money game. They got lucky with a film in one genre and they then tried to put together a sequel or similar project without really understanding what made the first one connect. Sometimes they got lucky, other times they made garbage. But in pretty much all of those cases, the director cared. The cast CARED.

Yes, there are instances of actors slumming it in a paycheck role, but right now Melissa McCarthy is HOT. She has other options and she chose this one. Kristin Wiig has other options. And even if they were in it for the paycheck, what difference does that make? Alec Guinness saw STAR WARS as just another job and he still was fantastic in it.

For the record, here's director Paul Feig on why he turned it down the first few times it was offered:

"I’d turned it down several times, because when the script was first brought to me, it was a sequel. And that’s just not as interesting as an origin story. Amy Pascal, who was then head of Sony Pictures, was the one who kept pushing: 'Why don’t any of you comedy guys want to touch this?' I was like, 'Because Ghostbusters is canon!' But I thought if I could cast all the funny women I know, it would be a nice way to avoid comparisons to the original iconic cast—so you’re not saying, 'Oh, is that character supposed to be Venkman?'"

There are dozens of other movies that have the same sort of factors that have supposedly made this one such a flashpoint for fandom. Hell, even the black stormtrooper controversy took only a weekend to die down. But we're now coming up on a year-plus of people being furious that this movie exists. It's very hard to pretend that sexism isn't the primary motivating factor.

But that leads me to my next question: what is it about Ghostbusters that makes it so offensive to have women in those roles? Why does this particular franchise push so many buttons when gender swapped? If we were talking about a female Spider-Man, or a female Batman, I'd kind of get it. I don't see Venkman, Stanz, Spengler and Zeddemore as being on the same iconic level, and for that matter, these are all new characters, not gender-swapped analogs like "Petra Venkman" and "Rayanne Stanz."

If people are mad that they're not getting a proper Ghostbusters III, they need to think about how depressing that movie would be. Harold Ramis is gone, so no Egon. Bill Murray has shown little interest in tapping into his Venkman side for over fifteen years now, and I kinda shudder to think how detached his performance would be now. Best to just let it go.

So I don't understand why a new film provokes reactions that their childhoods are being raped just as surely as Ray was in the first film. (Yes he was. Go watch the infamous "blow job ghost" scene again. There's no consent at any time.) Longtime fans still have their blurays and toys and childhood memories anyway. It's not like they're even necessarily the audience this film is aimed at.

Oh. That's it.

Can it really be that simple? Is all this rage just because a generation of overgrown kids merely doesn't want to share their toys?


That's totally it. Think of the arrogance it takes to call this a "cash grab." It presumes that this film is being made despite no artistic appeal at all... to them. It's a complete discounting of the interests of anyone who doesn't share their exact tastes. A fourteenth Marvel movie is celebrated as "what the fans want" but a third Ghostbusters is complete bullshit because "They didn't make this for meeeeeeeee."

"I don't love this, so its merits are completely invalid!"

And this is just the reaction to a remake 30 years after the fact in a franchise that had long since gone fallow. Imagine if a future Marvel movie followed suit with a recent comic storyline recast Iron Man as a black teenager? (And with Robert Downey Jr's ever-increasing paychecks, don't be surprised if he becomes too expensive for Marvel to carry.)

It's weird to be living in a time where so many geek properties I grew up with are getting A-list treatment, and yet, the people like me who grew up with them are proving to be the most unpleasant aspect of the deal. Maybe some of you saw the recent ugliness that ensued when a segment of DC movie fans very loudly attacked critics of Batman v. Superman for having a "bias" against the film. These were people - presumably a lot of them grown men - who could not process that ANYONE could find fault with this film unless they were paid off by Marvel or otherwise part of some conspiracy. For these fans, it wasn't enough that they loved the film, they had to discredit and attack any viewpoint that ran counter to theirs.

Drew McWeeny has an interesting piece on this angry segment of fandom, called "If Nerds Won The War for Pop Culture Why Are They So Angry All the Time?" It's worth a read, and I found myself nodding my head at a lot of it. It made me again aware of something I've been thinking for a while - though fandom communities used to be fun, lately I've felt more and more that this is a group I don't want to be in the company of.

I first got on the internet in the mid-nineties, via a school connection. Both then and a few years later, I almost immediately used the connection to get involved in fansites and Usenet groups devoted to subjects ranging from Billy Joel, to Star Wars, to DC Comics, to Star Trek, to even Homicide: Life on the Street. And the vast majority of those groups, even on Usenet, were made up of literate intelligent people whose perspectives on the media I liked often deepened my appreciation of the work.

Just as one example, in the rec.arts.comics.dc.universe Usenet group, I can only recall one consistently offensive person - an asshole named Omar who would fling vile insults at people just for having opinions he deemed stupid. It was my first encounter with an internet troll - someone who always seemed angry and was just there to lower to conversation to his level.

Today, Omar would be a moderate compared to the kind of bile-spewing assholes who populate fandom today. There's this perception that trolls have always been around, but I can assure you that they exist in greater numbers today. Twitter is a thousand times worse than Usenet was, and somehow it seems to be fostering this emotional stuntedness.

The new Ghostbusters is revealing this, but it's not about Ghostbusters, not really. It's about a certain emotionally-stunted and entitled demographic that's seeing that the world is no longer just their toybox. It's about the fear that for someone else to get something, they won't get something that THEY love.

That's no way to live. I'm not saying these angry fans should all reverse course and force themselves to love it. The problem is that they seem to have lost the capacity to just ignore it. And so I'm left to wonder if these temper-tantrums are merely the foreshocks of an even bigger earthquake that we'll all have to deal with one day.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Help me get 50 reviews of MICHAEL F-ING BAY during this week-long sale!

Tomorrow is Prime Day at Amazon Prime, where there apparently will be sales galore. This feels like the perfect time for me to launch something I've been thinking about for a while: a price cut on my book, MICHAEL F-ING BAY: The Unheralded Genius in Michael Bay's Films. This week - from now to Friday, you can get the Kindle version book (regularly $4.99) for a mere $2.99!

But that's not all. I'm asking those of you who have purchased the book before for the kindness of a favor. I recently learned that when a book crosses the 50-review threshold, that's the point where Amazon starts promoting it more aggressively through its algorithm. Currently, I have 9 reviews, which never bothered me because I see a number of professionally released products that don't have all that much more. However, if increased visibility is at stake, I would be eternally grateful if those of you who have bought the book (And I know that number is a LOT more than 50) would take a moment and leave a brief review here.

But just as an incentive, I will give away a FREE Kindle copy of MICHAEL F-ING BAY to the first 10 people to email me at and promise to leave a review this week. I might not be at my computer to send out those copies immediately, but rest assure that all of you will have them by end of day. Please only request this if you can read and review the book by the end of the week.

Amazon has a policy regarding these sorts of reviews, which I will reproduce as follows:

Paid Reviews – We do not permit reviews or votes on the helpfulness of reviews that are posted in exchange for compensation of any kind, including payment (whether in the form of money or gift certificates), bonus content, entry to a contest or sweepstakes, discounts on future purchases, extra product, or other gifts.

The sole exception to this rule is when a free or discounted copy of a physical product is provided to a customer up front. In this case, if you offer a free or discounted product in exchange for a review, you must clearly state that you welcome both positive and negative feedback. If you receive a free or discounted product in exchange for your review, you must clearly and conspicuously disclose that fact.

So have at it, read the book and leave an honest review, stating you got it for free as part of a weeklong promotion. (And if all ten of these people manage to get their reviews posed without incident before the end of the week, I might give away another ten, but let's see if there are any glitches in posting these reviews.)

Amazon also has a policy of removing reviews written by people who know the author personally, so I can't just appeal to friends and family. I don't know HOW Amazon can determine that such a relationship exists, but they apparently can. Hopefully that doesn't extend to those of you who only "know me" via following my blog for these years.

So to sum up:  My book is discounted 40% this week, it'd really help me out if you left a review, and perhaps more giveaways to come.

If you want a taste of the book, read the chapters on TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION and THE ROCK for free at their respective posts.

The original announcement of the book can be found here.
All related MICHAEL F-ING BAY posts can be found here.

Why not check out the appearances from my "media tour?"

My interview with Scott Myers on Go Into The Story:
Part 1 - Michael Bay's JUNO.
Part 2 - "Michael Bay is the Tyler Perry of China."

My interview with Amanda Pendolino.

My interview on the Broken Projector podcast:
You can find the episode embedded at Film School Rejects here.
Download the episode directly here.

My interview on the Draft Zero Podcast
Go to the episode's page here.
Download the episode in mp3 form here.

But what if you don't have a Kindle or a tablet with a Kindle app? Good news, you can still read MICHAEL F-ING BAY! Go here and download the Kindle reading app for your computer.

Here are the instructions for the Kindle for PC program.
Here's where you go for Kindle for Windows 8.
Here's the site for you Kindle for Mac people.

Link roundup:
Amazon Author Page here.
$2.99 Kindle version of the book here.
$10.99 Paperback edition here.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Nine months later, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah still struggles

In my line of work as a script reader, it would happen somewhat regularly that I'd be presented with a script that seemed to do everything right, but inspired zero enthusiasm. There's be a concept that you could see as a film, and a structure that ensured new twists and changes in direction every fifteen minutes, but in the end, the assessment of the script's prospects came out as "meh." Though those write-ups could be difficult to complete (it's much easier when a bad writer completely fucks up a character arc, or delivers an implausible story), it was even harder to express to the writer what they needed to improve.

That missing X-factor was often what we call "voice." The script was executing some of the right beats, but in an uninspired way, without any perspective or meaning behind them. Voice is one of those ephemeral concepts that's hard to break down into a concrete definition, but it boils down to how you tell the story and what is distinctive in the way you tell it as opposed to any other storyteller.

Trevor Noah has been at the helm of The Daily Show for over nine months now and he still hasn't found his voice. In fairness to Trevor, these things don't happen overnight and it was always going to be hard to follow the irreplaceable Jon Stewart. But after giving him a long wait-and-see period, I can't escape the sense that Trevor Noah runs the show like someone just keeping the chair warm for the next guy. He's like a VP serving out the previous Commander-in-Chief's term. He's Gerald Ford.

Don't try and tell me that I'm forgetting Jon Stewart wasn't brilliant out of the gate. I was there. I was there BEFORE Jon. I remember the summer of '96, watching MST3K reruns and Politically Incorrect on Comedy Central and seeing ads for this new political comedy show. The ads didn't show this Craig Kilborn guy, but the voice - both in its smarmy nature and general cadence - reminded me of Dennis Miller, then one of my favorite comedians. So I tuned in and became a regular viewer.

Kilborn's show was a slightly different beast. He had this faux-pomposity that seemed half-artifice, half-truth. (In other words, he probably WAS that big an asshole, but put a lot of work into making it seem like an act.) The show didn't touch politics, and its favorite targets tended to be celebrity, odd stories, and shining a light on local odd balls. The tone of these pieces would occasionally veer towards the meanspirited. It's one thing to show people voting for Trump to be complete morons, it's quite another to put a guy on TV and laugh at him because he's built a "UFO Welcome Center" in his backyard.

Jon took over in January of 1999, and even though some aspects of the show took time to evolve, the tone of Jon's humor was already different. Kilborn was sort of the smarmy asshole who could land a good punchline, but he always felt like the guy who'd hit you below the belt when your back was turned just to make everyone else laugh. His whole persona was based on ego. Jon was a different sort of class clown - he was the guy you liked. In the high school that is the comedy world, Kilborn would be the guy doing a joke about how ugly a teacher was or how much they smelled. Jon would be the guy with a cutting remark about how a teacher trading sexual favors for grades might not be the guy to deliver a lesson plan on ethics.

I'm not saying Jon never took some cheap shots, but the overall tone of his humor was kinder and more observational. Even in the summer of 1999, I took it as a compliment when someone I was working for told me they'd seen a bit of this show and "that Jon Stewart guy reminds me of you." I think I got what he meant - a "nice-looking" guy who was presentable in a suit and could pass as series even while wryly commenting on the world around him. And you could feel Jon's observational persona trickle down through the correspondents he hired, such as Steve Carrell and Mo Rocca. Carrell and Colbert (a late holdover from the Kilborn era) could especially master the faux-seriousness of news correspondants and exaggerate to just enough to puncture the self-seriousness behind it.

I want to show you the moment where you really felt like Jon was putting his stamp on the show, and it happened less than a year after Jon took over - December 6, 1999. The 2000 election campaign gave Stewart and his team the first chance they had to put political humor front and center. For those of you who came to TDS later, this will seem tame, but at the time, the idea that a comedy show would actually send correspondents on the campaign trail as credentialed press was unheard of. Jon and team found their way in, by not just doing jokes about the candidates, but by sending up the people covering this event. The correspondents (and by extension, the media) were the butt of the joke.

Then, about two months later, Bob Dole showed up as a political analyst for the show in the first of several pieces that election season. This was about as unlikely as Paul McCartney showing up as a guest VeeJay for a weeklong stint on TRL. Obviously, the show's approach to political humor evolved over the years, particular with a target like the Bush Administration. It took a while before they landed on their trademark move of showing what a politician said yesterday, then reaching back months or even years to reveal them taking a completely opposite position. (This tactic would later be applied to Fox News, when calling out correspondants for taking a stance that happened to support the Bush Administration, then arguing the complete opposite of that stance when the original argument would benefit the Obama Administration.)

That's how Jon Stewart became the most trusted man in news, fake or otherwise. By calling out politician through the use of their own words, he was a watchdog. He was the mouthpiece for people frustrated by the corruption of Bush and his ilk. It was a breath of fresh air to have someone say, "Yeah, I see this too! And we're not gonna let you weasels get away with this bullshit!" And because every stance Jon took was rooted in a sort of intellectual honesty, that integrity became a hallmark of the show. You felt his passion. You believed him when he agreed with you, and when you weren't as versed in what he had to say, he had a way of making you listen.

Back when Conan O'Brien was having The Tonight Show taken away from him, I recall one article discussing the sort of fan passion the late night hosts garnered. One quote stuck with me: "The 20-35 crowd loves Conan, but they'd take a bullet for Jon Stewart." Sounds about right.

That was a long preamble, but I wanted to pre-answer a likely rebuttal: I know Jon Stewart didn't arrive on The Daily Show as the exact same guy he was in 2008, or 2012, or whatever particular peak you want to pull from. I'm not saying Trevor Noah needs to be that guy. I just want to see some evidence he has a voice to bring to TDS. Jon knew how to use election scene to redefine the show. The show spoke for him. Trevor Noah still feels like a guy reading someone else's lines.

The edge has been dulled off of most of The Daily Show's jokes. Even with Trump, the show feels content to do mostly safe material about how he's a racist and an egotistical asshole. I'm sure Jon would have been weary of Trump by this point, but I also feel like he'd have dug deeper and found a different angle. Maybe he'd be pointing out how the media is complicit in normalizing these fascist views. It wouldn't be hard to make noise about how few in the mainstream press are bold enough to call out Trump for the monster he is, at the risk of looking "biased."

Trevor doesn't even have the excuse that his outsider's perspective makes it harder for him to make the same attacks, because Englishman-by-birth John Oliver has had little trouble taking on all manner of issues, including Trump, in some brilliantly produced editorial pieces. This one from a few months ago is just a brutal piece of production, the product of a lot of research and razor-sharp satire to make its points.

And maybe that's what's missing from The Daily Show - any sense of research or depth of knowledge on the subjects they're satirizing. We're back to Weekend Update levels when it comes to the level of understanding about this year's campaign (or any topic.) To be fair, it's Noah's right to make over the show however he pleases, but half-interested approach does them no favors when they're followed up by The Nightly Show, which demonstrates that Larry Wilmore HAS learned from the Jon Stewart playbook.

With the departure of Jessica Williams, The Daily Show is left with Jordan Klepper as the only correspondent who consistently knocks it out of the park and has a honed comic persona. There are a couple with potential, but when taking the wider view, I don't see how this team in total reflects any coherent voice on the part of Noah. It's not as if Stewart hit it out of the park on every correspondent hire either (Olivia Munn's tenure was a distinct low, and I had to look it up to remember Josh Gad had been a correspondent), but it's a problem to have a team that doesn't, well, feel like a team.

On Wilmore's side of things, just about every correspondent is firing on all cylinders and they all compliment Larry's voice. Jordan Carlos is probably my favorite. His bits as Hillary Clinton's campaign manager (skip to 6:35) have shown some teeth that are completely absent on TDS these days. Mike Yard and Holly Walker are right on his heels. Frankly, the weakest member of Wilmore's team would be - at worst - the second-strongest player on The Daily Show bench.

Noah needs to find what he's passionate about. Nothing he has done so far matches the anger we get in Wilmore's voice when after a joke about Bill Cosby, he says, "That's right motherfucker, I haven't forgotten about you!" Like Stewart, he's personalized much of what he's talking about. It's the same sort of difference between an anchorman who's a newsreader, and one who's a journalist.

To be sure, Larry's tenure has been some seven months longer than Trevor's, and there were a fair amount of bumps in the first year. The difference there was that you could feel Larry adapting and had a sense that someone was in the driver's seat. Larry knew what kind of show he wanted and it was just trial and error to figure out how to best refine that voice. On top of that, he had years as a TV writer and as a correspondent for The Daily Show to develop that persona. Stewart himself had a number of failed talk shows before manning the desk.

Trevor Noah's resume shows some hosting experience, but mostly of the gossip show and dating show variety. Perhaps he wasn't prepared for just how much dedication a show like The Daily Show takes. He's closing in on a year in that seat and the most detectable change he's made is not sitting at the desk for the first segment. Writers, if you're trying to understand what voice can bring to material, watch The Daily Show and see if you can perceive what's missing.