Guess what turned up on Netflix Streaming recently? (The subject header above is a subtle hint.) Yep, it’s the 1985 non-classic REMO WILLIAMS, starring Fred Ward. Apparently, the film is based on a series of men’s adventure novels that I haven’t read and never will, so whatever. It’s the movie I want to talk about. Remo’s adventure might have begun with that picture, but it didn’t go any farther. (I live in the happy world where the TV pilot doesn’t exist.)
Anyway, I saw this movie a great many times in the bong-fueled haze of post-college daytime cable and I loved it. Watching it again last week with my family reminded me how charming and fun it is.
It also brought back how completely fucked up this movie it. Seriously.
First, have this: How to be a fan of problematic things. It’s a good article written from the perspective of a person fighting for social justice who’s following GAME OF THRONES. Even if you’re not such a person, it’s worth reading.
And it applies to REMO in spades.
Let’s talk briefly about the setup: Fred Ward is a tough NYC street cop who is “killed” in the first few minutes of the movie. He wakes up in a hospital bed with a new face and identity; he’s been recruited by a secret government organization headed by Wilford Brimley. Why?
Brimley’s character sums it up like this: “This is a great country, my boy, but the justice system doesn’t work the way it should.” I know what you’re thinking, right? They’re going to reform the justice system!
Actually, no. They’re an assassination squad operating domestically under the direct control of the president. The only limits to their power is that they must never “embarrass the president.” That’s it. They investigate people and, if they have too much money/power to be prosecuted, they arrange a convincing “accident.”
To effect this plan, Ward is to be trained in the ancient and mysterious martial art of sinanju, which will allow him to dodge bullets, run without touching the ground, and other goofiness.
If that were the end of it, REMO would be little different from other odd 80′s action movies about heroic vigilantes. Unfortunately, the elderly Korean master who teaches Ward is played by… Joel Gray.
Yeah. It’s a white guy in yellowface.
Here’s the thing. The yellowface makeup was nominated for an Oscar. Gray’s performance earned him a Golden Globe nomination. If he’d done a shitty job in the role this would be an utterly forgettable movie. Actually, until Gray appears onscreen, it IS a forgettable movie. Ward is charismatic. Kate Mulgrew is terrific as a major in the army trying to prove that the bad guys are breaking the law. But until Gray appears as Chiun, the movie feels rote. I watched this with my kid and I had to beg him to stick with it. By the end, he was laughing and giving it a thumbs up.
Gray and Ward have fantastic chemistry together; their scenes (which are mostly amusing training sequences of one kind or another) are pretty much the only heart the movie has.
So, you know, it’s complicated. It’s a terrible idea to cast a white dude in yellowface to play the part of a Korean man. It’s certainly possible that an Asian actor could have done just as good as job as the prickly, obnoxious, condescending Chiun. But we don’t live in that world; we live in the world where Joel Gray got the part and did a fantastic job with it.
Anyway, the movie’s on Netflix Streaming. It’s problemmatic, but I’m a fan of it anyway.
This looks intense:
A friend of mine produced this, and it’s going to be fantastic.
No really, that’s what he said! Good thing he was joking.
If you’re one of those people who have been going around the internet posting comments, tweets, and status updates like “Who’s this Veronica Mars? Kickstart me some more SERENITY!” you should probably click that link up there. He’s not planning to Kickstart a new Serenity movie because he’s tied up for the next several years with commitments, not to mention the commitments the actors have. Plus yada yada budget etc. Give it a quick read.
After that, you should read this post by LEVERAGE co-creator John Rogers, cleverly titled Veronica Mars Kickstarter Thoughts. If you want analysis from someone who is inside the TV business, Rogers is the guy to turn to right now. Until it was cancelled, Leverage was the only independently-owned TV show in the U.S. market, and he has a lot of insight about the nature of non-studio funding, whether Warner is taking a risk by giving the go-ahead, and much more. That’s worth reading.
Remember yesterday when I talked about ALL THE SHIRTS (limited-edition!) the VM people would have to deal with? Kickstarter fulfillment companies.
And, naturally, everyone is jumping up to say what shows should be next on the Kickstarter auction block: Chuck. Pushing Up Daisies. Sarah Connor Chronicles. Terriers. Deadwood.
Personally, none of those shows appealed to me in a serious way, so I’ll be waiting for that THUNDARR reboot.
Okay. Unless something very interesting happens, I’m going to lay off the TV Kickstarter posts for a while. I’ve got to steal time for my books at some point, right?
Currently I’m over 100K words on THE WAY INTO MAGIC, which is the sequel to THE WAY INTO CHAOS. I’m writing it as one long story, which is probably dumb, but there you go.
My life is incredibly dull! Good thing the internet is full of fun stuff.
I wanted to do a little followup on the Veronica Mars Kickstarter. Yeah, they made goal. You can see the current numbers below.
Hey, you could even click on it to toss in a few bucks. I did.
But that isn’t to say that I think the setup is problem-free. I mean, there are issues and it does no one any good to gloss over them.
For example, at the time I’m writing this, Rob Thomas et al are going to have to make and ship over 40,000 “limited edition” T-shirts. That has to happen even if not one more person makes a pledge. They’re also looking at 4500 signed (by the cast) movie posters so far. You want to talk about signing your name seven thousand times (which is the limit for that reward)? I sure wouldn’t want to do it.
So… yeah. That sort of order fulfillment could be a huge drain on time and resources, even if you bring in a couple of out-of-work people (or actors, even) to handle it for you. He’s going to need his own clothing unit. And assuming they max out the poster reward (which looks pretty likely) and that it takes five seconds to sign one poster and move to the next, each actor is looking at over nine and a half hours to sign them all.
No writing hand was made to handle all of that. Just one hour would bring on cramps.
But that’s minor stuff. A great many people have been complaining that this project is just a way for a major corporation (in this case, Warner Brothers) to crowdsource production costs for their new movie. Is this the wave of the future? Will studios “hold their properties hostage” until the fans pony up?
It’s doubtful. The Veronica Mars Kickstarter is doing very well because it has a solid fan base. Also, it’s first. There’s a power in novelty when you’re asking people to give you money, and if it keeps happening again and again, there just won’t be much buzz around it.
Unless it’s THUNDARR THE BARBARIAN. Thundarr will always get buzz.
I can certainly see studios and production companies turning to crowdsourcing to decide if they want to re-up for another season, or bring the old gang back for a movie. Loved VR-5 and want to bring it back? Throw money at the Kickstater! and if it doesn’t happen the studio doesn’t have to be bad guy any more. They can just say: “The fan base wasn’t there. We only made 48% of goal.”
As for turning to fans for money that studios could put up themselves, the studios already do this in spades. They make foreign rights deals, they bring in outside investors, etc. It’s always been a part of doing business.
The big difference is that those investors get actual cash money once the film makes a profit. Fans, not so much.
Would I like to see that changed? Yeah, absolutely, but it’s not as simple as it sounds.
About ten years ago, my buddy and I were planning to make a movie. It was going to be a solid horror film–scary but not stupid–and we hoped it would open some doors for us. (Spoiler! It didn’t). As we were planning it, I did some research on how producers raise funds.
It turned out that there were all these restrictions on where the money could come from and who could donate. As I recall (a decade later) the budget would have to be split into X number of even pieces and each donor would be limited to that amount. There were more rules, too, and they were complicated and annoying. That’s when I realized I was a novelist.
(Digression: How it came out: The director sort of pushed me, the writer, out. He got the money from somewhere. The movie was seriously flawed and went nowhere. The script wasn’t my best but it is online: pdf or shitty html. It’s not my best work)
The point being, there are very strict rules around asking people to invest in your project for a cut of the profits.
However! The Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (aka the JOBS Act) which was signed into law last year, contains provisions for crowdsourcing an investment in a company, not just in a particular project/product. You can read a description of the law here but just to touch on a few issues, investors are limited to 5% or 10% of their annual income, companies must use an established third party to run things, a great many disclosures are required, and the goal is $1million or less, so it’s not going to work for television anyway. While the law was passed last year, the crowdfunding part is not yet active because the SEC hasn’t finished drawing up a set of rules yet.
So, yes, a corporation is offloading a sizable part of their costs on this project to the fans, but they offload costs as a part of their every day business, and there’s no legal framework in place to allow the fans to invest directly. They only have the option to pledge for rewards, which is essentially preordering the end product, plus swag.
Will this become the model of the future? I doubt it, but even if it did it would be a terrific hedge against piracy and a fine reason to ditch DRM (not that there aren’t already many, many reasons to ditch DRM). Companies wouldn’t have to worry so much about their product being torrented if the true fans had already chipped in.
So! As I mentioned earlier today, I backed the Kickstarter for the Veronica Mars movie, although I probably shouldn’t have. Not because I think there’s something wrong with a WB property being crowdfunded, but because money is tight and KS is a luxury item. I may cancel sometime in the next month.
Which should not be taken as condemnation of the project itself, of which there has been plenty.
This article by Richard Lawson in the Atlantic Wire seems like a good representative sample of the bullshit people are saying about who ought to crowdfund and when it should be seen as unseemly. Have a quote.
But here in the bourgie, comfy confines of wealthy Western society, we’re talking about people like the indie musician Amanda Palmer, who raised $1.2 million on Kickstarter to make and distribute a folk album. That’s all. Amanda Palmer, who is married to successful author Neil Gaiman and has been a prominent musician for a decade or so. Handed $1.2 million because she asked for it. People are free to spend their money however they want, but there’s something so unseemly about the asking, isn’t there? Maybe that reaction is owed to some overly reserved New England quality in me that I should fight against, but I can’t help but feel that Kickstarter campaigns for stuff like this, that is stuff people are having no trouble selling elsewhere, are a bit gauche. Plus it’s too easy.
Of course he has to take a nasty sexist dig at Amanda Palmer. Of course he has to mention that she has married comfortably (The article is obstensively about Rob Thomas’s project, so where’s a mention of his wife? The article fails to mention if he even has one.) Supposedly, Palmer is so successful that she has 100K laying around to fund her studio time and if she doesn’t, well, isn’t she a big enough name to get that money from record companies?
That money comes with strings attached, you say? Awful, debilitating strings? Apparently, that’s a bonus; we wouldn’t want things to be “too easy.”
Let’s consider the Veronica Mars movie: Maybe it will suck or be vaguely disappointing. That first season was so great while the second and third were a bit of a let down.
But the article writer above barely touches on that. His point is that this movie is a Warner property. They own the rights and will distribute the movie once it’s made. Since that’s the case, isn’t it kinda gross to be asking fans to front the money?
I’m going to step up here and say “Not at all.” Here’s why:
Warner does have control of the Veronica Mars IP, and they have no plans to a) do anything with it or b) surrender it to the original creator, Rob Thomas. It’s just gathering dust. After there was no interest in the season four promo video, the show was dead.
That’s why this Kickstarter makes sense: Fan support can make this happen. What’s more, fans want to be a part of it.
Would I be happy to see gross points in the reward levels? Shit yeah. Is having Rob Thomas and Kristin Bell follow me on Twitter for a year for $400 kinda tacky. Sure, I guess. Do I think they’re doing something really cool with this project? Absolutely.
Lawson doesn’t like the idea of seeing money talked about publicly. He wants artists to raise their money from “proper backers and investors” behind the scenes so he doesn’t have to see art mixed with commerce in such a public way. There’s a laundry list of why this is stupid, beginning with the fact that “proper” investors have already shown their disinterest, continuing through the idea that fans are “improper” backers, and finally ending with art and commerce have always been mixed who the fuck are you kidding?
It won’t come as a surprise to anyone that making things is difficult, especially when they require a large capital outlay. I’m pleased to see a movie like this crowdfunded successfully (or it will be at this pace) and I hope to see more.
You don’t have to pledge much to get a copy of the script before they shoot, if you’re into that sort of thing.
According to Twitter and other sources, there was some ugly, obnoxious shit aimed at the little girl who was nominated (weirdly, getting an “account suspended” page on that link), plus general awfulness. Apparently, it’s still going on, if you’re willing read the comments. Yeah, comments are ugly but it’s also a sign of who we are.
I’m not sure what’s supposed to be the point of making nasty remarks about the actors and directors whose work has been nominated. Puncturing the pretensions of people who make art? Please. It’s art, it’s supposedly the pinnacle achievement to win this sort of recognition, and generally-speaking people have to do great work for years to get to this point.
There’s this idea that the Oscars need to be entertaining for the masses, which I guess means taking digs at people.
Whatever. It’s just another set of awards, which means it’s pretty much meaningless except to those who are deeply invested in it. I just wish they didn’t judge the value of the ceremony by the ratings, and try to drive ratings with shitty behavior.
In other news, I was unusually active on my blog this weekend. To link back:
Why Libraries Still Matter: I respond to That Article.
EMP Followup I heard back from the Experience Music Project about PanelFail.
In which I deny my son an Xbox . My kid wants to play All The Games, but I expect something more from him.
Okay. Writing to do.
So, apparently Disney is planning a Yoda movie, a young Han Solo movie, and a Boba Fett movie. Fine. The more the merrier. I have some ideas for how those movies ought to be done, along with a few of my own.
THE JEDI KID: When young Yoda’s mother moves him from his home planet to start a new job, he finds it hard to fit in. The kids in his new school are bigger, richer, and not nearly so green. Plus, they bully the hell out of him. Then he finds out his landlord is a former Jedi, and he convinces the old man to train him. Can he develop his skills in time for the Tri-World Force Tournament?
MISTER FETT: Rowan Atkinson plays the bumbling outer space bounty hunter Boba Fett, the only hunter dumb (and stingy) enough to buy a factory irregular jet pack with a power switch on the back. How can Our Hero get his man when he can barely see out of his helmet? After accidentally capturing the most wanted man in twelve systems, the worst private lawman in the galaxy is blackmailed into going after the most dangerous bounty of all… The Emperor himself!
THE WALKING CARPET: There’s nothing worse for a wookie than to be exiled from his family and home, but that is just what happens to Ulhu lin Hooarre. After a prank goes wrong and causes the death of his best friend, the young man is sent off-world to live out the rest of his days with the hairless. Bereft, alone, surrounded by ignorant aliens to do not even realize that the name they call him means, in his language, both “outcast” and “unclean,” he spends long hours walking in the desert, drinking and getting into fights, hoping that someone will do what his deeply-held beliefs will not allow him to do: end his life. Then he meets a brash young smuggler in need of a mechanic for a ship that is barely spaceworthy. If he can not kill himself, surely this smuggler will bring him the peace he longs for.
THE GREAT ANTILLES: Wedge Antilles has returned to his small town a hero. Promoted to general after destroying the second Death Star, he’s come to take his aging father off the failing family bene quarry so that he, and the rest of his family, can live in comfort in Coruscant. Except his father has no intention of giving up his little shack in his treeless valley, and General Antilles finds himself faced with long-standing resentments and deep-rooted grudges among his brothers. Worse, his experiences in battle have left scars on his psyche and made him quick to anger. Can he ever go home again, or has his family become strangers to him?
“They say this cat MACE is a bad mother…” “SHUT YOUR MOUTH!” “I’m talkin’ ’bout Mace.”
A PIECE OF PLANET TO CALL YOUR OWN: Ben and Beru Starkiller find their moisture farm failing, and along with it, their marriage. The city planners of Mos Eisley have cut payments they’re willing to pay for the city’s water supply, and farmers all across the continent find themselves unable to make their bills. Worse, there’s a trade conglomerate making offers on moisture farmland, and many of their neighbors are selling out. Is the trade conglomerate bribing the city planners? Can Beru and Ben stay together? And will the foundling that Beru takes in save their faltering marriage while they hope and pray for a 100-year rainstorm?
A PIECE OF PLANET 2: THE GRAPES OF HOTH: Ben and Beru Starkiller, along with their toddler, Luke, join a caravan of moisture farmers in search of a better life when a continent-sized dust storm means their farm can no longer produce moisture.
THE MANCHURIAN PRINCESS: The Empire has fallen and there is a tremendous amount of work to do reforging a new Republic. Leia, along with many of her fellow elected royalty, try to put the bad times behind her. But she notices others behaving strangely, and she herself begins having blackouts. Once she wakes up inside an y-wing fighter on an attack vector toward a hospital ship. What happened to her, and to the many other rebel diplomats who were held captive on one of Darth Vader’s ships? Could there have been a secret plan to revive the Empire if it ever fell, and could she be a part of it?
THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE VACUUM: Garindon, who had long served as an imperial informant around Docking Bay 94, is finally free. His family has been released from an imperial prison and for the first time in years, he has no master but himself. All he wants is to be left alone to return to his family construction business. Unfortunately, the intelligence service of the New Republic has other plans for him. With charges of conspiracy and collusion hanging over his head, Garindon is sent out into one of the last holdout systems to dig up information on the fortress there. One last job, they tell him. Just this one.
Joss Whedon: THE PRINCESS REBELLION. Leia discovers a plot to undermine the new democratically elected queen of the empire and must uncover the scheme, develop her own force abilities, and prove she’s innocent of the murder of her brother. (Han Solo dies horribly, ‘natch.)
Christopher Nolan: THE DARK SITH RISES. Obi-Wan has to de-ghost himself to face a charismatic enemy, the clone of Annakin Skywalker. But is he truly a bad guy? (Spoiler: yes)
Kathryn Bigelow: THE HAN LOCKER. Han Solo leads a team of rugged but unstable fighting men against a hold-out band of stormtroopers armed with a death star-level cannon.
Brad Bird: THE KNIGHTS. The evil empire has been overthrown, but people are not ready to accept the return of the Jedi order as peacekeepers and intergalactic cops. A family of young Jedi must prove that everyone is special, no matter how pathetically low their midichlorian count might be.
Michael Bay: STUFF EXPLODES. Boba Fett rises out of the sarlacc like Princess Rita. Stuff explodes in a barely comprehensible way. Jar Jar plays a large supporting role and doesn’t even get killed.
Sofia Coppola: LOST IN TRANTHELLIX. An aging Luke Skywalker visits a distant planet for a lucrative speaking engagement, and befriends a gorgeous young gungan woman in an unhappy marriage.
Joe Cornish: ASSAULT THE MEGABLOCK. A towering skyscraper in one of Coruscant’s slums finds itself under attack from an accidentally-reactivated squad of Clone-War-era battle droids. (“Stop calling me Roger!”)
Wes Anderson: THE FANTASTIC MR. EWOK. A band of ewoks try to live like high-tech citizens of the empire, but are driven into an impotent frenzy by the way everyone speaks with their hands hanging motionless at their sides.
Amy Heckerling: LOOK WHO’S DUELING. It’s hijinks galore at the Jedi Academy for babies, where the massive midichlorian counts of the children allow the babies to wield lightsabers and oh god I just can’t go on with this.
So Kathleen Kennedy will be taking over the franchise. Hey, she could hardly do worse than the prequels.
Here’s what’s interesting to me: Lucas made the first trilogy through Hollywood and blew the doors off the genre. When he finally returned to it, after so many years of trying and failing to do other work, he decided to go indie, with no other boss but himself.
We all know how well that worked out.
Now he’s back to it again, and he’s not only going corporate, but he’s turning the whole thing over to the corporations.
Some people just weren’t meant to put out their own stuff.
Last summer, I walked into the theater intending to watch the new CONAN movie. I expected it to be bad but I felt I ought to watch it any way.
Then I saw a poster for ATTACK THE BLOCK hanging on the wall and was seriously tempted to switch tickets at the last minute. I didn’t. Because I’m an idiot.
CONAN failed to meet even my low expectations, but ATTACK THE BLOCK, which I finally saw this morning, is fantastic. You guys, you should absolutely go see it.