McFarlane Talking About Spawn 2.0 Again

Diiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiid you hear the ‘news’?  Todd McFarlane, Spawn creator, is said to be working on a reboot/sequel of Spawn (as he has been for the past decade or so).  It will be lower budget (for the creative freedom, ie more gore and swearing) and focus on horror/thriller rather than the wham bam ‘you can have what’s left of the Empire State Building back’ fighty shenanigans of your more typical comic book movie.

He’s been banging on about this for years, but now he’s totally serious dagnabbit.  Even if he has to do it himself, in stop-motion with mannequins on his iPhone and cut with Instagram-level filters.  That actually sounds like it might be a pretty good shout for an evening down the cinema.

Spawn

Al Simmons is a public sector black ops assassin who has a change of heart when he realises that the government isn’t all roses.  One would have thought that the fact one is employed to kill people furtively without a proper legal footing would’ve been a red flag.

He gets there eventually.

It’s not a line of work that offers much in the way of retirement benefits, so he’s himself brutally murdered by his own employers.   In Hell he makes a deal to sell his soul in exchange for one last glimpse of his wife.

Again, one would’ve thought that when dealing with a horned, fanged and fiery demon of Hell, one would at least skim the fine print, or get a lawyer (it’s Hell – there’s not exactly a shortage of the buggers).  But Al’s not that smart.

So he wakes up 5 years later as a hellspawn charged with leading Hell’s armies against Heaven.  And finds that his wife has hooked up with his best friend.  They have a kid old enough that they definitely got it on at the wake (in the last movie at least).  Al/Spawn, becomes an anti-hero fighting the denizens of Heaven and Hell alike, plus human scumbags etc etc.

There’s also a clown/demon called The Clown.

Re-Spawning

It was corralled onto the silver screen back in ’97.  You’d be forgiven for giving it a wide berth, because not to put too fine a point on it the movie blows in every way.  Plot, direction, acting, special effects – you name it, it’s…not good.   Considering the cast included Martin Sheen and John Leguizamo (and Gambol from The Dark Knight!), that’s pretty baffling.

But McFarlane reckons he can do the character justice and exorcise those demons, pun very much intended.  And as long as you don’t mind a hero with an IQ lower than a very low thing indeed, he’s a pretty interesting character.

A literal monster seeking to reclaim the humanity he arguably never had in the first place is a helluva’ character arc.  Or at least a variation on the standard:

“loser-loner-outsider gets special powers, loses someone important, learns a lesson, beats down a tennis ball on a stick that in the final edit looks like everything else does in the final edit of every other film for the past 7 years (pixels, teeth, claws, sigh).  In 3D, unless we’re finally done with that.”

McFarlane wants to write, direct and produce, to which the response must surely be ‘sweetheart…no.’  After all, long-gestating pet projects driven exclusively by 1 ego vision that become excellent, not-at-all self-indulgent/impenetrable messes can be counted on the fingers of no hands.

Also, our Todd doesn’t have behind-the-camera experience.

Hardcore Spawn

But that’s just the voice of concern breaking out – after all, all directors have to start somewhere, and idiosyncratic control freak voices gave us the works of Kubrick, Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez.  That’s overegging the pudding a bit.

Although come to think of it, Rodriguez would be a damn fine choice for director, especially if it aims for a mature rating.

As for acting talent, Oscar winner Jamie Foxx is alleged to be aggressively pursuing it – that’s like running AND shouting at the same time.  So you know he’s serious.

With a core audience nailed on for tickets and merchandise, a promise of a low-ish budget to minimise risk (and allow for some genuine creativity) and a heavyweight actor heading things up, this one might go the distance and actually, y’know, happen.  Whisper it; it might even be distinctive, perhaps even interesting cinema.

And as for the subject matter – former government agent with an attack of conscience blowing the lid on alleged nefarious government activities committed in an equally alleged moral vacuum in the name of the people – it’s about as hot button topical as you can get.  Hopefully they’ll allow for some nuance in place of the binary hero/traitor debate currently serving as a source of some embarrassment for certain governments.

Spawn of The Dead

The box office takings of the movie Dredd (more on that another time), might disagree, but the market can stand a different category of comic book movie.  They don’t all have to be child-friendly megabudget monsters – there’s room for something cheaper and more adult (violent), adult (grown-up) or adult (…they don’t really have those kinds of cinemas anymore since the internet).

After all, the movie The Crow did all the above and was still a reasonable success.  That’s logic, yo.

It won’t be nominated for Best Film Oscar – Spawn on The Fourth of July, if you like – but there’s clearly some potential in all this.   After all, all they have to do is the exact opposite of what the film-makers did back in the 90s.  That’s also logic.  Yes it is.

Or maybe we’ll be here in another 10 years’ time wondering what’s happening with that damned Spawn remake.

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Anna Karenina And The Faithless Adaptation

Many, many years ago Leo Tolstoy and I were drinking buddies.  We drifted apart once he stopped shaving and started getting all sanctimonious about what, precisely, constituted ‘art’ and blathering on about that old fraud Schopenhauer.  We were out on the town one night with a couple of fragrant, lissom creatures, and as usual the girls were far more interested in me than him.  For a Russian, he wasn’t much good at holding his drink, which just goes to show that one must always guard against lazy stereotyping.

Anyroads, Tolly quickly contrived to become simultaneously sulky and boorish and wouldn’t shut up about Jesus, and after I suggested the four of us retire to my chalet for a dip in the hot tub, he and I came to blows.  One too many schnapps, one too many utterances of the word ‘bourgeois’ and as Bogart might have put it, this was the end of a beautiful friendship.

Well you know what they say about the dead: they can’t sue you for defamation.

The year of our Lord 2012 saw the 45,000,000th adaptation of Anna Karenina, starring Keira Knightley in the much-coveted eponymous role as the one-time train aficionado.  This is the third in the unofficial Keira Does Literature trilogy directed by Joe Wright, rounding off a run that included (alright, consisted of) Pride And Prejudice and Atonement.

For those of you who like your entertainment middlebrow, watch Anna Karenina.  It’s easier than the book and afterwards you can always pretend you’ve read it.

Rumour has it that 949 pages in, Wright and writer Sir Tom Stoppard learned of stricter-than-anticipated budgetary constraints, turned to one another and said “screw it, none of our locations look like Russia anyway, let’s just set it in a theatre and call it art. Put the kettle on, I’m gasping.”

There is no evidence of which one of them made the tea.

Anna Karenina is commonly categorised as a work of realist fiction.  The moral, albeit admittedly ambiguous, seems to be that our Anna is a warning.  She rightly attracts the opprobrium of society for flouting its rules.  She’s a bad egg for her selfish aims and, spoiler alert, bad eggs in these types of books typically don’t live happily ever after.  See also: Humpty Dumpty.

Or Madame Bovary for an actual comparison.

But Tolstoy was a cunning sod, as well as a sanctimonious old dear. So it could be that ‘society’ is the bad guy (it consists of snobby, bourgeois types who know nothing of proper beard maintenance), with Karenina wilting under its glare like a flower in an oven.

There’s also a lot of politics in the novel – Russia of the 19th century underwent tremendous upheaval with the ending of serfdom and Tolstoy uses adultery to explore the clash between the old feudal conservatism and the new liberal values then sweeping Western Europe.  He also critiqued family values.  For a religious chappy, it’s interesting to note that the affair angle focuses more on society’s condemnation than the Church’s.  The most overtly religious characters are the most obviously repulsive characters.

Basically, Tolstoy took aim at pretty much everything.

But the film isn’t concerned with much of the above, so you didn’t know that.  Among the many criticisms is the fact that so much of the story was jettisoned, including almost an entire plot and most of the context.  And as for what remains, that the film seems to rely on a tacit understanding that its audience is familiar with the source material, with the result that it’s opaque for the noob.

The sophisticate, on the other hand, will find it superficial, focusing on pretty lighting effects and fashion shoot framing and letting the plot go hang.   Nice costume design though, and Keira’s good in it.  Also, who knew Jude Law ain’t just a pretty face?

Tolstoy would’ve absolutely hated it, of course.

As John Lennon once said, ‘bullshit’ is French for Avant Garde.  You’ll appreciate what I did there.  Of course, this version isn’t anything like as abstract as all that old avant garde stuff, but it’s certainly not a straight, realist take so we’ll have to call that a win, rather than a poorly shoehorned gag that doesn’t make much sense (ie just like the movie, badum tish).  One loses the opportunity to use the word verisimilitude, but maybe that’s for the best.

It’s not even a typical costume drama. 

And I, for one, am grateful.  Does the film work? Not entirely.  Is it a faithful adaptation?  Not even slightly.  Do you need to know the story beforehand?  Possibly.  It certainly works better as a companion piece.

But what some of the critics seemed to miss was this:  what was the value in another straight adaptation?  The last version came out in 1997.  Before that, 1985.  And given that this isn’t a straight adaptation, why judge it as one?

The film sides more or less unambiguously with Anna, which actually isn’t an unreasonable interpretation of the book (despite what some might say).  Such is part of the value of great literature, after all.

And as for Tolstoy hating it – he was a more stylistically innovative writer than he’s sometimes given credit for.  Likewise, he wrote a novel that sought to document his society, in a similar way that Tom Wolfe aimed at with Bonfire of The Vanities.  A film that prefers to capture the society we live in today (often prurient and intrusive) is, in my opinion, far more faithful to the spirit of Karenina than simply grinding out yet another staid period piece to give the target demographic what it wants.

A faithless adaptation, then, but far more importantly, a good one.

Virus

President Laithewaite’s right ocular augment was on the fritz and streaming.  He tried to swear but his nose was so blocked his words came out fudgy.  He straightened his tie with clammy hands and tried to ignore the pounding in his head.

An oily knock insinuated itself against his bathroom door “Mr President?” a respectful tone (how do they manage to capitalise the ‘P’ when they speak, he wondered).

“Just a minute, please.”  A quick smoothing of his hair – he had a good head of hair, one of his proudest features.  And that chin, statistically proven to appeal to the widest voter demographic.  There were rumours of surgery, but he had never confirmed or denied.

But his jaw felt slack like his dignity, and his shirt clung to his back like misery.

Good health, he had reasoned, was only missed when it was gone.  That’s why he’d paid for the full upgrade for him and his family.  But that was when he was just another civilian.

It was moot now of course – he had all the brains of all the government agencies’ R and D departments, as well as the tech they’d begged, borrowed or stolen from abroad, at his disposal.  And they’d created a bespoke package – personally tailored gut bacteria to maximise his digestive efficiency, modified t lymphocytes (and the rest) to combat any known microbe.  His vascular system, musculature, everything was monitored for the slightest weakness.

His body was a medical Fort Knox.

Except today it wasn’t.

He left the sanctity of the bathroom and strode to his office trailing symptoms and security as though he could outrun the sickness.  A man was there waiting for him.

“Mr President, forgive me but your olfactory unit is malfunctioning.  May I offer you a tissue?”

The man from the National Security Agency.  What was his name?  Laithewaite had never been good with names: that was what the recognition software was for.   He snatched at the tissue, designed to register traces of poisons and toxins – very useful for deskbound senior security types (he thought bitterly).  NSA man continued, with respect and reproach in his voice.

“Mr President, you should have informed us as soon as you felt unwell.”

“What and spend half the night with needles in my skull while your technicians reconfigured all the encryptions, changed the nuclear codes you swore would be safer locked up in my brain than some hard-drive and everything else at God knows what cost?  Like last time?  Remind me, what was it again?”

“Uh, hay fever, sir.”

“Hay fever.”

“With respect, the codes, affairs of state, private memories – all at risk sir.  We need to make sure you at least stay under the radar until we can fortify your firewalls, especially in this city – I doubt there’s a square inch that’s not covered by wi-fi.  And our initial reports suggest that this isn’t biological.”

“What are you saying, that this is a hack job of some kind?”

“We’re not sure.  Your immune system is kicking in, but it’s attacking everything – we’ve found no trace of microbial infection and we keep your malware defences fully up to date, so it must be something new.  We think there may have been some involvement by the Chinese, maybe the Indians.  Brazil’s a possibility, among others.  Maybe even one of our European allies.  Or the Russians.  Then there are some rogue political groups we’re monitoring.  Or the private sector. Some of your opponents in the House of Representatives would certainly be interested in your private files.”

He sighed.

“At this point we need information.”  He plugged an ugly looking needle into a hard line dock hidden in the crook of Laithewaite’s right elbow (the president was left-handed).

Laithewaite felt the remaining strength leave his legs and collapsed heavily onto his chair.  It had been designed by an award-winning architect and carefully selected to give the strongest possible indication of his quiet good taste.

It was depressing to feel so frail.  A strange thought occurred to him.  Was it…doubt?  In a small voice he said “it’s…it’s not going to be fatal is it?”  He scolded himself: stupid, stupid.

“No, Mr President.  We’re confident that we’ll be able to reboot your systems individually and isolate the cause.”

“How confident?”

“Pretty confident, sir.   You’re one of a handful of the most highly modified human beings on the planet.  If it was just you I’d be more concerned but the technology is fairly well understood.  And of course we have the finest people working to fix your issues.”

Laithewaite touched his internally mounted intercom with his mind like he’d been taught.  Nothing.  Sighing he tapped his outdated desk intercom for his secretary.  A tinny voice, vibrating with steely enthusiasm, answered as she’d been taught.

“What can I do for you, right now, Mr President?”

“Get me a.. a cola, would you? A Mr Krunk.”

“We’ve got Coca Cola or Diet Coke, Mr President.  You remember the campaign contributions.”

He found himself suddenly shouting – a tantrum like his daughter hadn’t had since she was 4 years old “I don’t want a goddam Coca Cola; I hate it! Always have, since, since… always.  Just, just do what you normally do – get me a Mr Krunk and put it in the Coke bottle in case anyone sees me.  And first thing we’re reviewing that deal because I’m not drinking that, that, SHIT, any more.”  His anger surprised him; his rudeness didn’t surprise her.

He realised he couldn’t remember her name either and he’d had her for, well, since the press got wind of what happened with the last one (a precisely co-ordinated campaign – maximum deniability of course – to remind the voters of his virility and irresistibility to young women).

‘The law of unintended consequences,’ he thought, ‘when they suggested that damn software as a way of keeping track of dignitaries at official functions I never thought a cold would make me forget the names of the people I see every day.’

Laithewaite turned back to the man from the NSA.  His face was buried in a smartphone, scrolling through Laithewaite’s most intimate details.  His face had lost most of its colour except for a yellowish waxy sheen.

‘He’s starting to look a lot like I feel,’ Laithewaite thought.

“Mr President I don’t want to alarm you but it looks like your heart monitor has gone offline.  I’ve alerted the response team.  Again, just a precaution, but if we can’t read your heart rate we don’t know what’s going on.  And in your current condition…”

Laithewaite stared at him dumbfounded, “If I was having a heart attack, or it just stopped, don’t you think you’d be the second person to know about it?”  In the circumstances he felt it was kind of droll.

“We just can’t take that risk, Mr President.”

Laithewaite’s secretary almost ran in, grabbing at the TV remote.  She did not have a drink for the president.  She didn’t even have the customary smile all staff were required to wear for him – a simple, professional smile that was neither too ecstatic nor too subdued.  Instead her face had frozen into a bleary rictus.

‘What I’ve got must be catching,’ he thought and found the thought strangely pleasing.

“Where’s my Mr Krunk?” he asked, pathetically.

She fumbled with the remote (why do we still have a remote in this day and age when even the unemployed have moved on?)  But eventually she made it work and flicked through the channels, before:

Breaking news now: the Washington Post and the New York Times have both published details of an alleged short-lived affair between President Laithewaite and his campaign manager, Taylor Stone.  They say their source is unimpeachable.  And later on we’ll be asking: is America ready for a gay president?  More after these messages.

The scarlet silence – hot pink with embarrassment – was broken by the sound of the head of state falling off his chair (not even that comfortable) and hitting the ground.  Tom from the NSA sprang into action, running into the corridor to find that goddam response team.

Laithewaite’s secretary Angela stood there a moment, paralysed into inaction.  He’d always made a point of complimenting her beautiful name – she’d always made a point of spitting in his coffee, which was as ersatz as the rest of him.

Tom returned with some serious men.  Security formed a perimeter, speaking confidentially into ear-mounted speaking devices; medics prodded and poked at the incumbent, sopping mess on the floor.

“He’s fine, just in shock, needs some sugar.  Someone get him a cola, a, a… Mr Krunk.”

Angela, by now regrouped, said “We’ve got Coca Cola.  It’ll have to do.”  Which was a lie:  she’d picked up a Mr Krunk on her way in this morning.  It was hidden in her bag; the security guy owed her a favour.  The phone screamed out in anger.  Thoughtlessly, she picked it up, “President Laithewaite’s office.”  She listened for a moment to the automated switchboard.

“Sir I have three calls for you.  Line one is Mr Stone’s attorney who sounds very upset.  Line two is your press officer who also sounds very upset and line three is the Secretary of State and guess how she sounds.  Who would you like to speak to first?”

A commotion picked up volume in the hall outside, “I’m sorry ma’am, this area is currently restricted.”  “Let me in, I’m his fucking wife,” came through clearly enough, as did, “that fucking asshole better have a goddam good explanation for this or I’m taking his goddam fake balls along with everything else when I divorce the fuck out of his fruity ass.”

Angela, still holding the phone, leaned down and sweetly said “Your wife is waiting in the hall outside for you, Mr President.  Would you like me to let her in?”  She was starting to enjoy this.  Maybe the next guy would have some manners.

But all (snotty, sickly) President Laithewaite could do was sit on the floor, sobbing boiling tears.  Why’d it have to be coke?  All he wanted was a Mr Krunk.

__

Roughly 2300 miles to the West, the nation’s youngest CEO pops the cork on a bottle of champagne and opens his expensively encrypted virtual conferencing network.

“Gentlemen, this has been an unqualified success – our client’s sales are spiking through the roof; they couldn’t be happier.  Literal viral marketing uploaded direct to neural networks and spread through wi-fi.  See to it that our young genius gets a bonus, wouldn’t want him jumping ship now.” 

“We’ve really put this agency on the map, boys.  More than that, we’ve just made advertising history.”

Bane From The Dark Knight Rises On A Dating Website

A person of my acquaintance has started doing that internet dating they have now.  I was inquiring how it was going and generally ‘taking an interest’ in his life, which my mother always taught me was important in the formation and maintenance of friendships.

Obviously, talk turned to weekend plans – his revolve around watching rugby and football in the pub, doing Bane impressions and sending ill-advised ‘it seemed like a good idea at the time’ messages on dating websites.  (His Bane is very accurate and very loud, and he loves to dig it out, which can make public outings with him somewhat awkward).

Long story short, this happened:

 

Interested Woman: Hi! I saw your profile and thought you looked cute!  Why don’t you tell me about yourself?    : )

Bane: No one cared who I was until I put on the mask.

IW: Oh that’s a shame, but I’m here now.  : )  So anyway…who are you beneath the mask? ; )

B: It doesn’t matter who we are.  What matters is our plan.

IW: Wow, that’s pretty dark. You’re a little scary, huh? ; )

B: Now is not the time for fear – that comes later.

IW Girl: Oooh, I can be a bit dark too, sometimes… lol.

B: Oh, you think darkness is your ally. But you merely adopted the dark; I was born in it, moulded by it. I didn’t see the light until I was already a man, by then it was nothing to me but BLINDING!

IW: um… ok, so what do you get up to? I went to see Les Mis last night.

B: Theatricality and deception: powerful agents to the uninitiated. But we are initiated aren’t we, Bruce?

IW: Oh yeah, the costumes were really pretty. Who’s Bruce?

B: Let’s not stand on ceremony here, Mr Wayne.

IW: It’s Jane actually, with a J. So whereabouts in London are you based?

B: I will show you where I have made my home while preparing to bring vengeance. Then I will break you.

IW: Kinky. I dunno if you’ll be able to break me though. I do a yoga class 3 times a week so I’m pretty bendy 😉 lol

B: Oh yes? I wonder which will break first: your spirit or your body.

IW: Yeah I’m pretty spiritual too. I have a tattoo in Sanskrit which says “fear is a cage”

B: *Bane Block*

 

Cant

They say you should write what you know.  So he always started with the aftermath and worked backwards.  (It was what he knew)  The action would come in time – he’d always found these things worked like little excavations.  Others plotted things out, and that worked too.

The action would come in time, some details would reveal themselves. Then he’d start to see the shape of the narrative, same as always.  This wasn’t exactly his first time.

He rubbed a little life into his hands and found a new page in the notebook he carried around in case of sudden inspiration and to jot down small observations.  He already had a couple of characters so he had most of the who.  He’d flesh out the what, and the when, and in time the how and finally the why.  His characters certainly had motivations but he knew better than to force the issue.  Best just to wait patiently.

He flicked back and forth through his notebook to give his hands something to do while he worried at the details.  Some minor details – he liked to think of them as clues – were more trouble than they were worth.

For him, he found they had to be teased patiently, and followed.  Some led him in the wrong direction entirely, wasting his time, which was valuable to him, at least.  Overall it was like sex, like that cop Leslie Nielson had played in that movie had said: a painstaking, arduous process and just when you think you’re getting somewhere, nothing happens.

Other clues though, well they came in flashes revealing everything: the shape of things, the story.  And the one in his mind’s eye was a doozy.  He smiled tightly.  This one would hopefully lead him to other avenues until he’d hiked up and across the entire rotten edifice, the whole story.

All of life was stories, he reasoned, it’s how we communicate as a species.  Did you hear about… Have I ever told you how I… It’s how we learn and it’s how we remember.

He’d always felt that he had a keen ability to observe people and human nature, but for all that it had brought him it left him feeling isolated, detached somehow from the reality everybody else seemed to live.  Observe it and write it down, rinse and repeat – life at arm’s length.  Only never quite reality, perception: reality microfiltered and pasteurised through his senses then his brain.  After all, everything is made up of largely nothing but you’d never know to see it.

Everything was just perception, at least in his experience.  That was his cant.

He nodded to the uniformed sergeant – get forensics on it ASAP, make sure it’s not the victim’s hair or a cat’s or something.

18 hours since the start of his shift.  They’d stiff him on the overtime of course, but at least he finally had a breakthrough.  Protect and serve or at least clean up afterwards: that was his cant.

__

PS: A clue: this whole thing was built out of a ridiculous pun on something vaguely esoteric and massively pretentious, that’s also a glib critique.  Says everything you wouldn’t want or need to know about me… See if you can find it, no prizes for the winner.

Friday’s Dictatorial Mental Exercise

Here’s a fun-for-a-given-value-of-fun game next time you’re in the pub and run out of things to say to your companions.  I call it ‘dictator’.  For reasons we don’t need to get into here, you’ve become the king/queen of the world, a benevolent overlord and/or vicious tyrant.

The object of the game is to make a list of the petty things you would ban and/or the petty things you would make people do, for no reason other than the fact that you can.  You then exchange your list with a friend’s.  Then you bicker drunkenly into the night about how ridiculously petty your friend is and how it’s a damn good thing that your friend isn’t king/queen of the world because, frankly, what’s so bad about Pinterest?

If I were king of the world, here’s what I’d ban:

  • Pinot Grigio
  • People who talk too much about how fond they are of cheese (camembert is demonstrably not the same thing as an orgasm)
  • Any talk of a sequel to Bladerunner
  • Any sequel to Bladerunner
  • Chalk-striped suits and polyester generally
  • Media coverage of the Twitter spats of minor celebrities engaged in a ritual dance of mutual self-promotion

And here’s what I’d make happen:

  • I’d require newspapers with which I disagree feature a large disclaimer on the front page explaining how the entire contents of the paper are fictional, even the bits that are true
  • I’d change the British national anthem to When the Brits Come Rolling Back by Tom Robinson
  • And the American one to the version Hendrix played at Woodstock
  • Calamari in elementary/primary school meals – squid breed like absolute bastards, so we might as well all get a taste for them when we’re young
  • Standardised power cables for all electronics across the world, because I keep losing mine
  • I’d require some level of production values on the deliberately leaked sex tapes of minor celebrities engaged in a ritual dance of self-promotion.  Because if you’re gonna’ do it, you might as well do it properly

And please do feel free to share your own lists – don’t pretend you’re not as self-righteous as everyone else on the internet.