Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Emails #62: Working Title


We are getting close to something. People throughout time have needed heroes. The world now, in its dangerous and cynical shape, needs heroes. America has had the wind taken out of it's sails. It too needs heroes. What better hero for America than Captain America? The need for heroes is so strong that if none are handy, we invent them. Where was Cap when the space shuttle exploded? Out on a smoke break? Cap represents American virtues. He is the kind of person we all want to be, compassionate, full of conviction, forthright, honest and moral. Where was Cap during Vietnam? Cap is also a leader who inspires hope. Does Wolverine or any of the 60,000 other X-Men inspire hope? Cap is the role model we need to help us pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and continue on...

Cap! A Modern Adapting
A discussion about film, storytelling and the American spirit
Ben Alpi - Director/Producer for Runic Films
Rick Arthur - Writer/Cartoonist

BEN: Cap! Modernizing Modern Myth
A discussion about film, storytelling and the American spirit.
Ben Alpi - Director/Producer, Runic Films
Rick Arthur - Writer/Cartoonist
You like?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Emails #61: American Identity

Mr. Rick, what do you think we might call the blog? I usually do a little brainstorming, a bit of word play. Let me see...
Cap and Trade (hmm, that might be kind of horrible)
Cap: Declaration of Adaptation
Cap: Culture War
Cap: Media Conflict
Captaining Across Media
Cap: Bridging Media
Cap: Adapting a Legend
Myth and Legends
Adapting Cap
"from a production based perspective" I'm not sure that's quite it.
"A discussion into the inner workings of creativity in film, comic books, writing and popular culture"
"A discussion about adapting comic books to film that transformed into a..."

Benito- Try these on for size:
Cap: Myth, Legend, Media Adaptation
A discussion into adapting an icon across media platforms

Cap! Adapting the Myth and Legend
The creative discussions to rethink an American icon for film and narrative media
I like this last one.We should have a big Cap star and a swastika on the front page as a graphic motif to symbolize the conflict...

Friday, June 24, 2011

Emails #60: No Swastikas

BEN: A collaboration sounds great, Mr. Rick. Question for you: Can and should we do a joint blog post which tells a bit of our story and includes parts of our letters and writings? You can see other posts I've done at

RICK: Do you mean a Cap blog? Since the original material was not designed for a blog, it will have to be edited.

If you mean a blog for a new project, I will have to think about it.

I was thinking of a single article (post), not a continuing blog. One thing we could do is work up a brief telling of our story and our findings. Another possibility is sort of interview each other conversationally and add in any other details we think relevant. I wouldn't want it to be very long as we're so busy, but I think the core of what we found is something worth telling the world about. Even if we don't talk about Cap at all, we could still talk about the state of the movie biz and our opinions on what we'd like to see in future films (of ours and others.) As an example of what I was thinking lemme try...

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Emails #59: 1,000 Script Changes

Sept 28, 2010

Dear Rick,

I'd like to respond to your letter now from back in August, although it will be brief since you've stated so eloquently feelings that so closely mirror my own. It has been a wonderful experience to work with you on this, Rick. We may come at things from very different angles and opinions, but creative nuance boils down to semantics. What really counts is our heart-ache at the current state of things we love. Graphic novels have become quite popular (and have always been exceedingly popular in the UK, I'm told) but comic books have languished. I don't think they're dead, but I think the mass media money, money, money aspect may finally do its damage and reduce the industry back to a manageable size. But I have to note that the art I see coming out is horrible. X-Men looks like a fringe indie comic by some kid just starting out or some hack who thinks he can draw. Re-hashed ideas just piling up and flooding the market with garbage. I look longingly back at writers like Chris Claremont who I kind of hated for being so dang deep and heart-wrenching. And so the fertile concepts grown over 80 years are now being farmed slash-and-burn style. The film industry has lost its way in the same manner. It bites at its own back for fleas they can remake. Meanwhile the indie market has been bought and packaged by the studios as tiny versions of themselves and no one is taking risks anymore. Forgotten are the out-of-no-where/never-going-to-work films that grew their companies into massive corporations. STUDIO: 'We have to make another Spider-man film right now or our profits will shrink by billions. Just make these 1000 script changes to expand the audience appeal, add this pop star and this other villain (our metrics show kids like this one) and get shooting.' RAIMI: 'Eff you.' Bravo Sam.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Emails #58: Schedules - More Important Than Content

Note from the editors: Don't worry folks, there is more blog goodness to come! There are 15 posts (oh my!) to follow. Stay tuned!



The Avengers will get made. People, even those with blocks of ice for heads will understand that Cap is part of the Avengers team. The title is clunky and not very catchy. Maybe I will be just blown away by the Cap movie. Maybe my socks will actually come off. I kinda doubt it though. The technology exists to create just about anything for the movies, fully rendered and realistic if need be. This technology has developed rapidly in the last thirty years and the crunching power of computers to do the hard work of making special effects, backgrounds and composites and now actual characters has leap-frogged. The sophisticated matte shots thought up by George Lucas for the original Star Wars are kid's stuff compared to what the camera and computer can do now. I mention this obvious point to bring up the fact that it is good old fashioned storytelling that makes a movie great, not effects. The writing, the performances, the sound, the music, the direction, the editing... Labor intensive human efforts and collaborative at that. A tremendous amount goes into making a big budget film these days and it seems a shame that scripts get rushed through, too many hands are on the page marking it up, schedules are more important than content. Release dates are announced ahead of scripts or casting or even choice of director.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Emails #57: Two-Fisted Justice

RICK: My Captain America feels the losses. He also knows that ending the war quickly is the only way to save lives. He looks over his shoulder at the men who have fallen and it only galvanizes his efforts. Should have copied the interview link but it is since lost. How would World War II have been different if America had gotten involved in 1934? Or 1936? Or 1938? Part of the reason for this isolationist policy was the horrors of WWI. This was Europe's war. The land struggles and ethnic rivalries were European. America was not yet a super power either. It is a sign of the nation's moral softness that we did not intervene earlier. Think of the lesson we did not learn in Rwanda. Evil must always be made to face the righteous fury of those who stand against it. We came to the aid of France, Britain and Russia when they were on the mat NOT because we opposed evil, a European evil so far away. Captain America was dreamed up by Kirby and Simon BEFORE America entered the war. They understood this evil and they had Cap fighting Hitler and Tojo before Pearl Harbor. In their comic, Cap is a hero, a full blown patriot. There were no excuses for him being American. He doled out two-fisted justice where it was needed. This was not some impassioned plea by two Jewish kids for America to sit on the sidelines and wait it out. Simon and Kirby saw America as being in the thick of it, leading by example.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Emails #56: Unmistakably, Unrelentingly American

RICK: I just finished reading a series of comments that the Cap director Joe Johnston made regarding Cap. I suppose it is to be expected. Shooting has already begun and the script vetted by everyone who was going to get their hands on it. It was disheartening because his view of Cap as much more "international" in range. This kind of revisionist, liberal crap is what turns people off.Cap as a character, as envisioned by Simon & Kirby, was a direct response to the hideous evil that was unleashed in Germany, Japan and Italy during WWII and America's need to step in and combat tyranny. The struggle to create a super soldier has by necessity been a long one covering many years and guided by many hands—all with the express purpose of giving the United States of America a secret weapon during war time. Steve Rogers becomes Captain America (Not Captain Ally or Captain United Nations) and is able to give hope to our troops in the darkest of fights. This is the real strength of Cap and not his fighting prowess. In the field, he can do very little except act as a human symbol to remind the other soldiers why they fight and what they fight for. The ideals of liberty, freedom, might and compassion. Victory in WWII was not assured just because the Americans got involved. England was taking a pounding and many other countries had already been overrun. Germany had also been racing to develop its own super soldier...

Monday, June 13, 2011

Emails #55: Strength To Inspire

Okay. This is sorta what I am aiming for. Not exactly. Mostly I am looking for a large variety of different ways to tell the Cap narrative and also give the human angle; the impact, the emotion, the changes that Cap made to people during the war. His strength to inspire will go from the lowest Joe to the highest general, from the peasants and partisans to the Nazi soldier in the trenches and the folks back home. If that means:

  • An eighty-two year old recounting events.
  • A letter home.
  • Flipping back and forth in time to get different perspectives.
  • A radio broadcast.
  • A news reel.
  • A newspaper headline.

You get the idea. I want to be able to capture the feeling that Cap is inspiring millions during the black days of war. I want to be able to do that by being able to flit through other people's experiences.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Emails #54: Most Of These Men Won't Make It

SUPER: D-Day - Normandy, France

I want you to speak to the troops son.

I've never given a speech before.

Odds are that most of these men won't make it. For those that do,
I want you to remind them why they are here. Just tell them what you told me
last night. I have a feeling you'll be a natural.

I'll give it my best, Captain.

These men are counting on you...

Captain M. L. Phelps, Ret.
Captain America and a World at War
Documentary Interview

Weather and enemy guns had turned the parachute drops into a massacre. We found ourselves huddled in a farmhouse wine cellar behind the lines in France. We were rattled awake by the thunder of German tanks and the parade of infantry boots streaming by on the narrow road outside. We had found ourselves pinned down and ferociously outnumbered. It was only a matter of time before our location was scouted for supplies. We waited in silence for the enemy to find us. Each of us in that small group knew that every breath could be our last. Abruptly we heard the sound of doors being kicked in upstairs and glass breaking. This was it. We all lost hope that we would make it out alive...

Thursday, June 9, 2011

X-MEN: FIRST CLASS Movie Review Double Shot

We interrupt this broadcast to bring you another super-powered double feature of two fresh movie reviews! We'll return to you to our regularly scheduled 'Emails' series (every Mon, Wed and Fri!) program tomorrow. Please enjoy!

SPOILERS! DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER! TURN BACK! (unless you've seen the film)

Review of X-Men: First Class by Rick

This is an odd review for me to write. It is odd in that X-Men was one of my favorite comics when I was collecting and like a lot of people I have a strong fondness for the characters. It is hard for me to watch what the comics have become. Oversold. Over hyped. In many cases the artwork is just about as much gibberish as the stories. Characters sprout up at an alarming rate and the mutant abilities they posses are so outlandish as to be comedic punch lines. In many ways the "success" of X-Men as a tent pole franchise for Marvel is what has destroyed its uniqueness. While this is not to sweepingly condemn art and story in all the X titles, coherent work is drowned out by the incoherent. This trend has continued with the X-Men films. Without much surprise, the first X-Men film was the best of the lot.

If you want to have a quick read about the high pressure/high stakes of film making take a look at the wiki for X-Men (film).

It has the typical trajectory of many movies during the development process where rafts of scripts are written and characters are included, excluded and blended together for budgetary and other reasons. For me this is an important consideration. While the wiki I have linked to discusses the original X-Men film, the behind the scenes twists and turns of making a big movie are pretty standard. Big budgets and egos are involved as well as contracts, overall film schedules and casting. It is sort of a fascinating area of study that makes you wonder how and why movies get made at all! I include this here to give context to any discussion about the finished product.

As a movie goer, I often rate movie titles for there appropriateness and impact. This title, X-Men: First Class, is bad I feel for a whole variety of reasons. The first class that they speak of is not the first class from the original comics or the team from the Uncanny X-Men. The inclusion of young characters to populate the school includes: Mystique, Angel (the Tinkerbell girl), Beast, Banshee, Darwin and Havok. Am I forgetting anyone? It is hard tell. "code names" are given by the Mystique character for flimsy reasons to the rest of the group. Perhaps the First Class has something to do with high quality? No. My third guess is about airline seating and a fourth guess is postal mailing. We could see sequel titles like: X-Men: Handle With Care; X-Men: This Side Up; X-Men: Xpress Delivery... You get the idea. If they are talking about the first group of mutants to be at the Xavier mansion, great. Except this movie has very little to do with that. The students have almost no bearing on the main plot which involves Magneto taking revenge. They are barely involved in the climax of the film and have nothing to do but provide dorky training sequences and some forgettable dialogue toward the secondary plot. So why is the movie named for them?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Emails #53: ODIN IS A GOD

RICK: I like it and also dislike [Cap's costume for the film as seen on AICN]. Could they at least paint the FTD florist wings on the side of his head? Except for the boots, he doesn't look like he has on any materials which existed during the time period. The harness he is wearing looks good but is totally impractical. This is a good first effort. Unfortunately, it probably won't be revisited. Note the shoulder gear that makes his chest seem bigger and width wider. Get rid of the distracting patches on the leggings. Yuck. Also, GUN!!!! This is a fight to the death.

BEN: Ack! I forgot it was supposed to be WWII era. You're totally right. I didn't mind it so much, but in that context it makes no sense at all. An interesting design, but like you said, not much thought went into it. My first reaction was "What are the buckles for? So he can be grabbed and tossed around?" because they serve no function at all. Brown instead of red gloves/boots I wasn't really a fan of. They keep putting the stars on his shoulders and a Bat-Utility belt. Not sure what that's about. I don't think the belt and glove buckles existed yet. Looks like a football player. I seriously doubt he's going to have the flexibility to raise his arms like that in the top image. It's also interesting that the stars (all) are small and lines try to make him broad, but then his utility belt has pouches big enough to store a Big Mac and large fry each. Pouches as big as his face and fist make him look as tiny as he really is. These are of course concepts, but if they don't modify, he'll look like a child in a costume.

Mmmmmmmmmmm... Big Mac and fries. Maybe Cap can have the golden arches design instead...

The straps on Cap's chest are supposed to be the RED in his red white and blue costume. Maybe a parachute harness? Or perhaps he needs the straps to hold his powerful torso down so it can be glued to the rest of his body... Cap is already sporting the familiar round shield (don't they ever listen?) What was wrong with the original Kirby Cap design? If it is an icon, why change it? Hey, lets make the Coke logo unrecognizable because, you know, modern audiences won't get it until we tinker so much that you can't see the original design...

Monday, June 6, 2011

Emails #52: INCREDIBLE HULK - On The Rampage

RICK: Hulk. Ang Lee Hulk not Stan Lee Hulk. The same questions need to be asked of the Hulk as are asked of Captain America. What is the essence of the character? What is the major conflict? Villains are just icing. I don't blame Ang Lee for making a "Daddy was bad to me" movie. Not understanding the comics, he is trying to tell the story in a way that he understands. Psychology. It fails on so many levels that it is hard to point to one thing as the master stroke.

You must have heard people use the expression, or even use it yourself, "I was not myself." THIS is the Hulk. We are talking about a man who is so bottled up and repressed that he is almost passionless and these emotions live as a distinctly separate identity who channels all the rage, the lust, the greed, the envy. An accident produces very unexpected results, releasing the Hulk from his cage of Banner. Each wants to be totally free of the other. There is no Liv Tyler girlfriend. Banner would never have the courage to talk with her and would leave the room if she entered. The Eric Bana and Ed Norton Banners are both too strong willed. Banner is weak, cowardly, sniveling, he whispers and maybe even stutters. He is book smart and otherwise unworldly, unsophisticated. Hulk on the other hand is all his passion. His rage is not necessarily against his father as in the Ang Lee version. Nope. This guy's rage is against his domineering mother who belittled him, scolded him, emasculated him and taught him to keep his emotions inside. No crying. No speaking. Do as momma says.

Jeckel and Hyde. Two personalities. One body. The accident allows both to be expressed but not at the same time.

Years of psychotherapy and all the King's horses and men can not put Banner/Hulk back together again. Sorry Ang. And as to there being a quiet side to the Hulk, absolutely NOT. There is no such thing. Banner IS the calmer side. Hulk is only passion. The minute you show the green behemoth acting all soft you have violated his character. In Ed Norton's Hulk, he has a pretty moment with a girl, you know, aside from yelling at the thunder. Never happen. Hulk is a toddler filled to overflowing with rage and he will fight like a berserker until exhausted. That is the Hulk. You could never put him for a second into a team of super people. No way.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Emails #51: I AM IRON MAN


The Iron Man material you are about to read actually predates our discussions about Captain America and may have been responsible for kicking off the whole thing. It is included here along with posts #52 & #53 which discuss Thor and Hulk for the obvious reason that they are part of the original Avengers line up. Sadly, no Ant Man exchanges were ever made so the line up just includes The Dream Team.

Please note that the rigor of examining character for film takes these classic stars in different directions than maybe you are used to seeing. I had actually opened up a separate document for the Hulk at one time because I thought it would be great to explore the dramatic Hulk/Banner Jekyll/Hyde relationship further. If you follow certain logical thinking, the path you can take with the characters will be vastly different than what you have come to expect. So, #51 Iron Man followed by Thor and Hulk along with Captain America comprise the heart of the Avengers team as conceived by Stan and Jack for Marvel.

These original messages featuring Iron Man were written on Tue, 23 Jan 2007.

(This exchange starts after Ben sends a link for the Live Free or Die Hard and Iron Man movies.)

Subject: Re: At the movies...
From: Rick Arthur
To: Ben Alpi

Isn't that the dude from Moonlighting? What is he doing in the Iron Man movie?

Tony Stark is...
Stark Raving Mad!
Stark Raving Exciting!
Stark Raving Sexy!


PS Watched Silver Lining. NNNNNNNNIIIIIIIIICCCCCCEEEE. Real Nice. Great little character piece.
Coming SOOON to a bus stop near you...
Thought the special effects were well done. Good acting.
Okay now I need 2 more hours worth and we have a feature.
Good job Ben.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Emails #50: Jean Reno - A Magician's Trick

RICK: Ben, thanks for the conversation. That ten minutes sure seems to fly right by... I was happy to discuss the overuse of special effects as a crutch in storytelling. Repeating any trick fifty times in a movie will make the audience not care. Look at a scene from Mission Impossible. You know the one. Tom Cruise is hanging from a wire. Jean Reno is holding the cable. It is like a magician's trick. Show all the details of an impossible situation and let the audience see that it is impossible. Next, find a way to put your characters in that situation. Up the stakes by having things go wrong. Rat appears. Sweat. Add in a tight time frame. Mix. Stir. Enjoy. This scene is so much more suspenseful (which is the intent) than the helicopter vs. train nonsense at the climax of the film. The helicopter sequence is much more visually intricate and stimulating than suspending Tom Cruise from a wire. But tell me which one feels like the characters are in real danger? Which scene conveys a sense of risk and consequence? Now combine the two. Put Tom Cruise, suspended from a helicopter trying to get inside a room inside a train. Now you have a masterpiece. I am sure Hitchcock would have disdained all the ILM trickery and explosions if he had access to them. He wanted to get inside people's heads and he did. Although the man loved cameras.

Cap is hanging by a wire. Jean Reno is from the French Resistance and he is holding the cable...

BEN: Subtext: Bird on a wire. Hehe.

Very interesting points. I think movies have become like video games and the action movies they were modeled after. Start out weak, get to the end of the level and beat the weak boss. Gain experience and power ups, beat bigger boss... repeat until the end where you fight with massive powers against an uber-boss. Most of the time, the last boss fight is kind of a joke. All flash and no substance. With movies, the climax seems to require some huge stunt instead of real tension. The end of Hulk is a kind of abstract fight that you don't really understand against Bruce's father who really doesn't have the motivation to be a such a jerk face. Why wasn't his dad a drinking asshole who beat him? What does his dad return instead of another villain who represents his dad? The tragedy in the comic seems to be it was his dad that Bruce never got to make pay. No matter how smart he was or how powerful, he'd never be able to get back at his dad. Anyhoo... :-)