Saturday, June 28, 2014

Armageddon

I've been revisiting some movies from the 90s here and there the past couple of years. Anything that takes me back to that time is interesting, because of my recent focus and memory problems as a result of my anxiety and going cold turkey off Lexapro.

This morning, I watched Michael Bay's Armageddon.

I went to see this with a packed theater on opening weekend in 1998. Like a lot of people, I had really dug The Rock and was excited about Bay's follow-up. I remember having a really good time and thinking that, in a disappointing summer that included Roland Emmerich's Godzilla, Lethal Weapon 4, The Avengers and Saving Private Ryan, Armageddon delivered.

Then I didn't see the movie again for 16 years.

And then I saw it this morning.

And, wow. Just wow. Just... wow.

What a terrible movie.

I like The Rock. It's a movie I see on cable every year or two, and I'll defend that one. I think it's probably the quintessential dumb action movie of its decade. It's goofy, but it's not apologetic about it and doesn't really ask you to take it incredibly seriously. That one holds up.

Armageddon is like someone took The Rock and pumped it full of hot air. It's like Michael Bay thinks he can just do anything he wants. But it's so messy and all over the place. Everything is imprecations and rolling close-ups. Everything is dire and just piles on more and more complications for the sake of throwing in everything. Including the kitchen sink. What are there, 37 lead roles in this movie? Shit is happening constantly, and it's all incredibly important, but it's also loose and "cool" and noisy. This movie is so damn noisy. It's like Michael Bay's afraid that if you have a second to breathe, you'll just drift away and never come back.

For me, the opposite happened. It kept hitting me so hard over the head that I became numb to everything and got bored really, really fast. There really isn't any place to go when you start at that level of kinetic action. There aren't any rises and falls. The only slow spot is that idiotic scene with Liv Tyler and the animal crackers. Otherwise, the movie never slows down at all. Everything is whipping you up so much that you just glaze over. You know what the result of that is? Boredom. No, I wish it was just boring. It's tedious. Everything is happening at once as we cut cut cut cut cut cut fucking cut around dozens of characters and technobabble and testosterone and close-ups of Liv Tyler crying while the soundtrack pounds you into a stupor, and yet it's the most tedious thing I've ever seen. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End levels of tedium, which is like an Extinction Level Tedium Event. You couldn't at least have the grace to make it fun?

And it's not like I care that the plot is so ridiculous. I don't mind a ridiculous plot if the movie's fun. But you only have a certain number of gimme's in any plot before the suspension of disbelief gets broken. An asteroid the size of Texas gets that close to the Earth without anyone noticing? Fine, I'll give you that. NASA suddenly has two next generation Space Shuttles available for use? Okay, I'll give you that, too. Ben Affleck is a heartthrob/credible lead in an action picture? Well, okay, I guess.

But I will not give you that it's easier to train roughnecks to be astronauts than it is to teach astronauts how to use a drill.

And I will not give you that the engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Labs don't know how to fucking reverse engineer a drill.

That's probably the thing I'm most insulted by: this movie makes NASA look like a bunch of assholes. Yes, the guys who plan and execute missions to outer space are mystified by how to make a drill. A drill.

And you know what else I never really noticed before? This movie is kind of like a big propaganda piece for the oil industry. There's a scene early on with Bruce Willis knocking golf balls straight at Greenpeace protesters off of his oil rig. This asshole oil millionaire--and yeah, that's what he is; if you have 8 million of your own dollars tied up in a drilling project, you're an oil millionaire--then proceeds to swing his dick around NASA. He knows better than actual astrophysicists how all their plans should work. He has to bring in his team of all-American dick-swingers to save the Earth. Oh, not from the asteroid, but from all of the nerds at NASA who just don't know what they're doing. Everyone at NASA is barely competent. They suffer from that movie disease of staring at numbers too long to know how reality works. Ha ha, stupid nerds. Step aside while us oil industry employees literally save the planet for you.

So, going by this movie, Michael Bay hates nerds. And women. Always with the women. Every woman in this movie is either a shrew, an honorary man, or Liv Tyler. She just gets to look pretty. (And she does. Say what you will about Michael Bay, he knows how to frame a shot. Sometimes. He barely knows what a still frame or an establishing shot is.)

He loves his burly men, though. He absolutely worships masculinity. And as this movie proves, masculinity is the only way to save the planet. Thank Christ the jocks were here to build their gigantic prosthetic dick so they could fuck that asteroid in half and make it safe for all you nerds to do your science in.

It's like a condescending nine hour ad for testosterone.

Testosterone: The Movie. "Fucking the sky to save the Earth!"

Lost in Space Animated

Scott O'Brien apparently put this together, using audio from the original series, for a pitch to Fox in 2003. That an animated series--and one with this opening sequence--never happened makes me sad. This is nearly three and a half minutes of wonderful. It's rough animation at first, but stick with it. That theme sequence put a big, goofy smile on my face. It made me feel like a kid again, and damn it, that's what Saturday mornings are for.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Marvels: X-Men #2

"No One Can Stop the Vanisher!" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Paul Reinman
(November 1963)

This issue's villain, the Vanisher, is a bit of a step down in evil mutants. Well, after Magneto, how could it not be? The costumed menace here is a teleporter who, as you might expect, uses his powers to rob banks and make himself king of New York's criminal underworld. What are the X-Men going to do about it?

Train.

For pages.

Most of the first half of this issue is taken up by Professor X putting the X-Men through their paces in the Danger Room. (The Danger Room appeared in the first issue, but is given its name here.) It's mainly to show off the X-Men and what they're capable of, and try and give the personalities some room to develop. But it also gets at the main problem with this issue, is that there's really not enough story to justify the full issue length. So we get a lot of training, a lot of action (some of which is pretty good), and too much time given over to a villain who isn't that interesting, has a terrible design, and isn't really memorable. He doesn't even put up much of a fight in the end. Sure, he beats the X-Men in round one, stealing strategic defense plans. But then he gets cocky and takes to the White House lawn with his army of gangster goons and is defeated handily.

And chillingly.

That's right, Charles Xavier just straight brainwashes the guy. The head of a school, one of the heroes of this book, defeats a guy by just brainwashing him so he forgets his powers, his name, and everything else. Professor X just pulled a heroic lobotomy right there in front of the White House.

This is right there with Reed Richards hypnotizing the Skrulls to believe they're cows. This is the kind of major ethical lapse that's going to make it hard for me to see Xavier as a good guy for a while.

So, are we protecting humanity from evil mutants at any cost, no matter how dehumanizing? This seems to run counter to the later protestations that Professor Xavier wants peaceful coexistence. Of course, we can't hold this to standards set by later stories, but wow. Just wow.

Why bother even training the X-Men to fight this guy if Professor X is this ruthless in the first place and defeating a bank robber who can teleport is as easy as just shutting his brain down in minutes?

Stray Observations:

:: Stan and Jack are trying hard to turn this book into another Fantastic Four. The issue even begins--as many early issues of FF did--with the X-Men racing to get to their headquarters after being summoned. The personalities still aren't completely there yet, but it does give writer and artist a chance to show off the X-Men's powers a bit.

This one's especially neat:

Nice touch.

:: Hated and feared, despised by the outside world...

Still not there yet. This is like the beginning of A Hard Day's Night. Boy, girls never clamber over Reed Richards anymore. I wonder if he misses it.

Yep, everyone admires and respects the X-Men, it seems. I wonder if there's an in-canon explanation for the falling out between humanity and mutantkind, or if that's one of those retcons we just end up going with. Not that it matters, really, I just think it's interesting to see the evolution of what people consider the integral parts of a specific story.

Even the US government doesn't seem to have a stance on mutants yet, with Professor X psychically contacting an FBI agent, Fred Duncan, at the Department of Special Affairs. The government seems happy to have Professor X's help facing the Vanisher.

:: In the Danger Room, the Angel is chasing missiles and the Beast is trying to avoid being crushed by walls. What's Marvel Girl doing? Balancing a really big medicine ball. Come on, you guys. Why do you keep giving the women such passive powers?

:: They've stopped calling Scott Summers "Slim."

Without a villain as strong as Magneto at its center, this one was tedious. Tedious and ethically questionable. This book's still in shakedown mode, and this second issue feels more or less inconsequential, but with a bizarre and disturbing climax.

Next time: the Vulture returns!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

X Is for Xazzed

I've been thinking a bit lately about how we sometimes invent or borrow non-words into our vocabulary. I don't have anything interesting to say about it, necessarily, but I've been thinking about it.

"Xazzed" is a non-word I use more than a bit. It came from a post I did back in 2006, where I mentioned in the comments that the CAPTCHA for one of my comments (back when Blogger used to make you use a CAPTCHA even if you were the blog owner) was "xazzd." I joked to my friend Carl that I was going to be using the word "xazzed" in regular conversation.

To my surprise, I did. I've been using it. It's my word for being really excited about something. For example, right now I'm really, really xazzed about seeing Guardians of the Galaxy. August can't get here fast enough, even if it means running right past my birthday in July. I'm that xazzed about it.

(Incidentally, I pronounce it "zazzed," like jazzed, which is a word my spellcheck recognizes. It does not recognize "spellcheck," which spellcheck insists on separating into two words. For what it's worth, I also don't capitalize "internet," mash all the letters together in email, and sometimes drop the "-ough" where it's silent and doesn't create the "uff" sound like in "enough," so I tend to use "thru" or "altho" in texts.)

I notice I also used the word "froody" in that original comment about "xazzed," which is another made-up word I use, though I've borrowed that one from Douglas Adams. Thanks to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, I regularly use the words "froody" and "hoopy" to describe cool, pleasant things. I've also borrowed "intrigueresting" from Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land and "frell" to sometimes replace another profanity beginning with f, from Farscape, my all-time favorite TV show. And occasionally, like Conan the Barbarian, I swear by Crom.

Maybe I get it from my Dad. He was known to mutter a "shazbot" just as often as a "dagnabbit."

Interesting how these non-words or fictional words can enter our vocabulary.

Of course, that could easily lead to a discussion of the words and phrases coined by Shakespeare and Cervantes, but let's save that for another time. Other froods have written much more intrigueresting posts about that than this frelling dilettante.

ABC Wednesday

Film Week

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

THE LEGO MOVIE (2014)
Easily the most fun movie of the year so far. I like this movie's twist on the "chosen one" trope, and the way it addresses some topics (like the uncertainty of growing up and being a parent) with a subtlety that's totally beyond most animated films (and often ruins them; see most of what DreamWorks has ever made for some choice examples). The animation is fantastic; I love how the film doesn't break the physics of Lego minifigure movement. It gives the film a feel of stop-motion animation, even though it's computer-generated. Clever and wonderful. ****

THE MENTOR (2014)
Give me a break, Lifetime. Pick a tone. The grief involved in losing a child doesn't mix with the exploitative thriller you're making. It doesn't help if you approach both plots with equal earnestness. *

ROBOCOP (2014)
With some rewriting, it really could have worked. It starts off as a smart and interesting film that has some interesting commentary to make about the morality of drone warfare, America's place in a global theater, our seemingly inexhaustible capacity for war, the rights of victims, the ethics of medical experimentation, and the way technology can dehumanize us. Then it turns into an action movie and is more or less what you expect. As soon as they start laying in the action plot, it loses what made it such an interesting take on Paul Verhoeven's classic 1987 flick. It doesn't have the wit and satire of that film, either, except in interstitial scenes with Samuel L. Jackson. So close, you guys. You were so close, but then everyone becomes puppets of an action plot. Still, it's a more or less enjoyable action flick that abandons a lot of what makes it so interesting halfway through. ***

ENOUGH SAID (2013)
I really liked this movie. It's just a story about two people who have been hurt and who are trying to do right by their kids while also finding some happiness for themselves. I find smaller stories like this very compelling at this point in my life. Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays a divorced massage technician who meets and falls for a divorced man (the late James Gandolfini). But she soon realizes one of her clients (Catherine Keener) is actually his ex-wife, and her observations begin poisoning the relationship. It's interesting how other people can alter our perceptions of our own happiness and make us second guess ourselves. Lovely movie, and Dreyfus and Gandolfini are very good in it. ****

SALESMAN (1969)
Engrossing Maysles Brothers documentary about traveling bible salesmen. The film is a social document, and simply watches these people rather than shaping a narrative, creating an interesting cinematic mural of people engaging in capitalism and not really getting anywhere in its framework. I'm not sure if that's the point--the filmmakers refrain from judging or influencing your perception--but that's what I got out of it. ****

THE HUNT (2012)
This was a hard one to watch. Mads Mikkelsen starts as a kindergarten teacher who is wrongly suspected to have molested one of his students. After the accusation, the entire thing spins out of control into a witch hunt; the accusation is enough. This could so easily have disintegrated into an apologia for people who have been accused, but this tense drama instead argues for more sensitivity in the investigation of these matters. As a teacher, I was especially horrified; this kind of thing and the ease with which nothing can become something is a thing you're always aware of as a male teacher. It's a hard movie, but a vital one. ****

THE SECRET CINEMA (1968)
Paul Bartel's debut short film, in which a woman suspects that her paranoia is justified and people are making a fool out of her by filming her life. Great twists, wit and style. Paul Bartel later remade this as an episode of Amazing Stories. ****

ABOUT LAST NIGHT (2014)
This is more of a remake of the 1984 movie than a version of David Mamet's play, and that's fine; I never cared for the original About Last Night..., but something about this one came across as more genuine to me. I was just a little bummed out that it's set in LA instead of Chicago, but LA looks good on film here. All four leads (Michael Ealy, Joy Bryant, Kevin Hart and Regina Hall) are engaging and it's a funny, smart movie about falling in love and maintaining a relationship among professionals. ****

THE WOLVERINE (2013)
Look, all of these X-Men movies are a mess, the continuity is indecipherable, and they're really not all that good. This one was more coherent than most of them, and even though I think they went way too big with it, it skates by--like most of them--on the limitless charm of the very personable Hugh Jackman. And the supporting characters (particularly Yukio and Mariko) were interesting. I would've preferred if it were more intimate and less caught up in the epic love story of Logan and Jean Grey, which really barely exists in these movies, but it was pretty good. ***

THE LAST WAVE (1977)
Peter Weir tends to lose me in the symbolism, but I found this movie fascinating. I'm not sure I understood all of it, and there were draggy stretches, but it was a very interesting movie. Richard Chamberlain, a pragmatic lawyer, takes on a murder case involving Australian Aborigines. He begins to feel a connection with some of their ancient ways, and begins experiencing premonitions of a coming apocalypse. There are a lot of interesting discussions about Dreamtime and parallel realities, among the backdrop of racial tension and a deluge. The ending is open to interpretation. Disturbing, dreamlike, and hard to forget. David Gulpilil is very good as the Aborigine man who opens his past to Richard Chamberlain. ***

THINK LIKE A MAN (2012)
This showed up on TV right after I saw About Last Night, and I was more than ready for more of the delicious Regina Hall. Cute movie with a likable cast that includes Kevin Hart, Michael Ealy, Meagan Good, and Gabrielle Union. Basically a group of guy friends find themselves in relationships with women who are reading Steve Harvey's relationship guide Act Like a Woman, Think Like a Man, and... you know what? Who cares. It's one of those movies about relationships where things would be over faster if everyone just actually told their partners how they felt and what they wanted, but no one does, and then things get complicated, and they learn that happiness is the most important thing and they should have been upfront all along. Nothing you haven't seen before, but it's cute and the cast is engaging and it's fun, even if it's completely predictable. It's not Love Actually, but it's not He's Just Not That Into You, either. It's cute. ***

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Wayne the Stegosaurus

This animation by Aran Quinn and Jeffrey Dates is based on a Ken Nesbitt poem. It's an incredibly charming short. I love the animation; it's rendered in 3D, but given a handmade, cel animation look. I really respect it when people experiment with computer animation like this.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Song of the Week: "Holidae In"

Songs for Becca #15. This hip hop track just sort of showed up one day in 2003 in Becca's rotation, and it's been there ever since. She just loves the beat and the music on this one. Since this is for her, I pulled someone's upload of the audio version rather than the official censored video, in order to preserve Ludacris' epic rap break about his penis. It's hilarious, and Becca and I still quote lines from it at each other. It's the reason she kept referring to him as "Mr. Wiggle" during the last two Fast and Furious movies. So, Chingy featuring Ludacris and Becca's pal Snoop Dogg, from 11 years ago now, damn.

Marvels: Tales of Suspense #47

"Iron Man Battles the Melter!" by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko & Don Heck
(November 1963)

With the last few issues, Stan's really been trying to give Iron Man a decent shot at an arch-enemy. Jack Frost was a man who also invented a super suit. Crimson Dynamo was the Soviet version of Tony Stark. And here we're introduced to Bruno Horgan, a former competitor of Tony's. It seems that Horgan was ruined when Tony Stark exposed him to the Pentagon for doing substandard, cheap work on his military contracts. With nothing left, Horgan accidentally created a beam capable of dissolving iron, and has turned it into a power beam worn at the chest (much like Iron Man's power beam), and is now out for revenge as the Melter.

Corporate espionage is the other theme we return to. Last issue, the Crimson Dynamo was sabotaging Stark plants to make it look like Stark was a Soviet agent. This issue, the Melter is just sabotaging Stark plants out of revenge. And once again, Tony finds himself in front of a Congressional committee headed by Senator Harrington Byrd. Once again, his contracts are in danger of being cancelled. These moments are always some kind of dark night of the soul for Tony.

The final showdown occurs in one of Tony's factories, with the Melter unable to dissolve Iron Man's suit. Confused, he flees through the sewer system and escapes. It turns out Iron Man had built himself a suit made out of aluminum which, apparently, can't be melted? Plus, Senator Byrd demanded proof of the Melter, but Iron Man failed to apprehend him. But the end is treated as a victory.

I don't know, at least it's over.

Stray observations:

:: "Iron is the most important metal on Earth! By being able to melt it at will, I become the most powerful man in the world!!" I always immediately dislike these low-tier villains who think their new invention is the key to world domination. You know, being smart helps. You're basically a one-trick pony.

:: This is another issue where the story probably would have been resolved more easily if people knew that Tony Stark was Iron Man. Instead, he leaves the people who can help him--most obviously Happy and Pepper--in the dark, even about his life-threatening heart condition. Let people in, Tony. They just want to help. Keeping all the secrets to yourself, typical capitalist.

:: "Look, Joe! That was Tony Stark, the millionaire playboy, in that custom-built sports car, who just went by!" Got to love that naturalistic dialogue.

That car is definitely worthy of notice, though.

They're really trying with Iron Man, but the comic's just not there. Iron Man remains my least favorite of the Marvel heroes.

Next time: mutants on the White House lawn!