Friday, March 27, 2015

This Week in Neat-O (and a Bonus Very Long Rant on Fans)

[image via]

I think this is the leanest period of blogging I've had in all 10 years of being here. The medicine situation really knocked me for a bigger loop than I gave it credit for. Between an antidepressant which left me numb, weak, and without motivation--and probably the worst feeling ever in my life is that antidepressant fog of wanting to do things and feeling completely unable to, to the point where you will sit for an hour wondering how you're going to get up off the floor--and a stimulant ADHD medication that raised my blood pressure dangerously and has contributed to my weakness, this has been a really rough six months or so.

So here's some neat stuff that I've actually been enjoying and that helped take me outside of myself this week:

:: So, apparently they're going to start doing Muppet interstitial segments on Disney Junior starting next Friday. Here's a clip of one of them which gives you an idea what they'll be like. They're basically like the "Muppet and Kid" segments on Sesame Street. I don't watch Disney Junior, so I'll probably only see these when and if Disney puts the clips on YouTube or on Disney Movies Anywhere, but I think it's a neat idea.

Okay, I need to rant a little bit here about being a Muppet fan. If you've somehow actually been reading me for the last decade, you know that I think one of the lousiest things about Muppet fans my age is that they seem to be really, really negative towards the idea that anything should be made with Muppets that are just for kids. It's been going on for a long time now, and it's actually a larger problem with fans of anything in the Internet Age, which is that fans only want to lengthen out and repeat the part of the thing they like, and are full of scorn and hate for anything else.

So it bugs me when Tough Pigs posts a news announcement about something like this Disney Junior business and then bag on it because it's for little kids so therefore it's pointless and stupid. It really annoys me, because the attitude of "I just want the Muppets to be good like they were when I was a kid" is really just code now for "I just want the Muppets to appeal to me and only my conception of what the Muppets are supposed to be." It's unrealistic and it's arrogant and it makes me really, really annoyed. Look, everything the Muppet people do is not going to be aimed at guys who have liked the Muppets for 30 and 40 and 50 years. Some of it is going to be for kids. And some of it you're just not going to find that fun. Does that mean it's bad, or does that just mean it's not aimed at you?

I really hate the internet Muppet fans for being so united in their hatred and dismissal of Muppets Tonight and Muppets from Space and It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie and The Muppets' Wizard of Oz and Letters to Santa and Studio DC: Almost Live and almost every single Muppet project that wasn't their viral videos or the two most recent Disney movies. Yes, those things are flawed, but the people in charge of the Muppets are doing what they should be doing and trying things to keep the Muppets alive and out there and grow them a new audience because Hollywood profit margins have shown over and over again that the audience is really not gigantic.

I'll say it for the thousandth time: this reception is how I know that you people wouldn't watch The Muppet Show is they did it for television again now, because what you really want it just more of what they were doing nearly 40 years ago, which, as I've said so many times I hate myself for having to say it again, is impossible. Jim Henson, Don Sahlin, Jerry Juhl, Jerry Nelson, Richard Hunt, and so many other great Muppet contributors who made those things you love so much have all passed away. Frank Oz doesn't work with the Muppets anymore. Nearly all of those creators are gone, and you're just going to have to finally live with that. It's going to be different, and you don't want that, so stop acting like you want something new when you just want more of the same and are going to be the same whiny babies when you don't get that.

And frankly, even if Jim Henson were alive, how interested do you think he'd be in doing The Muppet Show again? Half of those fans who whine about the Muppets didn't know for the longest time that by the time the first episode of that show aired, Henson had been doing the Muppets for over 20 years. He felt he'd done the Muppets and wanted to do other things, and people didn't respond well to that. The Dark Crystal wasn't a highly regarded film. Labyrinth was a box office failure that took decades to gain a cult status, and that movie, most people who knew him felt, was the purest distillation of Henson on screen, and he felt personally rejected when it failed. So he want back and did some more Muppets, and almost no one watched The Jim Henson Hour, because most of you don't care about who Jim Henson was or what he wanted to do or express, you just want more Muppets and exactly the same as they were in 1982.

Give me a break.

And I always get someone who says "Well, you can hardly blame people for wanting more of what they already like," but I'm sick of hearing that, because it's a kind of thoughtlessness. God forbid you should be grateful for what you already have and enjoy that and let people do new things. How unfair for you that people are incapable of doing one thing for the rest of their lives, right?

:: In a similar vein, I read this great piece on Observation Deck about what happens to properties when the fans take over. I don't think their example of Peter Jackson really holds up, because he was never the Tolkien fanatic that people assume he must have been as a kid, it's just that his Lord of the Rings movies are the only thing most people seem to care about in regards to his career. It's funny, because he's faced this before, back when The Frighteners came out, and America didn't get it because they only knew Heavenly Creatures and assumed this art house director had just sold out, not understanding that The Frighteners was a big-budget version of the kind of wild horror movie Jackson always made, and that Heavenly Creatures was the atypical one. I remember his reaction to the way the movie bombed in America and the way critics who only knew Creatures eviscerated him for selling out to Hollywood: "Never underestimate the stupidity of the American film audience."

The Frighteners, by the way, is probably my favorite Jackson film. See the Director's Cut. It is the most Peter Jackson movie ever.

The real point to be made about Peter Jackson is that LOTR became the only thing the audience wanted to see him do. And yes, those are films of exceeding wonder and glory, some of the best movies ever made by anyone, but the massive success and prestige of those films seems to have left him with less of a direction. So many people hated King Kong, the movie he most wanted to make. (I loved it.) He tried to do another Heavenly Creatures, and turned out The Lovely Bones, a movie I consider as vile and loathsome as anything I've ever seen. And then he went back to Middle-earth and made the Hobbit trilogy. I didn't want him to make those. He didn't want to direct them. I remember way back saying that I wanted to see someone else make those movies and see Peter Jackson do something else he wanted to do, because I'd seen Jackson's Middle-earth and was curious to see what someone like Sam Raimi or Guillermo del Toro could do with it. But he made The Hobbit and I really enjoyed what he did and now all I read are articles on geek sites about how bad and unsatisfying and "like bad fan fiction" those movies are. All you want is more of the same and even when you get it, you hate it.

What I do think is really interesting and on point in that essay, though, are the sections about Star Trek, Star Wars, and Aliens.

First, Trek. All of the criticisms of the JJ Abrams movies are valid, but I do like those movies. I still can't deal with conversations about those movies, because most criticisms seem to fall in this weird echo chamber of "It's too much the same but not the same enough in the right ways!"

The article points out that when audiences got the purest distillation of Gene Roddenberry's ideas of what Star Trek was supposed to be--Star Trek: The Motion Picture--fans rejected it. They preferred the Harve Bennett Trek movies, and it's obviously because those movies are much more about the characters and the relationships and less about the concepts and the ideas and the evolution of the mind. They want the same thing, forever, and that's why my relationship to the Star Trek movies has always been troubled and compromised.

I'm cheating a bit here, because I'm going by the 2001 Director's Cut version, but Star Trek: The Motion Picture is, to me, the best of the Trek movies. It's challenging, it's not pandering to audience expectations, and Spock goes on an emotional journey that I find, well, fascinating. It's about evolution and intellect, and I like the slower pacing. I just do. That's the kind of movie I like.

I love Star Trek II an awful lot, but when we get to Star Trek III, I start to become less interested, because from then on they're just playing to the fans. Star Trek III I especially have trouble with, because you can't even talk about not liking this movie online without someone commenting "Gee, I must be the only person in the world who loves Star Trek III," and then a dozen other people chiming in about what a great movie it is and then there's no discussion of it as much as there's people just papering over all of the movie's flaws because it "gets the characters right."

But that's precisely my problem with the damn movie. Because the whole movie seems to exist merely to return things back to the status quo, which is the opposite of interesting to me. Spock once said on the TV series that change is the essential process of life. But not for Trek fans, I guess, because after Trek II--a movie that contemplated what it was like to age and change, for old sins to come back and destroy you, for the consequences of old behaviors to catch up with you, for the necessity of real sacrifice--we dive right into The Search for Spock, a movie that refutes all of those things. No, no, we don't have to change! We can bring Spock back! We'll just kill David and never mention Carol Marcus again and even if we destroy the Enterprise, we'll just build a new one that's exactly the same because we won't ever let anything go and change will never happen again and nothing will really mean anything because these people aren't characters, they're invincible space gods and things will be exactly the same forever!

What's funny is that those movies, from II on, turned Trek into space opera, but one of the biggest criticisms I hear about the Abrams movies is that there's too much space opera. What they really mean, I sometimes feel, is that they just want the same characters. (Somewhat related: David Gerrold recently wrote an interesting rant about the role of Trek fans on Facebook.)

I have a similar problem with Star Wars that I've described at length, but it basically boils down to the fact that I feel like most people don't like the Prequels because they wanted three more versions of The Empire Strikes Back and rejected what George Lucas felt Star Wars was about. They didn't want Star Wars by the creator of Star Wars, they wanted the Expanded Universe. Lucas' vision of, as the article says, "a political allegory about the corrupting influences of greed and power," is much more interesting to me than going on and on about Boba Fett. (That's a big part of why I loved Clone Wars so much: they really expanded a lot of Lucas' ideas, which are the ideas in SW that I find the most interesting.) I think just the largeness of the Star Wars spin-off properties shows that the Star Wars universe is capable of holding a great many things many genres, many characters, many different approaches. But a great number of fans don't seem interested in letting things be that way. I didn't like to talk about Star Wars for years because I was sick of someone starting arguments with me because what I like about SW apparently isn't the "right" thing to love about SW, because it's "really" this and "really" that and apparently the whole thing hinges on whether or not Han shot first.

When people start considering a change to a fictional world an affront, that's when I check out of the conversation.

The linked essay actually gives voice, too, to my fears about the new Star Wars movies. As exciting as I found the trailer, I feel like Abrams, Kennedy, Kasdan and company are less interested in George Lucas' ideas and the Jedi and the politics and much more interested in the Expanded Universe and Han Solo, and that's just not interesting to me. I don't need to see the fans' version of Star Wars, because the entire internet is full of that. And hey, those movies don't need to be for me. I have six that I love already. I consider that kind of thought to be, I dunno, the grown-up attitude.

And finally, there's Alien.

When I was a kid, I used to love Aliens (which was the first one I saw; I was three when Alien came out, so I didn't see that until I was a bit older). I used to think Aliens was this amazing movie, and Alien was an okay haunted castle movie with a science fiction twist. As I got older, those opinions were reversed. Now I think Alien is a masterpiece, and Aliens is a better-than-average science fiction action movie.

I've been hearing a lot about how Neil Blomkamp is going to make an Alien movie that sounds like a bit of a retcon for the people who are still angry and offended about how Newt and Hicks died offscreen before Alien 3 started, and I know a number of people who really like Alien 3 and were disappointed to hear that this was happening. I saw Alien 3 when it first came out on video when I was about 16 and didn't care for it, and hadn't seen it since.

So, about two weeks ago, I got hold of the "Assembly Cut" version of Alien 3 on Blu-ray (thank you, as always, public library system) and gave the whole thing another chance. My memory of the theatrical version is fuzzy, so I can't tell you how much was different, but the film really had an effect on me. I wanted to write a post, but I'm still not sure what to say about it. I found it really thoughtful and interesting, and I'm not sure how much is that the theatrical version wasn't good, and how much of it was really that I just wanted Aliens II back then and was angry that I didn't get it, and how much of it is just being a more thoughtful person now than I was at 16.

Either way, I thought the Assembly Cut was excellent, and it was the kind of special edition that--much like the special editions of Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Blade Runner--turned a film I held in low regard into something I found truly special.

Devin Faraci has some really great thoughts about Alien 3, by the way, in an essay called Why Newt And Hicks Had To Die In ALIEN 3 that really cemented a lot of my thoughts about the movie. Good call on Aliens being a Vietnam allegory, too.

And like the writer of the Observation Deck piece, I too am cautiously interested in Blomkamp's Alien movie, and fully expect it to be the "long-awaited" Aliens II.

Okay, so that I apparently had a lot to say about. Here are some other things:

:: I really want to get back to my Ranking Al series soon. Until then, the AV Club has done a wonderful thing and given us the Oral History of the Making of UHF.

:: Tough Pigs has a report on a recent event that featured a live-viewing of Muppets Most Wanted with commentary by Muppet performers Matt Vogel and Eric Jacobson.

:: I'm cautiously optimistic about the trailer for Mission: Impossible--Rogue Nation, because I really liked the previous two movies. I see once again the women are interchangeable, and yet again, the plot revolves around the IMF being either infiltrated by the enemy or dismantled or disavowed or whatever. Still, I want it to be as much fun as Ghost Protocol, so fingers crossed.

:: The trailer for Arnold Schwarzenegger's zombie drama Maggie is something I also found interesting.

:: Here's a very short video of the chest-bursting scene from Alien, but as a sitcom.

:: Why Christopher Eccleston Was The Greatest Doctor Who Star After All. I do agree. I don't like the show as it is now, but Eccleston's lone season remains my favorite season of the show. (All of it, past and present.) I've explained why I don't like Moffat's tenure on the show, and I won't rehash it now. It's enough to say it's not MY Doctor Who, but it doesn't have to be.

:: Every Tom Hanks Movie in 7 Minutes

I'm going to end with this great animated short, TIE Fighter, which a very talented man named Paul Johnson made over four years of weekends. He animated it in that 80s anime style that I always found so fascinating as a kid (Transformers: The Movie was made in that style).

I feel like it seems weird to end a post where I was ranting about fans demanding control over properties with a fan work, but I'm not against fan works. I'm against the often fan-fostered concept that there is only One Correct Interpretation of a work, and that interpretation must be adhered to forever, and god help you if you liked Man of Steel.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Muppet Monday

Cookie Monster is making unboxing videos now. I never really understood the trend, but I do like Cookie. And what he's unboxing gets me more excited than an Xbox, son.


Kristen Bell Mondays

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Song of the Week: "Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho"

Having a bad, ragged weekend to cap off a bad, ragged week. I was officially diagnosed with ADHD this week, though. It's official now. Also, I just stopped taking Wellbutrin because that's what's been making my blood pressure so high. The anxiety pushes it higher sometimes, but a side effect of Wellbutrin is that it raises your blood pressure, which is why my blood pressure meds weren't controlling it like normal. Oh, and I found out my lungs are only at 25% capacity. Yeah. things are awesome.

Anyway, I don't post a lot of it here, but I absolutely love jazz, especially on a Sunday, so here's a Coleman Hawkins performance I dig.

Friday, March 20, 2015

This Week in Neat-O

:: This American Bro: A Portrait of the Worst Guy Ever

:: Thor Is Selling More Comics As A Woman

:: The trailer for the 1981 film Roar. I've read a lot about the making of this movie lately, and it's all so fascinatingly insane. I've been trying to see it, so I'm glad to see it's hitting VOD this summer. Man, even watching the trailer makes me me incredibly nervous.

:: Pixels looks kinda cute and kinda lame and has a few actors I dig in it. God, I hate Kevin James, though. Just... so, so much. But when it shows up on HBO, I'm going to waste a pizza-and-Coke-filled night with it, my fantasies of Ashley Benson, and my dear, dear love for Pac-Man.

:: Oh my gosh, that new Age of Ultron TV spot. I am desperate to see this movie.

But the thing I'm most looking forward to this summer, for real?

All the time I hope I'm going to spend with Becca playing this:

Monday, March 16, 2015

23

Happy Birthday, Ellen.

I Am Not Doing Well Right Now

No, I was wrong. The grief I feel at this time of year really hit me hard last night. Terribly hard. I had an appointment this morning with my psychiatrist, and my blood pressure was 183/90. Not as bad as it was recently in a doctor's office, but still very high. And I can feel it, too. In my head, behind my eyes, in my bloodstream. I can always tell when it's going too fast. I can tell when my pulse is high, which it was.

I've had a very stressful few weeks, and the stress continues. Last night I could barely function and had an emotional breakdown. Becca tried to help me through it by asking questions to see if they'd lead anywhere. She ended up asking me, point blank, "Do you feel like you have to punish yourself for being alive?"

And, yeah, I think that about sums it up. A lot of it, anyway.

Apparently I've had undiagnosed ADHD since childhood, and all of the behaviors I'd developed to compensate for it just went away for those years when I was on Lexapro. I was displaying what my counselors thought was (and diagnosed as) Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Agoraphobia, and Non-Specific Mood Disorder, and while those things are there, they seem to sometimes be symptoms of my ADHD. I guess it feels like we've finally traced the river all the way back to its source. ADHD is something we can treat with medication and counseling, and it actually explains many, many occasions in my life--occasions that I still remember and have bad feelings about, going as far back as age 5--as something psychological rather than just me being... wrong, in some unexplainable, horrible way. It explains to me why some things that seem like they're easy for other adults are so hard for me. It makes me realize I'm not just lazy. I'm disabled. And I can try to live with that and have a real life.

It does make me feel better.

But there are a lot of traumas that I haven't dealt with very well because of the ADHD. My car accident, for one. And for another, my sister dying. It feels terribly wrong and unfair that my sister should die and I should be alive, because deep down inside I feel like that was a mistake on the part of... something. Like my own death would be less sad and less... unwelcome, I guess. It just seems so wrong to me. I've spent my whole life expecting to be invalidated, and for me to be the one bad things happen to, and for something that bad to happen to a different member of my family, let alone a 13 year-old girl, four days before her birthday... my sister, my own goddaughter... no, I can't make sense of it. I have had a terrible time accepting it, and I still haven't. I know it's what happened: my sister developed bone cancer and after a year of chemotherapy she passed away in the middle of the night. But it's so fucking wrong.

So I guess, yeah, somewhere inside I feel like it's not right for me to have any sort of life or to be happy for too long. Happiness eventually makes me nervous, like it's inviting some sort of badness in. I feel like everything comes to nothing for me and nothing turns out the way I want it, and that that's the way things are supposed to be. I have problems letting myself feel good. Or wanting things for myself. Or getting things. Orr hoping for things to happen. I don't really know what hope feels like anymore. Not really. I just understand what the word means intellectually.

Having just gone through another spin on antidepressants--which made me realize that I cannot be on antidepressants because they just increase my ADHD fog and take away my motivation--my body is wrecked and I weigh more than I ever have. It's hard to do things. Everything still seems complex and overwhelming. I feel like I'm at my lowest and I don't know if the new medication I'm on now is really effective or not, although I can focus and concentrate better when I try.

It feels like spring today. The snow is almost entirely gone, the ice is definitely gone, and things are warming up. It's 55 degrees today, and it's nice to have the window open and hear the birds. It's cloudy as hell, but it's still nice. After my psychologist this morning, Becca and I went out for breakfast, something we haven't done in a while. I like doing that. Getting breakfast with her is one of my favorite things in the world; it makes me feel like things are better. Like I can come back from this.

Like I'm easing back into the world.

But this has been a stressful few weeks, and this weekend was pretty awful. And I know now that I'm punishing myself just for being alive. It was a longtime self-esteem problem that finally broke me when Ellen died.

I don't want to live like this anymore, but at least I want to live. Now I've got to build up from there.