Congress is at it again.

April Fool’s Day is a time honored tradition, and the advent of the world-wide-web has blossomed this mischievous day into a cornucopia of fake articles, phony products, too-good-to-be-true coupons, and good old fashioned pranks. But its all in good fun, right?

Congress doesn’t think so. Apparently over the past few years, April Fool’s jokes have been getting out of hand.

Ever seen a fake advertisement for $10 iPods, or $25 Kindles? 3D iPads? – I’ve used them to trick naive roommates, but apparently fake ads like these can have a significant impact on web revenue. Major online stores like Wal-Mart, Amazon, and Apple.com have all reported a 40-70% drop in online sales on April 1st. They claim that false-advertising leads gullible customers into attempting to order products that do not exist or trying to us invalid coupons. This results in huge customer dissatisfaction (which totally swamps those poor customer service guys in India) and customers simply refusing to purchase anything online on April 1st. Apparently, the catch-phrase “Happy Don’t-Trust-the-Internet Day!” doesn’t exactly help the online market.

That sounded like a stretch to me, but then I remembered all the crazy products I’ve seen on the internet.

There’s a long history of websites like ThinkGeek.com making up bogus products for April Fool’s. One of my favorites was the Star Wars Tauntaun sleeping bag, which became so popular that they made the product for real.

You'd think I was making this up.

There’s something charming about a good April Fool’s joke like this. You get a good laugh, a warm feeling of nostalgia because Star Wars is awesome, and admit it, who wouldn’t want a Tauntaun sleeping-bag as a kid? And then the website responds to fan-demands and decides to make the product for real?! – With all this heart, I’m surprised this hasn’t been made into a Lifetime movie yet.

But other products haven’t been so innocent.

"The Other White Meat" - Remember this?

On April 1st, 2010, ThinkGeek.com posted a fake product for sale, “Canned Unicorn Meat: The New White Meat” (See their original post, here.) The ad boasted “No foolin’ – Unicorn meat is real!” and a comical history of old Unicorns who are killed and canned in Ireland. Customers who actually purchased the product got an authentic can (pictured above) and a stuffed unicorn (dismembered, of course). The post is CLEARLY a joke made for sheer entertainment value. But the catchphrase “The New White Meat” got them in trouble with a certain Pork company who was already using a similar slogan “PORK: THE OTHER WHITE MEAT.”

A month later, ThinkGeek, Inc. received a 12-page CEASE AND DESIST from Faegre & Benson, claiming that the canned Unicorn was infringing on their copyrights. You can read all about it here, and here. The idea that this was all a joke was completely lost on them. Happy “Don’t Trust The Internet” Day, indeed.

This isn’t the only example of April Fool’s Jokes going awry due to legal issues, and many have been taken down due to similar cease and desist letters. Couple these examples with the massive blow online stores (like Amazon) take every April 1st, and there was bound to be trouble.

Enter, the Government.

Action to Eradicate and Stop Online Parodies.
"To promote prosperity, creativity, entrepreneurship, and innovation by combating the defamation of free enterprise, and for other purposes." —H.R. 3728

From the folks who brought you SOPA/PIPA, meet AESOP (Action to Eradicate and Stop Online Parodies). But unlike the wise and ancient storyteller, AESOP seems to miss the point entirely. This new bill on the block will allow companies to sue internet pranksters for infringing on their copyrighted material. – Doesn’t sound too bad at first glance, but think about that for a minute. What happens to a world when parody is no longer safe? Isn’t parody essential to our comprehension of pop-culture, politics, and the free-market? And what would the legal limits be? Could a parody about e-books be sued by Amazon because it was clearly referencing the Kindle? What if I wrote a moralistic fable exposing the evils of mega corporations, could I be sued by Wal-Mart? Or Apple?

Similar to SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act), the real danger is in AESOP’s use of vague language. Writers who were previously protected under parody-laws could soon be at the mercy of billion-dollar corporations who’ve been nursing grudges for years. AESOP would allow any business to sue for causing “harm to online or store revenue” and/or “damage to public integrity through unwarranted traducement.” In plain English: ‘If we think your joke hurt our income or made us look bad, we’re coming for you.’
I’m not against Wal-Mart taking down some frat-boys who Photoshopped a coupon for $25 HDTV’s and handed them out in the University cafeteria (true story). But chasing down April Fool’s pranksters for perceived damage to their store’s income or reputation is ridiculous. Maybe people are simply too busy reading all the funny April Fool’s jokes to go out and buy a new iPad. Have you thought of that, Wal-Mart?

And what about television? – Could South Park, The Simpson’s, Saturday Night Live, and any number of parody-fueled shows be taken to court?
Movie producers often comment about how frustrating April 1st is to the film industry. If audiences hear about a (fake) movie that they really want to see, they’re less likely to spend money on real movies that are currently in theaters. Could a crappy movie like Mirror, Mirror or Wrath of the Titans blame its low box office numbers on April Fool’s posts promising Halo:The Movie and Inception 2?

"No-one saw our movie? It must be those cursed April Fool's Day pranks!"

In all seriousness, AESOP is clearly unconstitutional, if not morally reprehensible. I can’t imagine a world without the free speech of internet jokes and parody. Undoubtedly, this will be met with an incredible amount of opposition. But with the resources Wal-Mart, Amazon, Apple, etc. have to put behind this? … I’m not going to hold my breath. Finally, I find it ironic that Congress chose the name “Aesop”. Is it an intentional reference to the witty and moral Aesop’s Fables? Intentional or not, the whole thing makes me sick to my stomach. One day I’m writing a joke about George Lucas, and the next I’m just trying not to drop the soap? – Yikes.

So, be careful, April Fool’s pranksters. Your days are numbered.

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Remember When…

November 14, 2011

Star Wars, while ever present in the back our generation’s collective social-cultural mind, seems to be showing up even more frequently of late. This is primarily because of the recent release of the entire “saga” on Blu-ray. Now whether you’re thrilled or disappointed once again that it doesn’t include an unadulterated original trilogy, at least we can all agree that…well, Star Wars is awesome. Think back to the first time you saw it, if you can remember; I was pretty young and I don’t, but my grandpa remembers seeing it in the theater. He says he remembers, after the film was over, just sitting there and thinking to himself, “That was the greatest thing I’ve ever seen.” I asked him what he thought when he saw that one scene, you know, the scene of Empire Strikes Back, the biggest reveal in all of cinema history (sorry Mr. Welles). My grandpa said he saw it coming.

Luke vs. Luke!

Remember the cave scene, yeah, big hint there. But for those of us who were a lot younger it took us totally by surprise. The most sinister villain we’d ever seen, the father of our greatest hero. So I leave you with this gem, a dad managed to capture, on camera, his kids’ reaction to that fateful scene:

The internet is buzzing with talk about George Lucas rebooting Star Wars. Apparently Lucas wanted to wait until the project was underway to announce this news, but decided to take a few questions on the process! The entire interview from LucasFilm is posted below. (link to the original article).

LF: George, there’s been rumors flying everywhere.

Lucas: You’re telling me. (laughs)

LF: We’ve heard about remaking the Original Trilogy in 3D, giving direction to Zack Snyder… and now you yourself are saying you want to “reboot” the prequel trilogy? What’s going on here?

Lucas: I never used the word “reboot” with Star Wars. I hate the word. I think “reboot” has been so overused it’s now meaningless. As for all the rumors, I think what we’re seeing is that people are ready for the next thing from Star Wars.

LF: But there’s been videogames, books, a Clone Wars tv series…

Lucas: Oh, of course. There’s been kids stuff since the very beginning. Action figures, comic books… I’m talking about the essence of Star Wars. The films.

LF: You said you were never happy with how the prequel trilogy turned out. Is your disappointment driving your decision to reboot Episodes I-III?

Lucas: It’s not a reboot, because that would mean I’d have to alter the original trilogy. I’ve considered doing that, but then I think “where am I going to find another Harrison Ford?” (laughs) But yes, I was very disappointed. I’ve always had a vision for how I wanted Star Wars to look. My biggest struggle has been with technology, getting the look and the feel exactly right. And that’s why I didn’t want to start making the prequels in the 90’s. I knew the cgi wasn’t advanced to the point where I could do what I really wanted with it. Now that I’ve seen some of the things Peter Jackson and James Cameron have been doing, I think we’re finally ready.

LF: You’ve made a couple comments recently about The Phantom Menace being “rushed”. Can you tell us about that?

Lucas: I won’t name names… but certain people said we had to push Star Wars before the year 2000. They thought this new generation wouldn’t be able to appreciate the Original Trilogy because it was too dated. It was now or never. And they wanted a script.

LF: So what did you do?

Lucas: I decided to throw them a bone, send them my basic plotline but convince them we had to wait. I had ideas of course. I wanted Anakin Skywalker on Tatooine, a young Obi-Wan in Jedi training, a droid army, and of course I had some idea of what I wanted Darth Maul to be. I put these pieces in a script, then added bunch of fluff to make the project unfilmable. I was hoping the team would be so discouraged that they’d give up for a few years.

LF: You intentionally sabotaged the project with your script?

Lucas: Unfortunately, yes.

LF: What did you write in to make the project unfilmable?

Lucas: Oh… most of it made it to the screen, actually. Jar Jar Binks, Anakin building C3PO, all that nonsense.

LF: George, Star Wars is your baby. How did you let this happen?

Lucas: I’d rather not talk about that part of it. Basically, I sent them a script while I was working on other projects. Then I got a call from them a year later and they were already in pre-production and past the point of no return.

LF: With or without the ‘nonsense’, as you said?

Lucas: Again, not naming names… but certain people loved Jar Jar and a young Anakin. They went on and on about merchandising, talking about action figures and coloring books, calling me a genius for grabbing the attention of a new generation.

LF: Then what?

Lucas: I gave in. I made the films. And I regret that to this day.

LF: You regret making the prequel trilogy? All of it?

Lucas: I have regrets about certain choices that were made and the final product. When I made the original trilogy, there were problems that could be fixed with cgi and editing later on; I did that with the Special Edition release. It’s not that simple with Episode I-III. There are things I hate about it and the only way to fix that is to remake the entire prequel trilogy.

LF: What kind of things are you changing when you remake Episodes I-III?

Lucas: Darth Vader. I can’t be more adamant about that. Anakin’s journey is central to Star Wars and that needs to be consistent from the first time we see Anakin as a teenager to when we see his funeral pyre in Return of the Jedi.

LF: You won’t show Anakin as a child?

Lucas: No. And he won’t be building C-3PO this time, either. (laughs) I want to debut Anakin as a teenager, the way I did with Luke. I was never happy with Jake Lloyd or Hayden Christensen. I’ll be picking a more mature actor this time, someone who can give us the complexity we need to see from Anakin but still look young enough to play him in all three films.

LF: Do you have an actor in mind?

Lucas: No one is hired yet. But I have a dream cast in mind, yes.

LF: Can you tell us who…

Lucas: No, not yet at least. Check back with me in September. (laughs)

LF: What else are you going to change significantly?

Lucas: There are a lot of things I want to change. Like the midi-chlorian explanation of the Force, I hated that.

LF: How’d that get in the script if you hated the idea?

Lucas: People thought that giving the Force a more… logical explanation would give our science fiction credibility. Make it scientifically accurate and all that. But equating the Force to microscopic bacteria really dissolved the foundation of everything Star Wars is about, the Light Side and the Dark Side. I didn’t realize until the third film how damaging that one line about midi-chlorians from Liam Neeson was going to be to the entire franchise.

LF: How different will these remakes feel when compared to the prequel trilogy we’ve already seen?

Lucas: These films are going to be completely different; they won’t feel like a typical remake at all.

LF: How different?

Lucas: I don’t want to give anything away, but if you go in expecting to see a 15 year old Padme ruling an entire planet, you’re going to be disappointed. (laughs)

Rambo Vs. Predator: Who will win?

With all the Predator hype surrounding the new Predators movie, I got thinking about our favorite jungle hunter. It wasn’t too long before I was having fond memories of the Rambo franchise, and began fantasizing about a showdown between the two characters.

Rambo and Predator. Both are skilled hunters and combatants. Both use the terrain to disappear and wait for the perfect moment to strike. And most importantly, both are capable of dispatching entire units of heavily armed soldiers. But if it came down to a showdown between the two, who has the winning edge? Combat vet or alien from outer space?

Rambo:

-Green Beret and Vietnam War Veteran.
-Skilled in survival, hand to hand combat, and guerrilla warfare.
-Trained to live off the land, feel no pain, and never surrender
-Suffers post-traumatic stress disorder from being a POW in Vietnam.
-Able to make lethal booby traps from natural terrain.
-What you call hell, he calls home.

Arsenal:
-Compact bow with explosive tips
-The knife
– 75% chance Rambo will find some sort of mounted heavy machine gun and carry it with one arm

Favorite move:
Giving a stirring one-liner and then firing a machine gun in all directions while yelling “AAAAAAAARRRGGGHHHH!”

Predator:

-Alien who dedicates his life to the hunt.
-Possesses strength and fortitude far beyond human level.
-Proficient in hunting humans and other species, studying its prey for up to several days before killing.
-Has never lived survived a movie and was once defeated by Danny Glover. (Hey, lets be honest).

Arsenal:
-Active Camouflage which makes him essentially invisible, but short circuits in water
-Thermal imaging eyesight
-A shoulder mounted energy weapon (Plasma Caster)
-Telescopic Spear
-Various laser nets, shuriken, and a boomerang like razor-disc
-Wrist blades
-Self destruct device (used as a last resort).

Favorite move: Removing his face mask, roaring, finishing his prey’s sentence with an electronic translator, and then ripping the skull and spinal column right from their body.

Let the battle begin!

A number of Green Lantern photos have been buzzing around the internet recently, despite its planned release of June 17th, 2011. With only one Superhero movie released this summer (Iron Man 2), we’re hungry for what’s coming next year.

I have been pretty skeptical of the choice to cast Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan, the most iconic Green Lantern. Reynolds just isn’t serious enough in my opinion, (maybe that’s because I just watched The Proposal). The idea of giving Ryan Reynolds the most powerful weapon in the galaxy, a ring that will project whatever comes to mind, does not sound like a good combination. … I hope I’m wrong, but I won’t hold my breath. (This is over a year away, after all).

This news and conjecture  is not nearly enough to warrant a post. But this fan made trailer is. This Green Lantern fan thought Nathan Fillion was better suited for Hal Jordan (I agree), and made one of the most impressive fan trailers I have ever seen. This could very well be better than the movie.

-Warning: The actual video in discussion is quite dark and gritty and is not recommended for young eyes. If you choose to watch it, be aware that there’s some violence and blood, and one morgue scene briefly pans over a female cadaver. Not for the faint of heart.-

This 8-minute live-action clip hit the internet like a freight train last week. Mortal Kombat fans couldn’t decide what to do with it. Was this a ridiculously violent and gritty trailer for an upcoming videogame reboot? – Most seemed to think so. Until Jeri Ryan of Star Trek: Voyager fame wrote this on her Twitter account.

Okay, so… Mortal Kombat. It’s not a game trailer. Actually was made for the director to sell WB on his vision for a reimagined MK film, I did it as a favor to a friend. No idea yet what WB’s reaction to it was. And I’m not sure how you can contact WB to push them to make it. But you guys are resourceful…! 😉

Though I’ve never been a tremendous fan of the games, I’m definitely a fan of a Mortal Kombat movie with this style. The 90’s tried the campy approach and that was fun in its own way. Bring on the Sin City version of Mortal Kombat, I’m all for it. I like the possibility of casting Jeri Ryan as Sonya, she displayed quite a bit of martial arts competence as Seven-of-Nine in Voyager. The only thing I’m unsure of is making Scorpion the main character. Can he really carry the film? Or will the dialog be peppered with “Get over here!”

I was browsing through the Graphic Novel section at Borders last week, and couldn’t help but notice a solid black hardcover with the yellow print Kick-Ass on the side.  I’d seen the trailers for the film version, heard about the comic, but never seen it in stores before.   After weighing my options between Wanted, Kick-Ass, and adding another Batman comic to my already Batman dominated bookshelf, I just had to see what Kick-Ass was all about.  Written by Mark Millar (Wanted, Civil War) and Penciled by John Romita Jr. (Amazing Spider-Man, and anything Marvel), Kick-Ass delivers humor, excitement, profanity, and buckets of blood.  Everything you’d expect from the title, huh?  I’ve seen the movie Wanted (never read it), but noticed some similarities in the story and writing style.

(If you’ve seen the movie trailer, then I won’t be giving anything away in this plot synopsis.)
Kick-Ass
features a pathetically normal teenage boy who’s bored to death with his pathetically normal life.  Dave Lizewski lives with his single dad, crushes on his biology teacher, fakes being gay in order to hang out with the class hottie, and comic-books are his only source of inspiration.  But one day he’s just lonely enough to do something about it: he makes himself a superhero costume.  And gets his butt kicked.  Repeatedly.  The ironic thing is the superhero Kick-Ass seems to do just the opposite of his name.  He doesn’t have any powers, he isn’t a skilled combatant, he isn’t good at anything, he’s just a kid with a heart big enough to put on a mask and do some good.  Fortunately for him, one of his successful endeavors is witnessed, videotaped, and ends up on YouTube.  Quickly turning into a cultural phenomenon, Kick-Ass becomes the very first superhero with his own MySpace page.  Trying to live up to his ideals, the young vigilante ends up with more than he can handle.  His endeavors cause several new masked heroes to follow in his footsteps.  Where Kick-Ass draws the line at, well, kicking ass, Hit-Girl and Big Daddy begin systematically executing the mob.  In way over his head, teenage Dave Lizewski has to simply survive in the world he created.

Since I’d seen the movie trailers, I felt like Kick-Ass didn’t pack the same effect it could have.  A great deal of its excitement and intrigue comes from the appearance of other masked vigilantes.  Hit-Girl and Red Mist’s appearance could have been a great surprise, but I expected it.  It was still enjoyable, but I wasn’t really surprised by much until the final act (the part not covered in the trailer).  Yeah, yeah, perhaps I’m being a troll, but I just like being SURPRISED okay?  I purposefully avoided all the Watchmen trailers before I had finished reading the graphic novel, and will continue to do the same whenever possible.  It doesn’t help that in the past few years trailers have been insistent on literally outlining the first two acts of the plot (Hancock being a good example).  I did really enjoy Kick-Ass, but I think I would have liked it more not knowing where it was headed.

Kick-Ass is nicely set in modern times, featuring references to YouTube, MySpace, the TV show Heroes, and plenty of fanboy jokes.  Mark Millar sure knows his superheroes, mentioning everyone from Batman to Green Goblin.  We get Hit-Girl using a famous battle cry from The Fantastic Four and Red Mist patrolling in his Mustang while listening to Danny Elfman.  Kick-Ass isn’t just for fanboys, it’s written by one too.  The artwork is fantastic.  Since John Romita Jr. did so much work with Amazing Spider-Man, his style suits the “Peter Parker fanboy” feel extremely well.

I’d love to tell you that Kick-Ass is a great story about a goodhearted fanboy who lives out his dream by putting on a mask.  Well, okay, maybe I could tell you that.  What I couldn’t tell you is that Kick-Ass is a clean, heartwarming, fun for the whole family “with great power comes great responsibility” type thing, cause it’s totally not.  Kick-Ass is brutal.  The profanity is frequent, the dialog perverse, the violence frequent, and the gore in buckets.  The dialog captures how teenagers (and the mob) really talk, peppering their conversations with frequent f-bombs and colorful metaphors.  I’m used to action and violence in my graphic novels, but Kick-Ass takes it to a whole new level with decapitations, broken body parts, disembowelment’s, and the cliché “brains blown out”.  Gore is all over the fight scenes.  But this is the point; Kick-Ass doesn’t hold anything back.  It’s visceral.

I enjoyed Kick-Ass, I really did.  I liked the story of an ordinary kid who puts on a mask and tries to do some good.  I liked how his adventures develop from stopping graffiti artists to a head on collision with the mob.  The character development is captivating and the setting unique.  But its adult content is just not my cup of tea.  I don’t mind the blood and violence of a superhero plot like The Dark Knight Returns, but the frequent f-words, occasional nudity, and several over-the-top-gory deaths went beyond what I wanted.  Sure, somebody can get executed by a bullet to the brain, but do we need to see a closeup of it happening?  There’s just too much mature content for me to recommend Kick-Ass to the average comic book fan.

What to expect from the Movie:

Despite my complaints about spoilers earlier, Kick-Ass does have a pretty sweet trailer.

Drawing upon my experience with the movie Wanted, Kick-Ass is another staple of Mark Millar.  He sets up a pathetically normal guy who is just so bored with life that he’s ready to do something legendarily stupid.  Like join a league of assassins, or here, putting on a superhero mask.  The dialog is profane and the violence is stylized with lots of blood, but there’s a unique quality about it.  It follows this ordinary kid into a world where he tries to make a difference.  There’s enough realism to keep you thinking “hey, that could be me”, but enough style to hold you in awe.  His writing and pacing are all very good, and it looks like Kick-Ass will make the transfer from comic book to silver screen very well.

The movie is directed by Matthew Vaughn (Director: Stardust. Producer: Snatch), who is relatively new to directing but after Stardust I think he’s got the charm to pull off Kick-Ass. There’s a whole list of writers here, but with Mark Millar on the team, I’m sure the script is good.  In fact, the movie rights to Kick-Ass were sold before the first issue was even published.  Looks like Mark Millar knew this was going to be film-worthy.
Though mostly unfamiliar, the cast looks like a riot.  This could be the first movie where fanboys actually like Nicolas Cage as a superhero.  Aaron Johnson has the perfect voice for Dave (Kick Ass) Lizewski, and Chloe Moretz appears absolutely vicious as HitGirl.  Christopher Mintz-Plasse (McLovin) is a fantastic choice for Red-Mist.  I’m very pleased with the casting here.

With McLovin in the cast, it’s no surprise that the movie trailers have people thinking Kick-Ass is just Superbad with masks.  Or maybe whoever made Mystery Men saw The Watchmen and got an idea for a comedy.  This is definitely not the case, and it sure ain’t Superbad OR Mystery Men. If you’re considering seeing Kick-Ass, I highly recommend watching the Red Band trailers first.  There is a level of profanity and violence to Kick-Ass that you don’t get to see in the regular trailers.  Due to the R-rated content, I won’t post a link to the Redband trailer here.  Oh come on, you’re gonna get mad at me because I didn’t post a link?  Are you really so lazy that you can’t just type “Kick-Ass Red Band Trailer” into a google search?  Okay, kidding aside, the two Red Band trailers give you a much better idea of what the movie is going to be like.  And from what I see in the trailer, it looks like the violence has been taken up a notch from the graphic novel but the excessive blood removed.

To sum it up: Kick-Ass isn’t for the faint hearted in either its book and movie form.  It’s humorous and gritty and shameless fanboy birthday cake.  I’m expecting to walk out of Kick-Ass feeling thoroughly entertained but possibly like my brain needs a moist towelette.