Saturday, February 18, 2012

Random Thoughts

:: Disney is in talks to make a movie about the 14 years it took Walt Disney to convince PL Travers to let him make a Mary Poppins movie, possibly starring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep. That's the kind of thing I'd much rather see a documentary about, especially since all I can picture right now is a sugary-smarmy combination of Julie & Julia and Extremely Dumb & Incredibly Dull.

:: It's not the idea of a moon colony that I find laughable, but the idea that Newt Gingrich could or even would make that happen.

:: Nancy Grace says Whitney Houston was murdered. I don't know if I should think it's pathetic how desperate Nancy is for attention, or if I should think it represents growth that Nancy noticed the death of someone who isn't a little white girl.

:: Drunk driver? Just pull him over and get six cops to beat the shit out of him. Turns out he's actually a diabetic in insulin shock? Just trying to protect and serve. Does anyone do their job well anymore?

:: I would love it if Adele just shut up for a little while.

:: The Editing Room's Abridged Scripts are nearly always hilarious. This week, they did David Lynch's Dune. A sample:

                           SIAN PHILLIPS
               Well, you seem to be good breeding stock,
               so I guess we’ll try to save you from
               the emperor’s sneak attack by teaching
               you the Jedi Mind Trick.

                            FRANCESCA ANNIS
               Hey, Dune was using that trick a decade
               before Star Wars came out!

                             SIAN PHILLIPS
               We also had a magical teenager stuck on a
               desert planet, whose his family gets
               killed so he joins a band of rebel
               warriors, and ultimately he discovers
               he’s the secret descendent of the
               emperor’s right-hand man. But, hey,
               who’s gonna notice?

:: GOP dream-date Chris Christie just vetoed an equality bill in New Jersey. He wants to be the George Wallace of the afraid-of-gay-people foofaraw (I refuse to dignify homophobic bullying by calling it a movement). I really need for every Republican politician in this country to stop pretending that they're running for anything or serving in any office to serve the needs of anyone who isn't looking back at them from the mirror.

:: In response to a proposition for a Latino-American Day, Arizona Republican Cecil Ash proposed a holiday honoring white people for "if and when the Caucasian population becomes a minority, they may want to celebrate the accomplishments and the contributions of the Caucasian population the same way." So... we're not going to worry about jobs or the economy anymore? That's just totally off the table for the Right now?

:: Chris Sims' review of Kevin Smith's reality show Comic Book Men is about what I expected from the show. I know there are good comic book stores and store owners out there, but those people were always put out of business in my area by a local chain, and everyone who works at the chain (except for two guys, ever) are total assholes. Those circus pinheads are the reason I started dealing exclusively with online comics retailers, because mail order services were much nicer to deal with. I haven't seen this show and I don't plan to, because it sounds like a series completely based on the guy who runs the local chain, and he is one of the biggest douches who ever douched. And by the way, I've been to cons and bought merchandise from the guy on the show, Bryan whatever, the Dumbledore-lookin' guy who played Steve-Dave back when Kevin Smith made good movies, and he's an asshole. Deal with that guy for two minutes, and you'll know what I mean.

:: How long is Hilary Duff going to be pregnant? It feels like she's been pregnant for 14 years. Kid's getting mail delivered in there.

:: Can't say I really want to see CBS do Sherlock with Jonny Lee Miller... Does anyone? I've always been curious to see how a show like this (modern Sherlock Holmes) would do on American television in the CSI era. But, you know, from afar.

:: The House Oversight and Government Reform hearing on contraceptives included oversight of women. Because who is more qualified to talk about what women truly need health-wise than a bunch of old men and religious leaders. Although I assume the religious leaders are worried that too much contraception will stem the ever-renewing tide of molestable little boys.

Seriously, Republicans and Catholic leaders, just shut the fuck up and admit that this is all 100% about controlling what women do with their own bodies. Stop pretending it's anything else. It's about trying to wrangle women back into the kitchen and the maternity ward.

And it's led by the Catholic Church, a criminal organization who for decades molested children on an institutional level and were dedicated to covering up their rape crimes. To hear these assholes talk now as if they had the moral high ground on anything makes me want to never stop vomiting.

Also, does the GOP just not give a damn about women voting for them anymore, or what?

Still, playing the "religious freedom" card does give you a perfect example of how little these people understand what those words actually mean...

:: After tracking data has emerged that John Carter doesn't have enough brand recognition and no interest from women or some such crap, I'm seeing way too many articles just announcing that John Carter will or even has already failed at the box office. Just... shut up. I'm too sick today for anything else but that.

:: Whitney Houston dies. Sony raises the price of her hits collection by 5 bucks. Tell me again why we're supposed to save the music industry.

:: So, after calling out the corruption of corporate money in politics, President Obama has embraced a SuperPAC. I find it disheartening. I saw a lot of comments about it online from people younger than me who say some variation of the following: "Big money is necessary. All of Wall Street is supporting Romney. Obama would be crippling himself not to do it. That's what the game is, and you have to play to win." And then it always ends with this exact same line: "That's just how corrupt our system is right now." Except, of course, it's never just right now, it's how politics always are. It's how they always will be. No one's ever going to stop it, and if someone is, it won't be Obama. It was never going to be.

But it'll be no one. This system of ours is just too easy to give up on.

I am really at the age now where I've been hearing the same lies and justifications for enough decades that I just don't care anymore.

Oh, and the big bankster pardon? (And let's not quibble over words, because it's basically a pardon.) Not only will foreclosures take off again now that the banks have been let off the hook for the biggest fraud in history, and not only have their robo-signed forgeries been immunized, but they'll also be funded out by pension funds, municipalities, even private investment portfolios. So now they'll take your house and your retirement. America, everybody.

:: The new normal: according to a new poll, 53% of respondents identifying themselves as liberals support keeping Gitmo open, 77% support drone use, and 55% approve of drone use targeting US citizens. This police state thing is just getting easier and easier.

:: Don't raise my taxes but don't stop sending me my free government money. Jesus Christ, doesn't anyone have any grasp on reality anymore?

:: Dave Mustaine: eat shit. (See how Freedom of Speech goes both ways?)

:: Rick Santorum, via Twitter: "If English was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for America." Hey, everyone, let's take a quick IQ test. Are you thinking of voting for Rick Santorum? If you answered yes, congratulations, you are too stupid to live. I'll bet you people actually forget that you're supposed to be breathing sometimes. This is a man who is running for president because he genuinely despises the idea that people out there might be making their own decisions and not consulting the Golden Plates about what a woman should do with her uterus. If you're voting to put on Ayatollah in the White House, you are officially an Irredeemable Fuckwit.

Doesn't the fact that all these fucks can talk about is homophobia and sexism and racism give you some kind of clue as to where these dolts stand on jobs and the economy?

:: Seriously, though: bite my ass, Dave Mustaine.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Avengers, Fan-Assembled

Gorgeous fan-made trailer for The Avengers, featuring scenes from the individual films as a way of introduction and including every second of footage released so far in various teaser forms.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Film Week

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

Surprisingly engrossing French animated film about a girl whose father has been murdered, her obsessed police officer mother, the criminal mastermind, a burglar, and the cat that connects them. It has a nice grasp of economy in characterization and in storytelling; at a mere 61 minutes there's nothing unnecessary here, but it still tells its story, develops its characters, and has time for little flourishes. That alone makes it a triumph. Lovely stylized animation, beautifully shaded and vibrant. ****

AKA Return of the Dragon. Bruce Lee's directorial debut, and it's a real leap forward in martial arts flicks. (So popular, for example, that it's basically the martial arts flick they're still making.) Very funny and compelling, I'd put it a very close second to Enter the Dragon. And in this one Bruce fights a pre-stardom Jackie Chan and Chuck Norris and his truly horrifying amount of back hair. Great shots of the Coliseum, too. Just a solid, very well-made fight movie. **** With this, I feel like I've seen all of Bruce Lee's martial arts movies; I was going to follow-up with Game of Death, but everything I read makes it sound terrible, and I've seen all the surviving footage in Curse of the Dragon and Bruce Lee: A Warrior's Journey.

Gloriously ridiculous movie with Sir Richard Burton hamming his way through a Nazi-era version of the Perrault tale and murdering a bevvy of some of the most beautiful B-movie starlets of the year. It's too bad the one with the most screen time is Joey Heatherton, because she's not really up to even this dialogue, but she just looks so damn good... Insane, even stupid, but divinely so. ***1/2

Motion capture remains frustrating. I don't know why I'm still tracking it, except that I'm fascinated to see the continued merging of animation and special effects. It's ironic that this movie shut down a studio and yet the motion capture's not only better and more sophisticated than the dead-eyed soullessness of earlier efforts (particularly on the character played by Dan Fogler), the animation melds much better with the effects, and it's a much more enjoyable story than some of the other crap ImageMovers has been involved in the making of. ***

Subtle short film about a boy longing for a pet rabbit and his father, who longs for his wife to come back. They both manage to miss that inside all of this longing, they've got each other. It works, but it made me so terribly sad. ***

Stark, harrowing movie about a mother trying to simply exist after her detached, sociopathic son has gone on a killing spree. Tilda Swinton is excellent and subdued as a woman who shoulders the blame set on her by the survivors of the massacre, while struggling not to give up on a son whom she has never truly bonded with. It's a fascinating portrait of a woman trying to make sense of a situation with none to be found. It's compelling and, to be honest, unpleasant. I think it raises a question about how much the lack of a bond with her child is her fault, or whether the boy simply had something wrong inside of him. It's a very sad movie. **** Shame Tilda got snubbed by Oscar, but the Academy has never seen subtlety as real acting (or filmmaking, really), and since she never has a "give her the shot!" scene, they nominated Viola Davis for playing Oprah Winfrey in The Color Purple instead. But at least if she wins it will End Racism, or something. (Also, the woman who made this film wanted to make The Lovely Bones originally; I wish she had, her version sounded less sick.)

Another very subtle film, and one that I found myself personally relating to on several levels. Michael Shannon, in an excellent performance (he gives no other kind), stars as a man in smalltown Ohio who begins having dreams of apocalyptic storms. He begins to worry whether the dreams have a prophetic significance or that he's developing severe mental illness (which his mother did at his age). Jessica Chastain plays his wife, supportive but also terrified as Shannon begins rebuilding the storm shelter in the yard. Though my anxieties thankfully never manifested themselves quite so drastically, I could relate to the sense of impending dread, doom and terror that this movie creates. One of my favorite movies of 2011. ****

I Wasn't Old Enough to Appreciate This Era When I Lived in It

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

John Severin 1921-2012

Sorry to hear that artist and writer John Severin passed away over the weekend at the age of 90. I was a fan of his work for some of the comics I grew up reading, like Mad and Two-Fisted Tales, or Our Army at War, Two-Gun Kid, Tales to Astonish, Spoof, Eerie, Creepy, Frontline Combat, etc. Comics that were already old when I was born, a lot of times, but which were the kind of thing I sought out when I first started seriously getting into comics when I was 10, and which I still find sometimes to this day. A luminary who helped shape some great stories when comics were in their prime; we're so far removed from such greatness today. I'm grateful for his work, and that we still have it to enjoy whenever we wish. It's a better idea than reading 98% of what's new.

Portrait via The Pictorial Arts.

Because It's Not a Holiday Without Muppets

Transformers 4 "Reboot"

I find it hilarious that Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Michael Bay are calling the next Transformers movie a "reboot." Really, it seems like they're just ditching all the human characters and moving ahead with the robots, and who can blame them? I guess even Bay and Spielberg finally got tired of putting up with Shia.

Anyway, the fan overreaction to this has been typically overwrought. I think the saddest thing in the universe right now must be running a geek site and having to report all the geek news even when it drives you insane and it's total crap--like the Transformers movies. And then you have to pretend to find the good in the whole thing,  even when it's totally empty. I see it driving people crazy, but on the other hand, most fanboys seem to think their bitching and moaning is an essential part of being into skiffy.

So, we have another goddamn Transformers movie because they just make way too much money to stop. Not a surprise. I don't really care, because I was done with the series with the first horrible movie. But some of the geek sites are whining this morning that, apparently, Optimus Prime killed Megatron in the third movie, but if it's a reboot they can have Megatron, but di Bonaventura also said it was a continuation, so what are they going to do for a villain, and oh my good logic paradox damn you Kirk my head!!!!! and then they die. How can Megatron be a villain if his head was ripped off?

So, proving once again that I can think all too much like a Hollywood hack, I came up with this in just a few seconds:

They're robots with vast digital technology. The whole movie is about the return of Megatron. You've got Starscream attempting to take his place as leader of the Decepticons, but he's opposed by other factions led by guys like Shockwave, etc. It's turning into a Decepticon war of succession, and amid the chaos, Optimus Prime attempts to take advantage of this instability to retake Cybertron (or something, I don't know the status of Cybertron, I'm just remembering its significance from watching the cartoons and reading the Marvel comic as a kid). Meanwhile, because the Transformers are fricking robots (calm your tits, geek sites), Megatron's loyal disciple Soundwave knows that Megatron has a back-up head somewhere and that attaching it can restore Megatron's program or matrix or whatever silly thing they're calling it. So the movie is really about Soundwave trying to find this back-up head to restore Megatron to Decepticon leadership while the Autobots try to take out these factions one by one to retake Cybertron. And some humans do some shit, too. You can call it Transformers: The Return of Megatron or Transformers: Decepticon War if you don't want to give away a reveal that will be all over the internet before the movie even starts shooting.

There, easy. I'll be waiting for my "story by" credit. Yes, I'm being facetious. But, seriously, do these films actually have enough internal logic that people who actively hate them would really be this upset and outraged by the so-far-completely-assumed-yet-not-really-announced direction of a fourth movie?

Boy... My Penis Sure Hurts When I Urinate

ME: You know, if there's one thing I'm sick of hearing this year, it's "V-Day." Like Valentine's Day needed some kind of hip edge because "Valentine's Day" sounded too stodgy.

BECCA: It's to remind you not to get venereal disease.

ME: Or of vaginas.

BECCA: Excuse me, I don't know how things are in your mind, but every day is Vagina Day.

Happy Vagina Day, everyone.

(Note: I couldn't help it with the post title. Every time venereal disease gets mentioned, that's right where my head goes, to a line I've been quoting since I was 12. It's from an episode from the REAL Saturday Night Live--aka the first four seasons--that Michael Sarrazin hosted. The sketch is called "Josh Ramsey: VD Caseworker" and, well, you throw that line at a 12 year-old boy and he's going to remember it the rest of his life.)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Star Wars in 3D

Becca and I went out to see The Phantom Menace in 3D yesterday. I've not been a supporter of 3D, but they finally put something out in 3D that I just couldn't resist. Plus we got a little extra from our tax refunds and we decided this would be a really nice treat for ourselves, especially considering that our wedding anniversary is right around the corner. Apparently the third anniversary, for us, is lightsabers. I like this better than whatever the hell it's supposed to be traditionally.

The Phantom Menace is kind of "our" Star Wars movie. We'd been together just four years when all the Episode I hype was ramping up, and that seemed impossibly long to me, because I was 23 and I'd never been in a relationship for so long before. I remember being surprised and very glad that Becca was so excited; she was more excited than I was. She was one of those people who stood in line at midnight the day the action figures were released at Toys 'R' Us; she was coming home from work at night, saw the line, and figured why the hell not? She came back with a small mountain of action figures and a little certificate they were giving out, which she still has. The toys are all hanging up on the "Star Wars Wall" of our library room. We still have vinyl models in the kitchen that Becca painted of the lightsaber duel between Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan and Darth Maul.

There were toys and merchandising tie-ins everywhere. I still have cups from Taco Bell and Jar Jar toys from Pizza Hut and I've never felt the need--or the desire--to get rid of them. These are totems left over from what still feels to me like the last ever film event. Even The Lord of the Rings, as much as I love them, never felt like EVENTS to me so much as just really great films. This was the last old-fashioned movie tie-in event of my childhood, even if it happened when I was 23.

I like having that delineation of time there. In a lot of ways, The Phantom Menace really was at the right time and place in my life to be the definitive end of my movie childhood, while The Lord of the Rings was the beginning of a whole new era of special effects. When the LOTR films were released, I was living with Becca and had moved into a whole new, more adult, more responsible phase of my existence.

I like The Phantom Menace, and I'm not going to qualify that or justify it or apologize for it. It's been 13 years, and if you haven't gotten over your disappointment by now, nothing I can say will save you. The 3D re-release has been, typically, another excuse for bitching about Jar Jar Binks and midichlorians, and the odds I'm going to see an insightful or original complaint about it are slimmer than actually seeing a Star Wars "fan" decide to just focus on the aspects of a vast fictional universe that he/she actually does like. I don't have anything to add about the film itself, because you've all seen it and you all know if you liked it or not.

I was more interested in what the 3D would be like. I'd never experienced this Real-D 3D before. It still gave me a headache--there is no possible way it can't, because it forces your eyes to focus on two things at the same time. Some of the previews were in 3D, and they were actually movies meant to be seen that way, and it made me realize that previews in 3D are a horrible idea. So much quick editing that I could barely look at anything. It seems counter-productive to actually getting me to want to see something. I don't know, maybe I'm too old for it.

As for the retrofitted 3D of The Phantom Menace, I thought it mostly worked. That first underwater shot of the Gungan city was amazing. There are some, for me, iconic moments that the extra dimension made look pretty cool. I noticed some slight changes, but mostly made to take advantage of the format. They worked for me because they weren't intrusive, they were there to add depth to some of the imagery. It wasn't shot specifically for 3D, so it doesn't take fullest advantage of it; it's more of a neat effect than anything else. If you've been dying to see Episode I in 3D, it's not going to blow you away. For me, the 3D was a hurdle I had to get over so I could see The Phantom Menace again in the theater, and then it was a nice surprise that it was so much more pleasant to look at than I assumed it would be.

One technical aspect: Yoda. I don't remember if they switched out the Yoda puppet for the CGI model on the recent Blu-Rays or what, but this is the first I'm seeing of it. I think it works better for the type of heavily digital film The Phantom Menace is. When they reused the puppet in Episode I, it seemed like they made him too bright; like they made his green skin brighter to emphasize that he was younger here, and it just didn't really work. This seems like a different CG model than the one they used in Episode III (the one in Episode II wasn't really very good), but Yoda here is very expressive and compelling. So that was a little added bonus for me, since I've already seen TPM so many times in my life. It's actually my wife's favorite Star Wars movie, and the only one featuring Qui-Gon Jinn, her favorite Star Wars character. I think it's worth noting, too, that so much of the film being digital effects probably made it easier to space it out into three dimensions, so there's no real damage done to it as far as things looking really bad. The next two will probably look even better in 3D because there's so much more CGI.

It was a nice time. I hope I get to see the other prequels in 3D, too. I don't know about the original trilogy, if only because taking a movie from 1977-1983 and trying to retrofit it for 3D seems like it wouldn't be very good. But maybe they'll be forced to make so many changes to the movie just to work it out that the "fans" will have new and different things to bitch about, so that'll make them happy, too.

After we walked out of the theater on 19 May 1999, Becca took my arm, pushed up my sleeve, looked at my watch and joked "How much longer until 2002?" That's what I'll always love most about The Phantom Menace, and why I don't care what your dismissive comments are going to inevitably be. Move along.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Song of the Week: "Wicked Game"

Becca and I were going through one of those lists of Top 40 songs in the 80s, and remarking that this was one of our favorite singles from the crappy late 80s. For my money, the best thing associated with Wild at Heart. I'd totally forgotten about Helen Christensen being in the music video; so many people had models rolling around in black & white in their videos between about 1988 and 1992...