Saturday, June 13, 2009

Yo, Joe! Episode 8

Satellite Down

This one gets weird.

The Joes put a spy satellite in orbit, but Destro pulls it back down to Earth with a tractor beam and crashes it somewhere in Africa. Dusty and Spirit happen to be flying over Africa at the time, where Dusty's babbling about some explorer called MacIntosh who supposedly lives in the region like a hermit. They find a hut on fire and land, only to be confronted by Storm Shadow, which means Spirit and Storm Shadow can renew their intense courtship ongoing fight. But Spirit has to rescue someone calling for help inside the hut and Dusty's too... well, he's not good at fighting ninjas. No points if you guessed the guy in the hut was MacIntosh. There's an economy of characters here.

MacIntosh says, rather ominously, that even with a lead on the satellite, Cobra will never get past the Primorts, proto-humans more ape than man. They meet up with a Joe team led once again by the insufferable Lady Jaye, and another joke/lesson about sexism occurs. The Cobras take out a bridge, so someone has to go wake Tollbooth up from his nap. Boy, Hasbro really wanted to sell some Bridgelayers, didn't they? Third appearance in eight episodes. Spirit, Lady Jaye, and MacIntosh are separated from the others and resolve to meet Flint and the other Joes at the satellite, due west.

Jeez, try a little harder, Not-Scarlett. Didn't anyone give this chick attention growing up?

Meanwhile, Cobra Commander is having a hissy fit over not getting the satellite yet. Destro just sits there silently and watches, figuring the little guy will tire himself out and then take a nap.

Storm Shadow attacks with some Crimson Guards, and he and Spirit get some more time to roll around together. But then those Primorts show up, straight out of a Tarzan novel, and capture everyone. Freedom tries to get away, but a Primort knocks him out with a bola.

Back at the canyon, Tollbooth still hasn't shown up. Maybe he figured he had time to go and grab a bite in town. Great exchange:

Dusty: "Relax, Flint. Rome wasn't built in a day."

Flint: "Who needs Rome? All I want is a bridge."

He's gettin' testy without Lady Jaye to take the edge off.

In typical pulp fashion, the prisoners are tied to posts. (I thought someone might enjoy the Lady Jaye bondage.) Storm Shadow is grumbling about not getting an honorable death when everyone notices that the Primorts are worshiping the downed spy satellite like a god. And the first person they're going to sacrifice to it is Lady Jaye. Man, I hope they do.

With Tollbooth finally showing up and a bridge laid, Flint and the Joe team rushes across the bridge and finds Freedom on the ground. Freedom leads them in the direction of the captured Joes, while Flint tries not to cry about whether or not he'll find Lady Jaye, who is remaining as smug and desperate for validation in the face of death as she always is. Freedom arrives and scares the Primorts just as Spirit is convincing Storm Shadow that they need to work together. Lady Jaye sadly lives and breaks out fighting, rescues Spirit and MacIntosh, and then Spirit, with his stereotypical honor code, frees Storm Shadow and quips(?) "As my tribal shaman would say, let us depart this condition of being." That's what passes for humor with you, Spirit? I love you, but you need more laughing gas.

There are more Primorts, and Storm Shadow decides it'll be cool to pick up a Primort kid and start beating the shit out of it. Lady Jaye objects, so he tries to blow up everyone, Primorts and Joes, and then rushes off, breaking the deal he made with Spirit, who seems hurt. The other Joes arrive, and Flint and Lady Jaye get all lovey and shit. Blurgh.

Well, the Primort kid is the chief's son, and he's happy the Joes saved the kid, so everyone makes up and the Joes are going to get their satellite back. But Storm Shadow returns, leading Cobra forces, so the Ewoks--er, Primorts help the Joes fight them. Spirit and Storm Shadow have another intense moment, during which Spirit breaks Storm Shadow's centuries-old sword with a club. You tell me what that means. You just tell me.

So the Cobras get the satellite, but the Joes destroy it before they can make off with it, and Storm Shadow escapes. They still get the memory chips with the data intact (whatever), and the Joes, in the best tradition of white racist explorers among a new civilization, leave them a new god: TV. I don't know what the hell signal it's picking up and what the hell it's even plugged into, but the chief doesn't like it at all and smashes it, sending a mixed message to the kids at home about the value of the television Hasbro needs them to keep watching.

I guess all's right with the world.

Not the best episode--in fact, my least favorite so far, if only because I'm so damn sick of Storm Shadow and Not-Scarlett. Different characters next time, please.

JoeToonArchive

Yo, Joe! Episode 7

Red Rocket's Glare

This episode starts off with the disturbing image of some tribal kid rushing through the jungle to give something to Destro before he's caught by pursuing Joes led by Roadblock, Recondo, and Blowtorch. Destro, "in a generous mood," lets the kid live while the Joes need a bridge to reach Destro's fortress. Tollbooth takes a break from writing his novel or whatever he does when the Joes aren't using him (which is often) and lays the bridge down, and the Joes launch their assault.

This is Blowtorch's time to shine, and he sure doesn't, completely failing to capture Destro, who escapes with a warhead in tow (the kid was bringing him the last component). Blowtorch beats himself up about it; he should really be beating himself up for being so lame. He's Scottish or Irish or something, and that's about all there is to him. I mean, he might be lamer than Recondo, although Recondo's always so self-impressed. Bah, they're both lame. Still, Recondo and Roadblock offer that at least Cobra can no longer use the base.

Too bad they didn't, I don't know, follow Destro, because he just sort of hops away in a Trouble Bubble and lands in a clearing where Cobra agents are essentially building a town in the middle of the jungle. Cobra Commander's even there, with Tomax and Xamot, waiting for the warhead, which is actually the final piece of something called the Photon Disintegrator, Cobra's newest superweapon.

So, for the good job of losing Destro in the jungle after he fled to another place in the jungle, Roadblock and Recondo get two weeks furlough. For some reason, they decide to spend it together, even though I'd ditch Recondo the first chance I got and head down to the beach. Recondo wants to eat at the Red Rocket Diner (they pass more of these things than there are McDonald's in the universe), but Roadblock will only eat at his Uncle Caleb's diner. But when they get there, it's been turned into a Red Rocket! Uncle Caleb and Aunt Sarah sold out to the chain, but now business is dead and they're going to have to sell it back to the company for less than they paid. Apparently, the customers are being kept away by a rowdy biker gang with ray guns. And it's not even the Dreadnoks!

Oh, and Roadblock's real name is Marvin. It's always kind of cool to hear people on G.I. Joe use their real names. Makes them more people and less superheroes. Recondo seems to think "Marvin" is a funny name, overlooking the fact that "Recondo" is a pretty douchey codename.

So, this biker gang shows up and starts shooting, so Roadblock chases them off, threatening to "slap you on a hamburger bun and serve you for lunch!" Seriously, ray guns? Well, it seems suspicious to the Joes, as well it should, since this is Tomax and Xamot's deal. They've got some guy called Mr. Quigg out there buying up the Red Rocket locations for Extensive Enterprises.

Now, this seems needlessly complicated to me. Extensive Enterprises sold the locations; now they're driving away business in order to buy the locations back. Can there really be that much of a profit that it's worth it to go to all this trouble? If they need all of the locations, why didn't they just build the damn things? Is it a matter of making the franchise popular? If so, why not just enjoy the profits of a successful fast food franchise and be done with it? It would be like Ronald McDonald suddenly deciding to hold the world for ransom; he already has them.

Well, Roadblock wants some back-up, and unfortunately all G.I. Joe has to send to him are Flint, Lady Jaye, and Cutter. When Roadblock kicks out Mr. Quigg, Cobra attacks a freaking diner, and they still can't destroy it, even with ASPs and Stinger Jeeps firing missiles and lasers at it. The Joes turn back the attackers and start doing some serious looking into the franchise. Breaker finds out the twins' needlessly complex scheme; Roadblock's uncle is the last holdout.

Now, here's what bugs me as a believability issue. In The Pyramid of Darkness, we saw the towers of Extensive Enterprises crumble to reveal a rocket and gantry inside. Everyone saw that. It's obvious that the CEOs, Tomax and Xamot, were working with Cobra. So how are these two still conducting business in the United States and not in government custody? G.I. Joe knows they work with terrorists, which seems like it would just get you a trip to Guantanamo now. I mean, when Roadblock and Flint go to question them, they just accept the twins' lame defense that they can't be held responsible for the actions of their clients. Can't wait to see that hold up in court. (And with Bush's Supreme Court, it will.)

And then, then, when Lady Jaye breaks into the building to do some detective work, they throw her out the window, then follow her and try to make sure to kill her. Flint saves her, but he sees the whole thing. And yet, in the future we'll see Extensive Enterprises is still in business. What the hell, man? You just saw two terrorists try to murder a government agent, and no one's going to prosecute on that? I don't know if the Crimson Twins were really thought out as villains.

Cobra Commander gets on TV and tells the world he's got 115 missiles poised to disintegrate the major capitols of the world, which he demonstrates on that town he was building in the jungle. Cobra Commander's map, though, corresponds to the locations of the Red Rocket Diners, which have a big rocket on the roof that, Roadblock concludes, are real. Everyone mobilizes to dismantle the Cobra weapons, which they do pretty handily (though not without another tiresome scene for Lady Jaye to be a total smuggo in).

Cobra attempts to launch a rocket at Washington, DC. Roadblock climbs aboard it as it lifts off, and the Crimson Twins follow. You want to talk subtext now? Roadblock straddles this rocket and pushes himself up it, trying to disarm the warhead. And the Twins are coming up behind him, not just laughing but gleefully giggling. I swear, I thought they going to rape him (and judging by the way Roadblock looks at them over his shoulder, so does he). When Flint shoots the rocket down and the twins land in the water, they laugh like ghouls and assert that the trip was worth the risk. Creeeeeeeeeeeeepy.

Well, everything turns out alright. Take it away, Roadblock: "My ribs are the greatest and that’s a fact/Joe beat Cobra and that’s where it’s at/so when want relief from your worries and your woes/you come on down and eat at Joe's."

Man, I love it when episodes are Roadblock-heavy.

JoeToonArchive

Yo, Joe! Episode 6

Countdown for Zartan

Watching this episode surprised me, if only because I thought I'd forgotten nearly everything about this series, but here I recognized specific scenes--mostly from the beginning of the episode, where the Dreadnoks are training new Cobra recruits and Storm Shadow shows them up by kicking a tank apart. There are so many things insane about this opening I'm not sure where to start. I mean, Storm Shadow kicks a tank in a few key places and the tank simply falls apart? Because, what, he hit the pressure points? Gah, ninjas are lame. And the mercenary biker gang, last seen screwing over not only Cobra Commander but their leader Zartan, training infantry? Wha?

What is nice about the opening is that the recruits are taught to use a flamethrower, tracer ammo, and plastic explosives, all of which sets up the climax and how the Cobra troopers will completely fail at using them. Destro respects Storm Shadow, but Cobra Commander sticks up for the Dreadnoks. Of course, Cobra Commander reveals himself to be Zartan in disguise, which is something the real Cobra Commander finds hilarious because, for him, Zartan can do no wrong and is always magical and good. Destro, humiliated and angry at being played for a fool, warns Zartan "One day I will be pushed too far."

So, something called the Worldwide Defense Center is having some kind of big conference on terrorism. They're going to share information and create a big new database with some sophistimicated computers. A French scientist, Dr. Mettier, has not arrived, and Zartan is to take his place. Which happens. Dr. Mettier is the kind of boring character you expect to be some side functionary in a Marvel comic. Only with a silly French accent.

Spirit is attached to the conference as some sort of bodyguard or something, so it doesn't take a genius to see that this episode is going to continue the stereotypical mystical honor code thing between Spirit and Storm Shadow. Oh, and I haven't mentioned Freedom yet. Ever since we saw Spirit for the first time in G.I. Joe: The Revenge of Cobra, he's carried around a bald eagle called Freedom. Which doesn't compound the stereotype at all.

I dug how Spirit becomes suspicious of the false Dr. Mettier: another scientist catches him wearing a digital watch, something the real Dr. Mettier said he would never do. That's a nice touch. Of course, then Spirit catches Zartan meeting up with Storm Shadow, who has smuggled a bomb into the building.

There's some decent banter back at Joe HQ; apparently Gung Ho was going to make Cajun gumbo for dinner, and everyone thinks it's disgusting. What I found disgusting was, once again, Lady Jaye showing off how cool she thinks she is. Ugh. Seriously, honey, look around you--Gung Ho, Doc, and Stalker are officially in the awesome club, but Recondo is standing right next to you, and you're even lamer than he is. Lamer than Recondo is cause for shame.

Coolest guy here? Doc, hands down. Look at him. Damn, he's a hoopy frood.

Freedom shows up and Lady Jaye figures Spirit's stuck in the well, so the Joes move out and head for the conference. Zartan has set the bomb and gotten the drop on Spirit, so Storm Shadow sneaks out just as the Joes arrive. Zartan simply surrenders and asks to be taken to the Joe prison, which is awfully suspicious. Well, Gung Ho sees Zartan looking at his watch (it's got the countdown on it) and there's a bit of a scuffle and Zartan ends up admitting there's a bomb on the grounds.

Now, this is where Gung Ho is more brilliant than he gets credit for. Seriously, I know he fell for the parole lie in The Revenge of Cobra, but this makes up for it. He locks Zartan in a cell and places the watch with the displaying countdown where Zartan can watch it until the bomb explodes. And it drives Zartan crazy! The Joes start looking around the complex trying to find the bomb, while Zartan slowly goes mad waiting to die. That's some dark stuff, man.

Well, the Cobras still have Spirit and the real Dr. Mettier back at Cobra Temple. To my surprise, when Storm Shadow tells Cobra Commander about Zartan's capture, the Commander just shrugs it off. Maybe somewhere under that helmet the Commander is weeping for his darling Zartan (seriously, there's something going on there), but he gets down to business and even ignores it when Storm Shadow asks if he should rescue Zartan. Destro says "If Zartan's so clever than he can save himself." Destro is downright gleeful at Zartan's failure.

The Dreadnoks, meanwhile, sadistically flood the prison cell with laughing gas and, true to cartoon form, Spirit and Dr. Mettier begin laughing like morons. Which is interesting, because Spirit is such a Native stereotype I wasn't sure he was able to laugh. Storm Shadow shuts it off because of noble enemies and suffering and honor and all that.

Well, Zartan is really losing his shit in that prison cell and decides to tell them the location of the bomb. He really screams out for a deal and gives up the location easily. Recondo, genius that he is, nearly fumbles, first speeding up the countdown and then finally disarming it with just a second to go. Zartan's watch, it turns out, was two minutes ahead of the actual countdown because, let's face it, Gung Ho is a genius. He knew Zartan's nerve would give out first; nice work, Etienne.

Well, Cobra Commander's pretty pissed when the Worldwide Defense Center isn't blown up (although Destro takes the opportunity to talk trash about Zartan). The Commander orders an assault instead, while Spirit escapes and Zartan breaks out and shuts off the power. Storm Shadow, in my opinion, kind of lets Spirit get away with Dr. Mettier. Stalker recaptures Zartan, and Lady Jaye offers some of that banter that's supposed to be all "Aw shucks, ain't I cute?" but just makes me wish she'd lose her voice. Then the Cobras arrive.

Outnumbered, the Joes fight and, of course win. Doc has the best moment when he catches a plastic explosive one of the Cobra recruits throws at him, then swings it back. It lands at the Cobra's feet, and the soldier faints, while Doc says under his breath: "He's going to feel real stupid when he discovers I pulled out his detonator." Point: Doc.

The Cobras are easily turned back when Cobra Commander's FANG copter is shot down; any chance of personal injury and he folds like a chair. Zartan gets away, too, so I guess the Commander's got that going for him. So the Joes win, everything's cool, and Dr. Mettier loves Cajun gumbo. Ah, another day for G.I. Joe.

I liked this episode, overall. Some of it was a little structurally obvious, but I like how it hung together, plus the characterization, especially Gung Ho. This is the first G.I. Joe episode not written by Ron Friedman.

JoeToonArchive

Happy Birthday, Kat Dennings!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Friday Playlist

I totally forgot last week that I was moving my random ten list from Saturday to Friday, and then I couldn't do it on Saturday because my iTunes was acting all bitchy.

1. Jimi Hendrix: Foxey Lady
2. Sparks: In My Family
3. Kinky Friedman: Somethin’s Wrong with the Beaver
4. Bee Gees: Spicks and Specks
5. Francoise Hardy: La mer, les etoiles et la vent
6. Willie Nelson: I Can’t Help It If I’m Still in Love with You
7. Bob Dylan: The Boxer
8. Herman’s Hermits: Ooh, She’s Done It Again
9. Jessica Simpson: Pray Out Loud
10. Old and In the Way: Wild Horses

1. This isn't a song I generally play on purpose, but I likes it when I hears it.
2. From Kimono My House, one of their classics.
3. A pretty song about the passing of time, smartassed though it may be.
4. A live version; I have this off of the 2008 Greatest Hits.
5. I love her voice. She always makes me feel something.
6. From The Red-Headed Stranger, one of Willie's masterpieces.
7. I'm so overly familiar with the Simon & Garfunkel version that, right now, I kind of prefer this low-key Dylan version. From the justly maligned Self-Portrait, which has a couple of good tracks on it nevertheless.
8. Herman's Hermits were better than their singles portray them. Still bubblegum, mostly, but they were at least as good as, say, the Monkees.
9. Very new country from her most recent album, Do You Know.
10. My favorite version of this song, mostly because of the mandolin and fiddle. Jerry Garcia really cast this in the country mode that Mick and Keith were going for. Perfect.

The Princess and the Frog

Conan Is Still Going to Suck

Marcus Nispel (of the much-despised--by me--Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake) is going to replace the departed Brett Ratner as the director of Conan. That's not really an improvement. They could've had Neil Marshall, but maybe Nispel's cruelty, misogyny, pointlessness, and inability to film an establishing shot is what they want to go with. Cool. Conan as an over-edited, out-of-focus, monochromatic waste of time. Thanks.

More Runaways Movie Stuff

Kristen Stewart has chopped her hair into a Joan Jett style. Although I'm still not really enthused about seeing her play Joan, I dig the look. Without that mane she's usually got, it really takes the emphasis off of her flat chest and boxy football player shoulders. She actually looks feminine. And she looks like Joan.

The thing about Stewart is, I know they have these kids chained to quickly cranking out one of these Twilight movies every year. Where is she going to find the time to make a movie about the Runaways? I mean, isn't she locked up until she's an adult?

Stella Maeve, whomever that is, has been cast to play the late Sandy West. I knew they'd pick someone far more stereotypically hot than the real Sandy. I have no real opinion; I've never seen this gal in anything or even heard of her until this morning.

She looks more like Jackie Fox, incidentally. I don't know why they're using her as Sandy.

So, with Dakota Fanning as Cherie, there's only Lita and Jackie (and I guess Vicki, if they're telling the whole story, which they should) left to cast. Should be, I don't know, interesting?

Happy 40th Birthday, Glori-Anne Gilbert!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Duke

30 years ago today, John Wayne died of cancer. These days you always have to preface an appreciation of Wayne with disclaimers. I didn't like his politics, I didn't like some of the things he said, etc. But I don't mourn John Wayne the man. I didn't know the man (I was three when he died), and having read a lot about him, I would've despised the comments he made about politics, particularly during Vietnam and Watergate. Wayne, a fellow Iowan, came from an older mentality that believed in certain ideals and kept a rather simplistic world view. Sadly, he didn't make an attempt to understand progressive attitudes for what they were. I know people like this; I'm related to some of them.

In fact, that sounds a lot like my dad, and my dad is part of the reason I like John Wayne. When we started growing apart, after the divorce, movies were something that we could always talk about. One of his favorite movies was True Grit, but he loved John Wayne in just about anything. My grandma loved John Wayne, too--she had a lot of his movies on video, and my dad actually has those VHS tapes now. My dad always said that he was only allowed to go see three types of movies when he was little--Disney movies, Elvis movies, and John Wayne movies.

So, there's a family aspect to my Wayne love. I like John Wayne as an actor, generally. I'll watch just about anything he's in. But seeing his movies also makes me feel closer to my dad and my grandma, and that's what's important to me. Maybe he was a hardass and wasn't an especially tolerant man. But I mourn John Wayne the movie star, the guy who made some of my favorite movies like The Searchers and The Shootist, and that's all I really care about. That's how he affected my life.

Gold-Plated Links

:: 6 Sci-Fi Movie Conventions That Need to Die (Cracked)

:: The 30 Greatest Lego Minifigs of All Time (Topless Robot)

:: Geek Orthodox has glorious Batman trading cards from 1966: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

:: By the 10's: Our Army at War: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 (Random Acts of Geekery)

:: The Pictorial Arts has some of John R. Neill's non-Oz illustration here and here.

:: Wonderful old Marvel stickers. (The Bronze Age of Blogs)

:: Goofy's bio. (Booksteve)

:: That’s a hell of a description of an erection you’ve written there, Jimbo. Chris's Invincible Super-Blog liveblogs the experience of reading Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose, a comic I'm kind of surprised is still around. (Also, don't miss Chris's unlikely revelations from Johnny Cash's autobiography, which contains such gems as "Jerry Lee Lewis is a calm, impeccably rational man."

:: Cracked looks at Carlos Mencia's unfunny Twitter and comments on the 24,504 worst pieces of advice ever published.

:: It was the Sleestak Crematorium, which was not unlike a temple for that reptilian race and it was huge...with cavernous walls and many levels and stairways, and giant Sleestak statuary that weighed many tons. As the last shot of the day, they were going to blow it up.

Hey, how do you turn down being there for that?
(Mark Evanier)

Teddy Roosevelt quotes as motivational posters. (The Art of Manliness)

:: I would just like to state once and for all, for the record, that no matter how many times the yammering idiots on TV say otherwise, you cannot substitute “white” for “Latina” or “black” and prove racism. It just don’t work that way. There are, as I noted previously, LEGIONS of bitter white dudes out there who desperately, desperately want it to work that way. But it don’t. (Bells On)

:: Capture is one of the inevitabilities of war. When we send our sons, daughters, fathers, mothers off to fight in a war, there is the possibility that they will be captured. The Geneva Accords were enacted to assure that POW's would be treated humanely. (Johnny Yen)

:: According to papers Roeder filed today, his possessions amount to a 16yr.-old Taurus and $10, and he only works occasionally at minimum-wage jobs. Yet he managed to finance several 400-mile round trips to Wichita from the KC area in the last month to case the church and know Dr. Tiller by sight, bought a handgun, gas and meals etc. Also, he asked- begged- for bail to be set today, despite his total lack of assets. Obviously, the poor bastard expects someone to post it, all of which leads me to believe that he is not the solitary nutcase the fundies claim he is. (The Rude Pundit)

:: Really, that's kind of how I feel about prayer in general, especially in a religion with an all-powerful, all-knowing deity. If God knows everything you want and need, and everything you WILL want and need in the future, and can do anything about it He wants, what's the point in asking? Yet again, it seems to result in the idea of the Lonely, Insecure God. He CAN help you out, but won't unless you ask Him nicely, because He LIKES being asked. Which I suppose works on a purely logical level, but why would a perfect being need attention? (Stratovania)

:: You know what really is good? Being kind to others. Not being judgmental, not killing, not stealing, not lying. Helping others when they need it regardless of their faith, skin color, gender, or the gender of which ever consenting adult they choose to love. Respecting the earth and all it's inhabitants is good. Living an ecologically sustainable life and reducing your footprint on our planet is good. God is something that we can't see, feel, or touch, but other people, plants, and animals are, be kind and loving towards them and that'll help out things more than praising something that is not there and that most of us can't agree on anyway. (Dr. Monkey)

:: When you make the decision not to vaccinate, or even just to hold off for a while, you’re not just making that decision for your children and your family. You are making that decision for all of us. Your child’s vaccines don’t just protect them from disease, they protect everyone around them by preventing the spread of disease.

By not vaccinating, you affect everyone you come into contact with. You affect the pregnant woman in line behind you at the grocery store. You affect your elderly relatives. You affect people with HIV and AIDS. You affect people with cancer. You affect newborn babies. You affect the people who cannot receive vaccines. You affect the children whose parents have chosen not to vaccinate them. You affect yourself. You affect your neighbors. You affect every single person you meet every time you meet them and all the people they meet after you. That’s not an exaggeration.
(Skepchick)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

9

More here.

Film Week

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

THE SPIRIT (2008)
Finally, I got to watch this movie. (I'd been holding on to it for a month while my TV was broken, waiting to see it on a large screen.) It was worth the wait. I thought it was a fantastic, hilarious, unique movie. It was a lot like the Adam West version of Batman; it took Will Eisner's comic strip and made all kinds of visual comments on the modes and forms of comic book adaptation. A very self-aware movie that I don't think people gave enough credit to; they were too busy crying over having their notions of what a comic book movie should be challenged. Great visual style, and I liked most of the performances--Gabriel Macht was good as the Spirit, Samuel L. Jackson was funny as the Octopus, and Scarlett Johansson and Eva Mendes were in the comic book style. I loved Stana Katic (from Castle) as an overzealous rookie cop; she really gets the tone and I'd love to see her in a larger role in, say, Sin City 2 (seriously, Robert Rodriguez? The Jetsons?). I have to say, though, I really just don't get Sarah Paulson. I just seriously do not like her. But this is a great artifice that sets out to achieve a certain tone and make a certain point about cartoons as adolescent power trips, and does so with style. Loved it. **** stars.

HOUR OF THE WOLF (1968)
Ingmar Bergman deals with the blurry line between genius and madness. Max Von Sydow plays an artist in crisis who lives in a cabin on an island with his pregnant wife (Liv Ullman). She loves him so fully that she shares in his intense hallucinations in order to help him. The movie ends with one of the most bizarre mindfucks I've ever seen, with Von Sydow completely losing himself in a fantasy (maybe). It's worth noting, too, that at the time this was made, Bergman and Liv Ullman lived together on an island. I know a lot of people find it hard to deal with when an artist tries to find themselves in their work, but it makes for compelling viewing. Uncomfortable? That's part of the point. This is an excellent work from one of cinema's most delicate and most deft artists dealing with the subconscious. Beautifully photographed by Sven Nykvist. **** stars.

THE PASSION OF ANNA (1969)
Bergman's first film in color; Liv Ullman has deep, beautiful eyes. Max Von Sydow plays a simple man, struggling with the death of his wife and emotionally isolated as a result. He meets an artists and his wife, and after first having an affair with the wife (Bibi Andersson), becomes involved with Anna (Ullman), who was in a car accident that killed her husband and may be psychologically unstable. Bergman has a lot to say--or show, really--about the ways love and cruelty can manifest themselves, ways which are often intertwined. There are some sensitively-handled, but still hard to watch scenes of animal cruelty that magnify the inherent cruelty and/or inherent caring of human beings. Bergman also has some interesting vignettes with the actors explaining how they see their characters; very post-modern, but not always welcome. This is one of Bergman's more intense movies; the loneliness of the island these people live on pervades every scene. But if you're up to it, it's rewarding. **** stars.

LAND OF THE LOST (2009)
I wonder if the terrible ad campaign had a hand in killing this movie. It looks, on the commercials, like a kid-friendly comedy version of the original TV series. It's not. It takes the same (half-remembered) premise and turns it into an adventure movie with comic scenes and a comic bent. It's not tongue-in-cheek, really, and the jokes aren't at the expense of the original series. It's not a parody, really; Will Ferrell plays Rick Marshall in a very interesting way. They take the stereotype of the intrepid science explorer, and completely subvert the expectations that go with it. He's kind of a wimp (and a binge eater), and constantly second-guesses his own theories while being absolutely wrong about everything else. Yeah, it's got gross-out gags and stoner bits and piss jokes and show tunes, and those things are funny, but the biggest pleasure I got from the movie was in watching a sort of post-modern adventure movie where none of the characters are really suited to even be adventurers, and are often non-plussed at the weird things they find. The special effects are wonderful; Grumpy looks, as we would expect, like a Jurassic Park T. rex, but he's also just cartoonish enough to fit into this weird mash-up of past, present, and future. Enik and the Sleestaks look awesome. And the movie doesn't stop to comment on itself, just charging ahead from one scene to the next and being incredibly funny. I'm calling future cult status on this one. ***1/2 stars.

DRAG ME TO HELL (2009)
One of the more intense movies I've seen in a while, in large part because Sam Raimi just loves the sudden shock reveals, which made it pretty damn hard to relax. Raimi brings his audacious goofiness back to horror, with a lot of Evil Dead-style gags that don't detract too much from the hardcore scares. I liked this movie very much, even though it has the evil Justin Long in it. Alison Lohman stars as a very nice, sweet girl who is also a loan officer at a bank (which is not a nice, sweet profession). She's up for a promotion, and makes a hard decision to deny an old Romanian woman an extension on her mortgage payments; in revenge, the woman places a gypsy curse on her. Raimi takes the curse seriously, which is why so much of the silliness is easy to forgive. Plus, he's one of the few filmmakers who just seems to be having a good time making movies (although, unsurprisingly, it's once again the very Sam Raimi touches that people seem to especially dislike, which sucks). Alison Lohman has a great scream and is made for horror movies, although ever since Where the Truth Lies I have a really hard time ever seeing clothes when she's wearing them. Dileep Rao is really neat as an Indian seer who helps Lohman discover the spirit who's after her. ***1/2 stars.

By the way, I think it's really interesting that both Land of the Lost and Drag Me to Hell are rated PG-13. This is a new level of permissiveness in PG-13, and I dig the subversiveness of it. Land of the Lost has a lot more sex jokes and swearing than I'm used to in in a PG-13 movie, and I'm surprised they got away with a lot of it (although hearing embarrassed parents groan is always, ALWAYS hilarious to me). Drag Me to Hell is intense and, even though it's not really gory, it's very gross. It puts the lie to the notion that you can't make a good PG-13 horror movie; I was worried that it would be too tame at PG-13, but it's most definitely not. I'm interested to see if this continues or, because neither movie did well, tameness will win out.

THE BOOST (1988)
James Woods as a hustler who moves to LA to sell tax shelters and ends up with a hefty coke addiction (as does his wife, Sean Young). The movie is very sympathetic to Woods and Young and the toll it all takes on their marriage; I was surprised that the script never really blamed the pressures of the corporate world for their drug problems as much as it comes out of the characters. Woods feels like a worthless schmuck and is so intent on showing the world how successful and driven he can really be that he nearly loses everything. Woods and Young are both excellent, though the unpleasantness of the movie isn't always handled in a compelling way. It's a lot like Days of Wine and Roses, which was another movie I found difficult. *** stars.

MISSISSIPPI BURNING (1988)
A gripping and emotionally disturbing film about racism. Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe play two FBI agents investigating the disappearance of civil rights workers in Mississippi in 1964. The two men don't agree on how to approach the investigation, and it ends up turning into a war between the Klan and the FBI. It's a charged movie, to be sure, with some excellent performances, especially Gene Hackman's, put in particular Brad Dourif, Frances McDormand and Stephen Tobolowsky are very good. The racist characters in the movie are unapologetic, even proud of their racism. I've heard a lot of criticism that the Southern characters are portrayed as mindlessly racist, but I don't think that's the case. The problem is, they're approaching a social issue that has never been able to justify itself. Even the film itself admits that it's hard to say where racism comes from and that many racist people can't stop themselves. Their racism is traditional and ingrained, which makes it hard to quantify and confront. In the end, violence is met with violence, and it almost seems unavoidable. Powerful stuff. **** stars.

I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING! (1945)
Fine Michael Powell film about an ambitious woman (Wendy Hiller) who is going to marry a rich older gentleman. On her way to the Scottish isle where he's staying, she gets stuck on land by a gale, where she's escorted around the small town by Roger Livesey as the soldier who owns the island and castle where her fiance is staying. And, well, what happens next shouldn't be too surprising, but it is charming getting there. A typically lyrical, beautifully shot film from Powell, and Wendy Hiller is wonderful. ***1/2 stars.

Good News, Everyone

I'm extremely happy to see that Comedy Central has ordered a full 26-episode season of Futurama. Even though it means having to watch Comedy Central, I'm going to be there in front of the TV for it. This is what I've been hoping would happen for some time. And it's going to pick up where the last movie, Into the Wild Green Yonder, left off. So does this mean we're finally going to see what happened to Nibbler? Because I don't think he's dead.

Happy Birthday, Leelee Sobieski

DKNY Duffster

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

New, Slightly NSFW Banner

Thought this was a nice image for the summer. I loved Becca's Pac Man banner, but I felt it was time for a change.

The Health Report, Year 3: Week 26

Meh.

Not much to report, just feeling generally blurgh. Been stuck inside too much, perhaps. And I think I'm looking down the barrel of a lean, irritating summer. Next week (when the summer session starts) I'm going to be talking to my alma mater about coming back to school and finishing the teacher certification program.

Pixar and Female Characters

Up is a wonderful movie. But for some reason, people are less interested in talking about, say, the merits of the film or the high level of quality Pixar has managed to maintain than they are in talking about something which has nothing to do with the film itself: Pixar's lack of main female characters in their movies.

I'll admit, I think this debate is pretty stupid. But I'd like to try and explain why.

First, I think Pixar has had it's share of strong female characters. People have already pointed out Jessie from Toy Story 2, EVE from WALL-E, and especially Elastigirl from The Incredibles as great female characters in Pixar movies (although, frankly, the fact that every single person I've seen talk about this refers to the character as "Mrs. Incredible" says a lot about how much the people making this argument are missing the point they're supposed to be making). No one has yet pointed out Dory from Finding Nemo, who is a great character, female or otherwise, or Colette from Ratatouille. So, arguably 5 excellent female characters in 10 movies? That doesn't sound like a paucity of female characters to me.

Of course, the argument goes, it doesn't matter how many excellent female characters Pixar has, it's also important that their movies are supposedly "boy-oriented." Now, almost every woman I know loves Pixar movies. They cried in WALL-E, they felt Carl's loss in Up, and they thrilled when Nemo was found. I don't think of Pixar's movies as being "boy-oriented," whatever the hell that means. Outside of Hayao Miyazaki, Pixar is the only game in town for animated films that tell stories with any depth that any person, young or old, man or woman, could enjoy on different levels. I have no idea what a "girl-oriented" version of Pixar would look like, and neither do most of the people trying to frame this as an important social issue. Girls don't like adventures? Girls don't like well-rounded characters? In my experience, they do. I know more women that loved Star Trek than men; hell, I know more women that loved 300 than men. The women I grew up around and know as adults love Star Wars and Iron Man and The Lord of the Rings just as much as they enjoy what I guess are "girl-oriented" romantic comedies. And for being "girl-oriented," apparently, I love my share of romantic comedies, too. Leaping to mind right now are Love Actually, one of my all time favorites, as well as Bridget Jones's Diary.

None of this is to say that I wouldn't like to see animated movies from a female perspective, but this ties into an old, old argument of mine. For example, one of the first posts I ever put up here back in 2005 was about how much it bothered me when Joel Silver wanted Joss Whedon to write Wonder Woman because "Joss really knows women." My argument was that women know women even better than Joss Whedon, so why not get a woman to make the damn movie? I'd love to see more traditionally male genres tackled by women filmmakers. I don't want to see any more guy-directed movies about how Kate Hudson or Reese Witherspoon or Anne Hathaway or Scarlett Johansson or Drew Barrymore is torn between two guys. There have to be more interesting stories out there for women than being torn between two guys.

(Of course, this depends on what your definition of realistic female characters even is. I see Judd Apatow being held up rather stupidly as an example of a filmmaker who can't write realistic women, when the women in his films are exactly like the women I've known my entire life, including my wife.)

But what no one has pointed out in their tirades for how Up is "lacking" because it "fails" at something it doesn't even attempt to do, is that all of the directors and most (if not all) of the writers at Pixar are men. And I don't want to see "girl-oriented" movies from the male perspective. I want to see them from the female perspective. I think if there's any debate to be had, it's a debate over why so few women go into directing in animation (though they certainly do exist) and how Pixar can help foster that kind of talent. If women want to see women's stories in film, then women need to go out and make those films. I can't even remember now who it was that said if you don't like a movie, make a better one. That would be much more progressive than holding up Pixar, the best animation studio in America, as somehow deficient simply for not doing things it hasn't set out to do.

Pixar deserves to be celebrated for letting talented people tell stories that are personal to them instead of designing blockbusters by committee with only the goal of making money in mind. That those stories are from a male viewpoint is because none of those men have experience being women. Perhaps more women will want to direct at Pixar and will get to. But to overlook the great characters they've created and the great stories they've told simply out of some false debate over inclusiveness is a disservice to the amazing work they've done.

The Prydain Chronicles

I've spent the last few weeks revisiting Prydain, a land I loved very much when I was a kid but haven't really been to in a very long time.

I read Lloyd Alexander's fantasy cycle--The Book of Three, The Black Cauldron, The Castle of Llyr, Taran Wanderer, and The High King--when I was, I'd say, about 9 or 10. I had seen the Disney version of The Black Cauldron for my birthday in 1985, and I was very curious about the book. I was a voracious reader as a kid, and I saw my library had all of the books, so I just started at the beginning and read all the way through. (This was, incidentally, the same time I was reading L. Frank Baum's Oz novels.)

They made a huge impression on me as a kid, and I've never forgotten the characters or the places and their strange (to me as a child) Welsh names. I could always see the settings in very vivid imagery; when I was a kid, I imagined that places in Prydain were places in the woods where my friends and I played. One of the many, many pleasures of revisiting the books has been finding out that, in my mind, Prydain is still the woods of my childhood. Places I'd thought I'd forgotten jumped right back into my head.

The Book of Three introduces us to Taran, an assistant pig-keeper and orphan who has been raised by Dallben, the greatest enchanter in Prydain. What I like about Dallben is that he seems so much like a normal old man who is just exceptionally wise; we don't get a sense until later of how much power he truly wields. He has a sense of humility and doesn't need to go about making it rain in order to prove his power. He's the caretaker of Hen Wen, a pig with oracular powers. And there's another man on the farm, Coll, a former soldier who is tough with Taran, and fills in as not necessarily a father figure, but a stern uncle. I like Coll a great deal.

Lloyd Alexander fills out this fantasy world with a believable level of politics and legend, which I appreciate much more now as an adult. Prydain isn't a fairy tale kingdom; like Middle-earth, it's been thought out and, over the five books, the reader gets the breadth of just how expansive the kingdoms and people of Prydain are. The main thrust of what's going on in the background is that High King Math and Prince Gwydion, ruler of the House of Don and Taran's idol, are amassing for a possible war with Arawn Death-Lord, the ruler of a hell-like kingdom called Annuvin. Arawn's champion, the Horned King, has been sent to capture Hen Wen, and Taran sets off the rescue the pig and meets the companions we will become very close to along the way.

The companions are an interesting collection, but the one I have the hardest time with is Gurgi. I like that Lloyd Alexander is often deliberately vague: to describe Arawn clearly is to make him less fearsome, for example. With Gurgi, the vagueness is frustrating. Gurgi is often described as a creature, very hairy and animal-like, but also with human qualities. Is he the middle stage between man and beast, or is he an intelligent woodland creature? I love Gurgi and his rhyming; and I like his story arc--his search for wisdom, which overcomes his initial childlike need for immediate gratification--but I wish I could get a better picture of him in my head. Because I saw the Disney movie first, Disney's version is what gets stuck in my mind. I find I can't picture Gurgi any other way, although Alexander's Gurgi is less cute and more noble.

The other companions are Princess Eilonwy, a tomboy who seeks adventure and thinks being forced into ladyship is a fate worse than death, and Fflewdurr Fflamm, a king who would rather be a minstrel, and whose harp strings break whenever he tells a lie. I like Fflewdurr especially; he's so goodhearted and brave, but he's also a braggart and quite cowardly. I found it funny but frustrating that his strings would break even when he would lie to spare someone's feelings. And there's also Doli, a dwarf of the Fair Folk who grumbles his way through everything, although deep inside we can see he's not so gruff.

The Book of Three is appropriately exciting; and the villains were especially scary to me as a kid--the evil Queen Achren, an enchantress who holds Eilonwy prisoner; the gwythaints, which I had always pictured as giant falcons; the Huntsmen of Annuvin, who give each other more strength every time one is killed; and the Cauldron-Born, dead warriors raised to fight in the service of Arawn after being resurrected in the Black Cauldron. And of course the Horned King, riding through the brush with a horned skull over his face, which really took my imagination as a kid.

The Black Cauldron is another exciting adventure, although a little more complex. Through each of the novels, Taran learns to curb his impulses and grows as a character, learning to rely on companions and when he must make sacrifices. Gwydion calls on Taran and the companions to join in the search for Arawn's cauldron, which has been lost. The supporting cast grows in this novel, but never into unmanageable proportions. I liked the addition of Kaw, a crow that Taran uses to search and send messages. We also get to see more of the other kings of Prydain, including the jovial, boisterous King Smoit, who makes me laugh. He seems to prefigure a dozen characters Brian Blessed has played. And Taran, who wishes to be a prince and a warrior, gets to compare himself firsthand to Prince Ellidyr, who is supposed to be both of those things, but is also arrogant, driven, and angry.

The Castle of Llyr is a novel that hit me a little more as an adult than it did as a child. In this novel, Taran is more obviously in love with Eilonwy, and chafes as he escorts her to the Isle of Mona, where she is meant to learn the ways of a lady of the court. Taran is contrasted here with Prince Rhun, who is possibly meant to be betrothed to Eilonwy. Rhun means well, but is clumsy and a terrible leader; Taran hates having to defer to him, but he does so--not out of a sense of duty, I felt, so much as a sense of politeness. Even when he can easily take charge, Taran doesn't want to embarrass Rhun in front of his men. And Rhun, in the end, does turn out to be more self-aware than he seems. This is also the novel that introduces Llyan, a mountain cat that a would-be sorcerer called Glew has turned giant. I've seen a lot of art where Llyan looks like a house cat grown up to horse size. I pictured Llyan more as a bear-sized cougar. Again, Alexander is vague, but doesn't that just mean you're free to see Llyan however you see him?

If I have one complaint about The Castle of Llyr, it's that Eilonwy gets kidnapped early on and isn't seen again until almost the very end. And although we do discover the truth of her parentage, I think we miss out on the friction between her and Taran, who are always bickering. Each is more aware of their affection for the other, and each is becoming aware of the other's affection for them, which could have made for something. But that's really a superficial complaint in the face of a well-told story, and wanting to have read one thing shouldn't detract from reading something else.

The fourth novel, Taran Wanderer, was my least favorite as a child. Gwydion isn't involved, Eilonwy doesn't appear at all, and there's not much of the powers of Arawn or Achren. This is sort of an interim novel--apparently, this was written last (but published fourth) to bridge the gap between The Castle of Llyr and The High King. This novel is primarily concerned with Taran's development from wannabe hero to responsible, heroic young man. So the novel has an episodic feel as Taran wanders from kingdom to kingdom, from village to village, attempting to seek the truth of his origins. As a kid, I didn't have the patience for some of the episodes where Taran is simply learning to weave or shape clay or farm or make swords.

As an adult, I see the novel differently now, and appreciate the richness of Taran's experiences. He learns a lot about life in the span of a year or so; more than that, he opens himself up to the idea that everything he does has something useful to teach him and that there are different valid viewpoints about how one can approach life. True, most of the companions and other supporting characters don't appear, or appear briefly, but Taran's journey is so powerful that it doesn't really matter.

The final novel, The High King, is where Alexander brings back nearly every single character and ties up nearly every thread while telling an amazing story of growing up, sacrificing, living through hardship, the true value of heroism and warriors, and responsibility. Alexander could have fallen into the trap many authors fall into at the end of a series and just written the outcomes; instead, he lets the story unfold and the reader have the pleasure of making connections and discovering the lessons. It's a beautiful work. The whole series is a beautiful work.

I also read The Foundling and Other Tales of Prydain, which I had never read before. Although I didn't consider the origin of Dallben's knowledge so much a loose end as a pleasant mystery, it was interesting to read about how he was raised and how be came into possession of the Book of Three. I also didn't feel I needed to read about the reason Spiral Castle was built, how the sword Dyrnwyn got to be there, or any of the rest of it, but I was glad to. I hope that sounds complimentary... It's meant to be. The novels don't leave anything dangling, but it was nice to have a little more Prydain to go back to.

I'm glad I got to visit again; I've had the Dell Yearling editions on my bookshelf for a long, long time. I don't know what struck me to read them again, either, but I'm so glad I did.

You know, for all of the fantasy series being made into film series, I'm kind of surprised no one went for Prydain. It seems to me they'd make excellent movies with the right amount of gravity. But it's not like I'm itching to see it as a film; I have more fun going back on my own, revisiting a place that remains as vivid and alive and rich for the adult version of me as much as it did for the child.

Happy 75th Birthday, Donald Duck

Donald made his first appearance 75 years ago today in The Wise Little Hen.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Han Solo, P.I.

10 Favorite TV Characters Meme

This meme has been going around for a while. You simply name your 10 favorite TV characters. I saw this most recently at Retrospace, and just decided I'd go ahead and do it. This could easily have been my 50 favorite TV characters.

10. Bernard Black, Black Books
I had a number of favorite British comedy characters I would have loved to put on a list--Edmund Blackadder, Tommy Saxondale, Father Dougal McGuire, Andy Millman, Tim Bisley, Basil Fawlty--but in the end I went with Bernard Black because he reminds me the most of me. That's the exact level of antisocial quality and irritation with the outside world that keeps me inside.

9. Alex P. Keaton, Family Ties
This was my favorite sitcom when I was a kid, and it was all because of Michael J. Fox.

8. Dr. Benjamin Franklin "Hawkeye" Pierce, M*A*S*H
Much of my quirky behavior in high school came from this show. Watching it when I was a kid gave me an eye to cut through bullshit.

7. Veronica Mars, Veronica Mars
I'm actually not overly a fan of mystery shows or high school dramas, but somehow you mash them both together and put Ms. Bell in the center and it completely works.

6. Dr. Tony Hill, Wire in the Blood
Another detective show that I enjoy despite my hatred of procedurals. This one adds weird scientific and psychological twists; it's one of my favorite shows ever. Robson Green is fantastic as a psychologist detached from social modes of behavior.

5. Officer Aeryn Sun, Farscape
It's not often that I get this invested in a character's journey, but Aeryn was such a compelling character--a woman trained to be a weapon who opens herself up to being more. My favorite science fiction series of all time.

4. The Doctor, Doctor Who
Honestly, I can't pick which Doctor is my favorite anymore. There are those I don't care much for, but they all bring some unique flavor to the proceedings. But they're all intrepid spirits, embracing the unknown and throwing themselves in wherever they are. And that's an admirable quality in a science hero.

3. Mr. Spock, Star Trek
The cool, wise intellect and deep thoughtfulness of Spock always appealed to me the most.

2. Dr. Sam Beckett, Quantum Leap
A great science fiction rumination on identity and how experience and knowledge inform it.

1. Kermit the Frog, The Muppet Show and Sesame Street
Well, come on. I'm a dreamer.