Saturday, December 08, 2012

Xmas: Peanuts, 1962

Friday, December 07, 2012

Bailey Jay

Thursday, December 06, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises: A Liveblog

I have nothing better to do today and a copy of The Dark Knight Rises, so I'm just going to put it into the computer and watch it and record my impressions, etc. I enjoyed Batman Begins, and then didn't like The Dark Knight. I didn't like The Dark Knight in such a way that it kind of retroactively ruined Batman Begins for me. I see feelings for this movie swinging all over the place, and I've felt like I'm probably not going to like it. Still, I'm going to try and meet the movie on its own terms.

So, spoiler alert and all that. Here we go. Let's start the movie.

01.48: Hey, Littlefinger.

02.02: Wally Pfister does beautiful, sweeping establishing shots. I just wish he didn't feel like everything in close shots didn't have to be rolled towards and then danced around with a sprightly step. It is okay to do a shot that's not breathing all over the place every once in a while. (Maybe he read that Robert Rodriguez bit about how handheld makes everything alive, too. Good book. Too bad Robert Rodriguez forgot how to make an interesting movie.)

03.41: It's been said before that Bane's mask looks like GOATSE, but holy shit, it really does look like GOATSEE. Also, is Tom Hardy going to do this idiotic fake Sean Connery accent through the whole movie?

06.30: Some of this plane hijacking/destruction stuff is pretty exciting, but Bane's voice is just so non-threatening and jovial. He sounds like when my drunk roommate used to do his twee Connery voice he thought was spot-on.

06.44: Complaints about some of the shots aside, I always love the overhead shots of Gotham City in these movies. Wally Pfister gets a lot of pretty helicopter shots.

07.38: Where'd they dig up Matthew Modine?

08.05: Okay, all of this stuff about Harvey Dent and the Dent Act and how Batman is just a thug who constantly breaks the law... it's exactly right. And now, if it's anything like the last two movies, Christopher Nolan is going to spend the next three hours telling us that it's okay to break the law when you know better than everyone else how it should be applied.

12.04: Damn, Christian Bale looks hot with that beard.

12.54: I immediately love how playful Anne Hathaway is.

13.53: Here's the thing that bugs me about Joseph Gordon-Levitt: his voice. It just comes across like a big faux-masculine put-on. I'm willing to concede that that might be an unfair assessment, but where did this big deep voice with the New York accent suddenly start coming from about three or four years ago? It's not like we didn't watch you grow up on television, Tommy. You're a decent actor, but damn it, you irritate me sometimes.

There are a hundred characters in this movie.

14.30: All that said, I immediately like Officer Blake, if only because he's apparently the only guy in 8 years to point out that Batman suddenly being a murderer after everything he went through to get the Joker and everything he did in Batman Begins makes absolutely no sense. They couldn't just blame it on the Joker? I mean, they were already lying to the justice system in the name of believing in justice...

14.54: The piano opening a secret passage is a nice nod to Batman Returns.

15.40: I like that they acknowledge the physical toll a decade of being Batman would take on Bruce Wayne, but doesn't he catch a lot of colds hanging out next to that underground waterfall all the time?

17.48: Michael Caine is absolutely the best part of these movies.

19.09: Wait, so, has Batman not come forward since the night Harvey Dent died 8 years ago? Then why does Bruce Wayne have a cane if he's not actually been Batman since then? And how does this little kid remember Batman? Batman appears to have stopped fighting crime when you were four years old, son.

22.58: Damn. Catwoman. Gets. Shit. Handled.

24.10: Blake has the same haircut my Dad's had since 1980. Just saying. I like it.

29.30: Not sure I totally buy Blake's explanation for how he used psychology or mutual experience to instantly figure out that Bruce Wayne is Batman, but so far I like Blake a lot more than I like Wayne. The scene just feels like it came out of nowhere and was a little too fast, but it was well-acted and some of the dialogue was nice.

If I have one overriding complaint about this flick right now it's that it's zipping through everything too quickly. On the one hand, it's nice that Christopher Nolan gives us all credit for being able to keep up. On the other hand, giving the story room to breathe a little might make me feel more involved in the characters and more certain of what's actually happening. Right now it's all kind of situation, like I've been watching a half-hour trailer for a different movie. Lots of plot, not a lot of story.

33.30: I know this isn't really her fault, but Marion Cotillard is so much better in French. Telling Wayne all of these things about restoring balance to the world, making this point and trying to make him feel small about being so reclusive, it just sounds ridiculous because her breathy, nasal accent can't give the dialogue the tone it needs to convey the import Nolan thinks the words have. Nothing against Cotillard, but it's a fatal error for this character, and it's simply because Cotillard hasn't quite mastered the American idiom yet. Like I said, not her fault, but it just doesn't give the words weight.

34.17: Another nice wink at Batman Returns. Whatever the faults of the Tim Burton movies, they've certainly left their mark on the Batman mythos. Anne Hathaway is so damn good in this movie. I like this scene. Right now I feel like I could watch a whole movie of Christian Bale and Anne Hathaway at a party together. (The whole theme of wealth vs. community is very interesting.)

39.09: Bruce Wayne has a magic electrical leg enhancer because this is the realistic version of Batman. Apparently he can use it to kick brick walls without even hurting his foot.

40.42: "The city needs Bruce Wayne. Your resources, your knowledge. It doesn't need your body, or your life. That time has passed." Amen, Alfred. Let's really look into the psychosis of Batman here. He has enough resources and intelligence to help the city in so many ways--to help root out the corruption, to make a go of this clean energy thing he's looking into, to address the economic disparity of Gotham--hell, this clean energy thing ought to create some jobs. Shit, start a program to beautify the city, that'll create more jobs. But instead it has to be about putting on a costume and hitting people because that's somehow in Wayne's mind the more important aspect of helping people. And it's just so, so not. Christopher Nolan sets up a lot of interesting themes in these movies and this is supposed to be the more realistic Batman, but it just highlights the sickness of what Wayne does and how truly pointless and hypocritical it is. Batman is the least interesting part of these movies.

46.15: "Oh, boy, you are in for a show tonight, son." My inner fanboy just thrilled.

49.55: Batman doesn't surrender to police. Justice is for other people. Like Bane, who Batman just inadvertently helped escape from police.

51.00: The Batmobile can fly away because realism.

53.38: Catwoman is one cool customer. Stay with Catwoman.

"No guns, no killing." Apparently Selina didn't see the first movie, where Batman was so unwilling to kill someone that he blew up the house with the League of Shadows in it just to prove that he wasn't a killer.

54.06: ... Seriously, guys?

55.41: "So that's what that feels like." Haha.

56.08: "Aren't the police supposed to be investigating this?" "They don't have the tools to analyze it." "They would if you gave them to them." Alfred has so got Bruce's number. Cheers to Alfred for pointing out that he distracted police efforts to capture Bane. Batman making a spectacle of himself because, you know, he is the night and the shadow and interfering in police procedures is just collateral damage or whatever.

57.38: "You're not Batman anymore. You have to find another way." Exactly. Grow up, Bruce.

59.28: Michael fucking Caine, ladies and gentlemen.

1.00.1: Damn, that's a good looking man.

1.02.34: This whole clean energy plot thread feels like it's coming out of nowhere. They might as well have just put up a title card that said "BEGIN ACT 2." Also, why do Christian Bale's mannerisms as Bruce Wayne seem totally cribbed from Alex P. Keaton?

1.04.07: "Do you feel in charge?" I haven't really dug Bane so far, but that's a great moment.

I've never liked Bane; I think he's one of the worst, most uninteresting villains they've come up with in the comic book. But this guy... I don't know, this movie's version of Bane is far more interesting, even with the silly voice. I'm starting to warm up to him, I admit. Threw me off at first, but I'm starting to like this guy.

1.07.30: "You're a detective; you're not allowed to believe in coincidences anymore." That's going to end up being Gordon's best line.

1.09.58: Boring romantic subplot with Marion Cotillard barely registers. So what's her deal in this story? There's got to be a big twist, right? She's Talia or something? (Though I'm honestly not certain if you can count on Roger Ebert's Law of Economy of Characters in a Christopher Nolan movie.)

1.10:07: Cool.

1.11.52: Selina is surprised to find out Batman is Bruce Wayne. She must not have had as tough a life as John Blake did, where she could instantly recognize who Batman is. (Also, the Bane voice just got ridiculous again. "Victory hasz defeeted YOU?" Sheesh.)

1.13.48: "And I am heer to fulfill Razlgool's DESH-TINEH!" Having a hard time taking this seriously, but the camp value is truly priceless. It's like how, if you listen hard enough, you can almost literally hear Orson Welles dying in his voiceover for Transformers: The Movie.

1.16.00: That fight scene between Batman and Bane was straight up one of the most unintentionally hilarious things ever.

Also, the reveal about Bane being in the League of Shadows would have much more power if Alfred hadn't been talking about it a half-hour ago. And how the hell does Alfred get this information? A shadowy terrorist involved in a secret society and it's all just on the internet or something? (For that matter, how does Bane know about Lucius' Batman arsenal?)

1.23.15: This prison tunnel is apparently the oracles from The NeverEnding Story.

1.26.43: Blake clearly does not have the same issue with using guns as Batman does. Using it as a lesson is kind of a neat touch. Even in self-defense, killing is killing.

1.27.55: The innocent child singing the national anthem is a little manipulative, isn't it, Christopher? (I do, however, like the yellow and black colors for the Whatever State This Is Generic Football Team, though. Look, actual color in Gotham City!)

1.35.22: Damn. I was ready to call convoluted on Bane's whole plot, but that all came together smoothly. That's impressive. That is a truly sadistic, villainous plan, and very worthy of a Batman movie. And much less confused than whatever the hell the Joker was supposed to be doing in The Dark Knight (yeah, the whole "Do I look like a man with a plan?" thing is still highly annoying to me, considering the intense amount of planning, timing, coordination and resources the Joker would've needed to do anything he did; come on, man, the whole opening scene of that movie is a perfectly timed, perfectly planned out robbery that depends on school buses being in the exact place at the exact moment they're needed; that is to-the-second planning). Anyway, I'm not totally loving this movie, but that plan really came together and the stakes feel much more real right now.

(And what the hell? William Devane? Weird. Unexpected.)

1.38.50: Wow, this movie's actually calling Gordon out for lying about Harvey Dent.

1.41.28: Okay, here we go. I figured we'd get to the right wing neofascism sooner or later. Now Bane has essentially encouraged the 99% to go after the rich people and it turns the city into the unruly chaos of mob rule. Boy, I hope one of the rich aristocrats who thinks he owns the city comes down and takes the law into his own hands to help save Gotham from its own lesser citizenry! In the last movie, Batman did it through extraordinary rendition, interfering with police operations, tampering with crime scenes, and illegal wiretapping. Can't wait to see what he uses this time. Will there be a drone strike in the third act? Shh, it's just that people better and richer than you have a better definition of freedom or something.

(And seriously, it seems like we should be ramping into the third act now, how the hell is there an hour of this left?)

1.46.40: What is the point of this little girlfriend that Selina has? I mean, I appreciate seeing Juno Temple whenever I do, but is there a purpose for this character, like, at all?

1.50.07: Three thousand cops surviving underground for three months, even with supplies... that seems like a stretch to me, just the logistics alone, especially in a city that seems to have turned on the government. Why have show trials and execute rich people and then make sure that a police force is getting food and water and heat? I mean, if it comes down to that, why not just rescue those people? Dig them out? It's not like the massive effort involved in keeping those people alive wouldn't go unnoticed by Bane's men. (Also, there's not   a single manhole they would have access to?)

1.53.06: Bane just sounds too tired to even bother. Like this is all so beneath him. (And boy, he hasn't been missing any meals since Gotham got cut off from the outside world...)

1.57.15: The climb to freedom was hella effective, even if it feels like it took forever to get there.

1.57.40: The Scarecrow again because god forbid they should let anything just be finished. Eh, it's a decent enough callback, I'll give it to them.

2.00.02: I like that Gordon's approach is basically that they can't sit and wait for outside help to find them, that they need to do something themselves. That's why James Gordon is a good character; he doesn't just rely on Batman.

2.01.35: So, how did Bruce Wayne get back into Gotham City? I've seen people debating that issue, and, I don't know... does it matter? I'm willing to take it on faith that he's got rich friends and resources through his company and, I mean, jeez, he is Batman after all. The guy's got contingencies for contingencies. Plus he's apparently magic. (I do wonder, though, just how Bruce Wayne got in undetected, in the middle of winter, with a bridge out. Maybe he has a tunnel or something. Seems shitty if he doesn't tell people about it so they can evacuate, though.)

2.07.13: I'd call Batman out on taking the time to make an ignitable bat symbol with a neutron bomb set to detonate in 12 hours somewhere inside of Gotham City, but Christopher Nolan is all about the symbols. He's not about an interesting interpretation of symbols, or about a plot that's interesting relating to his interpretation of the symbols, but the guy's quite the symbol fanatic.

Wouldn't Bane see that and figure now's a good time to blow up the bomb?

And how do they all know when it's going to blow up when even the guy who weaponized it couldn't give a definite answer as to when the decay would cause the reactor core to explode?

2.07.25: Seriously, is Bane dying or is it just too much of an effort to speak?

2.09.20: Apparently the health effects of being buried in a sewer for three months are negligible. Apparently, they've even been shaving.

2.16.29: "Tell me where the trigger is. Then, you have my permission to die." Bale's good when he gets all butch. (So, does Marion Cotillard have it, or what?)

2.17.16: Right on the Talia thing. Sort of makes Bane's whole story about "I was a man before I saw the sun" into a lie, since he wasn't the kid who escaped the prison. What would be the point of lying about it? Also, Bane's mask...where does it store the drugs it pumps into his body? It's not connected to anything.

2.17.18: Right on the trigger thing.

2.19.20: Okay, this is actually a good plot twist, bringing it back around that this is because Batman essentially murdered R'as al Ghul in the first movie. So where lying about Harvey Dent comes back to haunt Gordon and Wayne, so does "I won't kill you, but that doesn't mean I have to save you." Thematically, that's very interesting, because it's always bugged me the moralistic hair-splitting in the climax of Batman Begins. That's a nice touch.

2.21.59: So, Bane cared for, protected, and made escape impossible for young Talia because she was an innocent... how many innocents do you suppose have been killed in Gotham since he shut everything down and cut off the city? I mean, how many babies didn't survive, you know? What was their crime? I guess I'm not supposed to notice that kind of inconsistency in these things.

Hey, how do three trucks drive around constantly in a city that has had its incoming gas supply cut off?

Also, the cops threatening to shoot Blake... I get it, but at the same time, I find it very depressing that in The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan sided with free will and our better impulses. He showed us the nihilism of the Joker wasn't absolute, that crowds wouldn't turn on each other to save themselves just because they were afraid. But in The Dark Knight Rises, apparently they do, turning on the people who ran things literally just because they were free to do so and there wouldn't be any consequences. So now I guess people are animals. So now it's up to individual exceptionalism to save people from themselves. Batmayn Rand.

So...no tunnel, then?

2.25.41: Picture above: realism in a Batman movie.

2.28.44: That's a death scene, Marion Cotillard? Come on, you're better than that. You're a damn Oscar winner!

Man, I miss Michael Caine. No Michael Caine for the last 88 minutes.

2.29.52: Finally, Jim figures it out. That was a nice moment.

2.30.01: Jesus, Batman, careful with that, it's unstable, remember?

2.31.22: Blake throwing his badge away is a little disillusioning. If the system doesn't work, or it breaks down, you try to redeem and rebuild it, not just cast it aside. It's too important for that.

2.34.07: Aw, Alfred.

The "Robin" joke is pretty stupid, honestly, but who gives a shit? This movie has deeper structural problems.

2.36.29: Okay, so... Bruce Wayne knows he's famous, right? I mean, he's going to get spotted in a second by some overzealous Italian paparazzo or something, especially out on a sidewalk cafe with a beautiful girl. He's not really doing a very good job of keeping his faked death a secret. Also, neutron bombs (and Bane called it a neutron bomb, even though the movie uses the words "neutron" "nuclear" and "atomic" like they all mean the same thing, and someone even tracks a fusion bomb with radiation sensors, which is kind of scientifically impossible--a fusion bomb wouldn't give off enough radiation to be tracked) emit a wave that destroys organic matter, so I don't know how he's not dead. Also, I'm not sure it's much of a heroic sacrifice if he then gets to go on and live happily ever after in secret. What did he give up? Notoriety, kind of?

The ending is somehow much happier if you imagine that Alfred's having a stroke and hallucinating a happier future for Bruce.

And then there's John Blake becoming the new Batman... interesting idea, but how is he going to pull it off from a logistical standpoint. I mean, Bruce Wayne spent seven years training himself to use his body as a weapon, and some cop is going to pull it off with zero training? And Bruce Wayne's cartoonishly limitless money supply has always been the real reason he's able to be Batman. I have this hilarious image of Joseph Gordon-Levitt in a batsuit that's been duct-taped together, because does he have the resources to keep making new ones? How is he going to replace the Batmobile? What are his connections? I mean, granted, in this Batman universe, he's probably not going to have to fight off mutants or superpowered villains or Darkseids or anything, but is he still going to have the Wayne Enterprises arsenal and fortune at his disposal?

Boy, you'd almost think that Christopher Nolan doesn't think these things through...

Thoughts After the Movie Ended:

:: Boy, Bane's death was pretty anticlimactic. It also is supposed to let Bruce off the moral hook because Selina killed him and not Batman, but come on, that's just convenient. Batman may have thwarted Talia and Bane's plan, but he doesn't actually, you know, defeat either one of them.

:: That device Catwoman is after that can completely erase someone's identity can't destroy paper records. Someone's going to recognize Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle really fucking fast.

:: The rushed pacing is frantic, and there's a lot of exposition for a movie that needs almost three hours to kind of tell highlights from the story it has in mind. That "I'm watching a trailer for another movie" feeling never really went away.

:: I saw someone a few months ago complaining that changing the main locations of Gotham City from Chicago to New York and Pittsburgh was too jarring, but I actually disagree. We're seeing a cleaner, less crime-ridden city 8 years later. Giving the city a different look does a better job of establishing that than all the talk about the Dent Act. It's supposed to be a different city spiritually.

:: Yes, movie, I get that Bane was in the League of Shadows. Every character mentions it a dozen times.

:: That prison was pretty relaxed for the festering hellhole we're constantly told it is.They even had a TV where they apparently only got news from Gotham City. (Great reception, too, considering it's in a hole in the ground in the Middle East or something.) And no guards? And is the pit the only way in or out? How do they get food in there? How does their waste get out? No one has a friend trying to rescue them or something? Jeez, why didn't they just go all out and put the prison in outer space while they were at it?

:: Why would Talia have slept with Bruce Wayne, anyway?

:: Given the time frame of Talia's prison origins, shouldn't Bane be 50 or something?

Final Thoughts:

Overall, I found it more enjoyable than The Dark Knight but still found it as convoluted, overstuffed, inconsistent, and hemorrhaging plot holes as the other films in this series. I liked Anne Hathaway, she was fun. And I still think Christian Bale was a decent Batman. Michael Caine brought in some much-needed humanity (not enough of it, honestly), and Joseph Gordon-Levitt was a nice addition. But ultimately everyone's too much of a cipher representing a differing social viewpoint to actually be a character, and Christopher Nolan's too interested in symbols and grand themes to tell a story about people.

That's it. I'm exhausted and I have a bit of a headache. I'm glad there aren't going to be more of these. If this is your cup of tea, enjoy them. But they're not mine, and I have a lot of other Batman stuff that I like that I can enjoy, anyway. It's just not for me.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Xmas: The Peace Carol

Since I'm keeping this feature going as one of the few things I'm doing for Christmas on my blog this year, this is SamuraiFrog's Essential Christmas Songs #10. Every Wednesday and Sunday, as last year. This song is extra wistful if you think about how John Denver and Richard Hunt are dead now... But a beautiful song.

Film Week

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

PREMIUM RUSH (2012)
Neat idea that wastes its potential. I like the premise of a bike messenger (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) being pursued by a corrupt cop (Michael Shannon) who wants an envelope he's carrying. When it's just dealing with that, the movie creates some decent suspense, has some great kinetic moments, and whips up a sort of manic, cartoonish energy that pulls you in. But when the film slows down and explains the stakes a little too much and tries to make us care about these characters it just doesn't work because, honestly, who cares? The movie was smart enough when it was just a twisted take on Road Runner cartoons, and had a real chance at being fun (Michael Shannon is good in everything and gives great desperate psycho), but then the filmmakers can't be satisfied with character and goofy energy and has to try and try to really involve us in a little exercise. Not that kind of flick; it's a slight, 80-some minute film that can't be satisfied with what it is. **1/2 (I also think the film's tag line, "Ride Like Hell," would've been a better title if the film had maintained that same idiotic sense of fun.)

THE BOURNE LEGACY (2012)
Jeremy Renner and Rachel Weisz are very likable in a smart, energetic, well-shot action thriller that never really rises above what it is. It takes place just to the side of The Bourne Ultimatum and has a lot of the same characters, but maybe tries a little too hard to justify its own existence as a spin-off. Not really a bad movie, I just didn't really care about what was going on, even as I found a great deal of it enjoyable. It firmly is what it is, and I respect that. I'm sure I'd even like it if I saw it again on cable or something. But I don't feel like I'll ever need to. **1/2

THE BALLAD OF NESSIE (2011)
Lovely short Disney film; its animation and tone reminded me of a Disney cartoon from the forties. It might have been right at home in something like Melody Time, even though it's not really music-based (though Billy Connolly narrates it in charming verse). Beautifully animated, and Nessie is a charmer. The short's message--that it's okay to cry--is a nice one to hear. ****

BERNIE (2011)
A surprising and charming, well-acted film about a real life murder. The central conflict it has with itself is that the actual murder--in which a single funeral director who is loved by his community shoots a mean old woman everyone hates in the back--is so hard to wrap one's head around. Bernie is such a nice, giving, generous man; no one can imagine him hurting anyone or anything. The community doesn't believe he did it, even after he confesses--and to the extent that they believe him, the old battleaxe had it coming, anyway, and must have goaded him into it. It's a murder story where the murder is so likable, so sympathetic, so seemingly guileless, that the murder seems to make no sense. So Richard Linklater tells the story by examining the situation through the gossip and interviews with the community itself--which is an interesting examination of a community as a single organism. It's less a character study than, I guess, a situation study; the real story is how the community reacts to the murder and immediately wants to forgive the murderer. I couldn't take my eyes off it; it was surprisingly involving. Jack Black is excellent in it as the title character. Someone will probably take me to task for this, but I think he's an underrated actor and people are holding an obnoxious comic persona against him. ****

GOD BLESS AMERICA (2011)
Bobcat Goldthwait wrote and directed this movie, about a man who loses his job (Joel Murray) and has inoperable brain cancer. He goes on a killing spree, killing people he deems bad for society, including a Sean Hannity type that Murray doesn't kill for his politics, but because his style of meanness has lowered the national discourse. It's an interesting, confrontational movie...it's extreme, but the targets it picks out aren't exaggerated at all. They're very much exact reflections of things our society is spending a lot of time and energy on that are ultimately distractions. It's interesting, because the movie could easily be some sort of white male wish fulfillment/empowerment fantasy; it was advertised as such, but seems to go right after the very audience it courted, which itself is noteworthy. The movie isn't completely successful; I'm not sure it could be. When things go dark and it stops being funny and in your face, and starts examining this character and what he stands for, it gets complicated and Goldthwait loses the plot a bit. I think that would happen to almost anyone who took it on. The character is too vaguely defined, and the concept is finally too big to humanize. It's like an op-ed piece that goes on too long and finally descends into anger and doesn't know how to end. But like I said, I can't imagine anyone being able to tame it. That may even be the point. I'm giving it *** because I think what Goldthwait tries to do is worth talking about it, even if it is very extreme and he doesn't finally pull it off.

BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD (2012)
Bold and original film about a community of poor people who live on one of Louisiana's decaying islands. I was very moved by the father-daughter relationship at the center of the film, which is really the story of five year-old Hushpuppy and how she faces her fears. I've been thinking about what the title means. I think it refers to the way people who live in the wilderness like the characters here can become dehumanized, not just by society but by their means, their surroundings, and the way they eke out their lives. For Hushpuppy and her father, survival can mean behaving as a cross between human and animal. I don't think the film really demonizes or sentimentalizes this; it just sort of observes it, drawing you into a girl's personal story so you can appreciate the strength she's forced to have without romanticizing it. The film sort of defies any attempts to force meaning on it, and it doesn't really explain itself. But it is also undeniably powerful and emotional. ****

Dave Brubeck 1920-2012

Dave Brubeck, the great jazz composer and pianist of "Take Five" and "In Your Own Sweet Way," has died today, just one day before what would have been his 92nd birthday. Dave Brubeck was a great musician; he recorded my second favorite jazz album of all time, 1957's Dave Digs Disney, in which he waxed on classic Disney songs. It is exactly the sort of jazz I love, Disney music or no. Here's a piece from it, the title song from "Alice in Wonderland." Rest in peace, Dave. I dug you.

Next Life

This guy's got it all figured out. If reincarnation is a real thing, this is my hope for the next (probably very short) life I spend on Earth.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

My Last Word Ever on the "War on Christmas"

Yesterday on Tumblr, I posted this editorial comic. I'm beyond tired of the "War on Christmas" claptrap, and this just made me chuckle.

Someone didn't like it and sent me this message anonymously: "'Happy Holidays' is political correctness, there's no getting around that. It's CHRISTMAS and I'm sick of my holiday being trampled on because it's somehow unfashionable to not just call it what it is!"

Now, I've heard this viewpoint a thousand times in the last few years, as we all have. And I dismiss it out of hand because I'm tired of engaging with it. I had a really snarky answer lined up, but rather than just react and be dismissive, I decided to give this person an honest answer in the spirit of Christmas. So here it is, my final word on this "War on Christmas":


What you call “political correctness,” I call just being polite and inclusive. It’s the ability to recognize that not everyone celebrates the same holidays or holds the same beliefs, and that by acknowledging that, we don’t diminish what’s dear to us or our families. Every year, I get to witness some cashier being reamed out by someone who’s offended by the phrase “Happy Holidays,” as though it’s somehow rude to wish someone good tidings of the season. It’s a gesture, and you should take it in the spirit it was meant, not as an offense.

It doesn’t ruin your Christmas to be told “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” and claiming that it does is what’s unfashionable to me. It seems to me that what people like you, who claim that Christmas is the one and only important December holiday and that they feel like they have to hide it or be ashamed of it somehow because a store window says “Happy Holidays,” are really hurt by is that this sense of privilege and entitlement has been taken away from you. But Christmas is not the default setting of the winter holidays.

No one’s asking you to stop celebrating and believing things that are dear to you. They’re just asking you to think outside of yourself and acknowledge that not everyone is a Christian, and so it’s more polite to say “Happy Holidays” and not just assume everyone is the same. I don’t think that’s trampling on Christmas at all, because no one’s taking it away from you.

This atheist sincerely wishes you a Merry Christmas, and asks that you please try not to make anyone feel bad for also wishing you a less-specific Happy Holidays. Whatever you think it means, they’re really just wishing you well. Be well!

Benzo

The Star Wars Director Speculation

The endless speculation over who is going to direct Episode VII was inevitable, but that doesn't make it any less irritating. People seemed to start with the attitude that literally every director alive was a possible candidate, and anyone who made an off-the-cuff remark--like Ben Affleck's "I'm glad I don't have that job"--had "officially taken them out of the running!" It's kind of a sad, hilarious thing to watch, because fanboys are never going to like it no matter who does it or how it's done. It just makes this whole process truly funnier, because everyone's acting so excited because of (a) the stupid opinion that the whole series of films is going to to be so amazing, even though they've despised everything any Star Wars film did from the Special Editions onward, (b) the idiotic and frankly classless opinion that Star Wars will automatically be good when it's taken out of the hands of the man who created the whole thing for you ingrates, and (c) the way half of this craziness is being pushed by the very people who said they should never make any Star Wars movies ever again. So, you know, the usual points for rabid fan consistency and hypocrisy.

Honestly, I don't find the prospect of who's going to direct Episode VII that exciting or interesting, given the current state of American filmmaking overall and given the fact that I'm not really looking forward to everyone despising a film they asked for for years and then having to hear how "wrong" it is. If it's too funny, fanboys won't like it because it's not dark and serious enough. If it's too dark and serious, they won't like it because it won't be more fun. Whomever goes into directing this is just asking for it so, hey, good luck.

I did think it was funny how everyone spent weeks getting all pissy over how they didn't want Disney doing Star Wars because of whatever reasons we're supposed to hate Disney owning things, because god forbid someone gets too commercial and merchandises the shit out of Star Wars. It was extra hilarious when the same people who were saying "Keep all the Disney people away from Star Wars!" were pretty much the exact same people saying "Let Brad Bird, the director of The Incredibles, make it!" And, like, totally without irony, too. "Yay, the writer of Toy Story 3 is writing it! Don't let Disney people near it!" I know, I know, Pixar is a company that Disney merely owns. Like Lucasfilm.

So now the Speculation Machine has supposedly narrowed it down to three candidates: Matthew Vaughan, Jon Favreau and David Fincher. Apparently, since David Fincher did actually work on Return of the Jedi, this somehow makes him more qualified to be involved with Episode VII than anyone (like, say, George Lucas). No one ever points out that Jon Favreau does a voice on Clone Wars, which as far as I can tell makes him just about equally as qualified as Fincher to direct Episode VII, since their contribution to the actual storyline is pretty much the same.

I really don't like the idea of a David Fincher-directed Star Wars movie. Yeah, he's slick, and his movies look pretty, but he's really only directed three or four movies I've ever liked. He's not quite on the Neil Jordan level of making movies that are instantly forgettable, but Fincher's movies would be a lot better if he was less interested in pretending his mysteries are complex instead of just needlessly complicated and figured out how people work.

Matthew Vaughan is also slick, and his films also look pretty, but it's pretty much the same problem. And the more characters you give him, the less he's able to juggle them around. X-Men: First Class looked good, but it had a thousand characters and exactly one of them was interesting or well-acted. His films are okay fun for a while--I liked Stardust but never felt the need to watch it again, and I liked Kick-Ass but it holds up less each time I see it (and that's overlooking a lot of the narrative stupidities that take away from the point of the premise, because it's basically just a dumb cartoon and not smart like it thinks it is). And anyway, if history is any indication, Vaughan will just talk about it for a year before deciding to go do something else instead and being replaced by Brett Ratner or Bryan Singer, and that's just too horrible to contemplate.

Of those three--and no one seems to be able to prove if these are just the biggest fan rumors or if this is actually what Lucasfilm is considering--I really only like Jon Favreau to make it. And that's just because Favreau makes movies that are like the big fantasy movies I liked when I was a kid. I can see him making a movie like Return of the Jedi, or at least how I remember experiencing Return of the Jedi as a 7 year-old--and let's face it, when people get all pissy about the Prequels, what they're really getting pissy about is growing up and not liking films aimed at kids anymore. Nostalgia is a lot of what makes the films you liked as kids work over and over again.

Favreau's made Elf, Zathura, and Iron Man, three movies I dig. I wouldn't mind seeing an Episode VII that was closer to those kinds of fantasies. I suspect I'm in the minority on this and that what most fans want to see is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo or Kick-Ass. And if they get it, whatever; I've already got six Star Wars movies I like...well, let's be honest, five, but Attack of the Clones doesn't ruin it for me.

Either way, I'll just see what happens. It's not a big priority to me because, you know, I don't think I love movies the way I used to anymore. But I love Star Wars. So I hope things go right.

Saturn's North Pole

Saturn has a vortex at its north pole. More raw pictures (some in color) are up at Universe Today. Cassini took these images, and they're amazing.

Monday, December 03, 2012

CeeLo and Kermit Don't Find It Easy Bein' Green

The Muppets are really running with this CeeLo appearance, and I can't say I mind. I don't watch The Voice, so it's not like I'm sick of him, and the Muppets have been earnest and cute with him. Need to see more of that CeeLo Muppet, though, I dig that guy. This holiday season has been awash with Muppet appearances, and given some of the other Muppet-releated news lately, I'm grateful for it.

Anyway, I thought this was lovely.

Look at That Green Suit

I was just sort of observing last night as we watched the excellent Boardwalk Empire finale that Gyp Rossetti wears very colorful suits. I really like this detail. It's a good look. I know suits are typically... not drab, but you don't always see them in period pieces with a great deal of varying colors. On Boardwalk Empire, they really have a tendency to go with things like pinstripes or interesting cuts that make the suits stand out a bit. But Gyp, with his green and blue and purple suits, he really has an interesting, slick wardrobe.

One of the things I hate in movies like, say, Public Enemies, is that everyone seems to be wearing the same black and gray suits. It becomes a sea of blandness, as though color didn't exist until 1948. Boardwalk Empire is such a beautiful show to look at, and I think Gyp's suits were one of the highlights this season.

Kristen Bell Mondays

I'm not sure, but I think this is Kristen recording her dialogue for Disney's Frozen. I hope it's good. I'd love it if it were good in the way I expected of Disney (and usually got) 20 years ago, rather than the "Well, that was nice that it didn't totally suck" way I expect of Disney now.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Song of the Week: "Here Comes Santa Claus"

SamuraiFrog's Essential Christmas Songs #9.

Sunday Hottie 409

AUBREY PLAZA