Saturday, June 02, 2012

Kathryn Joosten 1939-2012

Sorry to hear about Kathryn Joosten's passing. I always liked her whenever I saw in her TV. Particularly on Desperate Housewives, but on everything from small roles to commercials.

Today's Mood

DC Makes It Official: Alan Scott Is Gay

Well, this is hardly the major, iconic character they've been teasing us with for a couple of weeks. As Topless Robot put it, Alan Scott has been the fifth most important Green Lantern for the last 50 years, is totally unknown outside of comics fandom, and lives on Earth-2 in an alternate universe (and therefore will have no real bearing on the events of the main DC Universe). So, it's not the game-changer DC Comics kept crowing about. Instead, it's the only thing DC is really good at: cheaply exploiting its characters for publicity.

Again, Topless Robot: "As much as DC was randomly homosexuallizing a character for attention instead of any real stab at sexual equality, they actually had a chance to make a statement here, and instead I really think this is a massive cop-out -- a cop-out made worse by how much DC promoted it like they were doing something at all 'iconic.'"

I don't know, part of me wants to say that at least they made the effort, but another part of me envisions Dan Didio smugly patting himself on the back for being somehow progressive and just can't do it.

President Obama's Kill List

I know this is a thorny subject, but I have to say something.

I remember when it used to be considered a bad thing to have unilateral, unchecked power in the hands of a single man. But now we have a president who has a kill list, a drone bombing program, and has apparently placed himself as the only arbiter of who lives and who dies. Apparently, even if they're American citizens, as Anwar al-Awlaki was--and I know people still want to get pissed off when I say it, but the man was an American citizen and even a treasonous American citizen is entitled to due process before execution because this is a nation that supposedly abides by a rule of law.

It makes me want to never stop vomiting when I see people in the media portraying this as something good, as though President Obama's judgment is infallible. Because he's smart and and wise and won a Nobel Peace Prize and isn't a Republican, this is somehow okay; that the president has a list of foreign murders he can remotely commit at the touch of a button, and anyone who gets in the way is just collateral damage or something.

This isn't reason in the face of danger. This is murder and violence and hypocrisy. This is the United States as always acting as though it has the ultimate power to decide the fates of others.

I'm sickened that this override of due process and the Constitution could be framed as somehow heroic. The entire point of our democratic system is supposed to be that no one man can concentrate this much power. No one person is supposed to be able to take the law into his own hands and dole out punishment according to his own judgment.

If this is what we applaud now, I want nothing more to do with it.

80s Revisited: Tremors

Tremors (1990)
Directed by Ron Underwood; written by Brent Maddock & SS Wilson; produced by Gale Hurd, Brent Maddock & SS Wilson

I saw this movie a lot back when it first came out on video; my sister couldn't get enough of it because it was funny and violent (her two favorite things, seemingly), but somehow in the years since I hadn't come across this flick too much. Then there it was on Starz the other night, so I figured, why not?

I always had the image of this flick in my head as a sort of Gremlins-style horror parody, but really it's a B-horror that goes for comedy as much as suspense. I remembered thinking it was wildly funny when I was 14, and it does have a lot of character humor (it wisely never invites us to laugh at the expense of the characters, who could easily be played as backwater hicks with no spark), and there's some great parody of the survivalist mindset, but it's not the comedy I remember it being. That's not to slam the movie in any way, because it's funny and highly enjoyable, but it's interesting to me how something can seem wildly funny at 14 and then seem more mild (but inventive) at 35.

What sets this apart from your basic "trapped and pursued" horror flick is really the tongue-in-cheek humor drawn from the sometimes batty characters. Fred Ward and Kevin Bacon are very likable as Earl and Val, a couple of handymen in a tiny town with the ironic name of Perfection, Nevada. Val meets cute with a spunky geologist (and I do like that there's some movie out there that allows me to put those two words together), but soon they're trying to survive while pursued by gigantic sandworms with grabbing tongues. The worms--Graboids--can feel their vibrations on the surface of the desert, and basically function as sharks on land. The special effects and creature design are effective and amusing; the flick creates genuine suspense partly through judicious creature use, and partly through--and this is where too many movies get it wrong--establishing characters that we like and don't want to see killed. (One of them is Victor Wong. Victor Wong is always awesome.)

The high point of the humor is the gun crazy survivalist couple played by Michael Gross and, in her film debut, Reba McEntire. I remember especially finding Gross hilarious as a teenager, since he had just come off playing the far gentler Steven Keaton on Family Ties through the 80s. Their basement, with many types of guns fighting for position on the walls, is one of my favorite sight gags in the movie. (A wall full of guns was an all-too-common visual in movies from the time period; at least one movie manages to show it up as utterly ridiculous.) Seeing this again, I instantly wish we'd seen more Michael Gross in movies--though apparently he's in all four (!) Tremors movies.

Anyway, if you just want to have some popcorn and soda and laugh at a horror flick that embraces its silliness without compromising its characters, you could do a hell of a lot worse. It's not as great as I remember it being, but it's by no means a bad movie, either. Director Ron Underwood apparently makes nothing but Christmas movies for cable now, but right after this he made the excellent City Slickers and the underrated Heart and Souls. He also directed Speechless, a movie I've never seen but which does, apparently, have both Michael Keaton and Christopher Reeve in it, making it the only movie I know of that has both Batman and Superman in it. So there's your trivia.

Friday, June 01, 2012

The Lego Lord of the Rings Video Game Looks... Precious!

I am so damn thrilled this is happening!

Poor Little Fool

Me: “Oh my god, Mr. T cereal was so good! ‘I pity the fool who doesn’t eat my cereal!’ I ate so much of it as a kid. Did you like it?”

Becca: “I never had it when I was a kid.”

Me: “Oh my god… really? Never once? Oh, Becca… YOU’RE the fool Mr. T pities!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Film Week

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

Another Rudolf Ising cartoon from MGM. Some decent gags, but I think I saw a lot of these on TV as a kid and they weren't particularly memorable. Even now, I don't remember most of this. I feel bad bagging on Rudy Ising, but his earlier work for Warner Bros was so much better. **1/2

I've gone this far and I've never actually seen a film by French animator Paul Grimault. This is a marvelous short about a stowaway on an airship (La Grande Ourse) who runs afoul of a robot waiter and is menaced by a gigantic vulture. The animation is beautiful, very full, in a way that only few have achieved since (such as Richard Williams). The short is dreamlike and just pure cartoon. ****

A RAINY DAY (1940)
Hugh Harman directed this cartoon for MGM, about a bear trying to fix the roof of the house while a storm blows in. Interesting character animation, but it's concerns are technical proficiency rather than entertainment. **

Sarah Polley's second directorial effort, this isn't as immediately accessible as Away from Her, but something more subtle and harder to define. Michelle Williams stars as a married woman who becomes taken with a man (Luke Kirby) who (it later turns out) lives across the street from her. She tries not to give in to the temptation of cheating on her husband (Seth Rogen), but becomes consumed with the idea that her life just isn't... right somehow. It's an interesting character study, made even more obtuse by my feeling that Williams' character has a real lack of self-awareness. It's unfortunate that she can't appreciate her marriage to a nice, warm, caring man; for as much as she wants to throw herself at her neighbor, she feels like she has to build up her courage just to seduce her own husband, but only seems to be able to do it at inopportune moments when she'll be rejected--meanwhile, in one scene, he attempts to kiss her on the mouth when they're both being playful, and she just stops him and then doesn't seem to understand why he feels rejected. It's like she needs the excitement of these new feelings for someone else in order to feel fulfilled. It's tragic. To throw it in relief, Sarah Silverman plays Rogen's sister, a recovering alcoholic who compares her own problems--needing to fill the gap inherent in life, even at the cost of personal destruction--to Williams'. It's not an easy movie; it's at times very frustrating, but it's also very honest without spelling out what you're supposed to take from it, and I feel more rewarded because the movie tries harder and is more genuine than something like Eat Pray Love. I hope Sarah Polley never stops writing and directing movies. ***1/2

THE GIRL (2009)
It's a pretty movie (the cinematographer, Hoyte Van Hoytema, also shot Let the Right One In), but one with few surprises. It's about a girl in 1980 whose family goes to Africa for a summer on some kind of humanitarian mission, leaving her in the care of an alcoholic aunt who is more interested in reliving her past. The girl (unnamed in the film) has her aunt whisked away by an old boyfriend and spends the summer fending for herself. It plays like a study in levels of wisdom--she's smart enough to fend for herself, but only for so long, as she doesn't really have the experience to take care of herself--but is fairly predictable and, maybe, a little too indulgent. **1/2

An easygoing documentary about pinball, its history, its ongoing cult popularity, and the people who are passionate about it. It's a charming film, and never looks down on pinball's devotees, but instead takes us into a world of people who are obsessed with a moment in pop culture history. ***

As much as I didn't like X-Men Origins: Wolverine, I liked this movie even less. The movie versions of the X-Men have just never really made that much of an impression on me, and this was just treading familiar ground, though this was the most overwrought one yet. The film's attempts to make me care about anything that's happening were constantly setback by turgid direction, the director's inability to use subtlety where a stampede of obviousness will do, a total lack of wit, terrible makeup, shitty special effects, and a script that tries to examine the past friendship of Erik Lensherr (later Magneto) and Charles Xavier (later Professor X) but just makes Xavier look like an arrogant, highhanded jerk. Between the knee-bruising fan service and the director practically shouting "THIS IS BASED ON A COMIC BOOK! SEE? ANGLES!" in your ear, Michael Fassbender turns in a surprisingly great performance as Lensherr that made me wish they'd just jettisoned all the other characters (especially Raven Darkholme, whose complex personal transformation should be the heart of the film, but who is played with a near-total lack of emotion by Jennifer Lawrence, who might as well start every one of her lines with "Then the script says that I'm supposed to tell you..."). Also, the CGI/makeup of Nicholas Hoult's Beast is unintentionally hilarious; he looks like he's doing Teen Wolf cosplay. Also, January Jones is just awful. Also, two black characters and you make one of them turn evil and the other explode? Seriously? In 1962? In a movie based on a comic book whose characters were meant to be an allegory for racism? Also, also, also. I could go on all day. Anyway, Kevin Bacon's not bad in it, either, but this is just not good and doesn't make the serious emotional impact it clearly thinks it does. **

RED TAILS (2012)
After nearly a quarter-century, George Lucas finally made his movie about the Tuskegee Airmen. I know a lot of people criticized this movie for not being a serious historical drama, but I see the tone they were going for. George Lucas wanted to make the kind of movie they would have made in 1943, if black people were allowed to exist in movies in 1943 outside of the service industry. It's one of those wartime adventure flicks from the time period, Flying Leathernecks with African-Americans. And they get that tone, too, focusing on brave pilots whose abilities are in doubt and who seek the chance to prove themselves as fighter pilots--and there's also romance, daring, action, and Cuba Gooding Jr. channeling Robert Montgomery. But on the negative side, the attempt to replicate that comic strip tone of two-fisted heroism and doomed wartime love results in a movie that is so lacking in edges that it becomes inconsequential. It's fluff, and not the fun fluff I was hoping for. Which is a shame, because it wastes some pretty nice performances (I particularly liked David Oyelowo and Elijah Kelly, and was hoping to see more from Friday Night Lights star Michael B. Jordan) and has tremendously good special effects. I wish it had all been in the service of a movie that gave you a reason to care about them. You've got the style down, just give me some substance so I can enjoy this adventure. **1/2

What is the point of this goddamn thing? I mean, what is the takeaway here? Jennifer Lawrence stars (in an inexplicably Oscar-nominated performance in an inexplicably Oscar-nominated film) as a hillbilly in the Ozarks who has to prove her father's death in order to keep the house she, her younger siblings, and her catatonic mother live in. That's ostensibly the plot, and it tries to be this sort of noir detective flick in an unusual setting that's supposed to be gritty, but really it just operates like a comic book on cartoon logic. I keep hearing what a good actress Jennifer Lawrence is, but this really isn't the movie to prove it with, since her character is so incredibly one-dimensional and not really very bright. It's just all about taking this girl who is the one virtuous, flawless, overly-idealized angel in the Ozarks and shitting all over her. She's supposed to be trying to find her father, but she only goes through the motions--all the real detective work is done for her, often by people who are beating the shit out of her one minute and then randomly helping her for no real reason the next. But hey, she survives getting choked and beaten and spat on and having a tooth knocked out and having to cut the hands off of her daddy's corpse, so that apparently makes her some kind of hero. Or something. It's just a terrible, badly-written, badly-acted, pointless exploitation movie that doesn't even have the courage to be one, and instead pretends it has something important to say. The copious amount of praise heaped on this is just embarrassing. *

The film's grave miscalculation it's that its main character (a young English girl who wants to be a writer, played by Jessica Brown Findlay) is an asshole. She treats people like shit and thinks it's clever, and sadly the movie agrees with her, so when it comes time for us to have to view her sympathetically in the third act, it's just no longer possible. So, you know, stuff happens, but who cares? *

Finally, a film about humanity. Not enough of that this week... Art Carney stars in a deservedly Oscar-winning performance as an old, retired widower whose apartment building in New York is torn down. His adult son takes him in, but he feels like a burden and sets out to visit his daughter in Chicago and his other son in Los Angeles, sort of discovering America and himself along the way. It's a beautiful character study. The aspect of the film that really touched me was Harry's loyalty to his cat, Tonto. Everything that happens to Harry happens because of his cat; he won't let Tonto be taken away at the airport, he won't get on the bus without Tonto. Tonto is his friend, and also the only part of his daily life that he still is able to hold on to: his wife has passed away, his apartment is torn down, his friends have died, and the neighborhood is in decline. With Tonto at his side, Harry decides to discover who he is now, making his way slowly westward and open to new experiences and new friendships, always able to make human connections with an open friendliness. Early in the film, Harry insists that his neighborhood is still home, telling his cat "I still know a lot of people around here. You know people... that's home." What I love about this film is that Harry is able to carry that attitude of neighborliness with him as he forges ahead to find a new place for himself in this world. Beautiful film. **** (There's a great scene with Chief Dan George. Even if a movie's bad, a Chief Dan George scene is worth the price of admission.)

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Playmate of the Year 2011

Yeah, that time of year again: the time for my annual post of total objectification, which used to piss off a lot of people before they started wisely ignoring it. Hopefully that means fewer racist rants about naked black women this time around...

So, my personal ranking of this year's Playmates.

12. Ashley Mattingly, Miss March. I just don't find her body type attractive. I like hips and curves. (Don't worry, I've already been assured yet again how shallow I am.)

11. Iryna Ivanova, Miss August. It really puts me off how she looks so glassy-eyed in every shot. She's one of two Playmates this year from the Ukraine. To look at their website, Hugh Hefner owns some kind of Playmate/Cyber Girl Factory in the Ukraine. It makes me uncomfortable for reasons I can't quite grasp.

10. Sasha Bonilova, Miss May. I don't know, there's just no connection for me. It's objectification, there's no logical reasoning for any of this. She just strikes me as a little too made up somehow. Self-conscious in front of a camera.

9. Jaclyn Swedberg, Miss April. This year's Playmate of the Year according to readers. I can't think of a reason why. Usually I don't agree but can understand why, but this year I have no idea. I don't find her attractive at all.

8. Jessa Hinton, Miss July. It's July, got to pull out that boat again, that never gets old. I've been saying it for years: new blood in the photography department, Playboy, not the same three people just going through the motions. If I like Jessa at all it's because she reminds me of the 80s. But I'll just say I also picked a photo that really flattered her body.

7. Anna Sophia Berglund, Miss January. Cute smile. This behind-the-scenes old-timey dressing room set is another one I'm sick of seeing crop up in Playmate photo shoots.

6. Rainy Day Jordan, Miss December. They put her in the barn because, apparently, where else do you put a girl from Texas? Nice body--she doesn't have that caved-in stomach look that seems so prized nowadays.

5. Amanda Cerny, Miss October. And there's that nighttime studio apartment again, right on schedule. Amanda Cerny has a look I sort of naturally like, plus I dig that she has hips and an ass. Her pictures aren't that great, but the photographers just don't seem to be inspired anymore.

4. Mei-Ling Lam, Miss June. This year Playboy included an Asian woman in those two slots they always have every year for non-white women. I just realized Mei-Ling is Playboy's first Asian centerfold since Grace Kim in 2008. God forbid they don't get that 80% white woman coverage. (Or uncoverage, if you want to make a really dumbass pun.) Anyway, I think Mei-Ling is very cute, and she's wonderfully at ease in front of the camera. That counts for a lot, especially since she gets the requisite "It's June, put the girl out in a field" layout that happens every year.

3. Tiffany Toth, Miss September. I don't find her body terribly sexy, but I just keep going back to her smile and the fact that she's so damn comfortable in front of the camera. It's all I really ask.

2. Kylie Johnson, Miss February. Okay, I'm cheating a little bit here, because I don't really like most of the pictures in her centerfold layout (ugh, again with the ski cabin and the hot tub) and I think she's airbrushed to hell (like a lot of black women that appear as Playmates, which I remember even though there hasn't been a black Playmate since 2008). But I have seen her in other magazines, and I think she's sexy as hell.

1. Ciara Price, Miss November. Well, as usual with me, it all comes down to the smile. I've been told that makes me shallow and a whole bunch of other things, but I don't really give a fuck. She radiates personality, she has a beautiful smile, and she has confidence to spare. I find a confident smile a hell of a lot more attractive than anything else in one of these shoots. Hell, I've told you that eight times now, every May, so I'm sure you all remember and stopped listening at least five Mays ago. Ciara doesn't have my favorite kind of body in the world, either, but her pictures are just so fun and full of life, and frankly, that's what I want most out of my nudity.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Happy Birthday, Harlan Ellison

Song of the Week: "I Started a Joke"

And just after Donna Summer, dear Robin Gibb passed away. Now, where Donna Summer never made a huge impression on me when I was young, the Bee Gees certainly did. My Dad may have despised disco, but my Mom had the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack on 8-track. I liked the bouncy music--"More Than a Woman" has always been one of my favorite songs--but I was also surprised as a child to realize that this was the same group who had also recorded "To Love Somebody." So at various times I made it a point to listen to the Bee Gees and discovered a wealth of material between those two songs that I really and truly loved. This song--all the sadder now, but featuring a great vocal by Robin--is one of my favorites. I've actually been listening to the entire Bee Gees catalog lately (I've just recently finished the 1974 album Mr. Natural).

This clip is from sometime in 1968, and the sound sync is off, but I like this. Thanks for everything, Robin.

New Arbitrary Banner Change for Summer