Saturday, February 08, 2014

50 Shades of Smartass: Chapter 14

Alright, look, this thing draaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaags. It's a tome. It's only about 20 pages shorter than The Fellowship of the Ring. Every freaking chapter is 20 pages long where maybe 5-11 would do. So I'm going to try to just get through this boring chapter without going over yet again all of the things that I despise about this book. Wish me luck!

:: The chapter starts with Ana having a graphic wet dream, because she didn't stay and fuck Christian in the last chapter and EL James has to give those bored housewives something to imagine while they're humping their dryers. Ana is totally surprised--she talks about it for a couple of short paragraphs--because of course she doesn't know that people can even dream about sex in the first place, much less orgasm, much less whatever, Christ, will you please read one fucking book that was written after 1895? She doesn't even understand why it would happen, because, what, it's not like she's just lost her virginity and is obsessively researching, talking about, thinking about, and having sex lately, I guess.

:: Ana is a bitch friend. It must be pathetic to know her personally. Again, she's constantly characterizing her talks with an interested, concerned Kate as a trial, like she has to sneakily find ways to get around her questioning. You know, you're allowed to tell your friends when you don't want to talk about something, no matter how many times they spew cliches like "Give it up, girlfriend!"

Graduation is tomorrow and Kate is valedictorian, and Ana pats herself on the back for "listening patiently" to Kate's speech, because being a friend is such a chore, you guys, but I guess we all have to make sacrifices in order to have limited social interaction.

New thought: Kate's family is rich. So is Christian. And they both treat her like she's too stupid to make decisions for herself. So, you know, either Christian's going to take care of her or Kate is, right? Gee, Ana, if you want Kate to stop acting like your mother, maybe you should stop treating her like your mother, right down to your weird passive-aggressive impatience.

:: "Christian’s idea of a relationship is more like a job offer. It has set hours, a job description, and a rather harsh grievance procedure." That's because it is a job offer. It is literally a job offer except payment is illegal, so... it's a work order with no remuneration attached... yep, it's slavery. It's slavery.

:: "I’m a physical coward, and I will go a long way to avoid pain." That's perfectly okay. If you're uncomfortable, you're uncomfortable. No one's making you do this. I know you're intensely worried because you don't want to lose this man you've known for, like, a week, but it'll be okay.

:: There is a lot of talk, as per usual, in this chapter of what Ana's inner goddess and subconscious are telling her, and my wish for her is that she could somehow drink poison and get rid of those things, because reading those passages somehow make me feel even more embarrassed for EL James and her shitty prose. It's like this novel got published as a joke and it just went out of control. You know what improves this? Read the dialogue of her subconscious in a Gollum voice.

:: For the second time, James uses the word "envisaged," which seems clumsy when she could just say "imagined." Maybe she thinks she's saying "envisioned"? I don't know, it just seems off, like she doesn't know what she means to say.

:: Ana's stepdad Ray, the guy she thinks of as her real dad (and whose last name she shares) comes to see her for graduation, and it is boring boring boring boring boring as fuck. Reading about a fictional graduation is as tedious as going to a real one. And so many details. I don't care what row you're sitting in. No one does. It's extraneous. Cut it.

:: Christian Grey, as "a major benefactor to our university" (though I think a real chancellor might have said something like "generous" instead of "major"), is present at the graduation to give a speech and hand out diplomas. There is a LOT of boring blah blah blah in this bit... you could probably drop about two or three pages just out of the graduation scene alone. I'm serious, there is a 218-page version of this book somewhere that would be a much better read. Be succinct, writers. Read Damage by Josephine Hart or Talking It Over by Julian Barnes and you can see how brevity does not have to sacrifice character.

Anyway, Ana gets all pissy and possessive because two girls sitting next to her think Christian's hawt, and she shuts them down by saying he's gay, because yet again, gay is apparently the worst thing a man can be. Vile, abusive asshole hiding behind kink? That's a grand romance. That's Heathcliff. But gay? Ugh, no!

Christian also decides to wear that same tie he's been using to tie her up, because he's an abusive asshole who is taking a rather big milestone for her and using it to remind her that she can't escape him. Nope, contract or no, he owns her now, and he won't let her forget it, even when she should just be able to enjoy her graduation and her accomplishments. Nope. This is all about Christian.

:: In Christian's speech, he talks about his charity work in third world countries, and says that he knows what it's like to be profoundly hungry. So Ana assumes this means that he must have been starved before he was adopted as a child, and she has this whole episode where she thinks she's discovered the entire key to his character. Except she hasn't, she's just discovered why he's sensitive about the idea of wasted food and overly sensitive about Ana getting enough to eat. That's literally it. It doesn't explain everything about the man himself. It just says that he was neglected.

But she goes on and on in her favorite place in the world--her own mind--spinning around about "poor, fucked-up, kinky, philanthropic Christian," which is just making me weirdly outraged. I mean... are we saying that Christian is to be pitied because he's kinky? People aren't kinky because they've experienced abuse or hardship, and it's bullshit to keep spreading the lie that they are. And yeah, he's fucked up, but do you really pity him for that? He's a self-centered, narcissistic, misogynist asshole who gets off on mentally and physically abusing women and uses a kink he clearly doesn't understand in order to justify it. This guy needs help. He needs exhaustive therapy. He does not need to be the star of a badly-written erotic romance novel that's so simplistic in its character psychology that it makes Twilight look like a scientific case study.

Ana's doing exactly what we all knew she would do: she's looking at her abuser as a victim, and she thinks that she can fix him because all he must need is the love of a good woman who really, really cares. (Which is bizarre, because she's as big a narcissist as he is, and I have yet to see any evidence of her taking a genuine interest in anyone outside of herself; Christian is only fascinating to her because he wants her so badly.)

Can abusers be fixed? I think so. But by trained mental health professionals, not by mooning, inexperienced young ladies who are flattered to be a part of his abuse pattern. He has to face what he's done and why, and you don't do that by catering to his "needs." Part of his pattern is literally isolating and owning someone, taking their consent for granted, and preventing them from seeking help. That's not healthy. He's not healthy. And if that sounds awesome to you, you're not healthy.

:: Christian hands out the diplomas. Like a real man, he chooses the moment he's handing her a diploma to whine to her about how she hasn't answered his emails or texts. Dude, she's been busy and not everyone needs to be attached to a screen every second of every day. It later turns out that he was worried about her driving in her "deathtrap" car and then he gets really mad when she mentions that Jose regularly tunes it up for her because the car used to belong to his mother. He actually pulls her into a locker room to confront her angrily at her own graduation. Wow, what a romance.

Oh, and then he's really pissed off because Kate's brother Ethan is friendly and puts his arm around her. Wow, a controlling and possessive jerk, you're so lucky!

:: Speaking of jerks, I really don't like how Kate decides to just go ahead and introduce Christian to Ana's dad as "Ana's boyfriend" and then, when Ana gets mad, saying "I did you a favor." That's not for you to decide, bitch. That's equally as controlling and manipulative as the way Christian treats her. You're not involved in the dynamic here. I hate when your friends think they're doing you a favor when really they're just pushing you into things you're not ready for. Jeez, Kate, how did this affect you in any way? Oh, it didn't? Then shut up!

:: I do think it's funny when Ana's dad leaves (he has other plans?) and tells Ana and Christian "You kids enjoy yourselves." Because for all the ways Ana talks about this mysterious, dark, sensuous older man, he's only 28 years old. He's something like 6 or 7 years older than her. He is a kid. He is improbably young for this. He should really be 44 or something. I just don't find him believable.

:: So then, still at her graduation, they're talking about whether she'll sign the contract, because that's much more of an immediate concern, and he says "You know it's going to be good, don't you, baby?" which is just so oily and wrong and he needs to stop saying "baby." Imagine Justin Bieber calling you "baby." It's like that. It just sounds stupid. It's cute, but it's not sexy.

Ana wants romance. Christian doesn't. He says he doesn't know how. She points out that she doesn't, either. This is a "let's chart a new course together" type of moment, but he's not willing to bend even a little in her direction. So she just agrees to sign the contract. Because that's what you do in a healthy relationship; if the other person won't compromise, you just agree to everything they want.

Ana, you are so stupid. Every time I think you've done the stupidest thing you can do, you just keep doing things.

:: So, Ray drops her off at home, she answers emails, she decides she wants to see Christian tonight, so he's going to come get her because he doesn't like her driving that car, because you've got to isolate your prey quickly, right?

Let the controlling begin! Or, continue!

The Last Waltz (with Muppets)

Jimmy Fallon said goodbye to Late Night last night with his final guests, the Muppets. This video went online immediately. Everything about it is tremendous. The performances are great. The song is one of my all time favorites. And it's very much in the style of the Muppets. It's so perfectly Muppet. This may actually be my favorite thing the Muppets have done since "Bohemian Rhapsody." Jimmy just gets the Muppets and their humor and what makes them so great. I was misty-eyed by the time Piggy showed up.

A couple of other things I realized watching this: it's going to take me a long time to get used to some of the recasts, but they don't ruin it for me. Also, Walter seems like an integral part of the gang now; I would have been disappointed had he not been there. There were a couple of characters I missed, sure, but this is just so damn good... (Also, hey: Muppets re-enacting a scene from a Scorsese movie, right down to the set and camera angles.)

Thanks for this one, Jimmy. I hope you have the Muppets on The Tonight Show soon enough. You've been damn good to them, and I have to say thank you for it.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Marvels: Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #2

"7 Doomed Men!" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers
(July 1963)

For their next mission, Nick Fury and the Howlers are going behind enemy lines to Heinemund, where the Nazi scientists are working on a new weapon similar to, as Captain Sawyer says, America's Manhattan Project. He can't tell Fury what the weapon is, but the Army needs him to stop a shipment of heavy water coming in.

The commandos go in disguise on a merchant ship, quickly get stopped by a Nazi boat, take over the Nazi boat, go in disguise as Nazi sailors, and then get stopped on the pier before fighting their way out. It's that kind of book, folks! We don't need no stinkin' passwords! They're just going to punch and shoot and bomb their way through Nazi Germany. Dum-Dum Dugan stays behind to hold off the Nazis so the rest of the Howlers can get away, and it takes a literal pile of Nazis to hold him down and capture him.

Fury and his men rescue Dum-Dum, then allow themselves to be captured so they'll be sent to the concentration camp at Heinemund, taking them right to their goal. This issue doesn't shy away from the kind of human misery the Nazis dealt in, and Dum-Dum seems especially disgusted. He's always the one providing the commentary on the cruelty.

In a lot of ways, it's Dum-Dum and Nick Fury's intense anger over this kind of thing that drives the rest of the issue. The Howlers quickly break out and liberate the camp, the prisoners turning on their captors while Fury and his men carry out their mission, breaking into the weapons lab and destroying everything involved in the Nazi atomic experiments while Fury just openly spews his disgust.

The men blow up the tanker trains carrying the heavy water, while Dum-Dum goes the extra mile and rams a fuel truck into a V-2 rocket on its launchpad, and then the commandos escape to rendezvous with a sub, leaving a mushroom cloud behind them. The narration asks: is this the reason Hitler ordered a halt to atomic experiments before the war ended?

That was an easy issue to describe, but a hell of a lot of fun to read. So far, I really love this comic!

Stray observations:

:: This issue opens with the Howlers taking down a group of Nazis at a French port, apparently just for fun. It's a great way to start the story, getting us back into the characters and their key quirks and setting the tone for the action. The second issue of a Marvel comic usually opens with something to refresh our memories before diving in--not a bad idea since a lot of these comics start with bi-monthly schedules.

:: Stan goes nuts with the Nazi accents; lots of phonetics, you know, "ve haff" instead of "we have" and stuff like that. He also writes out Reb's Southern accent. It's pure cartoon, like a reconstituted version of WWII propaganda crossed with the idealism Jack Kirby was doing back on Boy Commandos at National (DC) in the forties and that great silly humor Stan was doing with Dan DeCarlo on Millie the Model and Homer the Happy Ghost.

Racial caricaturing right out of an old Bugs Bunny cartoon.

:: African-American Gabe Jones is still mostly colored Caucasian. Apparently Stan Lee had to send a memo to the color separator at the printing plant about it.

:: "Some day you guys will get charley-horses from pattin' yourselves on the back so much!" It's like a squadron full of Ben Grimms.

:: I like that Fury gets a dressing down from Captain "Happy Sam" Sawyer for mouthing off at him. Just a reminder of the chain of command. It adds a little dimension to Nick Fury, stops him from being untouchable. I love how Sawyer sometimes treats him, say, the way Fury treats Dum-Dum.

Great expression on Fury in that third panel.

:: Speaking of Dum-Dum, apparently one of his key character bits is that he doesn't like his wife very much. There are three derogatory references he makes to his wife in this issue. I'll bet he hopes this war never ends.

:: "Hey, Sarge--what kinda mission is this, anyway?" "The usual, stupid! A suicide mission!"

:: The scenes of the commandos riding down a Nazi tank on horseback are pure mythmaking hero stuff.

This is probably, of all the Marvel Universe titles, the most cartoonish. But there are moments of emotional depth that are surprising, which is why a lot of this works so well. It's the most pure comic book, because Stan and Jack aren't trying to make the characters emotionally believable, I think. It's very broad. But damn, it's a lot of fun.

Next time: Johnny Storm faces the combined, er, "menaces" of the Wizard and Paste Pot Pete, and a new player arrives in the Marvel Universe: the Master of the Mystic Arts!

Miss Piggy Responds

The Muppets had a big Super Bowl ad and a series of Toyota-sponsored adventures, but one Muppet isn't so happy...


(On a side note, I'm still not used to some of the new performers, but I think Eric Jacobson is really doing a wonderful job with Miss Piggy. His performances are fantastic; Piggy's rendition of "Santa Baby" on the Lady Gaga special was the highlight.)

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Early Riser

This is why I like waking up earlier in the morning. I woke up at 6 today, and this is the view outside my window from where I sit at my computer. (I wish I could get a better picture, but I'm not a great photographer, and I've come to accept that.) That's Venus in the morning sky. The sun is slowly rising.

I like being up before the sun and imagining I can feel the planet turn into the daylight. There's something about that I've always found comforting. When my wife and I watched Cosmos back in August, we talked about the vastness of the galaxy. She confessed that sometimes it made her feel scared; the sheer size of it sometimes seemed too much to contemplate and made her feel like she had no anchor. For me, it's always been the opposite. It doesn't exactly make me feel more significant, but it makes me feel like I'm a small part of a very large system. Like there's a place for me in the mechanics of the universe. Like I belong.

For me, it's comforting to know we're interconnected, not only with each other and our world, but with an ongoing, endless universe. That we all come from and experience the same matter and the same elements at our most basic levels.

It's like Kepler's harmony of worlds on a smaller, more personal level. I don't think there's a grand design. There are biological laws and general principles of movement and there is a place for us. And there's always more to discover. How can that not make you feel hopeful? It's one of the few things that makes me feel optimistic about humanity.

Just being on the internet during the day, I know I'm going to witness a lot of petty, small behavior. Waking up early in the morning and watching the sunrise makes me feel like we're more than just being angry about movie casting or refusing to help one another or being jerks because someone might be happier than us and it just makes us so stupidly angry.

Watching the sunrise makes it harder to take that seriously. It makes it harder to be depressed. It makes it easier to appreciate being alive.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

D Is for Dogs

I have a complicated relationship with dogs.

When I was a child, I was afraid of dogs. They filled me with panic and terror. Just the sight of them anywhere near me made me irrational, and I have a number of stories of being chased--sometimes for miles--because I ran from a dog that was minding it's own business and just being a dog. I didn't realize for the longest time that running from dogs is just attracting their attention and begging to be chased.

Like a lot of my fears, this one goes back to before I can remember. I never understood why I was so afraid of dogs, until someone finally told me--when I was in high school--that my Mom had programmed me to be afraid of a dog. See, apparently when we lived at Fort Hood, Texas, when my Dad was stationed there, we had a neighbor with a big, mean dog. This is when I would have been 2 or 3, so I don't really have a ton of conscious memories of this period. But, being an early riser since birth--still to this day--I woke up before anyone else did, around six in the morning. And, apparently, I had a habit of sliding out of the low, open window and just walking around the house. This is absolutely the kind of silly thing I did as a child.

So, in an effort to keep me away from the neighbor's big, mean dog, my Mom used to warn me that going near the dog would get me killed. (I don't think she said it like that; part of the point of this is that I don't remember the programming.) I know my Mom meant well; she has similar anxiety to mine and worried about me getting attacked and hurt. (As an aside: I don't know if Mom was pregnant or not during this time... my sister was born at Fort Hood in 1979, so I can see her being more nervous about it because she wouldn't have been able to race after a wiry little kid while she was pregnant... never thought about that until just now.) She meant well, but in steering me clear of one dog, she accidentally programmed me to be afraid of all dogs.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not angrily blaming my mother for making me afraid of dogs. It was a mistake, but one that is still hard for me to get over simply because it's hard to break the habits of years and years and years. I always ran from dogs. I would embarrass myself trying to climb up cars, walls, playground equipment, fences, or--one time-- even a palm tree just to get away from these animals. When I was a kid, most people, including my family, found it hilarious. I think my Mom felt guilty, but my Dad would get exasperated about it. And it didn't stay with dogs, actually; it eventually transferred to most other animals. At some point, I developed a pathological fear of pain that made me worry a great deal about getting bitten.

My parents started taking me to a hypnotherapist for a while, but it never really worked. I've never been able to be hypnotized, maybe because I'm so anxious; as I've said before, I'm never truly relaxed. My parents got divorced when I was 12, and my Dad eventually got a dog. At first, I hid from it, but eventually I had to force myself to accept it, and for the first time ever, I found myself friends with a dog--Robin, a beagle. I eventually got comfortable with other dogs, and with cats (my cat Sam was one of the few really good things about my high school years, until he got taken away from me). And now I've had rabbits. But in all of those cases--even still today--I have a hard time being really, truly comfortable around animals. I guess it's just left over. It takes me a long time to feel okay around them.

For years now, I've been fantasizing about getting a dog. I think it would actually be good therapy, and I would like to be able to take care of one and have the companionship during the day. (Nothing against my darling rabbit, of course.) This is just in the realm of fantasy now for a number of hang-ups I have, but mainly because the apartment complex I live in doesn't allow dogs.

I chose this picture because I always picture myself with a bulldog, although I'm tentative to get one because I've heard so much about their health problems. I also think about corgis a lot. I just have this dream of, one day, when I live in a place that allows them, I could have a dog. It would seem like closure on yet another of the tributary issues that flow out of my fearfulness. I'd like to be able, particularly, to give a shelter animal a good, loving home. (Both of my rabbits have been adoptions from shelters.)

Maybe one day.

ABC Wednesday

Benzo

My wife has an illicit love for Ashley Benson, and I think it's the only reason she keeps watching Pretty Little Liars with me.

Film Week

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

CINEMA PARADISO (1988)
This is a very likable movie. I'm kind of surprised it took me this long to see it, actually; I'd been told for so many years as a younger man that I would absolutely love this love letter to cinema. And I did; I loved it. It's a warm, engrossing film that encompasses love, friendship, sentimentality, pragmatism, and youth, and all surrounding the cinema. I love the way the cinema is portrayed in this small Italian postwar town as the center of the community. It's idealized, but I think the director, Giuseppe Tornatore justifies it as a memory, and we all idealize the good ones. I think it's interesting how the main character, Toto, idealizes his youth but at the same time remembers the warnings of the projectionist he looks at as a father to never give in to nostalgia, but rather to follow your path. Beautifully realized, with a gorgeous score by Ennio Morricone. **** (Note: I saw the 155-minute version of the film Miramax released in 1989; it just happened to be the one TCM was showing.)

WINGS OF DESIRE (1987)
What an experience this film was. I find it hard to describe; there's not really a plot so much as a premise. Perhaps it's due to the film's style; observational but never intrusive. The premise is that there are angels who watch over Berlin, weaving around humankind but never interfering, observing in a sort of fascination and maybe able to create the possibility of hope. Otherwise, they simply observe, never participating, and it's amazing how well director Wim Wenders and his cinematographer, the great Henri Alekan (who shot one of my all time favorite films, Jean Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast), create true loneliness even among crowds. The angels--Bruno Ganz and Otto Sander--can see everything but are a part of nothing. They are cut off from experience and feeling. Bruno Ganz, as Damiel, begins to fall in love and wants to feel; he is tired of being alone. To me the film suggests that the fact that he knows he's lonely at all is the first step outside of himself. For me, the film re-created exactly the feeling of holding yourself detached from everything, and the intense longing when you begin to with you were a part of something outside of yourself. It's a bit of a flawed film, but not in a way that derails the impression of it; it's like a symphonic tone poem where not every piece works, but the imperfections somehow make it feel more alive. It doesn't grab you by the throat and force you to see what it wants. It simply observes and leaves you to get what you can from it. I liked that. It's very much in the New Wave tradition of filmmaking. I need to also mention Peter Falk's performance as himself; he seems to be arguing that even the most mundane sensations and experiences are important. He's magical in a magical movie. ****

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (2013)
This is the most confident and masterful Scorsese's been in a long time; probably because it's basically the same tone and structure as GoodFellas, except that it's about Wall Street, which is arguably where the bigger criminals are, anyway. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as real life stockbroker Jordan Belfort, who started his own firm and basically seemed to push both hedonism and stock fraud as far as he could. It's a dynamic movie, and Scorsese's energy is easily matched by DiCaprio in possibly his greatest performance. (Also, unlike the last time this happened, I do think Jonah Hill deserves the Oscar nomination here, although I wish he'd shut up about "real acting" as though comedy is just goofing off and doesn't take talent.) It's a funny movie, too, not only in the way it satirizes these assholes and their ridiculous tastes, but just in how loony it's willing to get in its depiction of their bizarre lifestyle without totally breaking the reality of it. One of the best movies of last year. ****

9 1/2 WEEKS (1986)
This was like watching a movie version of 50 Shades of Grey but without all the character depth. If you've been reading my posts about that novel, you know what that means. I wanted to like it, but it's so slick, so pretend-dark, so light and fluffy... maybe it's just because I've grown up in a world with all the sexy movies that came after, so I've already seen the evolution and this just looks like an episode of Silk Stalkings to me, with its cheesy music and it's sweaty softcore scenes, pretending to be so transgressive... it just seemed really, really silly and not erotic to me at all. Kim Basinger was at the height of her beauty then, but it's like she has no character. I never knew who she was or how I was supposed to feel about what was happening to her, because I never had a sense of where she was at in her life and what this meant. Mickey Rourke smirks and mumbles his way through the film, like Bruce Willis without the charisma. (Take that as you will.) I know it sounds like I hated this movie, and I didn't really, but I didn't connect with it on any level. I thought the "You Can Leave Your Hat On" striptease was nice, because it was basically a well-shot music video. Maybe I just couldn't see all of the emotional sincerity some reviewers saw through all of the gloss and slickness. **

A STAR IS BORN (1954)
Passionate drama about a singer (Judy Garland) who is discovered by a fading actor (James Mason) and becomes a movie star. In director George Cukor's hands, this story becomes almost operatic in its grandness. The emotions here run high and intense. Mason, effortlessly good, is a drunk whose star is on the wane and who finds something in Garland--a fresh-faced, sincere singer who becomes very popular very quickly--and tries to cling to it. I liked how their emotions for each other seemed genuine. To me he never came across as desperate to cling to her fame; he was very much in love with her, which makes the whole thing more tragic, as he becomes a hopeless alcoholic and she tries her hardest to stand by him, even when she knows it will damage her career. It's a beautiful-looking film, the first Warner Bros. film in widescreen CinemaScope, and an interesting range of songs. (To be honest, you could have dropped the entire "Born in a Trunk" sequence and I wouldn't have missed it; I much preferred Garland performing "It's a New World," a beautiful sequence where she performs at home for Mason and which she's quite playful in, and especially "The Man That Got Away," held for a single take.) Garland's performance is what really holds the film together; when she breaks down in the makeup chair, it felt so real it gave me chills. There's a satirical edge, too, but the real heart of the movie is in the grand display of two people tragically in love, one of them self-destructive, the other's optimism eroding away. I loved it. **** (Note: the version I saw on TCM was the 176-minute restored version.)

MULHOLLAND DRIVE (2001)
It's been very interesting looking at the interpretations of this dreamlike film online since I viewed it. I'm very glad to have finally sat with it. Many of you have seen it by now, I'm sure, so I don't want to get deep into describing it, and I'm not sure any description of it will be adequate, anyway. I just want to say I think it's a great film. Bold opinion, I know. Very, very glad to have seen it. ****

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

The Most Important Super Bowl Business? The Muppets!

While the game was going on, the real news is that the Muppets were trying to make their way to live tweet the game in this great series of Toyota Highlander ads.






Monday, February 03, 2014

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Philip Seymour Hoffman 1967-2014

He was a great actor. The only thing I have to say about the circumstances of his death is that 46 is too fucking young to go. I'm sorry for his family. Great, great actor.

Song of the Week: "Guantanamera"

My favorite Pete Seeger song, because Seeger passed away this week at the age of 94. This song--based on the poem he cites at the beginning of this recording--was his response to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Recorded live at Carnegie Hall, this appeared on his 1963 album We Shall Overcome.

Marvels: Journey Into Mystery #94

"Thor and Loki Attack the Human Race!" by Stan Lee, Robert Bernstein & Joe Sinnott
(July 1963)

Another improbable Bernstein script, with lots of rampaging and zero consequences. Which is a fitting follow-up, I guess, to that story that apparently ended with Thor nuking China. There's still not a lot of real continuity in Thor--nor in the designs of the other Asgardians--but at least this story has Loki in it. I still don't think Bernstein has a great handle on Loki yet--he's been trying to turn Loki from mischievous foil to straight villain--but it's still not as bad as Larry Lieber's Sandu story.

In this story, Loki (again in chains) causes a nuclear test missile to go off course, knowing that Thor will try to stop it by throwing his magic hammer at it. Loki distracts Thor at just the right moment so that, instead of catching his hammer, the hammer hits him right in the head, completely altering his personality. Thor now sees Loki as his friend and Odin as his enemy, so he follows Loki's mental summons to Asgard and frees his brother. To Odin's horror, Loki demands control of Asgard, and announces he and Thor will wreak havoc on Earth until Odin surrenders.

A great deal of the story is concerned with Loki and Thor attacking landmarks: Thor destroys the Taj Mahal, the Eiffel Tower, the Great Pyramid, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Panama Canal and the Leaning Tower of Pisa, while Loki destroys the Empire State Building and the Sphinix and brings dinosaurs to life inside museums. (They're still balancing between general pranks and actual destruction for Loki.)

Finally, representatives of the United Nations beg for an audience with the two gods. Once inside the UN Building, Thor falls into a trap door and gets hit in the head with his hammer again, because as every cartoon, sitcom and movie tells us, the only way to cure an injury caused by an accident is to have that same accident a second time. So Thor is back to normal, and the UN reps reveal themselves to be Odin and the Asgardians in disguise, and they capture Loki, agree to return all the landmarks to normal, and wipe mankind's memories of the events that happened so that no one thinks Thor is evil.

Wait... what?

You can just wipe everyone's memories? Then how is there any jeopardy to a Loki story at all? How is... what? I don't know if this came from Stan's plot or Robert Bernstein's script, but what a lame addition, especially since it probably won't get a mention ever again. It's just another one of those plot saves that gets thrown in even if it doesn't make sense and doesn't really matter, because the whole story just doesn't matter.

Guys, don't use Loki in your filler stories.

Stray notes:

:: This is the first Thor story that didn't have Jane Foster in it at all.

:: We get a scientific reason why Thor's injury changes his personality: Loki says the hammer hit Thor right in his chromosomatic gland, which determines and changes personality. I mean, it's not real science, but I guess it sounded plausible in 1963. Look it up on Google and all you'll get are references to this issue.

:: Here's yet another design for Heimdall.

Yeah, flunky.

:: This is the first cover to refer to "The Marvel Age of Comics!" Not an auspicious debut for it, but hey, it's finally here!

I still feel like Marvel hasn't quite found the character or rhythm to Thor yet. He needs to have one of those stories like Ant-Man did in Tales to Astonish #44 that just retools the whole thing without throwing all of it out. A new sense of direction, like the Hulk never got. Don't Hulk this book.

Next time: the return of the Howlers!