2015's Best 80s Movie


Kung Fury - 2015
Written & Directed by David Sandberg
with David Sandberg, Jorma Taccone & David Hasselhoff

Six months ago on Media Bliss, I shared a poster that I designed for an imagined 80s action flick called Exterminandroid.  The world was supremely disinterested.  I find it heartening to know, however, that there are people like David Sandberg out there, who would know exactly what I was going for, because he's going for it too.  Totally going for it.  All the way.  To the MAX, dude.

Kung Fury was a crowdfunded movie project, paying homage, satirizing, and applying modern techniques to the kind of cheesy 80s action movies of which the Cannon Group reigned supreme.  It is pure indulgence ...and pure entertainment.

The video went live on YouTube yesterday, and it is viewable for free.  You're not going to find a more action-packed 30 minutes in this dimension of time and space.

Thirsty for Injustice

I miss the Earth so much, I miss my wife, It's lonely out in space

Definitely get the Ultimate Edition

Injustice: Gods Among Us - 2013
Produced by Hector Sanchez
Directed by Ed Boon
Developed by NetherRealm Studios

This is not a review.

They never are, even though they sometimes are, but this one definitely isn't.

I come not to tell you whether Injustice: Gods Among Us is a great game or not.  I come to tell you how great of a game it is.

The fighting game genre is a tricky one.  Victim of a long, slow decline, fighters have been dominated by a few core franchises ever since Sega dropped out of the console race.  As I'm writing, here in mid-2015, Tekken is preparing its 7th whole-numbered entry, Soul Calibur; its 6th, Dead or Alive and Virtua Fighter are on their 5th main entries, Mortal Kombat is up to X, and while Street Fighter is merely prepping its Vth entry, it bears mentioning that the first IV Street Fighters each came out in multiple editions.  VERY few new fighting games have been able to break into that top-tier class.  Sure, you have your hardcore niche fighters like BlazBlue but no one is breaking into the AAA club without taking a AAA chance.

Injustice not only takes that chance, but evolves the fighting game for the modern player.  Virtually every aspect of design is addressed with the question "How can this be more FUN?" 

No home field advantage
The first aspect where that comes into play is the core premise.  Rather than starting with new, unknown characters in common video game character tropes, Injustice is based in an alternate timeline of the DC Comics Universe, with a bevy of beloved characters in common comic book tropes.  NetherRealm had previously made a Mortal Kombat vs the DCU fighter, but the inconsistency between MK violence and DC violence was the source of a lot of criticism.  For some reason it was the Joker pulling a gun in MKvsDCU that caused a 5-minute notroversy.  Now, out on their own, the DC characters are approached with fresh eyes, and unleashed to fully throw down within the context of their reality.  As such, the combat feels really fresh, being designed for superheroes rather than martial arts combat, as most other fighting games are.  HOW the combat achieves this sensation involves the combination of a number of elements.

Don't want no scrubs
First off, there's the attention paid to these previously established characters.  They all look and move the way they should, and most of them have a variety of alternate costumes.  Most importantly, of course, each one of them fights the way that they should, barring adjustments for balance.  They're split between Power types and Gadget types -- a basic acknowledgement that not all superheroes come to their abilities in the same way.  Obviously Superman could finish Batman with a single punch under ordinary circumstances (...and shut up about Frank Miller already. How much kryptonite do you think there IS on Earth? Too much to knock out of Batman's hand with heat vision or a thrown automotive factory? Yeah, shut it.)  While it's certainly POSSIBLE to beat a Power with a Gadget, it's seldom an advantageous position (unless you're Deathstroke).  Superman uses punches, heat vision, super breath and swooping moves.  Wonder Woman can switch between fists & lasso moves and sword & shield moves, and throw her tiara to boot.  Deathstroke is brutal with long range gun moves and short range sword flurries.  Nightwing is more inspired by martial skills, using electrified fighting sticks or a bo staff.  Batman... he punches and flings his cape around a lot.  Confidentially, I haven't figured out how to get a lot out of Batman, but at least he looks like... well, the stiff movie Batmen more than the athletic Batman I once knew, or even the brutarian from the Arkham games.  I suspect it's in him, but buried in some of the more complex combos.

Hold still...
While a lot has been done to balance the clever humans with the indestructible gods -- essentially consisting of down-powering the impact of godly punches -- there ARE balance issues, particularly those related to ranged attacks.  There are a few characters who can strike from any distance, and some are less blockable than others.  These can turn into some wickedly cruel matches, allowing the player with the ranged attack to either slaughter their enemy from afar, or force them into a relentless close range fight with little respite.

It's not necessarily a case of there being a few overpowered characters, as the common complaint about fight games goes, but that MOST of the characters are overpowered... and a few just aren't AS overpowered. As players, we have had to establish some loose house rules -- 1) No fair choosing a Power after someone else chooses a Gadget (except Deathstroke; see Rule 2), and 2) the Restricted Characters: Sinestro (death from above), Aquaman (death from below), Deathstroke (death from over there) & MK's Scorpion (death from within) should mostly fight each other.  The best fights come from well paired characters.  While that's always been true of fighting games, it's especially true here. Character-specific rivals from the comics often make good pairings, because they have the history (and purpose) of being well-matched.  I may not know how to get much out of Batman, but Batgirl and Nightwing are great against each other or Joker and Harley Quinn.

Wa-a-ait for it...
Adding to the character-driven combat, each character has a special ability button and a super move.  The sauce that powers up the super seems to come largely from taking damage, which makes it a handy game changer.  These are HUGE moves, like Doomsday pummeling you through the Earth and back or Lex Luthor calling in a satellite strike.  These take off huge chunks of health, BUT they can be dodged or blocked (if you're quick), depending on the character and how their super initiates.  Some are easier to land than others, and in Batgirl's case, it took us a long time to discover than hers can only be triggered in the air.

But that's not all!  Each level is filled with several interactive objects.  There's often a zone at the center of a level where an opponent can be kicked into the background and bounce back.  There are objects that Supers can pick up and throw, or Gadgets can bounce off of or blow up, depending on their style.  Punching a console in the Batcave will launch the Batmobile's Batmissles to knock an encroaching opponent on his Batass.  Personally, I like to slap folks around with the pig hanging in Arkham Asylum's kitchen.  These things really augment the epic nature of these battles.

You're the one in her hand
The levels also have an even bigger feature.  Most of them feature 2 stages (some more, some less), which can be accessed by punching a foe off the correct edge of the screen.  This sends them crashing through a wall of hurt to pick up the fight in another place.  Gotham & Metropolis go from street level to rooftop (to an interior, in the later).  Havoc rages around the Hall of Justice, inside and out.

And about those stages.  They're mostly well-known locales from the DCU, rendered beautifully, but there's so much more to them, and that's another part of that "reconsidering fun" agenda.  In addition to the ways one can interact with the stages, there's just so much going ON in there, and the fan service is served up hot n' hearty.  As battles progress, the sheer amount of UNLEASHED AWESOMENESS causes an impact on the environment.  Statues topple.  Buildings crumble.  The power goes out in Gotham.  A blimp explodes.  Giants collide.  Devastation abounds.  Easter eggy background characters go about their own business.  It's incredibly well orchestrated, and every element augments the sensation of doing godly battle across the world stage.

That's not even all they have going on in there.  There's a lesser class of special move known as "meter burn" which my gaming partner and I have not yet gotten the hang of, and a whole other fight event called a Clash, which involves some sort of speed wagering, but we've really only ever triggered that by accident, and we still don't understand why one or the other of us wins such confrontations, but usually one of us gains some health or does bonus damage.  Honestly, there are a lot of ways to lay down smacks, and every time we get the hang of another feature, it ripples through our gameplay, making us adapt.  I get, from a more hardcore fighting stance, that these things are experiences we're supposed to have with other fighters, but I've never had the experience myself.  Injustice conveys a sense of wanting you to figure it out, where others -- including and especially Mortal Kombat -- have made that feel like protected knowledge.

Whose house?
Another interesting twist that really punctuates the theatricality of the battles is the life bar.  Each fight comes with 2 life bars, and there's a brief pause in the action whenever the first one is emptied.  It's a small thing, but the effect it has on the rhythm of the game adds to the dramatic structure of the game.  It's always bittersweet when you unleash a Super or knock you opponent into another part of the level, only to realize that your foe had a smaller segment left in their first life bar than the damage you'd have done them.  Sometimes the pause is a nice breather, if you've been getting slapped around, and sometimes it's a drag because it forces some distance between you, giving certain characters the window to start in on the ranged attacks.  Essentially, it builds into the game a small aspect of "Best of 3" challenges, which has always been a non-tech part of the fighting game experience anyway.

Would you like to play a game?
The music is vague, orchestral and urgent, so it's not out of place for the Hans Zimmer generation.  It's not outstanding, but it augments the drama the way it's supposed to.

The menus keep a lot of options under the hood, and once again, following the directive to make Injustice more fun, players each get to vote on what stage they want to play, as well as both chiming in on whether they want a rematch or a new character.

It bears mentioning that Injustice has been a very different experience for me.  Ordinarily, I would play through all the single player modes before getting an opportunity to play head-to-head.  In this case, I have predominantly played multiplayer, and only later got to check out the Story mode.  Injustice has shown the same attention to the single player modes as everything else.

Kal El's Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
The story mode is unlike any I've ever played before, and thank Kirby for that.  Fighting games reliably feature the WORST stories in all the realm of video games.  You pick one character, fight X number of characters, and then there's a scene (or less) telling you what happened after/because they won.  When you have to create a different narrative that allows for each character's victory, then no one of them is "true."  I've read people talking about the way the "story" has arched throughout the Tekken series, and I've been utterly baffled at where they got that from, because it's presented so insubstantially and executed so poorly in the games.  As a story person, this has always irritated me to no end.  Not the case here.

Say Cheese!
The Story mode plays like a movie, changing characters and unreeling the total story of Injustice in no uncertain terms.  Cutscenes transition seamlessly into fights which give you an opportunity to familiarize yourself with many of the characters.  Now I, personally, have some major misgivings about their authenticity to the character of Superman, but they had a story they wanted to tell and it's a well done DCU mega-crossover kind of story.

Beyond the story, there are a boatload of ways to go solo.  Challenges sets the player up with different thematic fight ladders, while the STAR Labs missions get even stranger.  I've played very few of these, but they show the same kind of unconventional approach to the modern fight game.  It really feels like they took nothing for granted and the result is one of the most refined fighting game experiences ever made.  Comparisons to Call of Duty are often meant to be insulting, but I feel it's both fair and highly complimentary in this case.  Injustice (like COD, relative to its peers), has been refined as a fighting game experience, designed from the ground up with tremendous attention to detail in order to be a game based on the flow of all-meat visceral moments.  COD isn't about aiming; it's about shooting.  Injustice isn't about chipping your opponents life bar down bit by bit.  It's about some rude fisticuffs and shrewd maneuvering, and then it's about taking a BIG JUICY CHOMP out of your opponents life bar.  It's no less technical for having that kind of stratagem, but I get the feeling that there are going to be some gamers who like their fighting games like they like their women -- dull, unambitious, and unaware of the 21st century.  

Roughhouse in the Madhouse
I tend to see these advancements as focusing the game on the most fun parts.  Perhaps a better, more universally recognized compliment may be that Injustice is like Super Smash Brothers (which is, itself, like Mario Kart) in the sense that the games allow for a lot of back and forth between players, with plenty of opportunities to "screw your buddy" at the finish line.  That's the secret alchemy for a great, great multiplayer game right there.  Smash Bros isn't about being the better player, it's about playing this round better.  That's all you need.  It's just plain fun, in one of its simplest, purest forms.

I get that a lot of "hardcore" gamers prefer the control and advantage they get with games that behave much more mechanically (and familiarly), but I don't agree with them.  I mean it's fine for them, but one grows weary of their outraged insistence that games should remain stuck in the same past that they are.  I shouldn't make it sound like Injustice isn't a technical fighting game.  There are layers of moves and combos that I will never get to.  I'm used to that in fighting games.  But where the difference lies between Injustice and, say, the King of Fighting Games You're Supposed to Like; Street Fighter, is that in SF, the new and even intermediate player is not given a lot of cool moves to do, which makes it pretty boring.  Hey, I can ineffectually throw a punch in my real life already.  Why do I need you?  Injustice ALWAYS has something cool to see and do.  Sure, you may still get stomped by a more experienced player, but dude, you're friggin' BANE getting stomped while the world explodes, rather than some guy in pajamas falling down in the street.

For my own part, there's not denying that I am, after all these years of gaming, finally starting to build up a callus from mashing out combo moves in Injustice.  I have remained a fan of fighting games during these lean years, but nothing has shaken up the format like this since the third dimension.  Injustice for the DCU is justice at last for fighting game fans and DC fans.

Lobo's Back

Who's Got Next?

In the interest of inviting a few clicks over for a couple drinks, I am submitting not ONLY to the tasteless act of list-making, but I'm engaging in PURE INTERNET SPECULATION about a future nerd event.

Rumors have begun to percolate about an Injustice sequel, particularly now that NetherRealm has Moretla Kombat X off its plate.  I may still be hip deep in Injustice, but that doesn't mean I'm not already slavering for more.  They really don't have to change much -- in fact, the thought of changes makes one nervous when so much is so right already -- but we're definitely going to be needing MORE of that more.

Before I get on with the more, there are three changes unrelated to the rest of the article that I'd like to bring up.  Well, a change, an addition and a simple suggestion.  To wit:

Change) Character balance needs some work, most particularly the giving of far-too-deadly range attacks to characters with far-too-deadly close combat.  I can see giving an edge to a Gadget character who would be wise to not the get in arm's length of a Power, but it didn't really work out that way.  Deathstroke is murder at any distance.  Flash and Batman should be far more useful.  Flash can time travel, fer Pete's sake.

Addition) In the spirit of pumping up every aspect of the fighting game, might I propose a tag mechanic?  It's the only thing I can think of in other games that makes them more fun that Injustice doesn't already have.  Obviously, team attacks, especially ones that are unique to specific pairs, would add to the epic grandeur and back-alley brutality that already makes Injustice so much funnerer.

Suggestion) Dude, you already killed or corrupted 1/2 the DCU between the comics and the game.  The story ended.  Let it go.  I don't need to spend any more story time in that dark and ugly timeline where Superman is not Superman.  Go back to some pivotal moment, or alternate alternate timeline, wash up, and tell a new story of divergent events.  In fact, I suggest this for every single Injustice game moving forward.  We really don't need a whole 'nother big, bloated continuity to drag around.  I say this for the developers as much as for the fans.  Treat yo'self.  Start fresh.

Now on with the show...

As soon as one has had a chance to sample every character in Injustice, one can hardly help but start supposin' what other characters would be fun to play.  I'm just going to assume that every character from Injustice (including the downloadables) will carry over.  NetherRealm has been pretty good about that with their MK games.  I have seen other articles of this sort online, but they've been wrong and I'm right, so here's my version.  The Right Version.

Some attention has been paid to the Injustice storyline in the game as well as the prequel comic series, but it's ultimately presumed that one can write anything one wants into a story, so elements like gameplay balance, how potentially fun their powers would be to play, and bottom line cool factor count for more.


Swamp Thing

You want to know how I know that other list like this are bogus?  Because hardly any of them thought to include Swamp Thing, and one even listed John Constantine instead.  Dude.  A guy in a coat, or fucking SWAMP THING.  Chances are you've seen a guy in a coat.  Hell, chances are pretty strong that you've BEEN a guy in a coat.  On the other hand, you have a guy who survived a horrific lab accident who ultimately becomes an elemental god of nature.  Dude.

In terms of gameplay, Swamp Thing is a brute along the lines of a Solomon Grundy.  So far, most of the brutes have been on the villains' side.  While special attacks are the one area that Constantine would excel, Swamp Thing's would be at least as cool.  Basically, even Zatanna is a better magician with more visual appeal than John Constantine, and I almost forgot she was in the game.

Swamp Thing.  The correct answer is Swamp Thing.


Firestorm is kind of a third-stringer, but he's on the rise thanks to the Flash TV series, which conjoins their origins.  I had originally considered Captain Atom who takes on a pretty interesting role in the Injustice comic series (as a living bomb, considered a potential countermeasure to an unhinged Superman), but Firestorm not only has similar-ish atomic powers, BUT he's visually MUCH more interesting, and that's saying something when you consider that Captain Atom is essentially chrome plated.  I'm sorry to tell you, Captain Atom, but Firestorm is has fire pouring out of his head.  Maybe you can be an alternate skin.

A nice benefit here is that NetherRealm's designers might finally give Firestorm a bad-ass costume worthy of FIRE POURING OUT OF HIS HEAD.

Considering that Killer Frost, a Firestorm villain (!) was already in Injustice, Firestorm himself seems like an omission to be rectified.  With the upcoming show, Legends of Tomorrow spinning off from Arrow & Flash, Firestorm will be stepping up to the show, making him a doubleplus natural here.

Big Barda


I am really tired of wimp-ass females in fighting games!  Over and over and over again, we get female characters who have short reaches and are fast but weak.  Even in Injustice, Wonder Woman is inhibited by her female physique more than she's empowered by the gods.  I want a female character that I WANT to play!  I want Big Barda to be the big beautiful brute that she's meant to be, with her long reach and earth-shattering body-slams.

Plus, Barda and Superman totally did it that one time.

Mister Miracle

Okay, yeah, sure, as long as we're having Big Barda, we have to have her husband too, right?  Wrong.  I mean, yeah, but also, Mister Miracle is a perfect fit with a lot to offer too.  So far, Swamp Thing, Firestorm and Big Barda would all fall under Injustice's "Power" character category.  Scott Free, the world's greatest escape artist, however, would make an outstanding "Gadget" character, in the game's other category.  He's gadgety, but they're gadgets from worlds of the New Gods, giving them extra visual appeal, and incredible potential for super attacks.

Miracle and Barda have both been affiliated with the Justice League, making them good candidates for Injustice.

Plastic Man

Think I'm kidding?  Sure, Plas is the class clown of the DCU (which may not be such a bad thing), but his powers would translate brilliantly to the mechanics of fighting games, provided they really put the time into making him look amazing -- and based on the first game, I have no reason to think that they wouldn't.  He's an alternative to the Powers that doesn't take Gadget too literally.  He'd be like... a cross between Joker's snake-fast moves and Green Lantern's emerald creations, except through a comedic filter.  There's nothing about Plastic Man that doesn't scream "fun as heck," and that was certainly a winning formula for the first game.

Alternately, one of the Metal Men would have that flexibility and look cool as all hell.

Other Considerations: Blue Beetle (martial arts, super gadgety), Starfire (a green, barely dressed space princess with fire blasts), The Atom (also on Legends of Tomorrow), Supergirl (now with her own show), Static (started as a Milestone comic, he has since been folded into the DCU. The young folk know him from a decade old cartoon series. The diversity wouldn't hurt) or even Bronze Tiger (one of DC's top martial artists, also African American, and frequently a member of the Suicide Squad, which also has a movie coming out).


There's no shortage of options here.  You have virtually every option in terms of fighting varieties, so that's not my top consideration.  I'm looking for visual appeal, significance within the DCU, addressment of some heroes who didn't have villains in the first game, and how their abilities would mesh/contrast with those already represented in the first game.


This one almost goes without saying.  Given Darkseid's appearance in one of the level transitions, he's another one that seems like an egregious omission from the first to be rectified in the second.  On the one hand, it would be easy to argue that Doomsday and Lex Luthor already fulfill the roles of long-reaching brutes from Superman's cast, Darkseid could be designed as a Gadget brute OR a Power brute.  He certainly has the size and ability, but Darkseid generally sees himself as too good for the grunt-level labor.  A schemer, even when he's confronted in person, he relies on his Omega Beams to deal with the riff-raff so he doesn't have to touch the subspecies.  There's a lot of potential there to craft the character in different ways.

With Mister Miracle and Big Barda involved, there would be every reason to get Darkseid involved, or vice versa.

Gorilla Grodd

Okay, I admit it.  I love the brutes.  Grodd certainly hulks, but he's also a super-telepath.  Like Darkseid, he could potentially function as either a Power or a Gadget, or, where some characters change battle stance, they could change stance on a grand scale.  That would certainly make things interesting.

Of course another purpose for Grodd would be to add a Flash villain.  Given that Flash has one of the best, most colorful Rogues Galleries in all of the DCU, it's a genuine absence, not having any in the first game.

The visual appeal should go without saying.

I would alternately consider Heat Wave for a Flash villain.  Captain Cold is more iconic, but also redundant to Killer Frost.  Weather Wizard would be another way to go.  Despite being Flash's arch-nemesis, Professor Zoom is kind of a "meh" consideration, given Flash's lackluster performance the first time around.  Let's face it, Grodd's the man.


While Injustice wasn't hurting for Superman villains (with Doomsday, Luthor and Zod), Brainiac is at least as big a problem for the Man of Steel.  With his role in the recent Convergence crossover event, his cache should be rising with DC readers.

Brainiac has changed in some pretty dramatic ways through the various reformations of the DC Multiverse.  As such, his story and powers are even more inconsistent than most.  He's a powerful villain that can be as unwieldy as a spare butt in the wrong writer's hands -- er, when written by the wrong writer.  Including him in Injustice 2 might give DC an opportunity to get casual fans up to speed on who Brainiac really is today.

But most of all, he's a cold, ruthless killing machine.  Part living, part machine; he often plots from the darkness, but he also has (depending on the version) psychic powers and wicked space-robot capabilities.  Like Darkseid and Grodd, I think he'd make an interesting Power/Gadget swapper, which I just really think would be an interesting twist to the game mechanics already established.

Ra's al Ghul

A master fighter with strength augmented by the Lazarus Pit.

Like Deathstroke, he's grown much bigger than merely pestering a single hero or team, having been featured prominently in both Batman Begins and Arrow.  So a fan favorite might be a good idea.

With the lighting fast and brutal skills one would expect from the leader of the League of Assassins, Ra's may be what it takes to balance out the likes of Deathstroke.  He's hardly above a bit of treachery, so smoke bombs, poison darts, snares and redirection should help make him formidable at any distance.

Poison Ivy

The first Injustice isn't exactly hurting for Batman cast members either.  Nevertheless, Poison Ivy felt absent, on top of which she'd be another visually fascinating character.  She'd be a Gadget character, using plants rather than technology.  That would compensate for the usually short female reach, and make her a fast character with abilities beyond her own limited physical skill.  Plus, their overlapping abilities create story potential between her and Swamp Thing.

Other Considerations: Clayface (another Bat-villain, but the kids, they love the Bat. Possible Power/Gadget swapper with his size and mud), Terra (betrayer of the Teen Titans, a small, fast fighter who throws rocks... ALL the rocks), Silver Swan (WW foe with wings and a scream), Circe (ruthless sorceress, foe of WW), Atrocitus (a Red Lantern, channeling the power of rage), Granny Goodness (vassal of Darkseid, leader of the Female Furies, charged with capturing Mister Miracle. She's also old, so how's that for diversity?), or at least Stompa (another Female Fury, more directly suited as Barda's rival).

In any case, I can't wait.  It would be impossible for them not to add DC characters that I like.

Home Is Where The Hate Is



[WARNING: While the book and film discussed below are both intended for children, this article most certainly is NOT.  Reader discretion is advised.]

Here comes the hammer
I, personally am the kind of person who has very little use for general grousing about film adaptations of books.  They're different forms with different strengths.  Prime among those differences is perspective.  A film's view is explicit.  A book is implicit, with us filling in the picture according to our own perspective and imagination.  In short, you know damned well by now that the film is not going to be the same experience as the book before you've even seen it, so if your chief complaint about a film adaptation is that it's not the book, you're pretty much a useless jaggoff going out of your way to be pissy and boring, thus you need to shut your stupid fucking mouth because the rest of use are trying to watch a goddamn movie.  People don't like you and they wish you'd go away.

IF, however, the film is based on a book, but entirely throws away the book's story in favor of a formula, inanity and schmaltz, then you may have a case to make.

Which is why I've called all of you here today...

The True Meaning of Smekday - 2007
Written & Illustrated by Adam Rex

I love this book.  I have written to the author to say so.  It is, indeed, one of my favorite books for young readers, and if you ask me, at any random moment, for a book suggestion for kids, you're going to hear about Smekday and Octavian Nothing before anything else.

Adam Rex is a fantastic illustrator who's gone from painting other people's books to painting his own -- which is nice, because he's his best collaborator -- and moved on to less illustrated books for juveniles and young adults.  His work is almost always hilarious, and Smekday is arguably the pinnacle of that hilarity.

Smekday tells the story of Gratuity "Tip" Tucci, as she makes her way through an alien-invaded America, to find her mother and repel the aliens.  Along the way, she's joined by her cat, Pig, and a ne'er-do-well among the invading Boov who has taken the Earth name of J Lo.  They travel to the ruins of a theme park in Florida where they meet some resistance-minded "lost boys," on to Roswell, NM where they join forces with a Native American who plays up the role of "crazy indian" to draw attention from what he really knows, and finally to Arizona where the rest of humanity has been resettled (read "unceremoniously dumped").  Using Tip's natural cleverness and strength and J Lo's "outside the Boov" thinking, they figure out how to defeat their common, and relentless foe.

If you love your children, give them this book.

Home - 2015
Written by Tom J Astle & Matt Ember
From the book by Adam Rex, but not really
Directed by Tim Johnson
With Rihanna and Jim Parsons and Rihanna

For as long as I've known about this adaptation, I've been concerned.  Square One; it's Dreamworks, and while Dreamworks has come a LONG way in recent years with the likes of How to Train Your Dragon, they still make a lot of shitty animated features.  The film was delayed at one point, which is seldom a good sign, but when a preview came out with Mr Peabody & Sherman last year, a friend vouched for it looking promising (One; he wasn't familiar with the book, and Two; he doesn't get to vouch for films with me anymore).  So with tentative hope, I looked forward to Home, even if the name was completely generic and meaningless and changed twice.

Home tells the story of the alien Boov known as Oh (replacing a very funny joke with a totally not funny one) as he flees from his fellow Boov.  Along the way, he's joined by Gratuity "Tip" Tucci and her cat, Pig.  They run around like headless chickens for a while before deciding that they need to go to Boov Central in Paris (what?) and then run around some more before ending up in Australia (huh?) and making a tidy and contrived peace with the quickly relenting foe that really only had it in for the Boov anyway.

*not included
Here are the things that the book and the movie have in common:

Gratuity "Tip" Tucci
Her cat, Pig
Their new friend, a Boov
Captain Smek, a Boov
A species called the Gorg (name only)
Gratuity has a mom
Their car, Slushious
Bubble-based alien technology
An alien invasion

...end of list

The story has been completely stripped out or irretrievably mangled -- like a lobotomy.  It's just GONE, and what remains is sickening to look at.  They took a story arc filled with character growth, humor and unique high-concept set pieces and threw them all away.  Then they stuffed the hollowed out corpse of Adam Rex's book with leftover pieces of other, equally uninspired movies, the sawdust of utterly generic chases and shocked it into a form of undead life with too many Rihanna songs played much too loud.  The purpose of all of these seems to have been the ultra-schmaltzy, super-saccharine, cancerously cloying and contrived cheap emotional button-pusher of an ending, which replaced the authentic human emotions and the hilarious cleverness of the book's ending.

I know Adam Rex loves Frankenstein, but even he can't be pleased with this monster.  Sure, the checks will be nice, but dude, they fucked your book.

The humor, which had once been suitable for children from 8 to 80 is now fit only for kids from 7 to, say... a dumb 11. It's like the writers only had the book described to them by a child while they were tweaking hard on some discount meth and then wrote down what they could remember later.  Jokes once based on the characters and their relationships are gone.  Koobish-related hilarity is gone.  The menacing legion of aliens with out-of-control allergies are gone.  In their place?  Lame fart jokes and clumsiness.  Now I loves me some fart jokes and clumsiness, so I'm not classifying those things as "lame" in bulk, but acknowledging that these incidents of fart jokes and clumsiness were executed with stinky ineptitude.

So this isn't some mere objection to some choices they made in adapting the book, because this really isn't an adaptation in any meaningful way.  This was like taking a few character names from Star Trek, making them into paper dolls, throwing out everything that had been written, and replacing it with a Chinese menu -- only in a much ruthless and spiteful way than JJ Abrams did.  This, of course, begs the question; why even buy the rights to a great book when you have no interest in keeping any of the things that made it great?  They could make a small handful of changes (5 names and the rough idea of the alien design) to make "Home" legally unrecognizable from Smekday, and it would be LESS different from "Home" than "Home" already is from Smekday.

I haven't seen such reckless and egregious squandering since Jennifer Lawrence got that facial tattoo of Joan Rivers.

Lest ye think that my adaptation objections are the full tale of my loathing for "Home," ye must be mistaken.  While entwined, that's hardly the limit of their failings.  I might be more willing to forgive the violation of the thing I love, if they had replaced it with ANYTHING of value.  The story-like substance with which they replaced Smekday is utterly hollow.  Threads only last long enough to launch a chase in a new direction, then become utterly meaningless in the next scene.  It really is not a story so much as The Amazing Race visits the cocaine plantation.  These are the things that shitty screenwriters do when they have no fresh ideas to put into the formula film they're writing.  These writers were HANDED fresh ideas with a bow on top, AND THEY THREW THEM AWAY to fill it with Generic Tropes for Uninspired Cinema.

But wait, there's less!

The characters are shadows of their former selves.  In Smekday, Tip was a really good character.  She was afraid, but not a panicking nitwit.  She was thoughtful, and that was her superpower.  In the movie, she's able to pull a useful fact when it matters to the chase advancement, but she didn't behave thoughtfully the way a human being would.  Mostly she ran and yelled because all the characters she might have had conversations with were erased from the story.  She has largely been relegated to the role of supporting Oh's story, so let's not strain too hard to pat ourselves on the back for finally having a female lead of color, Dreamjerks.  You still make a kids' movie with a male lead, even if he's an alien.

And ABOUT that alien.  In Smekday, J Lo was an oddball among the Boov, and his earnestness was both his weakness and his strength.  He made unwise decisions based on biased cultural assumptions, and these could cause friction, but it wasn't the constant basis of unrelenting mayhem.  He was able to help more than he failed, and their shared oddity & unrecognized capabilities are what made Tip & J Lo such a great team.  Yeah... Oh isn't like that.  J Lo made mistakes, but Oh is a fuck-up.  Those are not the same things, and fobbing them off to kids as though they were is perverted and irresponsible.  Sure, he saves the day at times, but just as in Tip's case, it's never played like the natural result of learning and skill that exists outside of the immediate moment.  These traits do not belong to their characters.  They're just different sized and shaped keys laying on the table in the same room as the door they unlock.  Plot devices for an absent plot replacing character traits for absent characters. 

Again, these are ways that "Home" fails to live up to Smekday by replacing good things with bad things, but what about the places where they had more license to add something new that wouldn't be in the book?  In other words, what about the cinematic choices?  Well, take the former as symptomatic of the latter, and you should be able to predict where those choices led as well.

The director, Tim Johnson, just plain fucked it up.  I suspect that his terrible instincts were not the only ones at play here.  As mentioned, Dreamworks makes a lot of shitty animated movies, and that goes back a ways.  A lot of people remember Shrek fondly, but I suspect that most of them have not seen it recently.  The heavy reliance on pop culture references has not aged well and the artificial sentiment wears thinner and thinner with every passing better movie.  "Home" uses the same formula, evidently from the same beaker, because it ain't got any fresher in the past 14 years.

Something else that hasn't gotten any fresher is the heavy reliance on musical montages in place of character relationships.  Growth, connections and personal moments are replaced by montages with slamming dance grooves.  NO, Tim Johnson, inappropriately shoehorning a bunch of tone-deaf Rihanna songs into this crapalanche doesn't make it fresh.  It gives it an expiration date roughly comparable to last summer's egg salad. 

What's that you say, my disbelieving reader?  Rihanna songs?  Yeah, I know.  Wanna guess how they got there?  I'll give you one hint; it's not because Tim Johnson is a 19 year old drunk sorority girl who "just wants ta DANCE tonight, you bitches!"  In what is surely a vast coincidence, Roc Nation/Universal recording artist Rihanna not ONLY has a bunch of songs in this Dreamworks/Universal picture, but also provides the voice for Tip.  When I first mentioned this to someone, they were surprised, owing to the deep/harsh quality of her voice.  Confidentially, that isn't the issue.  I was prepared to accept that sound coming out of Tip's mouth.

If only the poor dear could act.

Yeah, they can get her to yell when it's time to yell and whine... well, most of the rest of the time, but it's a stupid person's voice coming out of a smart person's mouth and it's just not right.  As a voice actress, Rihanna makes a good dancer.  There's just no subtlety; no understanding of emotional subtlety there to inform her performance.  This almost doesn't matter since so much of that content was pissed away by the "writers" (are infinite monkeys at infinite typewriters really "writers," strictly speaking?) long before the actors hit the studio, but it's not even up to the mawkish requirements of "Home."

And yet, songs aside, Rihanna is hardly the worst thing about "Home."  She's not even the worst voice.  THAT distinction goes specifically to the central and expanded role of Oh, voiced by (God save us all) Jim (ugh, shudder) fucking Parsons.

Fuck me, what an unholy fucking abortion this is.  Jim Parsons, if you're blissfully unaware, is Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory; a show as ignorant and disdainful for authentic human behavior as this poorly made cartoon about aliens.  Of course, even if you didn't know his name, you'd know him as soon as the movie starts, because he is exactly the same as he's been in every single thing he's ever been in.  The Boov speak an idiosyncratic form of English resulting from them never having really bothered to speak to humans.  For example, they often replace the past tense of a with the present participle, like "I did reading about verbs yesterday."  Parsons speaks in an over-enunciated way, like someone who is very fussy about his speech.  So you get this clipped delivery with the affected alien language, and it just doesn't make sense.  The alien should speak in a funny alien's voice.  There are a variety of ways that could go, but it's not the same thing as a creepy human.  The voice NEVER feels believable in the alien's mouth.  See Lilo & Stitch for an example of this done better.  Stitch sounds the way he should sound.  Oh is just that guy who keeps highlighting how meaningless the Emmys have become.

In my mind, there is a warehouse.  In that warehouse, there are rows and rows of heavy industrial shelves.  Each one of those shelves is laden with stacks and stacks of boxes.  And inside each of those boxes, I have a punch for every single person involved in the making of "Home."

On second thought, I'm going to hand out exactly 3 passes. The first pass is for Jennifer Lopez.  She plays Tip's mom, and does fine in what has been reduced to an all-but-token role, because how would we know that Tip had succeeded in... something ...if she didn't have a wide-hipped goal to aim for.  The reason she gets a pass is for doing the movie after having her name used as a running joke in the book, even if that was completely removed from the movie.  Pass #2 goes to the animators -- JUST the animators.  I mean the pixel-pushers, grinding away on this shitfest, putting in loads of unpaid overtime, choking back their pride at having to work with character disignes they know they could so better, taking it on faith that they were building one tiny, essential piece of something that wouldn't be the cinematic equivalent of eating a child's teddy bear, shitting it out and handing it back to them.  They did what they could, and the film is indeed animated by more-or-less professional animators.  I wasn't going to give Adam Rex the third pass, but I've changed my mind.  My first thought was, "Well shit, Adam, you allowed this to happen" but on further consideration, I have decided that "Home" has got to be a staggering gut-punch for him already.

If it were only about me being angry that they shat upon that book I like, I wouldn't be here.  I know the difference.  While their non-adaptation-adaptation IS a toxic fucking trainwreck, even in discounting my irritation it's also entirely sensible (and correct) to address that failure as symptomatic of systemic problems with both this movie, and the Dreamworks approach in general.  They either tried to cut out a very specific segment of the market, distinguished themselves from Disney/Pixar by being the shitty studio with stale material and the lowest of expectations -- or they continue to employ someone who has made those choices time and again through their own personal limitations.  It takes just as long to make a bad movie as a good one, so why would you put yourself in the position of looking back and finding a trail leading back to you that looks like the dog scooted across the floor?  These were deliberate CHOICES that someone had to make to turn the Golden Egg into Scrambled Excrement.

Oh yes he did.
I hear that the studio has been in trouble.  They fucking deserve to be.  They should have been a long time ago, but then "No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public."  Surely that Mencken quote must be emblazoned over the doorway at Dreamworks Animation.


Burn the motherfucker down.

Separated at the Studio


One of my first jobs out of high school in the late 80s was as a clerk in a mom-n-pop video rental store.  Now, The Kids Today aren't going to fully appreciate what a big deal video rental was at the time.  Cable had far fewer selections than it does now, and far, far fewer of them were any good.  You pretty much had the options of watching broadcast network TV when it was on, going to the movies, watching the same limited rotation of cable programming, or renting videos.  The video store was the introduction of viewer choice on a grand scale.  All of the options and control that video rental provided totally mitigated the hassle of hitching up the horses to leave the farm.

Video stores were the Netflix of the day -- which shouldn't come as a particular surprise when you remember where Netflix came from, but it's important to carry over the cultural significance of Netflix now and apply it to the rental shops of the 80s.  They're all but gone now, but they were important in their time.  In a video store, not only could you catch up on cinema hits in your own time, but you quickly learned about viewing options you didn't even know existed, thanks to the garish and lurid posters that socially savvy studios schlepped onto stores.  "Straight to Video" supplanted the grindhouse and drive-in theaters, and the companies knew that the poster was a MUCH larger percentage of their marketing than they were for bigger budget films.

Which is to say, I became pretty familiar with the releases from The Cannon Group/Golan-Globus Productions, because they always came with a box of posters.  By "familiar" I mean it didn't take long for me to recognize a certain pattern -- "Golan-Globus Productions" on the outside means "cheap and stupid" on the inside.

Their names have been a go-to punchline for me for 25 years now, but I've never really gotten the story on who they were, why they made so many lousy movies, and where they went.  Well, as Lawrence Kasdan wrote in his film Grand Canyon, "All of life's riddles are solved in the movies."

You just have to wait long enough, I suppose, because I just recently saw a new documentary about the rise and fall of Cannon Films and the Israeli cousins who ran it, Menahem Golan and Yoran Globus.

This film is:
Electric Boogaloo:The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films - 2014
Written & Directed by Mark Hartley

This film is:
Written by Hilla Medalia & Daniel Sivan
Directed by Hilla Medalia

This documentary tells the story of two cousins from Israel who come to America to make movies.

This documentary tells the story of two cousins from Israel who go to America to make movies.

Electric Boogaloo has clear affection for its subject; film.  It follows a well-structured arc that tracks Golan & Globus from their Israeli success to their American ambition and excess and ultimately their economic downfall -- an apparent natural outcome of Golan's character and hubris.

Go-Go Boys has clear affection for its subject; Menahem Golan.  It follows a poorly structured narrative arc that tracks Golan & Globus from their Israeli success to their American ambition and excess and ultimately their economic downfall -- the apparent result of everyone's actions but their own.

While Menahem Golan's psychology and personality are clearly essential to telling the story of who he is and what he did, it is but the engine, driving the narrative about their low-budget, low-brainpower, low-brow secret of success.  In embracing the grand scale of this character, it shows how his passion for film entwined with his tone-deafness to quality, his dangerously ambitious sales techniques, and his irresponsibility with money, which made Yoram Globus such an essential co-conspirator and enabler.

While Menahem Golan's psychology and personality are clearly essential to telling the story of who he is and what he did, this film just stops there.  It eschews the stronger narrative and the celebration of film in favor of an incomplete personality profile.  It embraces the grand scale of the character, and then never lets go, failing to pull back enough to give us a fuller perspective.  The film is primarily interested in celebrating Golan... in Golan's own words, and without much of the bigger story.

Boogaloo was in production over a few years.  It is packed with interviews and film clips, and edited with a subject-appropriate energy and enthusiasm.  It does NOT have interviews with Golan or Globus beyond what file footage it pulled together.

Go-Go Boys was produced over a few months.  It has fewer interview subjects and film clips, but it has more interview content and personal photos from people closer to Golan & Globus.  It DOES have interviews with Golan & Globus, but that may not be what it needs.

As it turns out, Electric Boogaloo is a fond, but fair documentary by Mark Hartley, who has directed several documentaries about the fringes of film.  When Hartley contacted Golan and Globus for interviews, it turned out that they suddenly, and without and previous indication, were backing another documentary about them.  This would become The Go-Go boys, directed by Hilla Medalia, a documentarian primarily telling the stories of Israeli life.  The difference is significant, and while Medalia has a more highly rated list of credits, Go-Go Boys falls short of the honesty that she must use in her other works.  In classic Cannon form, it also beat Boogaloo to release by 3 weeks.

In Boogaloo, we get interviews with many of the filmmakers who worked closely with Golan & Globus, and stars of many of their films.  The range reaches from the highly botoxed Laurene Landon who sets fire to the DVD of her film (I want to say America 3000) to Franco Zeffirelli who calls Golan the best producer he ever worked with ("He left me alone.").  The films are core.

In Go-Go Boys, we get interviews with more of the Israeli filmmakers who worked with Golan & Globus and a few stars, but also their families, and most of all, we get the cousins themselves.  The picture here is an interesting one.  The more Golan talks (and you get the impression he does a lot of that), the more he reveals of himself, albeit not necessarily in the way he intends.  The relationship is core.

Both films use a quote from an old interview with Golan & Globus, although the context of each colors its meaning.  "We are unique partners, I think... more than brothers.  We forge each others signatures on checks, if you understand that.  It's the maximum where you can get to."  Both films use this as an example of their close interaction, but only Boogaloo provides the context to cast the light of caution on the signature forging.

Hartley approaches the subject as a film buff, which is apt to be the way that most viewers will be approaching the film.  He has no loyalty here to anything but the story and the celebration of movies that, admittedly, may not deserve celebration.  While overall very upbeat and fond of his subject, Hartley pulls no punches when addressing Golan's faults.  Menahem Golan is clearly a larger-than-life (and yet all-too-human) character.  He has a deep passion for movies, which one interviewee would describe as a child's love, without discernment for quality.  His focused and driven personality led him to success, but it's also what led him to failure.  He pitched posters before he had a script and took distribution payments in advance to fund his films.  His business model was based on market share; producing more movies faster and cheaper than the studio system, with quality only serving as a gimmick to bestow legitimacy.  He short-changed, deceived and harangued most of the people who worked with him.  He paid Stallone more than his asking price (sparking the $20 Million Paycheck Race in 90s Hollywood) in a desperate bid to break into top tier action.  And when his unsustainable business practices caught up with him, he made a deal with a shady Italian "businessman" to survive, that ended up costing him an empire.

Medalia approaches the subject as an Israeli who was hired by Globus Productions, which might be more interesting to the Israeli television audience for who it originally aired than it is to the casual film buff.  Her loyalty is clearly with her subjects, which is a slight advantage... and a HUGE problem.  While Medalia pulls all of her punches, I have come to question whether she had genuine affection for the subject.  While she never questions his narrative or takes him to task, she DOES, at times, appear to give Golan enough room to indict himself through his own self-centered nature.  Menahem Golan is clearly a larger-than-life (and seemingly more-than-human) character.  He has a deep passion for movies that extends back to childhood, and may be deeply convoluted with acceptance issues.  He pitched posters for movies before he had a script, but that was super-innovative and not-at-all shady and irresponsible, you guys!  Many people said mean things about his movies, but they were just jealous they don't understand immigrants and they never made 50 movies in a year.  His cheapness was just "hard work."  His business faltered due to elitist reviewers and studio system sabotage and had nothing to do with him paying Stallone $10-13 million for a movie about a truck driver winning back his son's love through the visually magnificent sport of arm wrasslin'.  Cousin Yoram was seduced away from him by the Mafia accountant.  Yoram, for his own part, is somewhat honest about having been exhausted with being Menahem's enabler, unable to keep pulling $5 million a month out of the air to support his cousin's film making habit and gross ambition.  The only time we see the cracks in Golan's story are when A) Globus offers an alternate perspective on situations, although these are often tempered from decades of habitual coddling of Golan's overbearing personality, and B) when Golan won't shut up and his excuses begin to beg the very questions he was trying to prevent.

Electric Boogaloo is structured as a narrative, telling the story of two men (but one in particular) who capitalized on their success at home to come to America, challenge Hollywood as hubristic outsiders who thought they (he) knew a better way, and meeting with the kind of poetic fate that has been found in tales of hubris for millennia.  Along the way, they (he) were responsible for a LOT of bad movies, and a few good ones, which we can now celebrate as nostalgic artifacts, as well as recognizing how their focus on serving the lowest-common-denominator would come to influence a generation of film makers.

The Go-Go Boys is structured as a character study, paying homage to two men (but one in particular) who capitalized on their success at home to GO TO America, teach Hollywood a lesson about film making, and falling victim to jealousy, conspiracy and betrayal through no fault of their (his) own, save for an unbridled passion for movies.  Along the way, they (he) were responsible for crowd-pleasing (if often misunderstood) films which underwrote their charitable work with European art house directors like Goddard & Zeffirelli.  In the end, they returned to the welcoming bosom of Israel, where all was redeemed, if not forgotten.

In the parallel universe created by the coexistence of Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films and The Go-Go Boys: The Inside Story of Cannon Films, the evil universe goatee must go to...

...The Go-Go Boys.  Even in telling their own story, they can't help but muck it up with unbelievable heroes and villains.

Which is not to say that there is nothing redeeming in Go-Go Boys.  If you see only one documentary about Cannon Films, then that HAS to be Electric Boogaloo.  But once you've seen that and still think "Say, I could really go for a character study about these guys, now that I have some context," then Go-Go Boys does play an interesting counterpoint.  Don't rely on Menahem's talent for storytelling, and you just might find yourself entertained.

This is the first in a summer series of articles about Cannon Films/Golan-Globus Productions.  Having taken care of the backstory here, the rest of the series will feature specific Cannon productions, and in the interest of fun and partnership, many of them will include special guest stars!  So make like Chuck Norris and kick it with us here at Media Bliss.