Archive for June, 2014

**This entry was written by Brian Baer as part of my Guest Column series. Thanks Brian!**

“Whatever knows fear burns at the touch of the Man-Thing!!!”

This oft-printed caption box is typically the only introduction to the Man-Thing required. A brilliant scientist was betrayed in the Florida Everglades and, thanks to an experimental serum, became fused with the swamp vegetation. Now a shambling, barely conscious creature, the Man-Thing’s highly empathic nature causes him to reach out with a burning touch. Anyone in his presence feeling fear would be scarred, immolated, or worse.

*NOTE* You’ll find that this article has significantly less pictures than usual. Turns out a Google image search for “Jailbait Movie” brings up some interesting and unrelated results.

I’m always on the lookout for new or unusual comic book related films and TV shows. Naturally, my interest was piqued when I noticed a movie that prominently declared “Based on the Graphic Novel” when browsing Netflix. I did some quick searches via IMDb, Wikipedia and Film Aficionado but couldn’t find much on said film or the comic on which it is supposedly based. Regardless, when I discovered the DVD at Hastings for $1.99, I snatched it up. All hope for anything resembling a decent film was dashed as soon as I saw that this production was the work of The Asylum.

For the uninitiated, The Asylum is a production company that specializes in confusion. They make “Mockbusters”. Cheap films with misleading titles designed to capitalize on whatever’s popular at the time. When Transformers came out in theatres, they released Transmorphers on DVD. When Snakes on a Plane was released, they created Snakes on a Train. Speed Racer, Street Racer. The Hobbit, Age of the Hobbits. I Am Legend, I Am Omega. The list, humorously, goes on and on and on.

Such is the cinematic pedigree of Jailbait. But it’s based on a comic, right? How is that ripping anything off? Well, a giant red-flag on that front is the fact that there is only a single credited writer on this film. There’s no “Based on…” credit which, theoretically, every comic-based movie should have. After some quick research, I found that this was, in fact, NOT based on anything. It was made to ride on the coat-tales of the wildly popular Netflix series Orange is the New Black (the cover even draws the comparison). They slapped the “graphic novel” tagline on this piece of trash and then just hastily created a comic tie-in after the fact (probably in an effort to cast a wider marketing net). The book on which this is “based” is titled 17 and Life: Jailbait. Hilariously, it’s published by The Asylum’s own comic book department. Which apparently is something that actually exists. I would post an image of the comic’s cover, but this is a respectable blog and I’d like to keep it that way.

But all of this begs the question, “How is the actual movie?” In short, it’s awful. The film is about a 17 year old girl (that is noticeably played by a muuuuch older actress) who accidentally kills her sexually abusive step-father. So she’s sent to juvie…which is portrayed as a high-security prison. The story tries really hard to be exploitative and, oddly enough, fails miserably at it. I didn’t think it was hard to make an exploitation film, and it may not be, but it’s clearly just hard enough. It’s amateurishly shot, lit, scored and edited. And that’s pretty much par for The Asylum.

I don’t say this much, but you should seriously not watch this movie. It’s boring, derivative and clearly made to cash in on something better. Just go watch an actual exploitation movie if you’re in the mood for one. And if you’re interested in prison drama, go watch Orange is the New Black. It’s pretty good.

In a largely fruitless attempt to discover some silver lining from this huge storm cloud, I came to a conclusion. I think it says something about the legitimacy of comic movies as a genre when they’re being aped from to sell trash like this. And, in a way, that tells a story that box office receipts can’t. Comic movies don’t just make money, they also have a level of credibility that makes others want to steal from them. That’s something, right?

Have you ever heard of an elevator pitch? Now that I provided a helpful link, you should all be saying, “Yes! Of course! Don’t ask condescending questions!” Ok, jeeze. I have watched this pilot more times than I care to admit and one thing keeps running through my mind: what was the elevator pitch for this? I can just imagine some excited executive at CBS breathlessly explaining his grand scheme for this series, “It’s Friends but with superpowers!” And his boss, dollar signs clouding his vision responds with, “Yep. Let’s do it.”

*NOTE* Since this film was recently released, this will be a quick, spoiler-free write up that focuses less on plot and more on the feelings that this film evoked within me.

All franchises mutate.

Fittingly, the X-Men franchise is the only comic film series from the modern era to run continuously. These movies are able to adapt and evolve like the mutants on which they are based. In the 14 years since X-Men first hit screens we’ve seen three different iterations of the Hulk (in two different film series), two different, unconnected adaptations of The Punisher, and two whole Spider-franchises. And yet the X-Men continue on, undaunted. There have been ups and downs in their 14 years as a franchise, but with this film I can honestly say that it was all worth it.

It’s rare to see a studio actively admit that they have learned from their past mistakes. But, in the lead-up to this film, everyone involved very publicly acknowledged the miss-steps of the series and assured fans that it would be actively correcting them. That’s a shocking amount of honesty from a studio (it’s telling that one of the most vocal supporters of this retcon campaign was a writer on X-Men: The Last Stand, which is considered a very low point for the franchise). And that’s cool, but in the lead-up to the film’s production there were still plenty of unknowns. The cast seemed unwieldy and continued to grow well into production, some of the character designs were met with skepticism and outright laughter, and focusing on Wolverine in lieu of letting another mutant shine rubbed some the wrong way. While many remained hopeful, there was a growing tide of fanboy whining that threatened to derail the sentiment put out by the studio and makers of the film.

“I don’t like his costume!
Naturally, this film will suck!”
-Fanboy #973

Luckily, fanboy rage is usually misguided. The film was released a couple of weeks ago and it is not only an unqualified financial success (highest grossing X-Movie in only 2 weeks) but also a critical darling (92% on Rotten Tomatoes) as well as the closest a cinematic outing has been to the comics on which they are based.

There are many things to love in this movie: The interaction between the classic and future casts, Sentinels on screen at last and the complicated relationship between Magneto and Xavier. However, to me there is one moment that is the most important of not just the film, but the entire film series: it features a lovingly crafted and warmly set ending that provides a sense of hope in an otherwise dire and dark story.

Because at the end of the day, that’s the purpose of the X-Men. They are here to remind us that life isn’t fair; that there are people out there who hate others just because of who they are and how they choose to live. Some of them will proselytize and do everything in their power to destroy the life that YOU find normal and what’s worse is that they will cloak those sentiments in politics or religion. But in the end, if we band together and face those evils we will overcome them. It may take years or decades but it WILL happen. Evolution marches on and the only thing it leaves behind is antiquated thinking.

*NOTE*: To keep up with demand, I am institituing a new feature of this blog: guest columns! The following was written by friend and contributer J.R. Shartzer. Enjoy!

Batman & Robin was the first movie that offended me.

Kids think that everything is AWESOME. If it’s loud and shiny, kids will buy it. That’s what I attribute the success of those Transformers movies to. Anyway, I remember exiting the movie theater in June of 1997. I was eleven, about to turn twelve, and the stupidest thing was eating at me. See, I will accept that Batgirl is not Barbara Gordon and is Alfred’s niece. I will accept that Batman has a personalized credit card. I will even accept that Bane is a mindless goon. But there was one quick moment that stuck with me. (more…)