Saturday, July 25, 2009

Blog Awards? Me?

According to Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein, my blog is a great read. Make that Great Read, as he has seen fit to bestow a Great Read award on Electronic Cerebrectomy. Thanks for the kind words, Dr. M, about myself and this blog, and my two Tumblr blogs.

Frankly, I'm amazed anyone still reads this thing. Over the last year or so, I think I've been in a process of changing what I want this blog to be, and I'm glad some people have stuck with it. This blog has always been a lot of things--personal, political, snarky--and always featured a lot of my myriad interests. That may be too much for some. I've been reshaping, I guess--I've been blogging a lot on my Tumblr sites, TumblFrog and The Ladies at Court, as well as deleting a lot of old filler (something like a thousand old posts are gone) and ending features that don't really seem to be doing me any good any more, like, well, The Ladies at Court, as well as the Throwdown and Health Report, which I know a lot of people enjoyed but which I just can't do anymore.

So, what I mean to say is, thanks for sticking it out as my blog finds a new identity, thanks for checking out my Tumblrs if you have, and thanks for the award.

I'm passing this on to five other bloggers:

:: Byzantium's Shores
:: Calvin's Canadian Cave of Coolness
:: The Attentive Aphorist
:: The Scandy Factory
:: Smoke Rings & Matterings

Thank you all for being blogs that delight and inspire.

I've also got this other award, created by someone called kj in honor of her blog friends Soulbrush and Snowbrush, and which "recognizes and celebrates the willingness to take risks, speak honestly, act with integrity, and in the process create and share colors and/or words that stroke our curiosity and brush aside our differences." John told me to make sure to pick this one up, and it's a real honor coming from him. Thank you.

Yo, Joe! Episode 23

Battle for the Train of Gold

How's that for an on-the-nose title?

G.I. Joe is protecting the Bureau of Engraving in force: Wild Bill, Scarlett, Duke, Snake-Eyes, Thunder, Cover Girl, Mutt, and Gung Ho are in various positions, waiting to see if a transmission Duke intercepted about an attack on the building turns out to be bullshit.

Turns out it isn't, as a tourist group reveals themselves to be Cobra officers! In disguises! That are worn over their helmets and masks! Yes, seriously! Seriously!

Well, what the hell, eh? It's not like Snake-Eyes' "Guy-Who-Works-At-the-Engraving-Bureau" disguise was entirely convincing. Touché.

Major Bludd leads the Cobras in, and a firefight breaks out, lasering money left and right. Duke is knocked unconscious in an explosion, and Major Bludd gets away with a tape labeled A-4, which apparently holds the plans to Fort Knox on it.

The Joes mobilize tons of artillery around Fort Knox to keep Cobra out, but Cobra is coming in from underground. General Stack has a bunch of soldiers inside Fort Knox, but they march out of the building at his order because General Stack is Zartan in disguise! Cobra soldiers come up from a passageway under the building and prepare to hold it off from the Joes and the US Army.

And, as is typical, the squadron of Joe Skystrikers is destroyed before they even get off the ground. Man, what a time to be a taxpayer...

Long story short: Zartan, the Dreadnoks, and a bunch of Cobra soldiers get away with all of the gold and three hostages--Duke, Scarlett, and Snake-Eyes--while the other Joes are left with their equipment destroyed and their dicks in their hands (um, figuratively speaking where Cover Girl is concerned).

Well, Gung Ho, Stalker, Cover Girl, Mutt, Clutch, Zap, Short Fuse, and Thunder let Junkyard lead them to the real General Stack, who has been hidden in the apparently-secret passageway, which is disguised by a grating in the floor. Jeez, you guys... Thankfully, before the brain trust takes all day to decide what to do next, Wild Bill radios that he's on the trail of a bullet train.

It's the Cobra Bullet, and it's the easiest bullet train in the world to find since it's got a big gold cobra painted on it. Subtlety sure ain't Cobra's style. Anyway, Zartan is going to use the Bullet, which he says can get up to 200 miles per hour, to take the gold to the coast and board it on a bunch of Cobra subs and leave the US dead broke.

Most of the G.I. Joe vehicles were destroyed in the battle at Fort Knox, so G.I. Joe is left with just a jeep and a slow-moving APC. What should they do now? Well, in order to catch a 200 mph bullet train, Thunder thinks it's a great idea to borrow some thoroughbred horses from a friend of his. And, this being G.I. Joe, it works! At least, after Gung Ho takes some hilarious falls.

Zartan orders his men to eliminate the Joes, and instead of just shooting Snake Eyes in the head, they throw him off the train. He catches a rail on the side of the car with his foot, burns away the ropes with the car's wheel, swings back inside, and frees Scarlett and Duke. Bad ass. Revisiting these shows, I'm kind of surprised by how light the series was on awesome Snake Eyes moments--most of that stuff was in the comic book. Of course, Snake Eyes never breakdanced in the comic book, so he didn't have that to make up for.

The Joes block the train with APCs and Zartan slows down just enough for the Joes to board the train off of their horses. The fighting begins; Scarlett kicks Dreadnok ass while Duke fights Zartan in the engine room or cockpit or whatever they call it on a train these days. Buzzer's chainsaw hits the pressure regulator and the train is thrown off the tracks.

This being G.I. Joe, everyone lives and the gold is returned, while the bad guys get away.

Not a terrible episode, not a great one, either. Forgive my brevity here. The power keeps going out. Still, not a terrific ep. But not awful.


Yo, Joe! Episode 22

Operation Mind Menace

Flash and Airborne get into it with a couple of Cobra FANG copters over Easter Island. Cobra has taken a girl hostage, but the Joes are unable to retrieve her during their brief firefight.

G.I. Joe, it seems, is part of some experiment involving possible psionic powers, and the test subject is Tommy, Airborne's kid brother. And apparently this is in response to Cobra building its own force of people with psi powers. I think this episode needed a little more set-up for the sake of coherence, to be honest. Anyway, Tommy doesn't look like the real deal, and Lady Jaye thinks G.I. Joe shouldn't be recruiting civilians, anyway. Duke isn't so sure, and Tommy suddenly demonstrates a major telekinetic outburst.

Back in the Pacific, Airborne and Flash are shot down, and Tommy knows the instant it happens. A government agent explains, as if this were all reasonable and normal, that Tommy has a psi-link with his brother during times of danger. Okay.

Well, Tommy can feel that, but he doesn't know when he's in trouble, as Storm Shadow breaks into the lab and kidnaps Tommy with the help of two Cobra infantrymen and an old man named Carmandy, who can create fire with his mind. Yes, this is happening. Carmandy's wearing one of those mind control headbands Cobra makes. He makes a ring of fire to trap Duke and Lady Jaye, and Storm Shadow escapes with Tommy.

And then--and this is just frigging stupid--the government agent who accepts Tommy's psi-link with Airborne as reality, and just saw Tommy have an outburst of mind power, refuses to believe that the old man just shot fire out of his mind. That's too much of a leap, I guess. He thinks it was a flamethrower.

So, when Flash and Airborne, neither of whom have a discernible personality, swim out of the drink, they're immediately captured by Cobra. And back at the lab, Storm Shadow delivers Tommy to Destro, who takes off in a transport plane flown by Wild Weasel. Destro's bickering with the Commander over a video screen about how Tommy's related to a Joe.

The plane is being trailed--and it's very easy to follow, what with the giant Cobra painted on it--by Duke and Lady Jaye in Sky Hawks, and Destro decides now is a good time to test his neural enhancer on Tommy. Tommy easily messes up the Sky Hawks; Duke's crashes into a lake, while Lady Jaye's slams into the Washington Monument. She gets all quippy about dying of embarrassment. God, will you shut up, Lady Jaye? It's the same joke over and over--at least, all the times it's not the joke about hurting "just my pride." You're just desperate, Not-Scarlett.

Hey, did you know that the Easter Island heads are actually just the tops of large giants buried in the ground? Yeah, me neither, but they apparently are. See, Flash and Airborne are going to be executed, and Cobra Commander makes Tommy use his psi powers to call these giant stone men out of the earth to kill Flash and Airborne. Yes, this is happening, too.

Now, see, it's not that I'm opposed to leaps of science fiction on G.I. Joe; on the contrary, I expect them. But I don't know, it's just too many leaps too far on this episode.

Anyway, Duke and Not-Scarlett save Airborne and Flash, the stone men fall into the sea, and they head off to Cobra's new base on K-12 in the Himalayas, which is found by Snow Job. There's a battle between G.I. Joe and Cobra's psi force, one of whom is the girl kidnapped at the start of the episode. Blowtorch defeats Carmandy, and Stalker and Grunt defeat the Hawaiian girl. Hey, Stalker!

Remember him? Aw, man, it's good to see you, Stalk! You really should've gotten more screen time on this show!

Anyway, a big tree attacks--whatever--and Airborne gets Tommy free of Cobra's control through the power of beloved childhood family memories. So, everything is good, G.I. Joe saves the day, and there's a laugh at the end, and you know, this was just a terrible episode. Just a real snooze, and it suffered from highlighting underdeveloped Joes (Airborne and Flash, obviously) with no personalities. Add in the flights of psionic fancy, and this is just a real loser of an episode.


Yo, Joe! Episode 21

Episodes 21-23

Money to Burn

A bunch of valuables are raided in the night in a city and sold to Tomax and Xamot, who take the jewelry, antiques, works of art, etc to a Cobra base. Destro is working on a thermal molecular ignition transmitter, and tests it by shooting a beam at a stack of hundred dollar bills and incinerating them (even animated, burning money is hard to watch). Cobra Commander vows to bring the United States to financial ruin! Hey, he was only twenty years too early! He could've just sat back and waited on this one...

Roadblock, Alpine, and some of the most boring Joes--Ace, Thunder, and Ripcord--are having a game of cards at G.I. Joe headquarters. As they play, the cash suddenly incinerates--so does the money in their wallets. Roadblock, in his inimitable style, asks "Did all of your cash just do the big flash?" And it's not just the Joes, either: it's everyone across the country. Cash just gone, like that! (You can't see it, but I'm totally snapping there.)

Cobra Commander appears on television, once again pissing off a lot of soap viewers, and announces that the US government is fiscally irresponsible (true dat) and that he's eliminated the old currency. The new world order is coming.

Tons of people show up to protest outside the Department of the Treasury, but no money exists. The manager of currency explains to Flint and Lady Jaye that buying and selling have ground to a halt and people are rioting. Any new money created will be destroyed by Cobra Commander. All the Commander has to do now is wait for the world to fall into chaos and he can step in and take over. Flint points out their only chance: Cobra Commander doesn't know how to wait.

Dammit, he's right. The Commander finally has the world by the coin purse, so to speak, and he's going to screw it up by pressing the issue. Damn it, Commander!

And just then, he appears on television and announces that Extensive Enterprises, who still haven't been shut down by the government, will exchange everyone's valuables for Cobra currency! (Extensive Enterprises apparently has a number of buildings all across the country; they're apparently very extensive.)

The Joes head to an Extensive Enterprises building and see a line of people that covers several blocks. A riot breaks out when the crowd yells for the Joes to get in line, but Flint orders everyone not to fight back.

Roadblock was captured when he got distracted by that guy's weird, squishy head. What's wrong with that dude?

The crowd changes its tune when a little girl is nearly killed and Alpine saves her. They let G.I. Joe into the office building; when they get to the office, Flint threatens to shut down the organization, which the US government should have done by now, anyway. But Tomax and Xamot counter that they're merely acting as brokers in return for a percentage of the gross. Which is totally illegal! How the shit does that argument fly with anyone at all!

I don't know. I mean, I find the idea of an American corporation doing business with known terrorist organizations completely believable, but when you've caught them in the act of committing acts of terror... I mean, in the United States. In a foreign country the US government wouldn't care.

The Joes, apparently lawyered, leave the office while the Crimson Twins finish their meeting with Ms. Madelyn Henderhornch, whom they are planning to meet with again on their jet the next morning. Waiting at the airfield the next morning, the Joes replace Ms. Henderhornch with Lady Jaye while the real Ms. Henderhornch and Roadblock swap soufflé recipes. Ace and Ripcord scramble into the air to follow Lady Jaye's homing device.

Once again, Cobra has a secret base in the Rocky Mountains. You'd think G.I. Joe would check the Rockies out every so often, but no. Tomax and Xamot show the disguised Lady Jaye their vault, which is towering with gold and valuables. Her homing device is still transmitting, but it seems to be coming from inside a mountain--a mountain which doesn't show up on Ace's radar. But while they're figuring that out, Lady Jaye also finds the room where they're printing the money and finds the thermal molecular ignition transmitter (they tell her it's a big radio). She then, rather stupidly since the back-up has yet to arrive, rips off her disguise and leaps into action, getting away from the Crimson Twins, knocking over a Snow Serpent, stealing a pair of skis and taking off. To do what, though? She couldn't have, like, done something a little more helpful before revealing her identity? She doesn't know how to wait, either.

By the way, I can't remember who or what Ms. Henderhornch is supposed to be. Some rich old lady, or something. Doesn't matter now. Let's move on.

Well, Ripcord decides to trust his instincts and jump and discover what we in the audience have realized for seemingly a lifetime: the mountain is holographic and the Cobra base is hidden under it. I give him points for daring to almost get pasted on the side of a mountain, but still, Ripcord's kinda lame. Well, Flint orders a G.I. Joe assault, and all hell breaks loose. True to form, Cobra Commander orders Destro and the Baroness to lead the counter-assault while he heads off in a Flight Pod to direct the battle from a remote location.

Hey, waitaminute!

Lady Jaye falls down a cliff and fights with Tomax while Destro orders Firefly to use his flamethrower to melt the snow. Just as Lady Jaye knocks Tomax off a cliff, the melting ice and snow floods the Joes' position and the Baroness demands a surrender. Which they don't, of course. Flint swoops in with his Sky Hawk, takes out several Cobra ASPs, and then leaps down in time to stop Xamot from taking out Lady Jaye. Since both Twins feel each others' pain--which is still creepy--beating the shit out of Xamot also takes out Tomax... and just after he'd climbed all the way back up the cliff.

Oh, and Ripcord blows up the thermal molecular ignition transmitter. Which takes out the printing room and sends coins flying into the air. It's Cobra currency, but the Cobra soldiers immediately stop fighting and start gathering up all the money they can, even as the Baroness tells them that the coins are worthless if the Joes win. Which they do.

So, things go back to normal, and the card game continues. Huh, something else Ripcord is good at.

So-so episode.


I'd Forgotten About the Issue Where Archie Was Anal-Raped by the Devil

Friday, July 24, 2009

My First Foray Into Cartooning Since High School

Back in November, I had volunteered to be part of Splotchy's Comix Week, an event which was sadly put on hold. By the time it was canceled, however, I'd already sent in my comic, "The Turtle Who Thought He Was a Casino Greeter." Splotchy wrote out the premise and the dialog, and I drew the cartoon. I used to draw all the time when I was younger--in fact, Samurai Frog was a character I drew comics about regularly--but I hadn't actually drawn very much coherent since then. It was fun to do, and Splotchy said he liked it and wanted to hold on to it in case Comix Week ever happened.

Well, it hasn't happened yet, but he did post the cartoon this morning. Head on over to his blog to see it. He calls me a good person and a wonderful cartoonist, neither of which are actually accurate but still, it makes me feel good. Hopefully, Comix Week will be back on some time in the future. But I'm glad he enjoyed the comic that I managed to draw. It was a lot of fun to do, and hopefully I'll get the opportunity to do another one.

T-Shirt Idea #11

Holy Frelling Dren!

I don't know if there are any other big Farscape fans who read this blog, but if there are, go over to TV Shows on DVD and check out the product info for the upcoming Complete Series Megaset. It's retailing at about $150, but from what I can see so far, it's worth it.

Planet Hulk and the Return of Thor

I've talked before about how Marvel Comics lost me a long time ago. I still love the idea of the iconic characters, but I find I don't often care for the execution. Reading Civil War just sort of confirmed for me that Marvel doesn't really have any idea what makes its characters special anymore.

Recently, I grabbed some trade collections from the library to sit down with. The thing is, when it comes to the big Marvel characters, I really do miss these guys. I'd like to be able to sit and enjoy them again without some giant crossover. I'm not a continuity guy. My enjoyment of a story does not hang on how that story fits in with every other story across an entire publishing company. I just want something entertaining to read.

Now, Thor is a character I've always appreciated, but never really gotten into. So, I'm not sure why I picked up this collection, simply called Thor, except that it was written by J. Michael Straczynski. But I'm glad I did. I loved it. I loved that he brought back Donald Blake and set about rebuilding Asgard in the United States and unlocking Norse Gods that have been trapped inside human hosts. That's really all there is to the story, and the collection ends just when things are starting to get really interesting, but I really enjoyed it.

I was surprised by the tone, though. Lots of cynicism; the post-Civil War Marvel Universe is very, very cynical. Thor, who is just returning to Earth and was not a part of the Civil War, has a confrontation with Iron Man that just opens the floodgates. I don't think I've ever seen Thor this cynical. He's angry with Iron Man for creating a Thor clone who murdered someone (Goliath, was it?), and considers their friendship over. It feels like the only reason it's there is to set Thor apart from the other heroes and whether or not they've registered with the government--they set Asgard up as an embassy and give Thor diplomatic immunity. It's kind of silly, but it does mean that all of the continuity bullshit just makes an appearance, satisfies the blood lust of the people who need it, and then lets us move on with the story.

And the story, I enjoyed. I thought it was an interesting choice to resurrect Loki as a woman. It was fun finding the Warriors Three. And the art, I should mention, is awesome. This is Thor as I've always imagined him and enjoyed finally seeing him. I can't wait for a second trade collection.

A couple of people who read this blog have also recommended Planet Hulk to me, and I can see why. It's fantastic. While all of the lame Civil War stuff was going on, the Hulk was trapped on a world he never made, and... well, that was Howard, but you get the idea. This is like an old pulp, like Edgar Rice Burroughs mixed with John Norman and Robert E. Howard. The Hulk ends up on an alien planet, is forced to become a gladiator, and is soon leading a revolution against the emperor. It may be the best Hulk story I've ever read; it's certainly the one I've enjoyed the most.

The Hulk has always been one of my favorite characters, even though the writing has never really been brilliant (I found a lot of Peter David's much-vaunted run to be, like most of what Peter David writes, precious and silly). But the idea of the character is solid, and I relate to him more than any other Marvel character. I was glad to finally see a story that was really worthy of the Hulk.

And thanks to Marvel for really giving a trade collection some value. The book is huge. It's the entire Planet Hulk storyline in one collection, which is something you don't always see. I noticed the retail price was somewhere in the $34.95 range, which is a lot for a trade collection, but this one would be worth it.

The only disappointment I really had was with the follow up book, World War Hulk, where, after an enormous tragedy that the Hulk blames on Reed Richards, Dr. Strange, Iron Man, and Black Bolt--and why wouldn't you? those guys are the smuggos of the Marvel Universe, frankly--the Hulk returns to Earth with his gladiators to get revenge. World War Hulk is basically a six-issue fight scene with brief moments of interest. The numerous twists at the end wore on me, too, and I think the big revelation about who set the warp core to explode was a cop-out; it's a typical comic book solution to a big ethical question that, as usual, the Marvel Universe really isn't able to explore. Oh, and I still don't buy the Sentry as being an integral part of the Marvel Universe. It was a so-so stunt 15 or so years ago, but the guy's just a Miracleman rip-off.

I also get tired of ever major Hulk storyline ending with Banner imprisoned and the Hulk defeated. It gets so old. I always start to cringe at the end of these things, because they always make it an inevitability that the Hulk has to be as close to destroyed as possible. It's very frustrating, and it just makes me sad after a while.

But Planet Hulk was tremendous.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


Random Thoughts

I kind of feel like this picture of Sarah Palin autographing a screaming baby says everything I was going to say about Sarah Palin. (Nod at Tengrain on the pic.)

But I bet you have to pay extra for it.

:: When you force a kid to give something up before they are ready, all you've done is insure that they'll spend too much time tracking it back down as adults. Invariably they’ll find it at Hot Topic.

:: I don’t think anyone’s automatically wrong because they’re young anymore than I think anyone’s automatically right because they’re old.

:: 95% of people online who complain about wanting to see more unconventional movies aren’t being honest with themselves. When the unconventional stuff comes out--the movies that really challenge expectation--they don’t go to see them. Or they do and they hate them for being challenging and unconventional. What they really mean is that they want those movies to be conventional in a slightly more convincing way. They don’t want to be challenged; they want to be catered to.

:: I don’t buy the rumors that either David Tennant, Daniel Radcliffe, or James McAvoy will be Bilbo in The Hobbit. They just seem like such obvious fanboy choices to me. Nice try.

:: Kindle surreptitiously removed 1984 from their customers’ machines when it was discovered that the publisher they got the book from didn’t actually own the copyright. It’s a business move, but it does kind of show you how terrifically easy censorship is going to be with Kindle.

:: Why is the shorthand in our culture that people who like to look at pictures of sex are somehow sick and/or deficient, and people who like to look at pictures of babies dressed up as adults are perfectly normal?

:: And those people who find swear words so distasteful that they’re practically terrified of them: how the fuck do they get through a day in the real world?

:: The 15 year-old boy who impersonated a Chicago police officer was sentenced to three years’ probation and a month’s home confinement. For what, being awesome? An eighth-grader walks into a station wearing a uniform and they send him out on patrol for five hours? Kid’s got balls. I mean, not to encourage illegal underage behavior, but that’s awesome.

:: How many times are Nickelback going to rewrite the same goddamn song?

:: The Sears Tower is now the Willis Tower. Something sad about that. I know it’s not exactly the same thing, but as a Chicagoland native since the age of four, it feels a little like a corporate sponsor bought the Taj Mahal and renamed it the General Motors Citadel.

:: The idea that someone is remaking Straw Dogs is stupid, stupid, stupid.

:: Dean Richards: you are not Roy Leonard. Stop acting like you’re a beloved Chicago icon.

:: Family Guy getting nominated for an Emmy should show you just how meaningless those awards really are.

:: Intelligence is not a sign of worthiness. I know very intelligent people who are cruel and oblivious to it, and I know so-called “common” people who are among the sweetest and most loving I’ve ever met. And vice versa. But what I think I hate the most is when people are precious about the way they demand you relate to them.

:: Megan Fox says she can’t stand watching herself in movies. That makes two of us.

:: David Arquette’s statement on Fox News about Judge Sotomayor was to say Latina women are nuts and giggle like a moron? Wow, I don’t care if you spent all week feeding the hungry, you’re a douchebag.

:: So, Randall Terry can threaten that his organization, Operation Rescue, will commit acts of terror if the health care insurance bill contains coverage for abortion services and not end up in Gitmo? A religious organization calling for violence over a fundamental disagreement with the government… isn’t that why we have Guantanamo Bay?

:: Sasha Grey is stunningly sexy, but now that I’ve seen This Ain’t Star Trek XXX, I’m always mildly disappointed that she doesn’t have pointed ears.

:: I just have to laugh when sleazy celebrity sites put up pictures of Miley Cyrus and then call their imagined audience a bunch of pedophiles for looking at the pictures, as though that somehow makes them a serious news site. Sure it does--nice ads for porno sites all over your page, by the way. “489 days until Miley’s 18!” the website said. And then what happens? She’s going to have sex with you, or something?

:: When I hear adults telling kids that they’re ridiculous for loving John Lennon or Kurt Cobain or Def Leppard because “they weren’t there,” I want to ask them if they feel ridiculous for liking Van Gogh or Shakespeare or Abraham Lincoln for the same reason.

:: Madame Tussuad unveiled a wax version of Nicole Kidman. I wonder which is less lifelike: the one with all the wax or the one with all the Botox.

:: Now that California has upheld the denial of civil rights to its gay citizens, they’re going to try and vote on whether or not children born in the US are US citizens. Barbara Coe, who tried this back in 1994, is attempting a ballot initiative that will challenge the citizenship of children of illegal immigrants. Of course, the 14th Amendment gives US citizenship to anyone born in this country, but you try reasoning with zealots who are driven by fear to exclude as many people as they can from having access to the same rights they have.

:: The look of every fantasy movie and most science fiction films in the last decade bear it out that, even though he doesn’t get respect from the establishment ripping him off, Terry Gilliam is one of the most influential filmmakers who ever lived.

:: Note to blogs that post pictures of sexy women: “high quality” does not just mean “big.” Also, I promise you that I already know about Adult Friend Finder and Live Jasmine, so you don’t need to have an ad pop up on every single click.

:: The Free Republic has been trashing Malia Obama (for wearing a shirt with a peace sign on it). Are Republicans really comfortable with party supporters that call an 11 year-old girl, and I quote here, “a typical street whore” and “street ghetto trash,” and openly wonders “when she’ll get her first abortion”? When you’re on the right and you don’t denounce racist hate speech against an 11 year-old girl who really has nothing to do with politics, then you’re okay with your party representing that.

Oh, and don’t try equivocating here with Bristol Palin. Malia Obama wasn’t dragged into the spotlight as a hypocritical example of what a great and religious parent the president is. So no, it’s not the same.

And Pat Buchanan really said that Levi Johnston should be killed because he didn't marry Bristol? Why does it always come down to wishing death on people for those on the right?

:: British laws have really gotten out of hand. There’s a new law, the Vetting and Barring Scheme, which will go into effect in October, which requires anyone who works with children to register as a potential pedophile. This includes authors who write children’s fiction and make special visits to schools, like J.K. Rowling. A lot of popular authors, including Philip Pullman, Quentin Blake, and Anthony Horowitz, are going to stop visiting schools in protest of this ridiculousness. I think Horowitz put it best: “This is a law made by people with a bleak and twisted view of society. And such people, quite simply, should not be making laws” I think the UK isn’t going to stop until all children are required to stay indoors at all times until they’re 25, enshrouded in bubble wrap and staring at the wallpaper. Hopefully the wallpaper won’t come under fire for being too stimulating.

Happy 39th Birthday, Charisma!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Stoned Love

Film Week

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

Another modern pro-vigilantism movie that bends over backwards to justify itself. I get the anger, I just don't buy the argument. "Brave One"? No. Just the opposite, in fact. A disgusting, cowardly little film that thinks it's making an easy moral slam dunk. And why did they make Jodie Foster look like Zac Efron? * star.

I really wish they still made movies like this. It's a solid, involving, masterfully-made film that tells a story with ideas and words. This is the kind of entertainment that just pulls you in from beginning to end. A masterpiece. Walter Huston is very fun as the Devil. **** stars.

I went through most of my feelings on this movie yesterday. Suffice it to say that I think this may have been the best Potter movie yet; it's certainly the one I've enjoyed the most since the third movie, and I enjoyed being wrapped up in it. I won't recap the entire (long) post I wrote yesterday. If you read that, you get the gist of this. **** stars.

Another anti-war parable from the great Kon Ichikawa. In the closing days of World War II, Mizushima, a soldier who plays the harp, keeps morale up by leading the soldiers in singing. When Japan surrenders, the platoon is sent to a prison camp to await repatriation, and Mizushima is sent to convince a company of Japanese soldiers dug into a mountain to surrender. He fails, and when the British attack, his platoon thinks he's died. But he hasn't; he disguises himself as a Buddhist priest and heads off to join his comrades. But he's shocked and horrified by the sight of dead Japanese soldiers everywhere, and makes it his mission in life to bury his fallen countrymen. By the end, his spiritual garb is no longer a disguise. Very poignant, moving film about the horrors of war. **** stars.

RAN (1985)
Kurosawa's feudal version of King Lear is so colorful and visually compelling. And an emotional whirl. I've heard from a few people that they don't find Japanese films particularly emotionally resonant, and I have to wonder what films they've been watching. This is, to date, the best version of Lear I've ever seen. **** stars.

TV Report: The New Season of Hell's Kitchen

Boy, remember when this show was just a cooking competition? What was going on last night on the season premiere? Did they just purposely rush out and get the biggest assholes they could find in the hopes that the personality clashes would be so severe that the whole thing would go disastrously wrong? (Short answer: duh.)

I know this is America, and the people we have in the most abundance are people who think everything they do is fantastic and everyone's a winner just because they want to be, but would it be so much less dramatic if the Hell's Kitchen producers actually went out and found people who were serious about food, instead of serious about how great they think they are with food? Just to mix it up?

The Black Widow Show Continues

Seriously, I never gave a shit about Black Widow until this week. I always thought she was one of the lamer of Marvel's endless parade of incredibly lame characters. But I am a big supporter of Scarlett Johansson in tight outfits.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Do Ewoks Celebrate Life Day?

Over on Topless Robot, this little bit of film is jokingly titled "Star Wars Holiday Special Deleted Scene." But that's a terrible title, because this thing is more welcome and more fun than anything in that horrible nightmare ever was.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

I wasn't sure I was going to write very deeply about this movie, but after reading this insane rant on io9, a website that gets more and more fannish, reactionary, and disappointing, I figured I'd chime in with my own thoughts.

Oh, yeah, I guess there'll be spoilers here if you haven't read the book, seen the movie, etc.

The author of said rant, Caitlin Petrakovitz, opines in a very fannish post that she was disappointed by the ending of the movie, mainly because there was no battle at the end between the Order of the Phoenix and the Death Eaters, and the film cuts out Dumbledore's funeral. She calls this, in a fannish fit of hyperbole, a blatant mistreatment of the Harry Potter fans, and "revisionist." She admits that the movie doesn't have to pander to fans of the novel, but then goes on and on to rip it apart for not doing so.

I can't believe that after 9 years and 6 movies, there are people who still don't get exactly what a task it is adapting J.K. Rowling's massive novels into a movie with a reasonable running time. That there are still people who don't understand the differences between the two media and what works in each.

But let's get to her two main complaints here.

First off, the battle between the Order of the Phoenix and the Death Eaters.

I don't miss it. I don't think it really matters, to be honest. Director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves--not to mention executive producer J.K. Rowling, who has always had a hand in the adaptations and what gets changed, to some extent--make the right choice to skip the battle. I have a long explanation as to why.

What it reminds me of is that, back in the 1960s, Forrest J. Ackerman was planning on producing an animated adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, and sent his treatment to J.R.R. Tolkien to get his thoughts on the adaptation. Tolkien didn't care much for it (you can read about this in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, which includes the letter to Ackerman), and told Ackerman that if he could only get in a truncated version of the Battle of Helm's Deep, he might as well skip it all together in order to save the real spectacle for the Battle of Gondor, which was more important.

I think Yates and Kloves have made the right decision in skipping the battle at the end of this film in order to make more of the battle that we'll inevitably see towards the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2. There are really only two reasons to split the final novel into two movies. The first, of course, is to make another $100 million with an eighth Potter movie. The second is so that the final battle can be gigantic and spectacular, with everyone from the previous movies making an appearance, and really give this thing a gigantic climax. Seriously, does anyone doubt that the final movie is going to be, like, 75% battle scenes?

So what's the point in doing something big now, when the real action is going to occur later?

And also, there's a believability issue, I think, because what parents would send their kids back to Hogwart's, really, when it's just been the site of a wizard battle that resulted in the death of one of the greatest wizards of all time and, in the book, resulted in the deaths of a lot of kids?

It's a slower build, but it's a good one. It takes patience, which generally doesn't occur in the fan arsenal. In fact, one of the saddest things about most groups of fandom is the way they demand everything now, instead of letting stories take time to unfold and build on themselves. If it all can't be solved in 45 minutes, they don't know what to do.

Her gripe is that eliminating the battle "changes the magnitude of the evil enveloping the world." Yes, it does. It makes it scarier, because it's a slower build. The point is: no one's safe. Everyone's being harassed and attacked. Evil could appear at any time from any where. That's much scarier. The attack on Hogwart's is now inevitable--the Death Eaters have proven that they can find a way inside--but it's not a foregone conclusion. It's a scare, an act of terrorism, and I don't see the point in the attack occurring until Lord Voldemort leads it himself.

Petrakovitz also takes issue with a couple of the characterizations, which kind of shows me that she doesn't really know what she's watching.

For example, she laments that Professor Snape kills Dumbledore with such regret and trepidation, instead of being cartoonishly evil and over the top. Now, Snape was one of my favorite characters in the novels, but I like the way he's been handled in the movies much better. Because the point about Professor Snape is that he's not a cartoon villain, twiddling a mustache and plotting evil. Petrakovitz is wrong; Snape wasn't "evil, evil, evil... until he wasn't" in the books. He just didn't like Harry Potter. And that's the wonderful thing Rowling makes clear over and over about Snape--just because he doesn't like Harry and isn't nice to him, it doesn't mean he's an agent of evil.

I liked seeing the conflict on Alan Rickman's face, because there's a lot going on under the surface. Draco Malfoy has to kill Dumbledore; if he doesn't, Lord Voldemort is going to kill Draco. And Professor Snape has made an unbreakable vow to protect Draco and carry out his mission if Draco fails. Dumbledore is going to die either way. But the way it's carried out is strategic--not only are Snape and Dumbledore able to keep Draco from becoming a murderer, but they're also able to firmly convince the Death Eaters that Snape is really with them.

And another layer: if you watch the movies closely, it seems more and more obvious that Dumbledore knows everything that goes on in Hogwart's. It's not beyond the realm of believability to think that he has some inkling of what's going to happen in the near future, as long as he can align everything he needs to align. I think he knows that he's going to die, and he knows that he can make his death useful. After all, his death by Snape's hand not only puts Snape in the right place to help Harry at the end, and keeps Draco from becoming a killer, but it inspires Harry to go on his search for the Horcruxes and eventually defeat Voldemort. Only Dumbledore could pull this off, and he does so.

When he looks down the barrel of Snape's wand, as it were, and says "Severus... please," I only ever read that one way: that Dumbledore is telling Snape to carry out the next phase of the plan. The phase where Dumbledore dies. Dumbledore's faith in Snape was always absolute, and in the end, Snape didn't disappoint him.

It's enigmatic and complex, and Petrakovitz doesn't see these layers. So she doesn't get that the important thing about Dumbledore's death is not that he has a funeral or even how he dies; it's why he dies. And that's not even revealed until the next novel, anyway. I'm sure they'll tie it up in the next movie. But that would take patience, and why be patient when you can just complain about things that don't matter to the coherence of the movie?

Oh, and another thing that bugs me is her almost disgusted dismissal of Draco's "sniveling and annoying whining throughout the movie." That a fellow Potter fan could dismiss that is really just disappointing, because it's a tacit admission that you aren't comfortable with complexity and characterization in your fiction. One of the most emotionally affecting scenes in the movie was in the Room of Requirement, when Draco put the bird in the cabinet and then, opening again, found it dead. In the next shot, you can hear him--but not see him--crying. That was a very emotional moment, because the filmmakers--and Rowling, in the novel--portray Draco Malfoy as a human being and not a cartoon character.

Look at Harry, when he uses the Sectumsempra spell and nearly murders Draco. Harry's just horrified at what he's almost done, that he could even be capable of inflicting so much pain on another human being, even one he doesn't like. It's exactly the same as Draco's inner conflict; we can see now that he's an entitled bully because he feels powerless--his sensitivity and pressure from parents and authority figures (like Voldemort) make him feel small, so he tries to make himself big in school. But that doesn't mean he's a killer, and I like that he's not a killer. I like that he still has a conscience.

Why would you want these things jettisoned?

On to her second complaint: the lack of a funeral scene.

That didn't bother me. I felt the glowing wands were enough. All of the sadness and grief was in that moment. Now, I don't feel any of these movies has ever had a 100% satisfying ending--with the exceptions of the second and third film, the movies have never been able to find the perfect moment to end on. They always linger just a smidge too long while Harry says something about friendship or summat, and then they finally fade out. But I was just fine with the denouement in the observation tower, with Harry, Hermione, and Ron deciding not to come back to school, but to go out and look for the Horcruxes instead. Works just fine.

What I'm saying is, I don't think the funeral was necessary in order for the film to work.

And, honestly, my own feeling is that they'll cut Bill and Fleur's wedding out of the next movie (uh oh, more griping) and have the Death Eaters disrupt Dumbledore's funeral. The filmmakers have probably just moved the sequence of events. Besides, from a storytelling viewpoint, it makes more sense that the Death Eaters would gloat at the funeral of their fallen enemy, and it then prefigures the later Battle of Hogwart's.

What's really funny is that Petrakovitz--and a lot of her commenters, to look at the article--seem to feel that the loss of Dumbledore's funeral comes from having "too much" teen romance, which just makes me laugh. If I have one complaint about the film of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, it's that the film felt a little too rushed the first time around. And I realized, upon a second viewing, that the real problem is that there were too few opportunities for the kids to just be kids. I was so happy to see Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince take it's time and get us back into the personal lives of the kids themselves, and just let us spend time with them. The film understands that the real magic of these films--pardon the pun--is not every tiny detail, or giant creatures and house elves, but the characters themselves. And it was nice to get to spend some time with them outside of the dire elements of the battle with Voldemort.

Could I have stood for some more of Luna and Neville? Sure, but that's true of all the movies. It's never hampered my enjoyment of any of them that some characters get more screen time than others. But even in a crisis, life goes on, and it's important that we witness some of that life so that we see just why it's so important that Harry is making a stand against the Dark Lord. Harry's fighting for something, and if we don't get a sense of what that something is, then what is the damn point?

Here are a couple of other things people are complaining about:

The attack on the Burrow--yes, it doesn't occur in the novel, but it's important for Harry to witness one of the Death Eater attacks on someone he loves (and the Weasleys consider him one of the family) instead of just hearing about these things happening. Again, it's a slow build, but it's an important detail.

Harry not being petrified and hidden under the cloak to witness Dumbledore's death--I like it better that, after the scene in the cave (which was hard to watch, because of Dumbledore's pain, as it should have been), Harry is willing to follow Dumbledore's orders and not interfere. Harry has always been loyal to Dumbledore, but he hasn't always been willing to listen. In Order of the Phoenix, Harry is frustrated and angered by Dumbledore's apparent lack of concern for him (and, as a side note, that's something I'm glad they cut out of the fifth movie--it was there, but it wasn't pages and pages of Harry thinking about how angry he is, which is part of the reason why that novel was so damn long). It shows Harry acting maturely and finally not being so petulant as he's been in the past.

You know, this is foreshadowed in the movie over and over again, as Dumbledore keeps trying to convince Harry that Harry is the more important of the two of them, and that he must survive because only he can kill Voldemort. So maybe it finally sunk in that he should take the mission more seriously than his hurt feelings.

I guess what I liked about the way this movie handled Dumbledore's death and cutting out the battle scene is that it made the action in the film more personal. The Death Eaters have achieved their goal of proving they can get in anywhere they want and eliminated their greatest enemy--the one person who, all along, was standing up to the Ministry of Magic and telling them to prepare themselves to fight Voldemort. And Harry has seen his mentor slain in front of him and been unable to do anything about it. Harry has earlier witnessed the destruction of the home of his surrogate family, the Weasleys. And so he takes it on himself to be the one to do all he can to make sure that Voldemort can be killed this time, because he wants to protect the people he loves and he wants to avenge Dumbledore--and his parents.

Sure, Dumbledore is a major loss to the wizarding world. But we're witnessing it through Harry, and with Harry is where the film needs to end. The vast scope of it will become apparent, but for now, we need to experience Harry's loss before we experience everyone else's, because it's Harry's mission we'll need to begin on.

And for Petrakovitz to say, as she does in her comments, that "it seems bunk to ignore the fan base and alienate them by seemingly refusing to give them the biggest moment of the series," shows that she doesn't get that the death scene and Snape's escape are much more important to the story than a couple of spectacles. That she laments the lack of closure shows that she doesn't understand that none of the films has had closure because the series hasn't closed yet. The memory of Dumbledore's sacrifice will inform everything Harry does in the final quest. And that she says, again in her comments, that "it feels like a disservice to viewers to ignore such dark, epic moments for a little beauty" shows that she doesn't understand that the beauty is the entire point. It's about what Harry's fighting for, not what he's fighting against.

Well, people who want to whine will whine. This is the same problem I had with Watchmen: that people who claimed to be big fans of something in print so obviously didn't understand what made the story work and then couldn't relate to it on film. And in this case, J.K. Rowling does have script approval, and that seems like it should be enough for any Harry Potter fan. Except that, too often, many fans eventually feel like they know the creation better than any creator.

I guess, in the end, the movie's real mistake was having too much faith in the intelligence of fans like Caitlin Petrakovitz.

Monday, July 20, 2009

I'd Rather Deal with Gremlins Than Teenagers

Pretty much the weirdest PSA I've ever seen.

20 July 1969

“Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon July 1969, A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.”

The Eleventh Doctor

I guess they're filming now. I dig the tweed. It may be an attempt to overcompensate for the new actor being so young, but it looks good. At any rate, it looks less like Twilight, which is nice.

More Casting in Westeros

I'm really beginning to look forward to HBO's adaptation of A Game of Thrones. After reading that Peter Dinklage will be playing my favorite character from the books, Tyrion Lannister, I now see that Sean Bean will be playing my wife's favorite character, Ned Stark.

That's some great casting. Perfect, I'd say. And apparently Mark Addy is going to play King Robert, which is an interesting choice--I was stumped for a choice myself, and I have no problem with this one. I can't wait to see it.

Damn, how cool is it when you picture the actor you most want to play a character, and they actually do? When Becca and I made up our fantasy cast of A Game of Thrones, we both were unequivocal in our desire to see Peter Dinklage as Tyrion and Sean Bean as Ned. Now all they have to do is cast Jason Isaacs as Jamie Lannister and they'll have our top three choices in the thing. (They won't; Isaacs doesn't really look much like Jamie... but there's makeup and wigs... and didn't The Brotherhood just get canceled? Is it too much to hope for all three?)

Kristen Bell Mondays

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Song of the Week: "Box of Rain"

I'm not a big fan of the Grateful Dead, but this song... oh, do I love this song. This is from their great 1970 album American Beauty, which--combined with Workingman's Dead, also from 1970, is all of the Grateful Dead I've ever really needed. Bassist Phil Lesh sings this song, which is a song to his dying father. The box of rain, according to Robert Hunter, is the world we live on.

What I love most about this song is that it just makes me feel incredibly good. It's one of a handful of songs that have a genuinely sanguine feeling. So have a sanguine day.

Twilight Summarized by a Smartass, Chapter 4

Amazingly, a month passes in this chapter without every single detail of Bella's life unfolding. Did Stephenie Meyer suddenly take a class on editing and how you can say more with less? Not that there's too much to say, but still.

Bella doesn't develop much as a character, either. She's still pretty cold and standoffish to everyone around her, which makes it seem pretty incongruous to me that so many people are still so fascinated with her. She treats people like they aren't worth her time, but still the girls want to hang out with her and now she's got three boys--Matt, Eric, and Tyler, the guy who almost accidentally killed her with his van--trailing after her, trying to get her to ask them to the girls' choice spring dance. It's even more incongruous, then, that we're finally seeing some of Bella's famous clumsiness. Not only does she trip on the door frame and drop all of her books in the school hallway, she also knocks over a bunch of people playing basketball.

It's that kind of thing, however, that makes me wonder how she can remain so popular. Do you know what happens when a kid trips and drops their books in the hallway? First there's a lot of the usual lame jokes ("Have a nice trip!" "See you next fall!") and people laughing and sarcastic applause. And then there are those special assholes who kick the books further down the hall, pretending it's an accident. That happened to me twice in junior high; in high school they let us carry our backpacks around. When the same thing happened to a popular kid, it was around the school in minutes because people like me, who were tormented by popular kids, loved hearing that they fell down.

It just seems to me that a girl this clumsy would be the object of more laughter than popular adoration. (Bella even disgustingly refers to them as her "fans" once in the book; whatever these kids are, she does not think of them as friends at all. They're her supporting cast.)

She's so uncoordinated that she's actually terrified of the idea of going to the dance, but her fear is muted by Meyer's bad writing. We don't get the sense that she's decided to rush off to Seattle to visit the library because she doesn't want to be humiliated at the dance, but because the small Forks library just isn't big enough for her vast intellectual curiosity.

None of that rings true at all. Let's get down to reality here. Bella doesn't read because she's the smartest teenager on Earth, it's because she is so bored and scared by the reality of her life that she needs to read as much as possible so she doesn't have to be alone with her self-absorbed thoughts. And she's not going to the Seattle library just because she's too much of a genius for Forks. She tells her dad that she's going to have to pass through Montesano, Olympia, and Tacoma to get there. That sounds like a day trip to me. That is a long way to go just to get some books. She could probably use an interlibrary loan if that's what she wanted. Really she's just running away from the humiliation of not going to the dance at all--a dance she won't go to because she thinks she'll humiliate herself even more by tripping all over the place and feeling gawky and out of place.

What I'm getting at is this: Bella has a lot of obvious insecurities. Insecurities that are not unique to her, but pretty common in teenagers. But Stephenie Meyer isn't honest about them. It seems pretty obvious to me that Meyer is writing about herself, and instead of revisiting painful feelings of inadequacy, she's simply glossing over any human feeling by making Bella too smart to care about anyone around her or interact with them or be a part of her own life. Bella is a sad, sad human being, pretending she's too remote to care and so far above any human feeling when she just so clearly wants to be accepted for who she is. Unfortunately, who she is is someone who thinks she's the only human being in a world full of sheep and revels in the idea that she's simply more special than anyone else. This way, her cowardice becomes a choice, I guess.

She's become obsessed with Edward now, too. She dreams about him every night. And I'll tell you why: it's because she's fascinated that Edward is the only student we see who's not kissing her ass and telling her how great she is. That makes him different from everyone else, and Bella's a girl who thinks she deserves someone different.

And Edward treats her like shit, by the way. He's now taking delight in taunting and frustrating and antagonizing her, offering her a ride to Seattle while telling her constantly that she should stay away from him. Which, of course, drives her crazy, because if there's one stereotype women seem to really love proving true over and over, it's that if you treat a woman like shit, she'll hang on your every action.

"It would be more... prudent for you not to be my friend. But I'm tired of trying to stay away from you, Bella."

And what does she pick up from those words? Not Oh my gosh, what a self-obsessed jackass for thinking that he can trick me into liking him. Instead it's He said my name! I can't breathe!


He calls her stupid at least three times in this chapter. And apparently that's how you get the girl.

She should really just be punching him in the mouth instead. But she's so captivated by his pasty skin and greasy hair. All I can picture is Robert Pattinson doing that irritating thing he does where he bows his head and looks up from under his gigantic Georges Muresan forehead. What a dicklick.

Oh, and two more things that irritated me:

First, I don't like the way Bella refers to her parents by their first names. I don't know why. Maybe it's that it's indicative of the lack of respect she has for anyone and everyone. She referred to her mother by her first name in this chapter, and it jumped out at me--I don't think she's done it before. This is the most ungrateful kid.

And second, I don't like her irritation that her dad knows when the high school dance is. She uses it to grieve "having" to live in a small town once again, but sweetie, your dad's the town sheriff. It's his job to know when these things occur. Okay?

And need I remind you that moving was your choice?