Saturday, February 21, 2009

Electronic Cerebrectomy Supports Anne Hathaway for Best Actress

Good luck tomorrow night, kiddo.

Saturday Playlist

1. Kate Bush: Aerial Tal
2. John Williams: Marion’s Theme
3. Tom Waits: Baby Gonna Leave Me
4. Demi Lovato: La La Land
5. Hall & Oates: Kiss on My List
6. Lenlow: Imagine Wild Music
7. The Rolling Stones: Talkin’ About You
8. Igor Stravinsky: Petrushka Suite, Movement 8: Dance of the Peasant and the Bear
9. Frank Zappa: Daddy, Daddy, Daddy
10. George Harrison: Beware of Darkness

1. It's really just an interlude of birds chirping from Kate Bush's most recent album, Aerial. But it's a nice way to start. I love the sound of birds chirping (I even have a clock that makes bird sounds), and it's nice on a morning when the snow is falling heavily.
2. From Raiders of the Lost Ark, of course. One of my favorite Williams themes and one of his more iconic.
3. Off of Real Gone. Nice sudden break in the mood; actually, it's not sudden, the flow is nice. I love it when the shuffle switches from something light to something experimental. I like it to be a jumble, but a logical jumble.
4. I know, I know, but I like Demi Lovato. I like good, cheesy pop music.
5. Would you believe this is one of a handful of songs that have never come off of my iPod since I got the damn thing in 2006. I just love this song. See my Demi Lovato comment.
6. Pretty little mash-up of John Lennon and Lou Reed. There's a force for good.
7. From December's Children. There was a song from December's Children on last week's playlist, too. My iTunes apparently can't get enough of this album. But that's cool; it's a great album.
8. Off of my wonderful 10-disc collection Stravinksy Conducts Stravinsky. I can never have too much Stravinsky, especially when it's the man himself.
9. My iTunes also loves Zappa. As it should.
10. All Things Must Pass is a masterpiece, full of songs the other Beatles wouldn't record. I don't think this is one of them, but I wanted to mention it because that's part of, I think, why the album is so masterful. It was material he'd had for years, and all of his creativity set loose at once. It's also a nice way to close the playlist.

"Illegal Tender"

What it actually is:

But what I first thought of:

Friday, February 20, 2009

Throwdown 2/20

Random thoughts, questions, and observations for the week.

1. Jimmy Fallon has announced that he’s done with acting. Is that what he was trying to do?

2. Was there anyone who was really angry and upset about the McFlurry product placement on 30 Rock? I mean, was there really, or have people finally grasped the half-century-old relationship between television and advertisers? I mean, really, if you don’t rush out and get a McFlurry because a TV show told you to, do you really care?

3. I know we’re also supposed to be too cool and smart for movie merchandising, but I have to admit, that’s kind of clever. I want this Big Blue Penis condom.

4. Kate Winslet has announced (again) that she’s not going to take her clothes off in movies anymore. Is this the second or the third time she’s made this announcement? I can’t keep up with them anymore. She says “I think I won’t do it again: a) I can’t keep getting away with it, and b) I don’t want to become ‘that actress who always gets her kit off.’” Well, gee, you’re about a decade too late for B. I’ve said a million times that I think any actor or actress talking about what they will and won’t do is absurd, because actors and actresses are supposed to be capable of anything. And I’m sick of hearing women talk about how they won’t do any nudity. Either do it or don’t and don’t bug me with your decision. It’s not like that’s all there is to your acting. I’ve been a fan of yours since 1995, so I happen to know you’re incredibly talented and not just a one-trick pony.

5. A Denver hospital admitted that they treated a case of Marburg fever last year. I’m not sure whether to be glad or not that they didn’t release this news for some time. Marburg is a relative of Ebola; it causes hemorrhages in the body, and people usually die of it within a week. I can see this causing a panic; luckily, they treated the guy (he’d been in a now-quarantined cave in Uganda; another person had been there and died of Marburg fever) and the disease’s incubation period is short enough that it’s unlikely to cause an outbreak now. But it’s scary to think about a close call there.

6. Awesome new discovery: the Titanoboa cerrejonensis, a 42-foot long snake that weighs over a ton. Sadly, it’s been extinct for eons. This thing was as long as a city bus and went up to your hip. It ate deer and crocodiles, most likely, but I’m going to imagine it locked in a death grip with a Tyrannosaurus Rex, because that’s just too awesome for words.

7. Speaking of giant animals, look at this fruit bat! Okay, it’s a trick of perspective. But can you imagine if it weren’t? I’m kind of disappointed there aren’t human-sized bats out there somewhere. I mean, they eat fruit, so it’s not like they’d be descending on the human population and ripping our heads off. They’d just be kind of magical.

8. Okay, so, I guess there’s a practice called jailbreaking out there. It refers to people who break the software restrictions on their iPhones. Apple wants to sue people who do it for up to $2500 in damages for infringing on their software copyright (and maybe up to five years in prison). The Electronic Frontier Foundation is fighting this on the grounds that, typically, Apple is trying to strangle fair use and the independent creation of software through reverse-engineering (which the courts have always seen as fair use). The real issue here is: who owns your phone? Do you, as a consumer who paid for the damn thing, own your phone? Or are you leasing it from Apple? I love how corporate technology keeps coming out that allows us to use the things we buy however we want, only to see the same companies suing their own consumers for using them.

9. Why are the Republicans still so enthralled by Newt Gingrich? His bid idea to save the economy is the same capital gains tax cut he’s been pushing for 20 years. So much for a bold new direction from the Right.

10. The Senate has opened an ethics probe on Roland Burris, as they should. But since they never once called for any disciplinary action against Ted Stevens, a man actually convicted on seven felony counts, I think the Senate’s credibility is pretty strained here. They’ll investigate Burris but not, say, George W. Bush?

11. Last week I talked about the Obama administration’s disgraceful invoking of state secrets in the Binyam Mohamed case. Here is a link to an excellent Firedoglake post about it which gives a lot of information about how Great Britain is also trying to conceal their war crimes and the way Obama’s lack of the open policy he promised is making it possible.

12. Why are liberals so upset that President Obama sent 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan? He said in his campaign that he was going to send more troops to Afghanistan. He blasted the Surge because it was only necessary because the Bush administration took the war to Iraq when they should’ve still been in Afghanistan. So where’s the surprise? (Here’s an interesting Slate piece on how Pakistan may affect Afghanistan.)

13. Pat Buchanan said this about Rush Limbaugh’s “I hope he fails” comment: “[Obama]’s the president of all the country. If he succeeds, the country succeeds. And if he doesn't, it hurts us all. Anybody who would pull against our president is not exactly thinking rationally.” Wow. Finally, Pat Buchanan was right about something. I haven’t heard a thing yet about the Right’s reaction to this. Will anyone come out against him for this? I only ask because Florida Governor Charlie Crist called down a shitstorm by simply saying of Obama: “This is my president now and I am an American first. I think it is important we support our president.” Whatever happened to country first, GOP?

14. Stay classy, Michelle Malkin. Stay classy.

15. The US now officially supports the UN resolution condemning discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Like I’ve said before, UN resolutions are basically meaningless because they have no real power behind them, but it was very telling that the Bush administration wouldn’t support that (even though they pretended it was because of legal technicalities, the cowards; talk about not even having the courage of your convictions, however hateful they are).

16. Now that the recovery has been enacted, let’s not let the Republicans walk around taking all of the credit for it, the way they’re trying to do now. Let’s focus instead on the reports we’re getting that some Republicans wanted to vote for the recovery and couldn’t go against their party. Because the GOP has declared war on President Obama (and I think Obama has adjusted his approach well, going to the American people for support the way he should’ve done in the first place, and hopefully not letting the bipartisanship unicorn cloud the actual work that needs doing). They wouldn’t vote for it because they wanted to get re-elected. Now they’re taking credit because, if it’s successful, they want people to think they supported it so they can get re-elected. The reality is, they don’t care about solutions, they only care about protecting themselves. And they should be worried; according to the latest Gallup poll, Democrat approval ratings are up from 18 to 43 percent, and Republican approval ratings fell from 23 to 19 percent. But they’re not going to save themselves, because the message from the Republican Party is clear: party first, country last. Country always last. Stop voting for the people; they do not care about you. I have to say, though, I love how this recovery bill is destroying the Republican Party. Some of the GOP governors refused to take any of the “tainted” money “on principle,” guys like Rick Perry in Texas and Mark Sandford in South Carolina, but they’re starting to waffle because it turns out the people of their state would really like to make an attempt at economic recovery. Let these people know who’s really in charge, would you? Jindal has no business turning down that money with the shape Louisiana is in. I also read today that a bunch of ministers in New Orleans are petitioning to recall Congressmen Joseph Cao for voting against the bill. Genius.

17. Oh, speaking of people who don’t care about you: John McCain. Still, like all people who inherited or married into their money, acting like he earned everything himself. His state is third in home foreclosures, but he led the opposition to the recovery bill out of his vindictive need to punish Obama for beating him in the election. Obviously, when McCain said he was looking forward to working with the new president, he was lying through his teeth. I’m sorry, but your constituents are losing homes left and right, and you decide the best way to help them is by voting against a bill that will hopefully help more people keep their homes? Are you going to let them stay in one of yours? You have the room. And to vote for it out of a petty rivalry rather than any economic theory (and we all learned during the campaign that you know nothing about economics)? That’s just sick. And now he’s out on TV telling people that we need the Bush tax cuts instead, not even mentioning that those tax cuts have cost the American public four times as much as the recovery bill, and acting like this is really a victory for the Republicans because it proved bipartisanship is a failure. This asshole just announced that he’s going to run to keep his Senate seat in 2010. Please stop voting for this asshole. He doesn’t care about you. If he did, he’d have a solution and not be on TV whining about how President Obama should let McCain jerk him around more.

18. Is anyone surprised to find out that the Republican claim that their fascist party is not anti-gay is screamingly not true? The ironically-named State Senator Chris Buttars went on a little tirade in the Utah state senate in which he questioned the ability of homosexuals to even have morality and said “They’re probably the greatest threat to America going down that I know of.” What an odd choice of words, “going down.” Here’s a firsthand account of the physical and sexual abuses that go on at Buttars’ Mormon boy’s ranch to “cure” gay people. Anyway, this was in relation to a hearing on a bill to give gay couples hospital visitation rights, which was dead before the hearing even began. Republicans are not trying to protect marriage. They have nothing but contempt for gay citizens who have done nothing illegal, and refuse to take their relationships seriously. And yet America still continues to pretend we have any sort of equality. Right. Add to this that Minnesota State Senator Paul Koering, who is openly gay, refuses to support a marriage equality bill because his state has “bigger problems” right now. I know, when you finally get let in the door the best thing to do is shut it tight against any more coming in. History shows us that it won’t work. And that people who do that are douchebags. (Update: I just read that Buttars was ousted from two committees he heads over his embarrassing comments. Some justice, I guess. It would still be nicer if gay couples had equal rights.)

19. I never thought I’d say this, but I agree with Al Sharpton. He called this cartoon by Sean Delonas, cartoonist for that famous brand of hobo toilet paper the New York Post, “troubling at best given the historic racist attacks of African-Americans as being synonymous with monkeys.” And did he even mention the history of police relations with black people? I think we can throw that in as another reason this is awful. The Post says this is merely “a clear parody of a current news event,” which is supposed to be the shooting of the chimpanzee in Connecticut. But if the parody were “clear,” so many people wouldn’t be disgusted by it, would they? Because, let’s be honest, it looks like Sean Delonas is comparing President Obama to a rabid chimp. It may not ever look like it on the Throwdown, but I like to give people the benefit of the doubt until they earn otherwise. Delonas, however, is a loathsome little toad with a cruel and juvenile sense of humor. Gawker has some of his previous cartoons up, including the “classic” that depicts a man and a sheep applying for a New Jersey marriage license. Your intentions were pretty clear, Delonas; watching you backpedal now is predictably slimy. I love what White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said: “I have not seen the cartoon, but I don’t think it’s altogether newsworthy reading the New York Post.” Rush Limbaugh went out and told people to calm down about the racism, then went on to compare liberals to Jihadists, rapists, and murderers. I guess what bothers me the most about this cartoon is not the casual racism, but the idea that violence is the way to deal with policy disagreements. I think that as the economy worsens and resentment gets worse, those Palin rallies are just going to look like a mild preview of things to come. And yes, I think the Republicans have fostered this attitude over the past year and are doing nothing to discourage it. Why do you hate America so much, guys?

20. Actually, there’s one Republican speaking rationally right now, and to my surprise it’s Ron Paul. Here’s what he said recently about the debate over the stimulus: “Once again, I am driven to quote the immortal Charles Murtaugh: the universe is not here to please you. Fiscal stimulus will make the economy grow faster, or it will not make the economy grow faster, without regard to whether taxation is theft or universal healthcare is an immediate moral imperative. I doubt I'm the only one who is wearied by the way so many of the participants in the debate seem to already know the answer they want, and are merely looking for a set of questions that will get them there most expeditiously. Was there ever a time when people didn't think that tricky economic conundrums could, or should, be used to "prove" that their personal values about the level of taxation and spending are a scientific fact? Probably not. Still, given how important this question is, I wish more people would treat this as a problem to be solved, a question to be answered, rather than a battle to be won.” Ideology and political posturing have gotten us nothing except deeper into the hole we’re already in and a whole lot of animosity that’s passing for serious debate. The Right needs to learn how to govern again, and we need a rational discussion on what we can do now to get us out of this mess. What is it going to take?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Some More Pre-Show Oscar Thoughts

I was just reading this New York Times article about how they're trying to revamp the Academy Awards ceremony this year and make it more intimate and communal. I hope they succeed, actually. They've had a formula in place for a lot of years now and the formula just no longer works. Apparently last year's Oscars were the lowest-rated ever, and it seems like they're doing more and more to strip it down and streamline the whole process. It'll be interesting to see if they succeed; I'm not sure it's even possible. The Academy Awards absolutely suck as television.

But this is the part that bothers me more every year: we all know it sucks. You do. You know it's going to be long and tedious and go on forever. But everyone complains about it as if they're surprised, every single year, by how long and tedious the show is. Duh, Chumley. Why haven't you hipped to it yet? Do you still wonder if the stove is hot, too?

Anyway, not that anyone asked or is interested, but I just have a few more random Oscar thoughts in the couple of days left before the ceremony.

1. Let me get this out of the way, then: the show is not going to be less than three hours long. It just isn't. Look, there are a lot of awards to give out. Those of you who complain the Oscars are self-indulgent: duh! The show is by the industry for the industry. The Oscar ceremonies aren't "too long." They're fucking boring! That's the bigger problem. It's not the length, it's the timing. But it's still going to be over three hours. Big deal. If you're going to watch it, you know that going in, so what's the problem?

2. I also hate when people take the Oscars incredibly seriously. The fact that there are people still whining because Titanic won Best Picture is just mind-blowingly lame to me. Does it really matter? It's not a popularity contest. Let me rephrase that; it's not a popularity contest that cares what people outside of the movie industry thinks is popular. It's an industry party handing out its end-of-the-year awards to itself. It's a self-congratulatory circle jerk that is highly overvalued by people who don't work in the industry, and who try to make it a survey of popular opinion when it's really a tightly-knit community paying homage to itself. Does that make the Oscars irrelevant? No, not at all. But they're not incredibly important, either. Not to me, anyway. It's interesting to see if their opinion matches my opinion, but WALL-E is the best film of 2008 for me whether the Academy thinks it is or not.

3. I'm all for montages and dance routines as long as they move the show along instead of bringing it to a grinding halt. I'd enjoy the montages if they were better (and sometimes they're pretty good). How come I see really neat montages on YouTube all the time, but Important Directors and Award-Winning Editors can't do nearly as good a job as some dude with too much time on his hands and some editing software? They should run contests for these things and just let the winners do it themselves. I think there should be more montages and less of the hosts dying on stage because the writers can't give them enough funny material to work with.

4. When it comes to the hosts, I've said before that I think Hugh Jackman is a fantastic choice. He's entertaining, he's got experience hosting awards shows, and he's really smolderingly sexy (for that reason alone he's going to be more fun to watch than Billy Crystal). I wonder if he'll get in one or two digs at how seriously the industry takes itself. I almost hope not; if there's one thing that award show after award show proves, it's that Hollywood can't collectively take a joke. They have no sense of humor about themselves in a large group (and neither does any large group, really). Based on the clips I saw of the Golden Globes, Ricky Gervais, Russell Brand, and Sacha Baron Cohen were the funniest people in the room, and the audience just hated them. What was awesome about these three is that they just didn't give a shit that the audience hated them for not treating the Globes with the deadly seriousness reserved for talking about the Holocaust. People always say they want someone irreverant, and then they come down on Ellen DeGeneres or Jon Stewart for not being respectful enough (and for what it's worth, the desire to make sure you're sucking off Hollywood for its greatness usually cripples otherwise funny people; Ellen, with a talk show under her belt, made it work, but I still maintain that Jon Stewart sucked as an Oscar host). You don't want irreverant, not really. You don't really want people to go on the Oscars and mock them. So my hope is that HugJack is breezy, professional, entertaining, effortlessly charming, and fun to watch. And he's those things in his sleep. Not that I know that from experience. Yet.

5. Best Original Song. This has really become a maligned category, hasn't it? Lots of people every year wonder why this category even exists. Personally, I think they should keep it. But the way the award is presented is a drag every year. We've usually already heard them. Peter Gabriel refused to go to the Oscars because they asked him to chop "Down to Earth," the very nice song from WALL-E, to 65 seconds as part of a montage. He wouldn't do it. What no one's pointed out is that they've done this before. One year, I remember, they had everyone on stage at once, and they sang only part of the songs. Paul McCartney still went through with it, but Peter Gabriel wants to be precious about it. Honestly, I think they should axe the performances altogether and just play a montage with the recorded version of the song over it. As much as I loved watching Amy Adams sing at the Oscars last year, I could live with music videos instead. Or, if you really wanted to streamline it, why not just get a talented editor to put a medly of all five songs together, giving them each a minute or so, with a montage of the films playing under it? Of course, this year they've chopped it down to three. What was so wrong with five?

6. Also, in this day and age, can we please finally get the Best Visual Effects category up to five nominees where it belongs?

7. As a corollary to number 1 (that you just have to accept that ceremony will be long), you also have to accept that people want to give acceptance speeches. Let them do it. I don't want to see any more idiotic battles between the person accepting an award and the orchestra. Treat these people with respect; they're overwhelmed, they're excited, they need a moment to collect themselves for clarity. I thought this "innovation" of making the "lesser" category winners give their speeches from their seats was cheap and tasteless, and it needs to stop. For some of these people, it's the only time they'll ever appear on a televised awards show in front of their entire industry and get to thank the people who put them there. Let them do it. And I think it's shameful that the orchestra will start playing over anyone who isn't an actor, actress, or the Best Director winner. That's really a shitty message to send: only the pretty actors are important. Quit enforcing limits and just let these people give their speeches and hope good taste wins out. I think the classiest thing Jon Stewart did last year was to bring Marketa Irglova back out on stage because her speech got cut off. Take a lesson from this. It's really embarrassing when speeches get cut off; it's embarrassing for the person talking, embarrassing for the Academy, embarrassing for everyone in the room, and I cringe watching it happen at home.

8. I still can't comment on the films nominated for Best Picture because I still haven't seen them. I always save these things for the last minute. We're doing that thing on Saturday at the AMC where you get to see all five movies in one day. This will beat my previous movie-watching record of four in one day (which were all--surprise, surprise--Best Picture nominees). Should be interesting.

9. I really, really, really want Anne Hathaway to win Best Actress. I know everyone says Kate Winslet is a lock, and it does seem wrong that Kate Winslet doesn't have an Oscar by now, but Anne Hathaway's performance in Rachel Getting Married was incredible. I think maybe she was too low-key to hit with voters (though it was perfect in a low-key movie like Rachel Getting Married). But the low-key is part of the reason why she deserves it; she wasn't showy, she didn't have the big dramatic Oscar bid moments, and it was surprising. I love her and everything she does, but even I didn't expect her to be that good in the movie. Still, even if she doesn't win, as far as I'm concerned, she's the Best Actress whether the Academy says so or not.

I Got Your Box Art Right Here

Just a suggestion based on my review of Fanboys. (Click the picture to enlarge so you can actually read my self-aggrandizing lameness.)

Fanboys website. Find out where it's playing. Go.

A Quick Movie Review from Becca

Uttered at minute 97 of High School Musical 3: Senior Year:

"This is the Stupidest Movie Ever! My Stupid Bucket has been steadily filling up this whole time, and you know what? It just overflowed."

When she says stuff like that, how could I not love watching movies with her?

The Immaculate Prosthetic

I read about this (and took the picture from) Geekologie. This is Hans Alexander Huseklepp's concept for the Immaculate prosthetic. It's purposely designed to look like a robot's arm (or as it's described, "a high-performance, cybernetic fashion statement").

I would totally get one of these if I lost one of my arms. I still have both of my arms and I almost want one of these now. I'd wear short sleeves all the time and be all like, "Yeah, what up, I'm a cyborg. So what? Got a problem with that? I'll kill you with my robot arm, muthafucka."

Fuck, that would be awesome.

Happy Birthday, Arielle Kebbel

Every time I post pictures of Arielle Kebbel, my traffic goes up. So, thanks for that, cutie! Enjoy your day!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

MAJOR MOVIE STAR (2008)
So, Jessica Simpson's movie was released on DVD with no publicity and given a very stupid re-title that I'm not even going to mention because it hurts my brain. I thought it was cute, but I'm a huge Jessica Simpson fan. If you're not, don't bother, because it's not, honestly, a good movie. **1/2 stars.

MY NAME IS BRUCE (2008)
As silly and goofy and fun as I hoped it would be. It ain't Shaun of the Dead, but it is Bruce Campbell as a sleazeball version of himself kidnapped and guilted into helping a small town defeat the Chinese god of bean curd. So nice to see Ted Raimi shemping again in three different roles. For Bruce fans only, I'm sure, but I'm a big Bruce fan and I enjoyed it. *** stars. Feels like the old days of handmade films. And Bruce's love interest, Grace Thorsen, is mad hot.

THE INNOCENTS (1961)
I used to question whether or not Turn of the Screw was ever meant to be adapted to film. I've seen a couple of terrible versions. But this movie... oh, wow, this movie was everything an adaptation of a novella should be. Full-bodied, compelling, adding a visual element that feels essential instead of superfluous. This is an incredible movie. Deborah Kerr plays the governess who tries to save her charges from a haunting, and this is the best possible version of this story precisely because it's never clear whether or not the haunting is real. There are so many interpretations of Henry James' story, and this film leaves the possibilities without ever coming out on the side of one or another. Is the haunting real? Is Miss Giddens going insane? Were the children really interfered with, or does she just jump to that conclusion (and if so, why)? How much does sexual repression play a role, or does it at all? And why are British children from the 1960s so inherently terrifying? A great deal of this movie exists in the excellent performances of the entire cast (one of Deborah Kerr's strongest performances) and the gorgeous cinematography of Freddie Francis, who turns Bly into one of the film's main characters. This is not a movie you can look away from. And you won't want to, anyway. **** stars.

THE KING AND QUEEN OF MOONLIGHT BAY (2003)
A sweet little made-for-cable movie (I suspect Hallmark, as Robert Halmi is one of the producers) about a man trying to establish a relationship with the daughter he abandoned a decade ago. Tim Matheson is better than usual as the father, a distant, acerbic, no-nonsense handyman. But the real draw of the movie for me, of course, was Kristen Bell as his daughter, just about to go to college and trying her hardest to make her father a part of her life. It's predictable, sure, but it's sweet-natured and emotionally genuine, and it helps deepen the movie for me that it makes me feel things about my own relationship with my father and my own thoughts about the daughter I've always wanted but am pretty sure I'll never, ever have. Bell is wonderful in the lead. I also enjoyed Ed Asner as a whimsical literary man who weaves in and out of the story, offering wisdom and advice, basically playing the same role Gene Kelly played in Xanadu (and I will always defend Gene Kelly in Xanadu). Much better than it probably has a right to be. *** stars.

THE HEARTBREAK KID (2007)
Awful. Just awful. You get tired of Malin Akerman because she sings along with the car radio and wants to have lots of kinky sex on your honeymoon? Yeah, sell it somewhere else, pal. And... I mean, is Ben Stiller supposed to be the hero? The person we root for? Because he's such a slimy wad of fuck, and added to his usual high hostility level, you just want him to fail in everything. Added to the annoyance is Carlos Mencia playing a Mexican even more stereotypical than the one he pretends to be normally. Carlos Mencia is about as Mexican as my balls. Good points? Well, Malin Akerman is surprisingly funny and very beautiful; Michelle Monaghan is very likable and cute; and Danny McBride doing anything is hysterically funny. So, *1/2 stars.

IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH (2007)
I didn't really want to see this movie because it was Paul Haggis and Crash was such an awful piece of shit. But I got caught up watching it because Tommy Lee Jones at his best is a fantastic actor, and he's at his best here as a retired military investigator whose son disappears after a tour of duty in Iraq. Jones investigates the matter himself and uncovers some uncomfortable truths about the military, about war, and about his son. It's a solid, effective movie with some very good characters and some points to make that, unlike in Crash, Haggis manages to make gently without hammering home the obvious. Good stuff. ***1/2 stars.

FANBOYS (2009)
This is one of those movies that look like someone reached into my head and pulled it out whole. It's about two friends, Eric and Linus, major Star Wars fans, who have drifted apart in their young adult years. Linus of them is dying of cancer, so Eric, running from the responsibility of his job, decides it's time to enact their childhood dream of road tripping to Skywalker Ranch. It's 1998 and The Phantom Menace is about to come out, but Linus isn't going to live long enough to see it released. What follows is, I think, a sweet movie about friendships and growing up and--very refreshing in the current cinematic climate--an affirmation of the idea that accepting maturity doesn't mean you have to give up the things you love and that make you happy; that you can follow your dreams with your whole heart and shouldn't be afraid to take risks. At it's core, it's about friends; all of the Star Wars and comic book stuff is just gravy. And it's a funny movie with some hilarious cameos (I especially loved Seth Rogen in two roles, as a Trekker and as a pimp "down with the Wars," and Danny McBride as the head of Skywalker Ranch security in a THX 1138 uniform). And, of course, the pure wonder that is Kristen Bell; you knew personified cuteness had to be 5''1, because compact is cute. She plays 90% of the girls I've ever loved, and I enjoyed her love story subplot with Jay Baruchel (dig his Elvis Costello look). And Dan Fogler, hilarious in Balls of Fury, is awesome as a guy who has the van I always wanted when I was a teenager. Love the custom astromech droid. Seriously, I know I'm the target audience, but I can't praise this movie enough. And thank you, guys, for resisting the temptation to bag on Phantom Menace and instead focusing on what fandom and friendship are about. ***1/2 stars. I enjoyed the fuck out of it!

IN A DARK PLACE (2006)
Contemporary version of Turn of the Screw, with my beloved Leelee Sobieski as the nanny who comes to care for two kids who may or may not be haunted. There's some major psychosexual twists in this telling, not all of them successful. Tara Fitzgerald plays Miss Grosse, the houskeeper, and the film goes for blatant lesbianism. The filmmakers also come down on the idea of the haunting not being real, but the molestation as something that happened for certain (they try to play it ambiguously, but there are some pointed moments--such as Flora getting into bed with Leelee after a nightmare and telling her "Do anything you want"--that make it obvious which side of the debate they come down on). What is interesting is that they play Leelee as a victim of childhood rape, and it opens up the idea that she jumps to the molestation conclusion right away because it taps into her own experiences as a child. The filmmakers also use Leelee's considerable sexuality as a supporting character. The unfortunate dichotomy of my darling Leelee as an actress is that she isn't quite equipped dramatically to play very smart roles, but she has a body that filmmakers lovingly caress with their cameras; she's a potential sex star who wants to be Meryl Streep. So the filmmakers are constantly showing her off in a way that makes her character look naive; curious and repressed at the same time. Tara Fitzgerald is interested in her, comes to care for her, and eventually physical love at least blossoms between the two. The point is supposed to be that Leelee's repression is a result of her distrust of men as a victim of childhood rape, and so she goes mad when she thinks she has to protect the children after a similar fate. There are a lot of good clues that make it seem certain that the haunting is all in her head. It's an interesting take on Turn of the Screw, some of which I've never quite seen before, but it's more interesting in its potential than it is in its execution. It doesn't come off, but it tries. **1/2 stars.

BEE MOVIE (2007)
What a stupid, stupid movie. And how disappointing that it's so stupid after a strong first 20 minutes. This is yet another one of those DreamWorks movies that is made for children, catered to children, but with a plot that only a detached man in his fifties could find hilarious. (Oh, and, a DreamWorks special, it's about an animated animal having a midlife crisis.) Barry Benson, a bee, doesn't want to be a bee, and is having a boring existential crisis about whether or not he can accept his life as a bee. He falls in love with a human florist named Vanessa, who settles very quickly into a relationship with him, because bestiality is always a fun plot element for animated children's movies. Then he finds out that humans are stealing honey from bees, and there's this uncomfortable stupidity where Barry sues humankind to get the honey back and stop bee exploitation and the filmmakers "hilariously" compare bee farms to Nazi death camps. Nice. A smarter movie might have had a trial to determine the sapience of bees and whether or not a bee, as a non-citizen of the United States and a freaking animal, can bring a lawsuit against the United States. So, the bees get the honey back and stop working, and all of the plants in New York die because there's no pollination. Then it falls back on tropes like an ordinary person having to land a plane. And it takes a mean cheap shot at John Lasseter, who is apparently more talented than anyone in DreamWorks animation can even begin to imagine being. Because of this trial nonsense, it's hard not to see the bees as an allegory for slavery. It lends an uncomfortable edge to the proceedings; when the bees get their honey, they stop working and all life on Earth is endangered. Is Jerry Seinfeld saying with his script that freeing the slaves is a mistake that destroys agriculture? That's messed up. What a stupid movie. It's so fucking stupid. Like 90% of DreamWorks animation. I'm giving it * star because the animation is of a very high quality, but everything else is wrong.

DEFINITELY, MAYBE (2008)
Meh. There's a nice denoument, but it takes way too long to get there. I liked Elizabeth Banks and I always like Abigail Breslin, but I'm tired of seeing guys in movies who are such weenies that they need other people to make their decisions for them. It used to be wives who ordered the guys around in romantic comedies; now their kids are doing it. And what a weird concept, anyway: Hey, little girl, I'm going to tell you about all of the girls I banged before your mom and I had you. Meh. ** stars.

FLYING DOWN TO RIO (1933)
Also meh. I didn't enjoy it, and as a vehicle for Dolores Del Rio, well, she's no Lupe Velez. That said, this is apparently the first movie to pair Fred Astaire with Ginger Rogers. I've never seen any of the movies they made together, but I loved them together here, so maybe I'll fix that gap in my personal movie history. ** stars.

CHANGELING (2008)
I have to admit, by this point I don't expect to like a Clint Eastwood movie very much. They're generally overlong, and Clint suffers from the same problem as a lot of the big directors, which is not knowing when a movie is actually over and going on for a fourth and fifth act. All that said, I think this is probably is best film since, I don't know, The Bridges of Madison County. (Not that I didn't like Mystic River and most of Million Dollar Baby, they just went on forever. Flags of Our Fathers, however, is a mess.) It's over two hours, but nothing in this movie really feels superfluous. I credit that to J. Michael Straczynski writing the script; he's a fine writer and an intelligent man (I met him once at a con). Angelina Jolie plays a woman whose son is kidnapped in 1928 Los Angeles, and when the police find a boy who sort of matches the description, they give him to her. She knows it isn't her son, but with the LAPD under public scrutiny for corruption, they railroad her into taking the kid. When she gathers proof that the boy isn't hers (he's circumcised, her boy isn't; he's four inches shorter; he doesn't remember his seat in his classroom; his dental records don't match) and she confronts the police, they force her into a mental hospital to shut her up. It's a harrowing story, very frank and not altogether sentimental; the other crime uncovered is very brutal and handled in a matter-of-fact sort of way. It's a damn good movie, and this time I think Angelina Jolie really deserves her Oscar nomination; it's the first movie I've liked her in since Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, and the first movie I've thought she was great in since Gia. (And I know it's probably shallow, but I find her hideous thinness distracting; she's got the hands of a 75 year-old.) It's an excellent movie, powerful and emotional, and a lot better than I've come to expect from Clint Eastwood at this point. **** stars.

Trilogies

Dan Meth created this Trilogy Meter. (He comments on why he only went to three movies with series that have had more than three on his own blog). I thought it was pretty nifty. And another list for me to comment on because, well, some days I just have no life.

My commentary here isn't meant to disparage his opinions, by the way. Everyone has their own. These are just mine.

Star Wars
I'm pretty much with him there, although I personally rate Return of the Jedi a little higher than Star Wars. It really comes down to just being more enjoyable. I've heard the complaints, but I don't hold with them, personally. It's a recapitulation of the first movie (as a third act, I accept that), but I think the entire battle between Luke, Vader, and the Emperor makes the entire movie and is more powerful than the slow-paced Death Star run of the first movie. And I like the Ewoks and all the other creatures. But The Empire Strikes Back is the best of the three, as far as I'm concerned.

As for the prequels... well, I like them for the most part. I think The Phantom Menace and Revenge of the Sith are almost as good as the original trilogy, but Attack of the Clones is truly a mess. And that's just from a story standpoint. Most of the complaints about the acting are completely justified.

Indiana Jones
I'd put Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom on equal footing, honestly. One's a perfect serial adventure, the other's a perfect jungle adventure. I don't know why Temple of Doom always gets so shafted. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is the lesser film; not that I don't like it, but it starts to sink into formula. Most of the people I know prefer Last Crusade, partly because of the humor and mostly because of the great chemistry between Harrison Ford and Sean Connery. My own opinion is that said chemistry is what saves the movie from being just another adventure movie.

As for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, I liked it. I'd put it nearly on the same level as Last Crusade. I didn't have a bad impression of it at all, and I think anyone complaining about the implausibility of nuked fridges is fooling themselves in a series where people have hearts pulled out of their chest and the power of God kills Nazis.

The Matrix
I thought they all sucked, to be honest. I think The Matrix Reloaded was the nadir--it's basically one very long action scene--and The Matrix Revolutions at least had Hugo Weaving going for it. I dug him in that third movie, but didn't like him in the others, weirdly enough. But yeah, they all suck hard.

Star Trek
I've always enjoyed the Special Edition version of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I can see what people don't like about it. I think the fundamental deficiency is not that it's slow-paced, but that it's kind of a relic. Even for it's time it feels dated: How the Past Saw Tomorrow. But I still like it. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn is the best Star Trek film there probably ever could have been, and it's one of my favorite movies. But Star Trek III feels like a long episode of the TV series. It's too bad they couldn't find a way to make the return of Spock and the destruction of the Enterprise and the death of Kirk's son more epic. I know that they didn't expect to get a third movie and therefore didn't have a sequel idea at the ready, and it makes this movie feel uncertain. They could have done so much more.

As for the others, I think Star Trek IV is cute but overrated. Star Trek V has no grasp of who any of the characters even are; I particularly hate that they brought back the old trope of having Spock try to make peace with his Vulcan and human halves when they'd finally settled it at the end of IV with that moment between Sarek and Spock. Star Trek VI is underrated, and probably the best one after Star Trek II. Nicholas Meyer should've written all of the Star Trek movies; he knows how to pack in a lot of storylines without making them crowded, and his technobabble feels realistic.

And then there's the Next Generation movies. I think Generations had some good scenes, but was basically there to bridge the gap and the story suffers for it. (One of the best uses of a swear word I've ever seen in a movie, though.) Star Trek: First Contact is the best of the TNG movies; it's exciting, it has some great character moments, and the plot actually makes sense. It kind of sucks that they basically reduced the cast to Picard, Data, and Worf, though, especially at the expense of, say, Beverly Crusher, who has nothing to do. Again. And they kept bending over backwards to explain what Worf was even doing back on the Enterprise in every one of these movies. Star Trek: Insurrection flat out sucks. It's the only time I felt like the Enterprise crew were just completely in the wrong. No one puts forth the idea of peaceful coexistence instead of all or nothing for one side or the other. And then there's the much-maligned Star Trek: Nemesis, which isn't a great movie, but wasn't as bad as everyone told me it was (Insurrection was much worse). What Nemesis is, though, is completely unmemorable.

Superman
I would put Superman higher than Superman II, if only because I hated all of the comedy scenes Richard Lester threw into the sequel. The Richard Donner version of Superman II is much better (it restores the best scenes in the movie, which are between Brando and Christopher Reeve and contains some of Reeve's best screen acting), but I still have some problems with it. (I can get over the repeat ending, which was always intended for the sequel, but I don't like that they cut out Superman's apology to the President, and Clark returning to the diner to beat the shit out of that guy who pushed him around just looks mean now. And, actually, turning back the world so that Lois doesn't remember he's Clark Kent negates all of the events of the sequel, so the callback doesn't even make sense anymore. I'm wrong: the time travel is a Jeppy.) I keep wanting to do a fan edit of the two movies that makes them one epic. Superman III is shit. Reeve is still good, but everything else is completely awful, and even though I always like Richard Pryor he seems to not know what he's doing in the movie in the first place. (Think of how terrible Star Trek IV would've been if they'd put Eddie Murphy in it like they planned.)

The less said about Superman IV: The Quest for Peace--ever--the better. When I was 11, I saw it in a double feature with Masters of the Universe. What a terrible day that was. And I absolutely hated Superman Returns, which basically aspired to be Superman II, considering how much Bryan Singer "borrowed" from Donner. Bryan Singer's biggest problem with the first Superman doesn't seem to be that he didn't direct, but that he can't just put his name on it.

Jurassic Park
This is a hard one. I did enjoy Jurassic Park. It came out the year I turned 17, and I swear I saw it in the theater about 15 times. It was just a great cinema experience for a teenager in 1993. The sequel has its moments--and the cinematography is great--but just feels like more of the same. I guess I liked The Lost World less than Jurassic Park (although I didn't buy the gripes about the ending; what exactly didn't make sense to you?). I actually liked Jurassic Park III; it was goofy as hell, but they axed most of the fake ethical quibbling in favor of a straightforward action adventure that I just enjoyed on its own merits. Great pterosour setpiece, too.

We don't need any more of these, do we?

X-Men
None of the X-Men movies were really that good. The first one had some nice moments and some decent character scenes; Hugh Jackman as Wolverine is wonderful, and Ian McKellen as Magneto surpassed my expectations (I admit, I expected him to suck). It at least takes the concept seriously, and the budget limitations are a little disappointing, but not dealbreakers. X2 was better, but suffered seriously from far too many characters and plotlines to be satisfying. Of all the multiple endings, I thought the death of Jean Grey was the cheapest. You're a psychic, but you need to be out in the open air to still not be able to stop a wall of water? I'm not buying it. It's only there to set up Dark Phoenix for the third movie; it wasn't organic to the plot. It's a fun movie, but it's not the classic a lot of people think it is. And I didn't think X-Men: The Last Stand was as bad as everyone said it was. It suffers from the same problem of jamming in too many characters and storylines and endings (why the hell was Angel even in the movie other than to spark a lot of fanboy boners at recognizing anything), but I like that the filmmakers at least had the nerve to just start killing characters off left and right without any regard to comic book continuity. Who cares? I'm sick of movies so slavishly devoted to comic book continuity that they can't tell a self-contained story.

Still, they all are pretty unsatisfying movies with too much going on and lots of shitty direlogue. But they're the only movies Hugh Jackman is awesome in. I'm not sure if I like him enough to see Wolverine, though.

Spider-Man
(It's two words, dammit.) I love them. All of them. If I have one complaint, it's that the scene everyone despised in Spider-Man 3--the jazz club scene--was the most Sam Raimi scene in the series. I don't think there are really any fans of Raimi out there anymore; they're really fans of Spider-Man and/or The Evil Dead.

The Lord of the Rings
All of the extended cuts are great. Theatrically, I thought The Two Towers was unsatisfying, mostly because it took away Theoden's dignity by making him a reactionary. (My friend Carl went even further and said he didn't like it because it seemed to take away the ability of anyone other than the Fellowship to see through evil, and that it turned them into "a Middle-earth A-Team." I love that.)

Mad Max
I'd say he's right on. If you can, see the actual version of Mad Max, without the cuts and the bad dubbing. The Road Warrior is the best one. But I like that he put Beyond Thunderdome above the first one; I think it gets the shaft sometimes, but it's actually quite good.

Jaws
Jaws is a classic. Jaws 2 is pretty bad, but at least it still had Roy Scheider in it. I don't think Jaws 3 is better than Jaws 2. Jaws 3 is incredible in its stupidity.

And, somehow, Jaws: The Revenge is a thousand times more imbecilic.

Back to the Future
I love this series, but I'd say he's right on the nose. The original is a great film that gets even better with age; the other two are neat skiffy adventures but don't quite have the heart of the original and aren't as clever. I don't think it's successfully epic, but I do love the characters and enjoy the series as a whole. They could've given Michael J. Fox the same haircut from the first movie, though...

Die Hard
The original Die Hard is an action suspense classic. (I have to say it again: when it came out, it seemed so gonzo and over-the-top, but it looks like Hitchcock compared to what Michael Bay, McG and others have done to the action genre.) Die Hard 2: Die Harder is... more of the same. It's okay, but it's more of the same and that makes it not as fresh. I find I don't remember much about it as time goes on, whereas the first movie lives in my memory as one of the great films of the eighties. Die Hard: With a Vengeance is a terrible movie from a time when terrible action movies were as plentiful as grass in Iowa. It's just so... not good. At all.

I haven't seen Live Free or Die Hard and I don't plan to.

Blade
I agree. The first Blade was an okay, moody, goofy action flick. Guillermo del Toro turned Blade II into great action horror, blowing the first one away completely. Blade: Trinity is the kind of dumb that might actually hurt your brain.

Planet of the Apes
The original Planet of the Apes is a great film. It's kind of junky, yes, and parts of it are silly, but hangs together as a great Twilight Zone episode, basically. I love Planet of the Apes. It's one of my many favorites movies. But I don't care much about any of the other films, except that I enjoy Escape from the Planet of the Apes.

The Godfather
I've always disagreed with everyone here. First of all, I prefer to watch The Godfather Saga, which edits the first two films together as one astounding epic. As individual films, I think The Godfather is one of the greatest films ever made. I don't feel that way about the supposedly superior The Godfather, Part II. It's overvalued. The scenes with Robert De Niro are excellent, but the entire Al Pacino storyline is one-note. He doesn't have a dramatic change, he just gets more evil, and it's boring to watch. And I don't think the two story tracks sit comfortably together. I think The Godfather, Part II is a good movie pretending to be a great one, and I don't think it's remotely the equal of The Godfather. As for The Godfather, Part III, I didn't think it was as bad as the "conventional wisdom" or "popular opinion" or what have you says it is. At least it tells a story instead of just trying to extend the success of the original.

Rocky
Rocky is a great film. And I like Rocky II, which comes close to equalling the first movie. After that, I stop buying it. They descend into the same formula over and over. Rocky III is just awful and can't end quickly enough. Rocky IV is barely even a movie. Rocky V brings up the idea that Rocky will have permanent brain damage if he pushes himself too hard, yet it ends with a street fight. Give me a break. Running in the street nearly gives him an aneurism, but he can take on a young boxer in his prime with no problem? Hey, remember in the second movie when his vision was impaired and he was going to lose the use of an eye if he fought again? Yeah, whatever.

Rocky Balboa was a nice little elegy that captured the memory, if not the spirit, of the original. It was a nice movie. But stop it. Now. It's over.

The Terminator
The original is a treasure. (I know it's not that original--it's ripped off from Harlan Ellison, and most of James Cameron's movies are rip-offs of something or other--but the execution is excellent.) The second movie is, against all expectations, even better. The third movie is unmitigated, useless crap. It is. Quit making excuses for it and move on.

Rambo
I love First Blood right up until the lame ending. Up until then, it's a great action flick. Rambo: First Blood, Part II is one of the most closeted homoerotic movies I've ever seen, with loving shots of Stallone's enormous chest as he's tortured and cut. It's like an exploitation prison camp movie, but instead of Pam Grier it's Sylvester Stallone. It's a sick movie. Rambo III is merely terrible.

I haven't seen Rambo. I'm not sure I care.

Batman
What's interesting here is the way hype and perception change over time. When Batman was coming out, no one thought Michael Keaton could play Batman. Then it made a ton of money and no one ever said that again. I saw that movie time and time and time again in the theater. Then, when Batman Begins came out, lots of people said it was superfluous because the 1989 Batman was still so recent and so perfect. And then Batman Begins made a ton of money.

The funny thing is, Batman is not a perfect film. Far from it. I think there was room to make a new movie, because the 1989 Tim Burton film has dated terribly. Watch it again; it doesn't hold up. Sure, the production design is pretty good and Michael Keaton's good and Jack's pretty good and the score is excellent and the Prince music even kind of holds up, but... as a whole, it's just not very much fun. Seen now, 20 years later, it's not anything you need to watch ever again, probably. I think Batman Returns was the much better movie. Tim Burton knew the kind of sicko Batman movie he wanted to make, and it's a much more confident picture. He gets the symbolism right and the actors are very good. It feels more like a whole and just looks better.

The third movie, Batman Forever (quoth my friend Alice in high school: "That's not a title! That's something you write in a yearbook!"), is uneven. You can see what they would've done with Burton, but then made really awful with Joel Schumacher. The casting is all over the place, but usually ends up at mis-. Val Kilmer is a dour Batman and a pointless Bruce Wayne, Tommy Lee Jones doesn't have anything to do (and he knows it; it's a payout), and Nicole Kidman looks beautiful and glamorous but isn't made much of. Chris O'Donnell is awful and annoying. Does anyone even remember Drew Barrymore and Debi Mazar are in this movie? Ed Begley Jr. at least has one wonderfully OTT moment ("What the HELL is going on here?!"). Jim Carrey starts off kind of okay, but sees the top, goes over it, and ends up in orbit.

And then there was Batman and Robin, which was somehow even more painful. The whole thing is this fetish icecapade which no one could possibly enjoy. Uma Thurman is kind of good doing a Marlene Dietrich impression, but Arnold Schwarzenegger is embarrassing himself. Does anyone remember Vendela, Vivica Fox, or Elle MacPherson in this movie? Or that they used Bane? I barely remember Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl; that was pointless. All the worst aspects of the 1965 TV series with none of the fun.

As for the new series, I really enjoyed Batman Begins. I enjoyed it a lot. But I'm betting that it's not going to hold up in a few years, either. And there was a lot I didn't like in The Dark Knight. Cyphers, but no characters. Symbols, but no humanity.

Alien
The first two films are excellent. The third and anything beyond (including Alien vs. Predator) is a waste of time.

That's all he's got on the meter. I'm kind of surprised he didn't add Lethal Weapon to that, but maybe next time.

Swan Nebula

No Comment, Miss

Mostly Geekylinks

If more people were reasonable, I would have directed you to Undead Film Critic, who had a post up featuring pictures of one of my favorite Playmates, Lorrie Menconi. Unfortunately, because we live in a world where people are terrified of boobies and don’t want anyone to enjoy them, his blog was deleted by Google. Darius Whiteplume has a thoughtful post in relation to this. Why can’t people ignore something they don’t like and just move on with their lives instead of spoiling things for everyone else—and, much worse, trying to marginalize others who don’t have similar hang-ups as sick and wrong?

(BTW, My Favorite Playmates sounds like something that needs to become a new Electronic Cerebrectomy feature. I’ll have to think about that one.)

* “Many people have the idea that Lost is an intricately-plotted tale with story points that have been in place for years. And it is...mostly. But for all their planning, Lost's writers have left a pile of loose ends as large as Hurley himself which clearly indicate they've been making it up as they go along…” (Topless Robot)

* “When you arrive at a business establishment and begin your journey through the line towards the register, it is wise to take advantage of this free time and figure out what the fuck you want to eat. The Procrastinator, however, finds this concept foreign.” (The 8 Customers Everyone Hates @ Cracked)

* 20 Worst Foods of 2009 (Men’s Health)

* Top 25 Reasons Why Disco Died (Retrospace)

* Create Your Own Original Star Trek Story (hilarious chart at io9)

Jon has more By the 10s, this time with the Justice League of America, at Random Acts of Geekery! (Part 1, Part 2) Oh, and here’s a comic I always like to see get attention: Metal Men by the 10s!

* 2719 Hyperion has a post about the great Disney cartoon Mother Goose Goes Hollywood, and a rundown of the celebrities caricatured in it.

* “The script was one of the best I ever read, and all the characters and events were very clearly defined. It was one of the only times I have been lucky enough to work on a movie where the script was that good (and that complete) even before the boarding started.” (Will Finn remembers working on The Little Mermaid and redesigning Sebastian.)

* Michael Sporn has a lot of Mary Blair concept art, many of which I’ve never seen before, for the Berceuse segment of Fantasia, which was never made.

* JA has some beautiful imagery from Jacques Tati’s Playtime. He’s also got a post for Laura Dern, whom I’ve loved for a very long time.

* “I don’t understand why it seems like the majority of today’s movies geared towards women were written in a weekend by two or three men and made to portray women as catty, scheming, pathetic she-beasts with minds only set on men and babies, but I blame Sex and the City.” Courtney Enlow is the best kind of woman: the kind who sees chick flicks for the insulting antifeminist claptrap they usually are. (Hobo Trashcan)

Here’s a fascinating debate as to the lack of female superheroes in today’s superhero-heavy cinema. First, Thera Pitts:
“Did you ever stop to think that it isn’t just the actresses who sully your favorite movies but the comic book movie industry’s lazy attitude towards women characters in general? The actress is only as good as her material, and the material is seriously lacking.” (Rope of Silicon)

Then, Josh Tyler, whose social theories indicate he must be a particularly uneducated 14 year-old who has watched a lot of old TV, gave this little idiot screed about how women don’t like superheroes, anyway:
“So go ahead, make more movies about female superheroes. Just don’t make them with an eye towards entertaining women. Make them for men. Conversely, don’t force Julia Roberts to start catering to dudes. Don’t make her movies with an eye towards forcing us to connect with our emotions. It’s not going to happen.” (Cinema Blend)

And Elisabeth Rappe, always the best part of Cinematical, had this to say:
“It's beyond frustrating to read an opinion like this in 2009. This is precisely the image of women that we've been fighting against for years, and something the writers here on Cinematical have spilled a lot of digital ink on. Choosing to make popular culture into gender culture is outdated, insulting, and the precise reason we get milquetoast versions of Elektra, fewer Ellen Ripleys, and more films of frothy fashion, drippy women, and bland romance.”

I’ve got to say, living with a woman who was a huge fan of superheroes and science fiction long before I ever met her, I’m with Elisabeth and Thera on this one. But as a guy, I don’t really know how it feels to see my gender excluded over and over in action flicks. So I don’t have some kind of theory about why things are the way they are in superhero movies. But I have posited an idea for a Supergirl movie that I think is more interesting than what we've already gotten and I do think a great Wonder Woman movie is possible if we can get it away from Joel Silver.

* Women of DC Dolls from Tonner (Geek Orthodox)

Fembots. I’m gonna need six of this one.

* The Retroist has the right idea about bringing back one of my favorite ad campaigns as a kid. I especially remember this print ad from a hundred comic books I bought. I loved Reese’s Pieces.

* The 5 Most Ridiculous Lies Ever Published as Fiction (Cracked)

* The 6 Most Insane Moral Panics in American History (Cracked; they’re all there, from comics to D&D to backwards heavy metal messages. Those never stop being funny.)

* 6 Inspiring Rags to Riches Stories (That Are Bullshit) (Cracked)

* Gorgeous pictures of Etosha National Park in Namibia (with elephants, among others) at Robot Nine.

* “I thought I'd never seen anything like it. Then I remembered that I have, a couple of times, in people I've arrested. People who were clearly guilty as sin, and yet through some psychological response I don't understand, had apparently convinced themselves that they were innocent.” (Bubs has a very interesting take on the Blagojevich media onslaught.)

* 25 People to Blame for the Financial Crisis (Time)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Health Report, Year 3: Week 10

Phase Two of South Beach is much harder than Phase One. At least, it is for me. I figured it would be. Phase One is all stuff I like to eat, anyway: turkey, sirloin, salads, eggs, light cheeses, etc. Sure, I had to learn the difference between my body feeding on fat and sugar reserves and actually being hungry, but I think I did that just fine. Phase Two is harder because it widens the scope, and now I can have a bit of bread or cereal or something like that. I worry that, with more options available, the urge to overeat is going to take over. According to the book, a lot of people feel that way.

But I will say this: I don't actually want fast food anymore. I'm able to remember more accurately how bad some of that stuff actually tastes as opposed to how good the ads make it look. And after not having any soda or any salty foods, and making food for myself instead, all the fast foods I used to love seem bland in my memory. I'd rather we make some grilled chicken and salsa or stuffed peppers instead.

Turns out I also like wraps better than sandwiches. Who knew?

I haven't been entirely good. I did cave and taste that Dunkin' Donuts waffle breakfast sandwich. I loved it, too. Much, much better than McDonald's. Still, for a man with high blood pressure, it's not the kind of thing I should eat very often (the sodium alone is incredibly high). But it wasn't greasy, which was nice. But, come on, four bucks for that little thing?! And I burnt my tongue on the coffee like a moron.

Anyway, what this all means is that I still haven't lost much weight, but I'm still losing size. My pants are starting to feel too big and my shirts are hanging off me. I'm still not thrilled with how I look, but I can see real progress being made. I can feel real progress being made. Somehow, South Beach actually did make me want the kind of garbage I used to eat constantly a lot less. I don't ever want to eat McDonald's again, frankly. And I think this time I can follow through on that statement.

Also: SoBe. Damn, that stuff is good. That stuff is the drink I've always been looking for. It's smooth and fruity without being full of sugar or HFCS, and it doesn't have that alcoholic sting that I hate or the carbonation and caffeine that I shouldn't be having because of my acid reflux. I love it. I only drink it at dinner, but it's damn good.

Anyway. I know having a post where I'm only up, up, up and feeling good is probably a lot less interesting than a post where I'm tortured and conflicted. But what can I say? I'm feeling good.

Roland Burris Is Clearly Innocent

Have you seen him answering questions from reporters about his possible perjury? He deflects, he quibbles, he answers around the questions, he's touchy, he's pushy, he's defensive, he's jittery... just like all innocent people everywhere. Just like Blago was. Blago, who is so damn innocent that he's having trouble even finding a lawyer willing to defend him.

Please. Is the Illinois legislation surprised that he's refusing to resign? This is a guy who essentially whined his way into confirmation, and now he's going to whine to keep himself there. He's not vacating his Senate seat; he'll have to be dragged from the thing with his teeth marks in it.

Yes, Ma'am!

I like it when you take charge like that...

Monday, February 16, 2009

"Is This Real Life?"

This is how I felt after I had my wisdom teeth removed 10 years ago.

All Star Superman, Etc.

The second (and final) volume of All Star Superman came out in hardcover. I instantly devoured it, as quickly as a could, and I don't think it's remotely a stretch to say it's one of the best Superman stories of all time. It's in my personal top five, and might even be number one. Off the top of my head, I can't think of one I like more...

Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely have pulled off something special with Superman. They've crafted a story that is, on many levels, a tribute to the Silver Age Superman, kept in the goofiness (but not so much that it falls apart under silliness), and treated the story with emotional integrity. I don't want to say they've taken the sillier aspects of the Silver Age seriously--that sounds pretty heavy-handed. But they approach their story with a respectful and loving tone. Which is not to say that the book isn't also funny. The chapter with Lex Luthor giving an interview to Clark Kent during a prison riot, so busy talking about himself that he doesn't notice Clark giving them some super assistance, is hilarious.

There is so much in the two volumes of All Star Superman to enjoy: Lex Luthor's over-the-top schemes, the Kryptonian astronauts, Lois Lane as a superwoman for a day, my beloved Krypto, Jimmy Olsen in his Superman's Pal days... And all the while, Superman realizes he's slowly dying from an overdose of sun radiation and is told he must complete 12 great labors to benefit humankind before he passes on. In between all of the fun, Morrison and Quitely deal with Superman's angst. And Superman has a lot of angst.

I think part of the problem with many interpretations of Superman is that his angst isn't very often dealt with. I'm not referring to Batman, a character often dripping with too much angst to be dramatically interesting. Superman's angst is oddly ennobling. I've long said that the real source of Superman's power--his belief in truth and life and hope--stems from his faith in the essential goodness of humanity. (And how excellent it was to see Mark Waid say, in his introduction to All Star Superman, Vol. 2, that what makes Superman unique in the realm of supermen is that "he has more faith in us than we have in ourselves.") Kal-El is the reality of what Superman is; Clark Kent is the secret identity. Superman models himself after the best in humankind, shows us what we might be. And there's a lot of angst in there when a talented writer shows us--without taking it too far--that Superman often wonders if he's doing enough, even knowing that doing too much is to infantilize the people who raised him. Superman does what he does out of a sense of responsibility, a sense of right and wrong; never out of a sense of self-righteousness or the belief that people are unable to help themselves.

Or, as Mark Waid puts it so eloquently, "Gods achieve their power by encouraging us to believe in them. Superman achieves his power by believing in us."

This is why I bristle when I hear people say (often) that you can't make a good Superman movie. Of course you can. You just have to understand the character you're dealing with. One of the reasons Iron Man was so refreshing is that Iron Man is one of the few Marvel characters who doesn't see his power as a gigantic burden. (Or as PVP deftly pointed out, he's like Batman without all of the whining.) Superman is an angsty character, but not a brooding one. He's an idealistic one, and I think there are too many people who like superheroes that tend to see idealism as something stupid. Superman shows us how our ideals and virtues can exist in reality and inspire us to do better for the world and for ourselves. With modern pop culture still so blinded by antiheroes (see The Dark Knight, a movie so caught up in symbolism and psychopathy that it eschews characters in favor of cyphers), there's this (in my opinion) garbage belief that you have to somehow be evil in order to fight evil. Which is boring and more than a little sad (and part of the reason I'm interested in how they handle Watchmen, which has been so influential in the past 25 years that we've already seen a lot of movies in the same vein; is deconstructing superheroes going to feel original anymore?).

I've seen recently that the Wachowski Brothers are talking about doing a trilogy of Superman movies. I'd be interested; I really enjoyed Speed Racer and V for Vendetta. Though my experience with The Matrix shows me they're incapable of making an interesting trilogy, I'm always happy to be proven wrong, especially when it comes to entertainment. After the mediocre Superman Returns, I'm ready for something different. Superman Returns tried so hard to be a sequel to the Richard Donner movie that it was an embarrassment; I hope the Wachowskis at least have the artistic courage to strike out on their own and make something unrelated to the earlier films. What's the point otherwise?

And even if it sucks, Superman survived Bryan Singer and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, I'm sure he'll survive the Wachowskis. Superman's bigger than some crappy movie or lameass TV show, and he always will be. I think the people who are decrying this decision are just a little too into themselves. I can't imagine going through life being so attached to a TV show or a movie or a comic book or a concept that everything must be taken as canon and, when not liked, a travesty against humankind. Is it such a foreign idea that you could, I don't know, not go? Or, just maybe, move on from not liking something?

For me, the "correct" version of Superman will always live in my head, and occasionally, if I'm lucky, as is the case with All Star Superman, that version will be reflected through lyrical storytelling.