What a week

Any goal I had regarding subscription totals this week was passed, and I am genuinely humbled by the amazing way you guys have reacted this week.

But for those of you who aren't subscribing, I am excited about selling single-issues as well. I have a lot of content packed into the 120-something pages, including reviews for Lawrence Of Arabia, Get Out, and James Mangold's deeply-surprising Logan.

For me, the reason to do this is to have a place for original fiction, and I'm very happy with the second installment of The Shadow Box, a sort of spiritual sequel to Cigarette Burns, the Masters of Horror episode I wrote with Scott Swan for John Carpenter to direct.

I'm not sure I put my best foot forward with the first Background that I ran, but this time, I think it's much better. The point of that is to turn the "camera" a few feet to the left or right of what we would normally focus on in a story to examine the lives of the characters who would just be "extras" otherwise. I frequently find myself wondering what the health plan is like if you're a worker at a supervillain's volcano lair or how you would manage your day to day life if you run a gas station near Camp Crystal Lake.

Noel reaches the darkest point for these characters and hopefully sets Noel on the right path. We're also reaching a turning point for Commander Future, and things are going to really heat up for him next time.

Remember... if you subscribe, you get your issue a day early, and if you're rabid about a particular review, that can make a difference. But whatever you do, if you're reading, I appreciate it greatly, and I will see you back here in three weeks for issue #5!

 

Man, this is an adventure so far...

Y'know, I'm not sure I would have ever gotten off my ass and started self-publishing if I didn't have to, but now that I'm doing it, I can honestly say it is AN INSANE AMOUNT OF WORK.

Don't get me wrong. I am overall happier right now than I have been in many years. I am also way poorer than I've been in probably 20 years. It's amazing. In a way, that's good, because terror has always been a hell of a motivator. But when you're trying to learn new software, new ways of doing business, and an entirely new way of working, it can be overwhelming. It's like someone is trying to teach me to drive a car while we're falling off of a cliff.

Today, we are ready (I think) to open the doors for business for Pulp & Popcorn. Selling individual copies of the first Film Nerd 2.0 book was exciting, and we're still just getting started on that front, but the magazine is my first priority right now. Between that and '80s All Over, it feels like I'm actually doing things that I can be proud of, and it's exciting.

First... if you subscribe between now and Thursday, use the coupon code "Ground Floor" and you'll get 10% off either subscription plan. I want to thank you for being my first subscribers, and for helping get this thing up and running.

If you'd like to try a six-month subscription for Pulp & Popcorn, here's that form.

And if you'd like to sign on for a full year, then I love you deeply, and here's that form.

Now, you'll be able to buy an individual issue. Each magazine runs around 100 pages, with original content from cover to cover. It's a mix of new film criticism by me and original ongoing serialized fiction.

THE SHADOW BOX tells the story of Dani Sweetman, a young woman who is just graduating a program to learn film restoration. She's offered a once-in-a-lifetime chance to go to a movie studio in a remote part of France that was used by the Nazis during WWII to create propaganda that was never seen by anyone. Now there's a cabinet full of previously-unexplored film from that era that Dani's being asked to restore, and what she finds in that footage may shake loose ghosts from one of the darkest corners of human history.

BAT OUT OF HELL takes place on a plane making a routine red-eye flight from coast to coast. Not long after take-off, several passengers stand up from coach and announce that the co-pilot is one of them, and they've taken control of the plane. If everyone else will let them kill a handful of passengers in first class, they will agree to land the plane and surrender to authorities. If not, then they are prepared to take the entire plane into the ground. After all, those six passengers are vampires, and their master is traveling in the cargo hold, the hijackers claim. Are they crazy? Or are they the only thing standing in the way of a monstrous secret? Based on an original screenplay by Drew McWeeny & Scott Swan.

NOEL is the true story of the warrior king whose actions were told and retold until they became the legend now known as Santa Claus, but this is no easy children's bedtime story. Based on an original screenplay by Drew McWeeny & Scott Swan.

DJINN RUMMY focuses on the adventures of Felix Fortune, a private investigator cut from the classic mold, who is working in Los Angeles when he's approached by a woman who wants him to find some family heirlooms that have been stolen. At the same time, there's a studio boss with a shadowy background who has lost a candle that is urgently important to him. As various chess pieces move into place, Felix finds himself at the center of a much larger mystery than he originally understands.

There are other ongoing features, including the ongoing story of Commander Future, my original pulp superhero character. The next issue (#4) is going to feature my review of the latest X-Men movie, Logan, as well as my look back at my favorite film, Lawrence Of Arabia, and an examination of just how, exactly, M. Night Shyamalan got his groove back.

That issue arrives for subscribers on Thursday, and will go on sale as a single-issue on Friday. You'll be able to get it as a PDF, an epub file, or a .mobi file, so you should be able to read it on any e-reader.

I hope you'll take this journey with me. It's going to be one hell of a ride.

AND WAIT UNTIL YOU SEE THE NEXT FEW COVERS! HOLY COW! John Gholson set a high bar, and artists AJ Frena and Neil Cook have both brought some thunder.

Review: The LEGO Batman Movie

It has long been my contention that the best film about Batman was Tim Burton’s sequel, Batman Returns, which is a strange argument to make at least in part because I think the original 1989 Batman is straight-up terrible.

    I know why the ’89 film was such a monster. No one had really tried a “serious” superhero movie. The genius of Richard Donner’s take on Superman, and the thing that was so hard for people to reproduce after Donner left the series, was that he took a ridiculous movie seriously, but that didn’t mean his first movie wasn’t ridiculous at times. He just played it with a straight face. The first Tim Burton film was an attempt to translate the then-omnipresent tone of grim and gritty comics to the big screen. Frank Miller had created a pop culture moment with his revisionist update of Batman, and Hollywood decided to try to do that with the movies. It was terrifying for them, though, because it ran so counter to the common wisdom about comic-book movies. They were only for children. They were silly. They weren’t A-list movies.

    If you watch the full four movies in the original Superman series, it’s a lesson in just how little faith there was in the source material. They were scared to do a straight adaptation of any of the familiar Superman storylines, and film by film by film, they got more preposterous. Superman IV: The Quest For Peace is a goddamn nightmare, start to finish, full of terrible ideas and inept execution. The way the Salkinds treated Richard Donner was a shame, and not just because he deserved better. We deserved better. It would have been nice to have seen Donner take a run at a real series of films, instead of the bizarre behind-the-scenes contractual shenanigans that led to his departure from the second film. That series never really worked as a series, and just looking at what a weird Frankenstein monster of financial partners it took to make the fourth film, it’s shocking. How did Warner Bros. ever get to a place where they were willing to let someone else make Superman movies because they didn’t believe in the concept?

    So, sure, the 1989 film gets points for trying to do something new onscreen, and in the build-up to the film’s release, I was 100% onboard. I wanted it to be great. I wanted to believe that Hollywood was going to let this genre grow up. I thought the film looked like a rush job, held together with scotch tape and the general strength of the character. Burton’s style got swallowed by the movie, and there’s a lot of it that is cheap and ugly. I think Nicholson ran Burton over like a snowplow. I don’t think Burton was able to give Nicholson any guidance or sense of boundaries in his performance, and it’s just Jack turning up the Jack to “high.” I don’t think the 1989 Batman adds anything to the long and continuing story of the relationship between Batman and The Joker, and it doesn’t really say anything aside from, “Hey, look, it’s Batman!”

    By contrast, I think Batman Returns is one of the clearest explorations of what it feels like to be Batman. The entire film should be viewed as taking place inside the head of Bruce Wayne. Look at how we see him revealed in the film. The Bat-signal goes off, and we see the image reflected along until it illuminates this dark room where Bruce Wayne just… sits… waiting… like a robot that is in “idle” mode. The Bat-signal appears and he switches on. Each of the villains in the film represent a part of the broken person Batman has become. He’s not sure he can be this thing anymore, and he’s wrestling with it. The Penguin is the part of him that feels like a freak, abandoned by his family, alone in the world, determined to do something with his last name. Catwoman is the part of him that loves to dress up in the rubber suit and kick the shit out of people. Bruce can justify his actions all day long, but there is a part of him that just plain craves the release that comes from crippling an entire warehouse full of thugs with his bare hands. And Max Shreck is what Bruce Wayne pretends to be with the face he shows the world, the thing that Bruce is afraid he would be if he had never chosen to become Batman.

    Look at the first meeting of the three characters. It’s the middle of the night. Catwoman’s blowing shit up. They meet in the streets in the very center of the city, and there’s no one else around. Sure, it’s late, but no one? Anywhere? Burton’s film isn’t remotely concerned with “the real world,” and it’s better for it. The film builds to a three-way climax in which Bruce has to decide how to handle each of those parts of himself. The Penguin destroys himself, and Catwoman kills Shreck, using up one more of her lives in the process. She wants to be good, but she’s afraid she can’t be, and she slips away into the night, while the end of the film implies that she won’t be very far away if/when he needs her. It felt like Burton was using the entire film to allow Bruce to decide that Batman is something he wants, something he embraces, and he moves forward at the end of the film as a much more integrated, complete person.

    If you talk to any fan of the character, you’ll no doubt hear different takes on which is the best adaptation of the character to the screen. I could make a strong case that Paul Dini and Bruce Timm helmed the definitive take on Batman and his full rogue’s gallery with Batman The Animated Series. There are many people who still feel that Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm is the best movie, while others prefer the Batman Beyond: Return Of the Joker film. And there are plenty of people who find the Christopher Nolan trilogy to be their preferred version. We’ve also seen people who are deeply taken with the new version that Zack Snyder introduced and that we’ll see again in Justice League later this year. The reason for all of those different opinions is that the character manages to survive reinterpretation, no matter what the focus from each individual artist. Batman is so elastic as an idea, yet so clearly defined, that much of the response you have to each version is based on how closely it does or doesn’t hew to your personal take on the character.

Batman and Robin

    For that very reason, I suspect The LEGO Batman Movie will delight Batfans of all ages. It’s a very clever Batman movie, and considering how silly much of it is, it manages to deliver a surprising amount of emotional weight. In many ways, it is the only film about Batman that is so specifically “about” Batman. From the very beginning to the very last line of dialogue, this is a film that is self-aware as well as audience-aware. The film’s screenplay is credited to Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers, and Jered Stern & John Whittington, and it is relentlessly clever. The Batman who stars in this film is the Batman you’ve seen in everything else. Those were all just phases, and now he’s this particular Batman. There are jokes and comments thrown in about almost every film or TV incarnation of the characters, but it’s very much doing its own thing. They introduce their own take on Dick Greyson, Barbara Gordon, and the entire dense rich cast of characters who have been part of the Batman mythology over the years. In doing so, they not only comment on earlier versions, but on the core ideas that define the character. Like Batman Returns, it feels like this entire film is about examining the very nature of the character and asking what’s the best possible version of Batman?

    This film’s answer to that question is that a Batman who embraces the idea of family is the strongest possible Batman, and I think that’s something we’ve lost somewhat in most of the modern movie takes on the character. It doesn’t help that the more characters they added the first time around, the worse the films got, with Batman & Robin still serving as the punchline to jokes about how bad comic book movies can get. That’s not because there’s something inherently wrong with the idea of Batman, though, or his supporting cast. It all comes down to how you write them and how they’re used to illuminate things about Batman. This movie takes an absolutely absurd premise (Bruce Wayne accidentally adopts Dick Greyson during a charity event because he’s not really paying attention to what the kid asks him) and manages to turn it into a thematically solid examination of what you lose when you refuse to let people get close to you in your life.

    You will see more obscure Batman villains brought to life in this film than you will ever see in any single movie again, and it’s pretty amazing to see just how deep the filmmakers dug. It’s also amazing to see who they had show up to voice even small background characters. I can’t imagine a superhero films that would ever unite Will Arnett, Jenny Slate, Ralph Fiennes, Zoe Kravitz, Channing Tatum, Rosario Dawson, Jemaine Clement, Jonah Hill, Zach Galifianakis, Ellie Kemper, Kate Micucci, Seth Green, Jason Mantzoukas, Mariah Carey, Adam Devine, Michael Cera, Billy Dee Williams, Riki Lindhome, Eddie Izzard, Conan O’Brien, Doug Benson and more, but here we go. It’s apparently going to be an ongoing thing that any LEGO film might end up featuring a Roger Rabbit-style crossover of characters who should never meet somehow co-mingling. There are some really weird bad guys included in this one, and it’s one of the joys of the film, seeing who they decided would be fun to use here.

Batman Bad Guys

   The film is constantly visually inventive, and I love that they don’t spend a lot of time harping on about how this is all supposed to be made of LEGO. It’s just part of the world. There is a bratty sense of humor to these movies that somehow makes perfect sense coming out of these tiny plastic people, and I find I am way more charmed by these films than I expected to be. This was such a constant delight as a Batman fan, seeing how much love and affection they manage to show every version of Batman, that it feels like the live-action side of the studio should take a look at what it is that makes the film great. It’s not because it’s animated, and it’s not because it’s a post-modern wise-ass riff machine. Instead, it works because it is clear that the writers and director Chris McKay all adore Batman, and they’ve decided to make a single film where they can try to sum up all the things they love most about the character. It is a playful film, but it’s not something you should dismiss. Instead, the silliness here is all part of making it irresistible. At heart, the film makes some mature points about how we all have the opportunity to build our family through friendship, and what that might mean for someone who had their actual family ripped away from them.

    It’s not always easy for filmmakers to land some serious thematic material when their film is steeped in such willful absurdity, but The LEGO Batman Movie is a deft tonal balancing act, and it eventually becomes a fairly adept statement about the value of community. In many ways, the filmmakers working today for family audiences have become better at finding ways to thematically address all sorts of subjects while still entertaining wildly. How often are we told to “turn our brains off” when we go see blockbusters? That does not appear to be the case when we take our kids to see films like Zootopia or Inside Out or The LEGO Batman Movie, and if anything, I appreciate that we may be raising a more media-literate generation than the one directly before it. It makes a difference when you don’t talk down to people, and I wish I felt like the live-action DC films were approached with this much concern over what they’re saying and how they’re saying it.

   Zack Snyder can summon visual thunder, no question about it. But it took the toy commercial movie to actually give us a new Batman movie with a genuine heart and soul. Crazy, right?

    The LEGO Batman Movie is in theaters next Friday.

The plan comes into focus

Friday, February 17.

That's the day the next issue of Pulp & Popcorn arrives.

It's going to be a definite step forward in terms of production and polish, and it's also going to be the first issue to live entirely behind a paywall. This coming Monday, there will be several major changes made to the site. The '80s All Over Patreon will go live. The Pulp & Popcorn subscription pages will be up, and we'll also take pre-orders on the two-part Film Nerd 2.0 Definitive Collection. There are a number of things I plan to do this year, and I've been given the confidence to believe that I can do those things by the way you guys have been there since I left HitFix.

It is nice to know that 20 years of work has earned me the one thing that truly matters to a writer: readers. Those of you who have reached out to make it clear that you hope to read more work in the future have made all the difference in the world to me. It is a strange feeling to have the thing you have built your entire adult life around challenged and shaken, and the last few months has done plenty of that.

But it's also made me feel like there is a chance here for me to live the version of my life that allows me to be proud of all of the work that I do, not just the occasional piece. And I have to assume that means the writing will be better on each of these projects because these are things that matter to me. I want to get Pulp & Popcorn going so that each of those stories gets told fully and properly. I want to publish a number of books of original film criticism built around single ideas. I think I have some really great stuff to share.

Every copy I've sold so far of You're Watching It Wrong: The Film Nerd 2.0 Guide To Star Wars has been important, and I hope I can continue to grow the audience for that book even as I work on the next few things.

So. Monday. You'll get the details on subscriptions. You'll get a glimpse at the future of the podcast. And I'll get started on what feels like an avalanche of work, all of which I look forward to actually digging in and doing.

 

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Third time's a charm

This is the longest issue yet, although it has the fewest number of articles.

That's because I ended up writing almost 30 pages on the best of 2016. I realized that I hadn't written about most of those movies at all because of the disruption in my year, and so I couldn't just nod back to my old reviews in discussing the films.

I'm very excited about BAT OUT OF HELL joining the rotation this time, and I hope you guys dig this one. We're moving over to a paid model for the next issue, although there's a donation button at the bottom of the page if you want to throw something in the hat for this one.

So far, this is one of the most enjoyable things I've ever done as a writer. Here's hoping we get to do many more.

Enjoy PULP & POPCORN #3!

Donate

Look! Actual progress!

Hey, you know that thing that people do where they decide they can do anything, and so they set out to do everything all at once, and then end up doing nothing?

Yeah, that.

HOWEVER. You will be happy (I hope) to learn that I'm going to give each of the ongoing fiction series from Pulp & Popcorn its very own page, so that you guys have a dedicated place to discuss each story from the magazine. Assuming, that is, that you guys are remotely interested in the fiction. So far, everyone's been pretty quiet, and I'd love to encourage more conversation.

Next issue's coming together, little by little. We've got a new cover artist this time (don't worry, John Gholson is still my boo), and I'm excited to see what he comes up with. He's another long-time Austin friend, and I've been wanting to collaborate with him for years.

And once again, if you missed it, here's issue 1 of Pulp & Popcorn and here's issue 2.

Thoughts for 2017

Not gonna lie. Things have been tough.
And the last year should have been too much to take.

But I am loved and I love and I can create.
And so I will pick myself up and continue.
Here’s my plan. I think it will make me feel better about everything.

Each action I take,
Each piece I write,
Each Tweet I send,
Each hour I pass,
I will ask myself “What good does this do?”

And if the answer is none, then it should go undone.

I believe the world is a good place filled with good people.
And I want to spend my time and my energy amplifying that good.
There are plenty of industries already devoted to amplifying the bad.

I will fail sometimes because I am human.
I will fail because I am easily baited,
and I live with my empathy filter opened wide,
and I get hurt and I cannot resist trying to hurt back,
and I know this, and I am working on it.
I will fail because we all fail.

But I will start again, and I will ask the question again, and I will succeed more often than not.
What good does this do?
And I look forward to a 2017 that is better for it.

Good news and bad news

The good news is that the future of Pulp & Popcorn is looking good.

The bad news is that I am pushing Issue #3 by a week for production reasons. I need to have '80s All Over and Pulp & Popcorn on alternating weeks of production because they're both labor-intensive behind the scenes. I make a ton of notes for each episode of '80s All Over, and, obviously, there's a ton of writing for each P&P. So trying to record a show on Monday and release an issue on Wednesday is next to impossible.

There's some great stuff coming together for P&P #3, including my end-of-the-year wrap-up in which I'll pick my 20 favorite films of 2016. It's going to be handled differently than it was when I was working for either Ain't It Cool or HitFix, and I'm curious to see how you guys react to the changes.

So keep your eyes open for Pulp & Popcorn #3 on January 11th, then every other week after that. I'll be opening up the subscription page before the new issue goes live, and I'll be setting it up for single-issue purchases as well, and I'm finally getting a handle on what you can expect here as well as the rest of the site expands.

In the meantime, for those of you who were busy during the holidays, I wanted to share issue #2 with you again. I'm going to set up pages after each issue goes live where you can discuss the individual articles or stories if you want, as well, and I'd love to have those conversations with you.

Here's issue #2 again.

Review: 'Rogue One' serves up a new kind of 'Star Wars' story

What is Star Wars?

Your personal answer to that question determines, in large part, how you’ll feel about the experiment represented by Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the first non-Skywalker theatrical feature in the Star Wars universe.

If you think it is the six-part story told by George Lucas, and nothing else, then you will probably think Rogue One is entertaining but largely pointless.

If you think Star Wars is the original three films and pretty much nothing else, you will enjoy the aesthetic of Rogue One enormously, but you probably won’t care for the film itself.

Read More

Here we go...

I'm going to let this speak for itself, mainly because I'm super-nervous about this.

In the 20 years I've been publishing online, this is the most personal thing I've done. This is mine, and for the first time ever, I'm taking it upon myself to bypass every other form of distribution and simply offer my work to you directly.

This is available as a PDF free download.

We'll see how it goes. Welcome to PULP & POPCORN #1.