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DAILY BULLETIN: Y: The Last Man finally getting made, trailer for Jackie Robinson biopic 42

y-the-last-manOne last Daily Bulletin for the week. I missed more bulletins than I wanted to in the last five days, but so it goes… Just have to try harder/sleep less in future I guess.

I only have a couple of items for this bulletin. I had several things set aside to discuss, but it turns out I had a lot to say about the first two on the list. So I’ll save the rest for later.

First up, I want to talk about Y: The Last Man a little bit. Long story short, it’s being made into a movie.

But let’s back up a second. For those who don’t know, this is a comic book series about an escape artist named Yorick and his monkey Ampersand. Due to a mysterious plague, all male mammals on earth have died, save for Yorick and Ampersand. The series (which ran 60 issues from 2002 to 2008) charts their adventures in a female-dominated world as Yorick sets off to find his girlfriend, who was in Australia when the plague hit.

The saga of how Y: The Last Man got from book to screen is a long one that I won’t bore you with. Well, if you actually do care, the wikipedia page’ll give you all the details. Suffice it to say this film has been a long time coming, and up until now it was questionable if it would even happen. I suppose technically it’s still questionable, but the latest bit of news makes it sound like a much more solid proposition.

With that, I give you said latest bit of news: New Line has hired Dan Trachtenberg to direct the film.

If you’re scratching your head at this point, let me fill you in. Trachtenberg is best known as one of the co-hosts of The Totally Rad Show, a popular video podcast that used to air on Revision3. He’s also directed commercials for companies like Coca Cola and Nike. And perhaps most importantly, he directed a Portal fanfilm called Portal: No Escape. He posted the film to Youtube in August 2011, and since then it’s been viewed over 11 million times. (Check it out!)

Reactions to Trachtenberg’s hiring have been popping up on all the movie blogs, and they seem to range from cautious optimism to harsh skepticism. Personally, I’m leaning more toward skepticism, for a few reasons.

First of all, this story doesn’t seem to lend itself to a feature film treatment. You can’t really condense 60 books worth of stuff into a two-hour film (hell, maybe they’ll go the Peter Jackson route and aim for a trilogy). Of course there’s a core story in Y that you could do a version of, but half the fun of the series is following how all the different characters develop and change and interact over time. That stuff is going to be difficult to manage in 120 minutes, particularly for a guy directing his first feature.

Which brings us to Trachtenberg. I’m rooting for the guy. I’ve heard him talk about movies a whole bunch (mostly in his appearances on the Slashfilmcast) and he obviously loves them and loves making them. And he for sure has an appreciation of the source material he’ll be working with. You can hear him talk about the books in this clip from an old episode of his podcast Geekdrome.

But liking something and being good at it are two different things, and that’s where I worry a little. First off, his short film Portal: No Escape… Okay, so it looks alright, for something that was probably done for no money by a bunch of people volunteering their time and effort. But as Devin Faraci points out, it doesn’t really capture the spirit of Portal. Portal is sort of a silly game, at heart. I mean sure, if you remove GLaDOS from the equation, then things might look a bit more like they do in Trachtenberg’s version of things. But that would be crazy, because GLaDOS is Portal. The game would still be fun on some level without her, but having her there to bring the constant sardonic humour is the thing that actually makes it great.

Since I’m veering off into Portal talk here, I just wanted to bring up another fan film that I thought did a much better job of capturing the tones present in the original game. I’m talking about Eisen Feuer’s Outside Aperture. Overall, this film’s got an upbeat tone to it. There are plenty of jokes (most of them focusing on how Chell uses the Portal gun in various creative ways), so already it’s getting some of the humour element that Portal: No Escape lacks. But it also does some effective stuff that’s on the darker side. As anyone who survived the first Portal game would be, Chell is an emotional basket case. She’s suffering from hallucinations, still haunted by her experiences. I thought Feuer did a really great job of balancing the jokey stuff with some glimpses into Chell’s mental state.

Compare all that to Portal: No Escape, which is essentially an action movie. It’s not fun, it’s just kinda cool to look at. And so to circle back to Y: The Last Man, this is why I’m reticent. That series also has a very strong humour element, and it’s very character-driven. Look at the two versions of Chell we see in Outside Aperture and Portal: No Escape. In the former, she’s mentally screwed up, but she’s facing the world with a cockeyed optimism that’s charming. In the latter, she’s every generic female action star ever. I hope Trachtenberg doesn’t bring the sort of simplistic characterizations that we saw in Portal: No Escape to his version of Y: The Last Man.

Anyway, I went off about that longer than I intended. As I said earlier, I’m rooting for this movie, and Trachtenberg. It’s not really fair to judge a guy based on the one thing we’ve seen him do. All I’m saying is I hope he’s able to step his game up as he transitions into feature films.

Okay, now on to your daily ration of trailers.

42

This is actually the second trailer for 42 (you can see the first one here), but this one tells the story a whole lot better, I think. In case you’re lost for some reason, 42 tells the story of Jackie Robinson, the first black man to play in baseball’s Major League. So basically it’s your classic “underdog overcomes seemingly insurmountable odds” sports movie.

At first blush, I’m definitely excited for this. I like that they resisted the temptation to cast a big name as Robinson. I feel like having someone like Denzel (well he’s too old to play a young Robinson, but you take my point) in there would’ve been too distracting. Plus this way, you save all the established stars for the supporting cast, where they can be colourful characters without dominating the whole film.

So, not to completely overlook Chadwick Boseman (the actor playing Jackie Robinson), but let’s talk about the supporting cast a bit, shall we? The key players will be Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey, Chris Meloni as Leo Durocher, and Alan Tudyk as Ben Chapman.

History lesson time! You probably got a sense of who was on what side based on the trailer, but just for context:

-Branch Rickey was the President and General Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, and the man responsible for signing Jackie Robinson.

-Leo Durocher was the manager of the Dodgers. He let his players know that he didn’t care what they thought of Robinson, because he only cared about talent. Or, to put it in his infinitely more colourful words, “I do not care if the guy is yellow or black, or if he has stripes like a fuckin’ zebra. I’m the manager of this team, and I say he plays. What’s more, I say he can make us all rich. And if any of you cannot use the money, I will see that you are all traded.”

-Ben Chapman managed Brooklyn’s rivals, the Philadelphia Phillies. Like many people at the time, Chapman was a massive racist, who instructed his pitchers to bean Robinson rather than walk him if the count reached 3-0.

The casting choices here lead me to several different reactions. Harrison Ford seems basically spot on. It’s cool that he’s reached an age where he can play that character who’s got some miles on him and can be the voice of reason. Chris Meloni is a good choice too, I think. I think he’ll be good for playing that character who’s no-nonsense, tough but fair. Alan Tudyk feels like an odd choice, though. Not a bad choice, just odd. You look at his career, and he’s most known for playing more comedic roles (Tucker And Dale Vs. Evil, Wreck-It Ralph, Firefly, etc.) Here he is going to be playing essentially the villain. Not to say he can’t do it of course, because I think he’s an excellent actor. It’s just going to be a different sort of performance than what we’re used to from him. He’s going to have to be an asshole.

That brings up a point about tone. 42 will be rated PG-13, so I’m worried that a lot of the darker parts of Robinson’s story will be glossed over. I mean, just from the trailer we see him faced with a lot of adversity, so maybe I’m getting worried for nothing. And obviously there are ways to show struggle without having someone calling him the N-word in every scene (which I’m sure would be closer to what happened in real life). But this kind of story shouldn’t be sanitized, I don’t think.

One last point here. This one’s been written and directed by Brian Helgeland. This is both good and maybe not so good. On the good side, he’s written such great films as LA Confidential, Mystic River, and Man On Fire (though it should be pointed out all three of those scripts were adaptations of excellent books). On the not-so-good side, he hasn’t been in the director’s chair for awhile now. His last credit there was 2003’s The Order, a film that was mercilessly panned by critics (9% on Rotten Tomatoes).

That’s it for today. See you next week!

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