Tagged: Guy Ritchie

Ed Catto: Is It Geek Culture’s Business?

Sometimes Geek Culture – and comics – serve up social commentaries for the world at large. One end of the spectrum is firmly occupied by O’Neil & Adams’ groundbreaking Green Lantern/Green Arrow series from the 70s. The other end of the spectrum has so many more examples: Eightball, Doonesbury, Love and Rockets, etc. Each employ varying degrees of heavy-handedness.

The past week there were two examples that offered insights and lessons…and the sad part is if you’re not careful you might miss both.

The first was the Guy Ritchie’s recent cinematic King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. This film earned the dubious honor of being the summer’s first big flop. And yet it doesn’t seem like summer’s even started yet.

And, of course, this raises the stakes for Warner’s next big movie, Wonder Woman. “That one better be a hit,” thinks every Warner executive.

I’m a sucker for Arthurian legends. I think it all started for me with that World’s Finest issue where Batman and Superman have an adventure in Camelot. That story offered up the notion, which made total sense to a super-hero obsessed kid like me, that the Knights of the Round Table were essentially a superhero club.

You’re probably slowly nodding your head in mock agreement and thinking: “Riiiight. Sure they were.” Your lack of agreement is appropriate. But hey, I was just a kid and it was the sixties.

But that comic, along with some of dad’s bedtime stories, spurred me onto a life-long interest in Arthurian legends. So it was inevitable that I’d see this movie (with my dad, no less). And I was very open to whatever interpretation the director Guy Ritchie was developing.

During the closing credits, I came to the conclusion that this was a tale all about “bro culture.” You may have been reading this in business magazines, or even in the New York Times a few weeks ago in the article entitled “Jerks and the Start-Ups they Ruin.” The idea is that many up-and-coming entrepreneurial tech companies are run by boorish jerks. I know a few. They eschew the traditions of business and are guided/encouraged/self-vindicated by their own rule-breaking success. They epitomize everything bad from the stereotypical college frat-house.

In that NY Times article, Dan Lyons explained it this way:

What is bro culture? Basically, a world that favors young men at the expense of everyone else. A “bro co.” has a “bro” C.E.O., or C.E.-Bro, usually a young man who has little work experience but is good-looking, cocky and slightly amoral — a hustler. Instead of being forced by investors to surround himself with seasoned executives, he is left to make decisions on his own.

Bro CEOs also possess a sense of destiny and an underlying notion of getting the good things they deserve. And that all fits well with this version King Arthur saga. Hollywood’s most recent King Arthur wasn’t altruistic or a romantic. He was a thug who hustled his whole life and saw Camelot as one more clubhouse where he could hang his “Boys Only” sign.

Are we, as a society, getting tired of bro culture? You may have seen the glee with which the media slammed UBER, perhaps the poster child of BRO Culture, for their miscalculations of millions and a payback promise to drivers.

I like to think that King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’s poor performance portends the nation’s growing fatigue with and impatience for bro culture startups. But I also worry we all have a ways to go.

And I have another example. I’m also really enjoying The Art and Inventions of Max Fleischer by Ray Pointer. This book is published by McFarland & Company. You may see their booth every year at San Diego Comic-Con, although I admit I borrowed this copy from the library.

It’s the story of the guy who competed with Walt Disney. Everyone knows Disney today, but few folks know the name Max Fleischer, Oh, they may remember some of his cartoons. Names like Betty Boop, Ko-Ko the Clown, Gulliver and Popeye aren’t really on the bleeding edge of coolness today.

Reading Fleischer’s story made me remember a particular time in my career. It was during the first dot.com bubble. We were a start-up and we were getting ready for the upcoming video streaming revolution. We were all millionaires for about twenty minutes. At that time, the majority of American households still used dial-up modems, so we were a little ahead of the curve. When a guy named Reed and his start-up, called Netflix, burst on the scene, we all laughed at his naive business model. We were so wrong. Such hubris is painful to recall today.

And that kind of happened with Max Fleischer as he dismissed Walt Disney and struggled to keep up with the rapid changes in technology and pop culture. To be fair I think he was much smarter and more creative than we were. It’s hard to really understand that in business, things can change swiftly. And that a pecking order, with winners and losers, can be inverted quickly and often is.

You know, if I was the guy planning the syllabus for an MBA program, I’d definitely slip some Geek Culture books and movies, like these two, into the mix. That’ll learn ‘em!

Martha Thomases: King Arthur, Lois Lane and Gefilte Fish, Oh My!

Diversity is in the news!

Warner Bros. spent an estimated $145 million on a movie about King Arthur, directed by Guy Ritchie, hoping to have a new tentpole hit like his Sherlock Holmes films. Instead, the movie opened in third place, far behind Guardians of the Galaxy 2, which had already been out for two weeks, and Snatched, starring Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn.

In other words, a movie based on a male hero of white culture (albeit one with a random but beautiful black man) flopped behind a movie about a multi-racial multi-species space gang and a movie about two women, one of them old enough to have grown children and one of them not conventionally movie-star beautiful.

I’m not here to say that King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, failed because it is not a good movie, or that the two other movies I mentioned here are of higher quality. I like Guy Ritchie, or I did when he made movies like this. Instead, I want to talk about how the modern American audience, the people who pay for our popular entertainment who buy movie tickets, books, comics, music and television subscriptions, is more accepting of diversity than the people who sell them.

That’s the facet of the discussion about the Marvel story that I think gets neglected. Marvel Vice-President David Gabriel did not say that the inclusion of more non-white, non-male characters was the reason for Marvel’s sales slump. He said that a few retailers told him that was the reason.

By itself, this does not mean that books with diverse characters don’t sell. This means that they don’t sell in those retailers’ stores.

There are all sorts of reasons this could be true. I don’t know where these stores are, or what their surrounding communities are like. I don’t know what the capacities of these retailers might be in regard to advertising, promotion, and outreach. Are they located near colleges or other kinds of schools? Are they rural or urban? Do they see themselves as a community asset for everyone, or a safe haven for their loyal Band of Bros? Any of these factors can have an impact on the kinds of books a store sells best.

It is this very variety in the kinds of markets comic book stores serve that should encourage publishers to produce more diverse kinds of books, not only in terms of the characters but in the genres and packaging of the stories. Saying that books about people of color, or books about women won’t sell is just as stupid as saying the same things about movies.

I can understand that many readers of superhero comics are tired stories where an established character is suddenly replaced by someone of another race, gender or sexual orientation. It was daring and interesting when it first happened 40 years ago, but today it’s neither new nor newsworthy. Anyone who tells stories like these today should have some different insights than we’ve seen before.

It’s much more interesting, to me anyway, to create entirely new characters. That’s what Milestone Media did back in the day, and it’s what Catalyst Prime from Lion Forge Comics seems to be doing now. I haven’t seen them at my local store yet, but I have faith in any comic book company that does this.

My real reason for encouraging diversity is entirely selfish: I want more, and I want different. I want to have the time and resources to sample as many different things as I can in this life. Whether that means strange foods or different kinds of stories, I want the opportunity to try the new and exotic.

By the way, the article in that last link (about the growing Jewish community in Berlin) has one of the funniest things I’ve ever read in The New York Times. I don’t know if the Gray Lady meant to be so snarky, but it’s hilarious. See for yourself:

“Jewish culture here is a bit superficial,” said Elad Jacobowitz, a 39-year-old real estate broker from Tel Aviv who moved to Berlin 13 years ago. “It doesn’t fit,” he said, sipping horseradish-infused vodka while listening to a klezmer band at the gefilte fish party during the Nosh Berlin festival.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: Great Spy Movie, Lousy U.N.C.L.E. Movie

We all know how it works. A movie company gets a hold of a classic property like a TV show or even another movie, and proceed to “improve” it for a new audience by largely removing almost everything that made the property good in the first place.  It takes a singular talent to perform such surgery on a concept and successfully replace the gaps with quality entertainment is a rare accomplishment.

Luckily, Guy Ritchie is a singular talent, and while there is effectively none of the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement in the film, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is a perfectly entertaining period spy movie, a fine film about two men named Napoleon and Illya, much in the same way his Sherlock Holmes films were about two clever fellows name Sherlock and Watson, just not the ones we’re acquainted with.

In this iteration, Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) is a former master burglar; captured but pardoned in exchange for working for the CIA, and Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) is the KGB’s best man, but prone to fits of violent rage. So clearly this is not your father’s (or in my case, my) U.N.C.L.E. agents.  Cavill plays Solo with a smooth charm that works perfectly, and while he’s not the cool emotionless Russian that sent hearts aflutter in the 60s, Hammer plays Illya as a semi-traditional Russian brute with a soft side.

Also missing is U.N.C.L.E.’s nemesis Thrush – here an unnamed “international criminal organization” is behind the plot, headed by Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki), a classic brilliant femme fatale, played to the hilt. The organization has obtained the means and the scientific expertise to manufacture nuclear weapons, still the hotly guarded secret in the sixties, forcing the US and USSR to team up and send in their best men, the aforementioned Napoleon and Illya, who have by now met once, before the were asked to play nice. Napoleon had just completed a tactical extraction, pursued by Illya, of one Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander), daughter of the scientist believed to be working for Victoria. She is recruited to make contact with her…um, father’s brother, who is believed to have been the one to facilitate the arrangement, in the hopes of revealing their treasonous scheme.

The film hits all the points you’d like a period spy movie to hit— fast-paced split-screen editing, the stealth incursion into the bad guy’s lair, some staggering costumes for the ladies (none of which were particularly revealing, but still a retro joy to behold) and the requisite turncoat moment or two (to say who did it to whom would be telling). The soundtrack is a delight, a combination of Ritchie’s traditional amazing skill for picking existing songs, and a score chock fill of pan flutes and hammer dulcimers, the source of much of the music found in spy films in the sixties. But the film rises and falls on the chemistry between the stars.  Cavill and Hammer plays against each other perfectly, and both work well with Vikander.

As mentioned at the beginning, the only complaint one could have for the film is exactly how little a role U.N.C.L.E. itself actually plays in the film. Hugh Grant arrives in the third act as Alexander Waverly, here a member of British Intelligence, and it’s only at the very last moment of the film that the eponymous acronym is ever used, and even then, it’s made to sound like it’s going to be nothing more than a code name for the pair, um…team. I pretty much knew going in that we were going to be saddled with a “When they first met” movie, and we would have to sit there and wait for them to become the team we know with the same impatient frustration of sitting through Popeye, and just waiting for Robin Williams to eat the gorram spinach.  We didn’t get cameos by Robert Vaughn or David McCallum, I didn’t even see the U.N.C.L.E. special Walthers I thought I’d spied in the trailer.  I sat through the credits, hoping against hope they’d give us ONE tip of the hat, that iconic title card that made sitting through the TV show’s credit worth it every week.

Throw me a frikkin' BONE, here!

Throw me a frikkin’ BONE, here!

Happily, this was one of the few cases where I was able to put my feeling about missing what we didn’t get aside and just enjoy what we did get, because what we got was cherce.

U.N.C.L.E. – New Trailer, New Game

U.N.C.L.E. – New Trailer, New Game

Warner Bros kicked off their annual visit to San Diego with a new trailer for Guy Ritchie’s take on the 60’s spy series The Man From U.N.C.L.E., kindly releasing it online so we wouldn’t have to suffer through grainy and keystoned phone footage.

The trailer is largely an extended version of the first teaser trailer, with a smattering of new scenes featuring the snappy dialogue and slick editing that Guy Ritchie is known for… save for that period he was married to Madonna.

There’s still no use of Thrush as the name of the “international criminal organization”, and it sounds more like “UNCLE” is of a code name for the pair, as opposed to an actual agency.  But at its core, the original series was The Napoleon and Illya Show, so as long as the chemistry between the stars works, there’s every chance the film will succeed. And judging from what we’ve seen, it certainly seems like they do well together.

In addition to the trailer, Warner Bros announced an online game, The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: Mission Berlin. It’s a third-person perspective game in the style of Grand Theft Auto, with your choice of either Solo or Kuryakin running and driving through various secret missions.  Currently playable on the web at www.manfromunclegame.com, it will soon be available at both the Apple and Google app stores soon.