Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Why Doesn't Miley Cyrus Sound Like a Hick When She Sings?

I just saw Miley Cyrus speak for the first time this week on SNL and Fallon, and I had no idea that her normal speaking voice was so...

...lets not pull punches - she sounds like a hick.

Where the hell does her accent go when she starts singing?  Lets not blame the obvious here - Autotune.  This is a phenomenon I've heard with other singers, particularly British/Scottish/Irish where their thick natural accent is completely lost when they start to sing.

Other times, its plain as day, such as with the Cranberries, or Little Talks, or George Strait.

What's going on?

There are two interesting explanations for this phenomenon.

The first starts by looking at what we talk about when discuss speech accents.  In particular, the tone, meter, altered phonics, syllabic emphasis, and even vocabulary all go into what we consider an "accent".  It also turns out that when you sing, pretty much all of this is overwritten by the song.

So, if the song isn't written for an accent, it usually disappears because the constructed nature of singing a song removes the inclination to turn words into your natural sounding speaking voice.

The other explanation is more physiological.

Basically, the parts of the brain that control speech are not the same that control singing.  On interesting effect of this is that people with a speech impediment (such as stuttering) can lose this impediment completely when singing.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Sad, Sad History of Female Led Comic Book Movies - Barb Wire (1996)

I'm not going to give a full run down on why this film failed.  It's a lazy film, poorly acted, terribly written, and a plot poorly lifted from one of the most beloved films of all time.

And Pam Anderson... a declining Pam Anderson at that.

Suffice to say her tits couldn't act their way out of a paper bag, and they are collectively a much better actor than the monstrosity they are attached to.

This movie was so bad it killed the comic book it came from almost immediately after the film was released, which is likely the most important thing that came from this movie.

Next Up: Another Time Jump!  Catwoman (2004)

The Sad, Sad History of Female Led Comic Book Movies - Tank Girl (1995)

We continue to analyze why female led superhero movies have failed over the last 30 years, and why these failures are not indicative of the gender of the lead, but rather a whole slew of problems unique to each project.

Last time we dug through the ashes of Supergirl to discover what went awry with Kara Zor-El's turn at the big screen.  The upshot of the story is that Supergirl attempted to ride the coattails of a Superman franchise that was already compromised and on the way out.  As a spin-off of this franchise, Supergirl was met with the same production issues and studio meddling that had plagued the Donner era Superman films while adding little to nothing to the previous films.

Eleven Years.  Between Supergirl and Tank Girl, ELEVEN years lapse. This has less to due to the failure of Supergirl, rather the collapse of the whole Superman franchise had soured Hollywood on superheros in general.

It took the publishing of The Killing Joke and The Dark Knight Returns in order to bring studio interest in making another superhero film.  This time with Batman (1989) as an anti-hero with a significantly darker tone than both the Superman franchise as well as other film and TV versions of the caped crusader.  The astounding success of the film caught the movie world off guard, and Hollywood's echo chamber responded predictably by trying to find new comic book characters to turn into the next blockbuster.

Rather than go with established DC and Marvel characters however, the studios turned their sites towards a new cropping of independent publishers that had developed over the last few years such as Image, Mirage, and Dark Horse Comics.  These smaller publishers offered fresh characters and stories, as well as embodying the darker corners of the comic world that had made Batman so successful, and offered their adaptation rights significantly cheaper than the big two.

Films ran the gambit from new classics like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to much older properties like The Shadow and Dick Tracey.  However, few of these films were very successful, and none would match the success that that the first Batman enjoyed.

One of the titles that had generated interest during this period was Tank Girl.  Tank Girl embraced tenets of punk rock, particularly the growing influence of women in punk culture that would evolved into the Riot Grrrl aesthetic.  The comic was a mix of influences, styles, and formats, and included significant breaks from comic norms.

This break from norms turned out to be the film's ultimate undoing.  Its an ambitious film for sure, but all the elements that made the independent comic work on page completely fell apart on the screen.

The title character is the obvious place to start, and how poorly Tank Girl's character translated to the screen.  The comic version was highly stylized, aggressively lewd and vulgar, and featured over the top costuming, weaponry, and (for lack of a better word) accessorizing - with a brash attitude to match.

Translating this character to live action presented problems, and both the stilted dialog and Lori Petty's acting did not do any favors to making the character more than a calculated cardboard cutout.  Petty's overly aggressive sneering performance made for a major misfire on the titular character.

Being an unknown property with little star power (when you most famous actor is a hip-hop star buried under kangaroo makeup, there might be issues afoot) didn't warrant the kind of budget needed to really bring the highly visual comic to life.  Unfortunately, even with effects and makeup folks taking pay cuts to work on the film, the resulting film is barren, cheap looking, and just ugly.  Also, the property was unknown, the marketing for it was non-existent, and the Riot Grrl style that the film hoped to connect with was still in formation and would not reach mainstream maturity for many years.

It is also apparent that these issues caused the production significant problems, so much so that there were sequences that weren't filmed and had to be created using illustrations and animation.  I'm reminded of the wisdom of Mark Borchardt:

"There's no excuses, Paul. No one has ever, ever paid admission to see an excuse. No one has ever faced a black screen that says: "Well, if we had these set of circumstances, we would've shot this scene... so please forgive us and use your imagination." I've been to the movies hundreds of times. That's never occurred."

Except for Tank Girl.  Next on our tail of woe for the women of comic book world: Barb Wire.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Sad, Sad History of Female Led Comic Book Movies - Supergirl (1984)

In all the clamoring for the need for a female led superhero film in this renaissance of the genre, there has been a running counter-argument that has particularly irked me: "There hasn't been a successful female-led comic book movie yet, so therefore no one wants to see a female-led superhero movie".

The first half is very true, but only really scratches the surface of the issue.  The second is a false conclusion based on a very surface interpretation of the female superheros films that have been produced in the last 30 years.  Each of these films faced their own issues, and it's is a fallacy to lump them all together - particularly when the sample size is so utterly small compared to the time frame.

Let's look at each of these films and discuss why each failed, and then look to the future for the two most prominent female led superhero movies that have the potential to break this run of failures.

First up :

1984 - Supergirl - Staring Helen Slater and Faye Dunnaway.

By 1984 the Superman franchise was waning.  The blockbuster success of the first film was quickly eroded by difficulties between Donner and the studio who wanted to take the franchise in a campier direction.  Since many scenes for the sequel had been filmed simultaneously with the first film, a new director as brought on to re-shoot the film according to the studio's plans.  Despite these difficulties, Superman II is often considered the height of the Donner Superman film series.

The box office however, was not as kind as it was for the first film.  While still a hit, Superman II was nowhere near the blockbuster that the Superman was, and in response the studios slashed the budgets for the remaining films of the series as well as increasing their meddling in the films themselves.  Superman III was a mishmash of terrible ideas, bad will amongst the actors and production staff vs the studio, the original script thrown out and rewritten by the studio, a comedic tone that focused more on Richard Pryor rather than the Man of Steel, and a budget dramatically slashed from the first two films.

It is at this point when a series of issues caused Supergirl to completely collapse.  For one, due to the slipping quality of the franchise most of the prospective actors did not want to be in a spin-off movie despite significant paychecks offered to them.  Also, Christopher Reeves was supposed to make a cameo appearance to give the film some validity and connection to the main films, but Reeves dropped out early.  The budget was also significantly less than Superman I & II, and was even less than Superman III.

Again, the studio oversaw everything with a heavy hand both in production and in post.  However, as the summer 1984 release date approached, Warners decided to not release the film in North America at all, and pawned it off onto Tri-Star who released it later that year after cutting 20 minutes from the film.

Not surprisingly, the film didn't do well at the box office, critically, or with fans.  The Superman franchise had been mismanaged by the worst case of sequelitis Hollywood had ever seen.  The brand had been ran into the ground by greed and studio interference, and the creative forces behind the initial success of the franchise had long been run off.  The final insult was the selling of the Superman movie rights to shlock-masters Golan and Globus of Cannon Films and the nail in the coffin: Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.

There is one other issue with Supergirl, Superman, and the whole Super "Family" that had been eating away at the comics for decades.  As more and more Kyrptonians are found to have survived the death of Krypton, a major character aspect of Superman's story was less and less valid - the idea that he is alone in this universe, last member of a dead race.  In fact, two years later DC rectified this situation in the comics with Crisis on Infinite Earths, where Supergirl (80s Spoiler Alert!) was killed off for this very reason.

A Supergirl film didn't stand a chance.  The film was a cash grab spin-off of a failing franchise with a ton of hands in the mix, and no strong voice to lead it through the process.  It's failure was a larger part of the decline of the Superman franchise, and as such is a poor example to use when evaluating whether or not new female superhero movie would be a success.

At this point comic book movies took a bit of a breather.  In 1989, Tim Burton's Batman reignited Hollywood's interest in comics, but it wasn't until 1995 that we saw the next female led comic book movie - Lori Petty in Tank Girl.

Next Time!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Marry Me, Mags... Just Not EVER.

DC, DC, DC... what to do with you. How many time must you blow up your universe before you get things right? Looks like its going to take at least one more. Behold the stupidity:

"They put on a cape and cowl for a reason. They're committed to defending others — at the sacrifice of all their own personal instincts. That's something we reinforce. If you look at every one of the characters in the Batman family, their personal lives kind of suck… Tim Drake, Barbara Gordon, and Kathy Kane — it’s wonderful that they try to establish personal lives, but it’s also just as important that they put it aside as they know what they are accomplishing as the hero takes precedence over everything else. That is our mandate, that is our edict, that is our stand with our characters."

So, with literally hundreds of characters active and many, many more sitting on the sidelines, the best you can do is - "They are have the same life - empty and void of purpose outside of their heroism." They want their heroes to be anguished, what they don't know is that its making their readers just as miserable.

That's their edict, that's their mandate, and screw you for thinking you deserve better. If they get close to someone, we will fridge 'em - if they are gay we will do it right before they propose. If someone was married, well screw that - how are 12 year-olds going to relate to a married superhero?!?

New 52 broke up more marriages than the 80s. Everyone went back to being single, young, and dating their hot coworker they've had their eyes on for years. It's like they should of had a "CRISIS IN MID-LIFE" event to explain this idiocy.

What is particularly unnerving about the Batwoman situation is the fact they had an opportunity to really explore a gay marriage, to show the difficulties in maintaining a relationship with someone when you dress up every night and go on patrol, even if your spouse is a cop who basically does the same thing.  There is so much rich thematic territory to cover in this relationship - even beyond the obvious lesbian marriage angle.

After the debacle with Alan Scott's dead almost fiancee, you think that DC would learn from their mistakes.

You would think.