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Adapt This: “Unknown Soldier” by Joshua Dysart & Alberto Ponticelli

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With Hollywood turning more of its attention to the world of graphic novels for inspiration, I’ll cast the spotlight on a cool comic book each week that has the potential to pack a theater or keep you glued to your television screens. At the end of some “Adapt This” columns, you’ll also find thoughts from various comic creators and other industry experts about the books they’d like to see make the jump from page to screen.


This Week’s Book: Unknown Soldier by Joshua Dysart & Alberto Ponticelli (Vertigo)

The Premise: After fleeing war-ravaged Northern Uganda when he was seven years old, Dr. Lwanga Moses returns years later on a humanitarian mission, only to find himself caught up in the atrocities committed by the savage Lord’s Resistance Army in their guerilla war against the Ugandan government. When his first encounter with the LRA sends him into a violent rage that leaves one child soldier dead and his own face scarred beyond recognition, he discovers that there’s something lurking deep within him that’s not only comfortable amid the violence around him, but thrives on it. Struggling to reconcile the difference between the peaceful man he was and the ruthless killer he’s becoming, Lwanga begins to think that his bandaged alter ego might be exactly what his enemies deserve.

The Pitch: The first volume of this bloody, brutal series by Joshua Dysart and Alberto Ponticelli didn’t skimp on the reality checks, and offered a terrifying look at the savage, real-world war currently being waged in Northern Uganda and the surrounding African territories. A big-screen adaptation of the series — or its first volume, at least — would need to be similarly unflinching if it’s going to be effective.

The war in and around Uganda has served as the setting for a number of films in recent years, including “Machine Gun Preacher” (based on the real-life story of Sam Childers, an American who operates an orphanage in South Sudan). And though Unknown Soldier is a fictional story, Dysart’s meticulous research and the unique spin he puts on the character make it stand out from the crowd with a tone that’s significantly more gritty and raw than much of what’s been seen on the screen.

To that end, a movie based on Unknown Soldier certainly wouldn’t be aimed at the typical comic book movie audience, though Dysart does give the title character a preternatural, Jason Bourne-like knack for military strategy and combat techniques. If the war in Uganda did give birth to a superhero, it’s not hard to believe that the scarred — both physically and psychologically — result is the Unknown Soldier.

Casting Suggestions: It’s easy to name-drop Denzel Washington as a fantastic choice for the role of Lwanga Moses, given the gritty, violent characters he’s played to perfection in films like “Man On Fire” and “Training Day,” but Hollywood isn’t likely to provide a Denzel-level paycheck for a project as grim, gritty, and decidedly non-mainstream as an “Unknown Soldier” movie. A better option might be someone like “Gladiator” actor Djimon Hounsou, who’s no stranger to violent subject matter and brutal action sequences, but hasn’t found the right project yet to feature him front and center. Up-and-coming actor Anthony Mackie also seems like a nice fit for the role, having established himself with gritty dramas like the “The Hurt Locker.”


Would “Unknown Soldier” make a good movie? Chime in below or on Facebook or Twitter.

Soap tv show

As the Spoof Turns

15 Hilarious Soap Opera Parodies

Catch the classic sitcom Soap Saturday mornings on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures Television

The soap opera is the indestructible core of television fandom. We celebrate modern series like The Wire and Breaking Bad with their ongoing storylines, but soap operas have been tangling more plot threads than a quilt for decades. Which is why pop culture enjoys parodying them so much.

Check out some of the funniest soap opera parodies below, and be sure to catch Soap Saturday mornings on IFC.

1. Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman

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Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was a cult hit soap parody from the mind of Norman Lear that poked daily fun at the genre with epic twists and WTF moments. The first season culminated in a perfect satire of ratings stunts, with Mary being both confined to a psychiatric facility and chosen to be part of a Nielsen ratings family.


2. IKEA Heights

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IKEA Heights proves that the soap opera is alive and well, even if it has to be filmed undercover at a ready-to-assemble furniture store totally unaware of what’s happening. This unique webseries brought the classic formula to a new medium. Even IKEA saw the funny side — but has asked that future filmmakers apply through proper channels.


3. Fresno

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When you’re parodying ’80s nighttime soaps like Dallas and Dynasty , everything about your show has to equally sumptuous. The 1986 CBS miniseries Fresno delivered with a high-powered cast (Carol Burnett, Teri Garr and more in haute couture clothes!) locked in the struggle for the survival of a raisin cartel.


4. Soap

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Soap was the nighttime response to daytime soap operas: a primetime skewering of everything both silly and satisfying about the source material. Plots including demonic possession and alien abduction made it a cult favorite, and necessitated the first televised “viewer discretion” disclaimer. It also broke ground for featuring one of the first gay characters on television in the form of Billy Crystal’s Jodie Dallas. Revisit (or discover for the first time) this classic sitcom every Saturday morning on IFC.


5. Too Many Cooks

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Possibly the most perfect viral video ever made, Too Many Cooks distilled almost every style of television in a single intro sequence. The soap opera elements are maybe the most hilarious, with more characters and sudden shocking twists in an intro than most TV scribes manage in an entire season.


6. Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace

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Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace was more mockery than any one medium could handle. The endless complications of Darkplace Hospital are presented as an ongoing horror soap opera with behind-the-scenes anecdotes from writer, director, star, and self-described “dreamweaver visionary” Garth Marenghi and astoundingly incompetent actor/producer Dean Learner.


7. “Attitudes and Feelings, Both Desirable and Sometimes Secretive,” MadTV

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Soap opera connoisseurs know that the most melodramatic plots are found in Korea. MADtv‘s parody Tae Do  (translation: Attitudes and Feelings, Both Desirable and Sometimes Secretive) features the struggles of mild-mannered characters with far more feelings than their souls, or subtitles, could ever cope with.


8. Twin Peaks

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Twin Peaks, the twisted parody of small town soaps like Peyton Place whose own creator repeatedly insists is not a parody, has endured through pop culture since it changed television forever when it debuted in 1990. The show even had it’s own soap within in a soap called…


9. “Invitation to Love,” Twin Peaks

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Twin Peaks didn’t just parody soap operas — it parodied itself parodying soap operas with the in-universe show Invitation to Love. That’s more layers of deceit and drama than most televised love triangles.


10. “As The Stomach Turns,” The Carol Burnett Show

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The Carol Burnett Show poked fun at soaps with this enduring take on As The World Turns. In a case of life imitating art, one story involving demonic possession would go on to happen for “real” on Days of Our Lives.


11. Days of our Lives (Friends Edition)

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Still airing today, Days of Our Lives is one of the most famous soap operas of all time. They’re also excellent sports, as they allowed Friends star Joey Tribbiani to star as Dr Drake Ramoray, the only doctor to date his own stalker (while pretending to be his own evil twin). And then return after a brain-transplant.

And let’s not forget the greatest soap opera parody line ever written: “Come on Joey, you’re going up against a guy who survived his own cremation!”


12. Acorn Antiques

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First appearing on the BBC sketch comedy series Victoria Wood As Seen on TV, Acorn Antiques combines almost every low-budget soap opera trope into one amazing whole. The staff of a small town antique store suffer a disproportional number of amnesiac love-triangles, while entire storylines suddenly appear and disappear without warning or resolution. Acorn Antiques was so popular, it went on to become a hit West End musical.


13. “Point Place,” That 70s Show

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In a memorable That ’70s Show episode, an unemployed Red is reduced to watching soaps all day. He becomes obsessed despite the usual Red common-sense objections (like complaining that it’s impossible to fall in love with someone in a coma). His dreams render his own life as Point Place, a melodramatic nightmare where Kitty leaves him because he’s unemployed. (Click here to see all airings of That ’70s Show on IFC.)


14. The Spoils of Babylon

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Bursting from the minds of Will Ferrell and creators Andrew Steele and Matt Piedmont, The Spoils of Babylon was a spectacular parody of soap operas and epic mini-series like The Thorn Birds. Taking the parody even further, Ferrell himself played Eric Jonrosh, the author of the book on which the series was based. Jonrosh returned in The Spoils Before Dying, a jazzy murder mystery with its own share of soapy twists and turns.

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15. All My Children Finale, SNL

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SNL‘s final celebration of one of the biggest soaps of all time is interrupted by a relentless series of revelations from stage managers, lighting designers, make-up artists, and more. All of whom seem to have been married to or murdered by (or both) each other.

Adapt This: “Justice League: Origin” by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee

justice league

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With Hollywood turning more of its attention to the world of graphic novels for inspiration, I’ll cast the spotlight on a cool comic book each week that has the potential to pack a theater or keep you glued to your television screens. At the end of some “Adapt This” columns, you’ll also find thoughts from various comic creators and other industry experts about the books they’d like to see make the jump from page to screen.


This Week’s Book: Justice League: Origin by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee

The Premise: In a world that’s getting its first introduction to super-powered, costumed heroes and villains, a cosmic threat forces Batman to team up with Superman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, and various other superheroes to save Earth. With a live-action “Justice League” movie on the way, the first adventure of DC’s premiere super-team in the rebooted “New 52″ universe offers a great blueprint for the big screen that simultaneously introduces the characters to new audiences and tests the limits of what the seven heroes are capable of — both individually and united against a common threat.

The Pitch: When DC decided to relaunch its entire universe, the need to begin with a strong foundation for its most famous team of superheroes was clear — and it’s easy to see that the potential for a big-screen adventure wasn’t far from the publishers’ minds, either. Geoff Johns and Jim Lee have crafted an impressive origin story for the Justice League that feels like it could make an easy transition from page to screen.

The first story arc of the new Justice League series assumes some familiarity with the characters who make up the team but still offers a bit of context for their place in the world — something a live-action movie would do well to mimic. On top of that, the story also illustrates the particular set of skills each character brings to the group and why “a guy dressed like a bat” can be just as important as the Man of Steel when the chips are down. In this way, Justice League: Origin simultaneously introduces the characters to a newcomers and establishes how they relate to each other, covering two of the biggest requirements for a live-action, superhero team-up movie.

While the story in Justice League: Origin follows the standard team-up formula, having the individual heroes fight amongst each other before eventually teaming up to take on the big bad guy they can’t defeat individually, “The Avengers” proved that you don’t need an overly-complex plot to make a good superhero team-up movie. If you cast the characters well, then you can put them in a scene together and watch the sparks fly. With Origin, there’s a compelling narrative that manages to give all of the heroes equal time while also splitting them up in various groupings to show how different characters play off each other (similar to what was done in “The Avengers” so well).

Probably the biggest obstacle in bringing Justice League: Origin to the screen is the villain used in the arc: Darkseid. One of DC’s most lethal villains from the cosmic side of the publisher’s universe, Darkseid is significantly more alien than anything we’ve seen in Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies or any of the Superman movies made thus far, for that matter. In fact, the most closest we’ve got to something vaguely Darkseid-like in recent, prominent comic book movies are the Frost Giants that appeared in “Thor,” with their massive, intimidating profiles and noticeably non-human appearance. The Superman-themed television series “Smallville” encountered this very same problem when it tried to bring Darkseid to the screen in its final season, and ended up turning the character into a red-eyed smoke monster. Most fans will probably agree that this isn’t the way to go with Darkseid, so a live-action “Justice League” movie will need to find the balance between a computer-generated character and practical acting. (Maybe some motion-capture work, perhaps?)

Casting Suggestions: It’s a no-brainer to suggest “Man of Steel” actor Henry Cavill as the Superman of “Justice League,” but what about the rest of the team? “Haywire” actress and mixed martial arts fighter Gina Carano could make for an interesting take on Wonder Woman, with a physicality that’s quite a bit more believable than some waifish actress tossing bad guys through a wall.

Warner Bros. would certainly win points from the “Doctor Who” crowd for casting “Torchwood” actor John Barrowman as Bruce Wayne/Batman, but the need to skew a bit younger could make someone like “Sons of Anarchy” actor Charlie Hunnam a good pick for the role. His ability to channel the Dark Knight’s brooding intensity could make him a pleasant surprise in the role, though all of this probably depends on whether Joseph Gordon-Levitt wants to don the cape and cowl.

As for the Flash and Green Lantern, “Friday Night Lights” actor Scott Porter continues to be a good match for the Barry Allen version of the Scarlet Speedster (he’s been the subject of a fan campaign for a while now), while the studio would likely want to continue with Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan. If WB opts to recast the role, why not go with someone like “White Collar” star Matthew Bomer (who coincidentally was set to play Superman before Bryan Singer jumped onboard “Superman Returns”). And while we’re at it, let’s go meta and cast Adrian Grenier as Aquaman so he has the chance to bridge the gap between his “Entourage” character’s career and his real-world career.

Finally, putting Anthony Mackie in the role of Cyborg will give the project a serious, dramatic actor with the chops to make Victor Stone’s tragic condition a source of genuine angst.


Would “Justice League: Origin” make a good movie? Chime in below or on Facebook or Twitter.

Adapt This: “Runners” by Sean Wang

runners

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With Hollywood turning more of its attention to the world of graphic novels for inspiration, I’ll cast the spotlight on a cool comic book each week that has the potential to pack a theater or keep you glued to your television screens. At the end of some “Adapt This” columns, you’ll also find thoughts from various comic creators and other industry experts about the books they’d like to see make the jump from page to screen.


This Week’s Book: Runners by Sean Wang

The Premise: Roka Nostaco and his alien crew have managed to eke out a pretty good life as space-faring smugglers, but things get complicated when they discover a mysterious girl amid the cargo on their latest run. Pretty soon, they find themselves pursued by rival smugglers, government agents, and a host of other vicious enemies as they race to get the goods to their client and get paid.

The Pitch: Sort of like “Firefly,” but with more aliens and a more pronounced science-fiction vibe, Sean Wang’s Runners predates Joss Whedon’s space-western television series by a few years but offers a similarly fun, well-scripted saga. In fact, it’s probably more akin to a blend of “Firefly” and “Star Wars,” as the universe the comic book inhabits features a host of strange, alien races living and working together amid the stars.

Wang, who made a name for himself writing and drawing various comics based on The Tick series, clearly has a knack for the clever dialogue that made that series so much fun, but he grounds the world of Runners in some very real drama for Roka and his crew. And like all the great noble rogues of the sci-fi genre, Roka rarely lets his moral compass distract him from completing an assignment, and values the lives of his crew over any cargo they’re pursuing. Basically, he’s an alien version of Han Solo or Malcolm Reynolds, and like both of those iconic characters, you can’t help rooting for him and his crew no matter how sketchy their business dealings get.

While there have been some good, live-action space sagas populated with strange aliens in shows like “Farscape,” an adaptation of the comic would probably be best served as an animated series. To Wang’s credit, a “Runners” would likely find an audience among children and older viewers alike with its “Star Wars”-esque blend of high adventure, dangerous stakes, and heroic characters.

It’s also worth noting that I’m not the first person to see Runners as great source material for an animated series. Back in 2006, the Digital Animation and Visual Effects (D.A.V.E.) School created an animated segment based on Runners that — despite some voice-acting I’m not sure I agree with — manages to capture the series’ tone pretty darn well.

Here it is:

Casting Suggestions: Casting voices for animated characters is always a wide-open arena, but it’s easy to hear Richard McGonagle, who voices Victor Sullivan in the “Uncharted” video games, as the veteran smuggler Roka. Ideally, the rest of the cast could be filled out with actors like Kevin Michael Richardson (Panthro in “Thundercats”) as the massive, rock-bodied Bennesaud, someone like Nolan North (Nathan Drake in the “Uncharted” series) as the modified human Bocce, and “Chuck” actress Yvonne Strahovski, who voiced Miranda Lawson in “Mass Effect 2″ and “Mass Effect 3″ as Sky, the mysterious woman found among the cargo.


Would “Runners” make a good animated series? Chime in below or on Facebook or Twitter.

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