Saturday, February 28, 2015

On the Other Red-Gloved Hand

I've already talked about how I would incorporate the Miles Morales Spider-Man into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and I'd really rather see something like that than getting rammed with yet another version of Peter Parker and yet another telling of his origin.

(As an aside, the guy who prompted that first post--the guy who is really against using Miles and who asked for a reasonable-sounding pitch for introducing the character into the MCU--has gone on and on--to the point where I almost unfollowed him--about how it makes no sense to do Miles "before" Peter. I think that's pure bullshit at this point. Dude, Peter Parker's been around since 1962. He's a major media property. People have been aware of his existence for a very long time. He's starred in something like seven television series. There have been 5 movies about him in the last 13 years. I think people get his deal, and I think something new is not a threat.

Look, people go to see these movies because they're good and they're fun and Marvel finally realized that superheroes are not a genre but characters who can exist in any genre and anyone can enjoy them... not because they hew closely to any source material. I know this is hard for a lot of fanboys to deal with, but probably upwards of 90% of the audience for these movies doesn't read comic books and won't care how exact something is. If it makes sense as a story unto itself, people will dig it, and that's what makes discussing films with comics fans such a drag most of the time: because they want to talk about whether or not Aquaman has blond hair as though it affects anything.

The guy's argument was "it would be like doing a Flash TV series with Wally West instead of Barry Allen, it makes no sense!" Now, I get what he's trying to say: Wally was inspired by Barry's Flash to become the Flash, and Miles was inspired by Peter Parker's Spider-Man to become Spidey. But I don't think you need to bother with those things. I think that if you don't know it wouldn't matter. Hell, show Miles watching an episode of the old 60s Spider-Man cartoon if you have to go the inspiration route. But if a guy develops spider-powers in a cinematic universe with no Spider-Man in it, does it really matter at all if Peter Parker ever existed? Does it matter? Really?

Dude, no one minds that Jay Garrick doesn't exist on the Flash series, do they?)

Anyway.

Anyway.

I'd still love for Miles to be Spider-Man in the MCU more than anything, but one thing I'm also willing to accept: what if we just, you know, bring back Tobey Maguire?

One of the great frustrations for me is that Sam Raimi never got to finish his series of films, mainly due to Sony's impatience and their attempts to force characters in there that didn't belong there. Sam Raimi's Spider-Man movies are still the definitive adaptations for me--even with the problems in the third movie--because he really got the tone of the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko early run. His Peter Parker was an overwhelmed kid who was trying to do his best in a world that was throwing everything at him that it could.

(Another aside: how I relate to Spider-Man depends almost entirely on his wisecracking. If he's doing it in that way where he's trying to appear tough but is actually covering for how scared he is--as in the Raimi movies--I feel for the guy. If he's an arrogant, sarcastic jerk--as he is in too many media, including a lot of the recent comics--I hate him. I've not seen either of the Andrew Garfield movies, but the little bits I've seen on TV make Spider-Man look like a fucking prick.)

So, Sam Raimi's Spider-Man left me hanging, and, you know, if we could work him in as MCU canon and just sort of say he's been there and there just wasn't a need to talk about him before... I would have zero problems with that. In fact, I'd be quite enthusiastic for it. Let's say Peter stopped being Spider-Man for a while in order to concentrate on working out his relationship stuff. He figured Iron Man could handle everything, right? Hell, if you want to shove him into Civil War so you can have that unmasking moment everyone wants, doesn't it make sense to use Tobey Maguire, since the audience would actually already know him? Maybe the whole registration furor is what brings him back.

Bring back Tobey. Bring back Kirsten Dunst. Bring back Sam Raimi. Bring back Rosemary Harris and JK Simmons! Let's make the MCU movie Spider-Man 4. Let's just continue the damn thing and not have to go through the damn origin again and pretend those damn Marc Webb movies never happened. Let's give Spider-Man his slightly dorky sincerity back. That gee whiz of the Raimi movies fits in much better with the MCU than too-cool cynicism.

Otherwise, it's Miles all the way for me. I'm sick of new Peter Parkers. This is like a damn Clone Saga. Miles or Tobey Maguire, that's all I'll be excited over.

I'll probably get neither.

But as far as I'm concerned...

Friday, February 27, 2015

This Week in Neat-O

:: Everything You Never Knew About The Making of Conan The Barbarian

:: This week's trailers: Simon Pegg in Kill Me Three Times (red-band trailer); Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal, which looks like over-the-top fantasy epic gorgeousness.

:: 12 Spock quotes to live your life by.

:: Rats remember acts of kindness, and then reciprocate.

:: This Is The First Baby Wooly Rhinoceros Ever Discovered

:: You might remember Nick Acosta's "Star Trek in Cinerama" from last year. Now he's taken photos of the original Enterprise model from 1965 and composited them into scenes from the movies, and they look fantastic.

:: How The Universe Is Saying Goodbye To Leonard Nimoy

Leonard Nimoy 1931-2015

Sad news today that Leonard Nimoy has died from end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. I knew he was sick and that he had been admitted to the hospital recently, but it's still a blow to me. Leonard Nimoy was one of the teachers of my life. I found him, no pun intended, fascinating. His autobiographies, his interviews, his artistic and spiritual sensibilities... and he played my favorite fictional character of all time. In many ways, Spock taught me how to think and taught me--and still teaches me-- how to feel. Often, when I try to calm myself from my constant anxiety and sadness and anger and restlessness and turmoil, it's Spock I try to emulate. Leonard Nimoy portrayed this in a way that's so important to me.

I am saddened by his death. Very saddened. Today I will weep, unashamed, without dwelling in my sorrow.

Farewell, Mr. Nimoy. Thank you for everything. Thank you so much.

There is a lovely write-up in the New York Times.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Film Week

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

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 (2014)
I really like the approach to this sequel. I tend to expect retreads from animated sequels, which may or may not be unfair. I really loved How to Train Your Dragon, and rather than repeating itself or trying to force a thread that needs to be continued (basically the "it was meant to be a trilogy the whole time!" approach), it's an actual second story that takes place in the world created by the first movie, which is refreshing, because it takes place in a world of consequences. Hiccup is changed from the first movie; he's a little older, a little wiser, and he's like a veteran. He's learned to live with having lost a foot, but he's not embittered. He still has ideals, but they're tempered by experience. I just found that really touching, particularly since the movie doesn't dwell on it. It's just who the character is now. It turns what was a wonderful, charming first movie into the opening of an epic, and I really hope this won't get too hampered by DreamWorks Animation's recent struggles. As it stands on its own, this is an excellent fantasy film. ****

BIG HERO 6 (2014)
This movie started wonderfully as a story about a boy genius named Hiro whose older brother Tadashi works at a robotics lab at a university. Impressed by the research he sees happening--and impressed by Tadashi's creation, a warm, cuddly medical robot named Baymax--Hiro decides to apply to the school by creating miniature robots that can be controlled telepathically and can be used to help. I liked that aspect particularly. Tadashi creates something compassionate in order to help people. Hiro, inspired by this example, creates something to help people. I found that very positive. In fact, I was so interested in Hiro's education and the science-friendliness of it all that I found myself disheartened when all of the superhero stuff started and then it just became about how Hiro, Baymax and Tadashi's friends become superheroes in order to fight the supervillain who has stolen Hiro's technology. The movie has some excellent and important themes, particularly the idea of kids processing their emotions positively and the way the movie links emotional health with physical health. But it's surrounded by a story that's... cute. It's a cute movie, but the superhero stuff isn't any different than any other superhero stuff going on in movies right now (right down to that cameo after the credits), and all of the plot twists are obvious in advance. Baymax is a nice character, but he also seems to be purposely and cynically designed to go viral. There's some nice stuff here, but I wish the movie had had the confidence to not shove it into a rather conventional and totally unsurprising superhero plot. (And yeah, I know it's based on a comic, but here that seems more like a crutch.) Well-animated and nice, but not special. ***

THE TALE OF THE PRINCESS KAGUYA (2013)
Isao Takahata has made some beautiful films at Studio Ghibli, and I think this one is his masterpiece. A beautiful movie animated (mainly) in a watercolor style based on the legend of the bamboo-cutter, who found a baby in the bamboo and raised her as a daughter. It's one of the most wonderful things I've ever seen, but also very sad in a way that still haunts me. It's honest and it is exquisite. ****

THE BOXTROLLS (2014)
Another delightful film from Laika, this one co-directed by the great Graham Annable. (Is it possible to have a Principal Skeleton movie? Asking for a friend.) This is the kind of weird movie that Tim Burton could make if he decided he cared more about just the aesthetics of weirdness, but I haven't seen Big Eyes, so who knows? I have seen every other movie he's made in the 21st century, though, and if there's a good one in there, I missed it. Why am I talking about my hatred of Tim Burton? Anyway, The Boxtrolls is charming and wonderful, a story about a boy raised by a strange species of box-wearing trolls who are being demonized and exterminated by a swindler so that he can join an aristocratic society. There's a beautiful absurdity to it that the movie revels in. ****

THE MONUMENTS MEN (2014)
Great premise: art historians go behind enemy lines in World War II in an attempt to reclaim and protect historical treasures from the war and from the rampant Nazi looting. Great cast: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Hugh Bonneville, Cate Blanchett, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban. Sounds like it should be quirky and fun, but fascinating. In execution, no. No, not at all. It was an incredibly disappointing waste of time. Disappointing, because I generally love George Clooney as a director. (Yes, even Leatherheads.) **

TIMECOP (1994)
Stupid, but in a fun way. And in a way that knows how stupid it is. Overdirected in the way all Peter Hyams films are overdirected. **

DREDD (2012)
LOTS of people have recommended this movie to me over the last couple of years, and I can see why. It's not exactly the great Judge Dredd movie (and I refuse to slag off the Stallone movie, because I actually enjoy the hell out of that movie, and yes, I'm aware of how stupid and un-Dredd-like it actually is), and I wish it had been weirder, but it's committed to what it is and takes the premise seriously without being humorless and dull about it. Karl Urban plays Judge Dredd, and the film focuses on a single day in which he and his new partner (Olivia Thirlby as Judge Anderson, who is the real star of the movie, because Dredd has to maintain character; she gets all the development, and it's a great choice and she really carries it well) are trapped inside a housing block by a drug dealer (Lena Headey). She wants them dead, and they have to fight their way to her. It's like Assault on Precinct 13 in reverse, which is an apt comparison because this is like a John Carpenter movie. It also reminded me of the original RoboCop, although Dredd doesn't have any satire to it (though it does have some incredibly graphic violence). I enjoyed the hell out of it and I really would like to see a second movie which expands the world of Mega-City One (and maybe we can get into the Angel Gang and Judge Death now that we've established the place). ***1/2

THE FAULT IN OUR STARS (2014)
Jesus, no. Just no. This is an incredibly predictable and overly sentimental mash-up of two of my least favorite types of movies: the Cancer Is Actually a Gift That Gives You Clarity About the Important Things movie, and the Women Are Only Made Whole by a Man's Penis movie. And because it's aimed at young adults, you could also call it the Puppy Love and Blind Passion Are Really Idealistic Sweeping Romance movie. It's a grab bag of cliches and it made me really, really fucking angry. So Hazel is a teenager with lung cancer, and she's totally cynical about support groups because if there's one thing this movie insists on, it's that you can be cynical about needing support and totally believe in the transformative power of love at the same time. I guess support is more genuine when it comes from a pretty boy who says trite things that are meant to sound pithy and deep, because every moony teenage boy thinks he's a philosopher, but this one really is for really reals, because when you have cancer and read Important Yet Obscure Literature by Recluses, that makes everything you say Wise and Powerful.

So yeah, Hazel meets Augustus, and then he calls her Hazel Grace (her middle name) because men get to define women and even name them and it's so, so adorable. Gus is somehow a Gary Stu and a Manic Pixie Dream Boy at the same time, which is disappointing; I haven't read the book, but I have read John Green's Looking for Alaska, and what I liked so much about that novel is that it looked through our fascination with the Manic Pixie Dream Girl all men think they can tame and fix to see an actual troubled human being behind the facade. (Important message here: a girl doesn't live her life as a performance piece so boys will save them; often they are masking genuine pain and this is their way of coping, and you should goddamn respect it instead of thinking about how it affects you.) (Also I've read Green's novels Paper Towns and Too Many Katherines or whatever it's called, and I feel like Looking for Alaska was the one time he had anything genuine to say, and as nice a guy as he is and as much as I enjoy his video blogs for Mental Floss, I find his writing style cliched and needy.) And yes, their love story is grandiose and perfect and ends entirely predictably. But first there's a trip between two cancer-ridden teens whose parents have no problem letting them fuck off to Amsterdam to find this genius author they love (who--no surprise--turns out to be kind of an asshole and not the wise shaman-mentor they expected) because there is no conflict at all in this movie. Yeah, they're dying, but everything's okay as long as Hazel lets Gus selfishly push her and not consider for a moment that her lung cancer has progressed (she wears an oxygen tank through the whole movie) to the point where it might be physically dangerous for her to have sex or walk up hills or even fly in a plane. But hey, at least he insults her about her cliched tastes and talks down to her about destiny, and that's love for white teenagers in movies that cater to them outside of all reality.

About that oxygen tank: I found that kind of insulting. It's like the movie's way of pretending it's realistic about cancer; look at this shiny, beautiful, happy girl with a beautiful head of bouncy hair. Sure, she has fits occasionally, but she's not coughing up blood or randomly waking up and not being able to walk or losing control of her bodily functions. She doesn't have, say, Late Stage Plot-Inconveniencing Cancer. A lung collapse would dull the romance. It's not like she has realistic handicaps that can't be overcome by the power of pretentious love. Epic passion will always trump actual medical interpretations. Realistically, she would have died in Amsterdam, and the triumph would have been that she got to make the trip she wanted on her own terms. But this movie wants to have everything, so it does. It's yet another movie that completely romanticizes having cancer, and that pisses me off, because I know what it's like to see a teenage girl deteriorate and die. It's not cute. It's rarely triumphant. And I'm not saying that having a disease disqualifies you for having an adventure. But it also doesn't magically push reality aside. People struggle with this, and glossing over and not acknowledging the ways they struggle minimizes those people. It's dealing in all the sentiment of a person with an incurable disease without being held back by those limitations, so everything Hazel does is a triumph of overcoming. It's dishonest.

This is Inspiration Porn. It's another one of those movies where cancer patients only exist to inspire us with their strength, and whimsicality and earnestness are the best salves to their suffering. Cancer isn't a life-destroying killer that takes something from everyone who experiences the death of a loved one in movies like this; it just leaves the audience with "so many feels" and the idea that death is beautiful.

It's sentimental bullshit and it pissed me off. It pissed me off that Shailene Woodley, who is quite a good actress, is wasting her time on a YA adaptation that's about as deep as Fifty Shades of Grey and about as complex as The Da Vinci Code. This is as mundane, pretentious and wish-fulfilling as Twilight. She's just in full-on self-righteous simper like she was on The Secret Life of the American Teenager. It pissed me off to have to look at Ansel Elgort's eminently punchable face as he smugly and condescendingly spouted out what passes for Wit and Truth in America's favorite Nicholas Sparks Starter Kit. It pissed me off that these two privileged Caucasian American kids could kiss in Anne Frank's attic and people would applaud it as meaningful. It pissed me off that the one character with any insight into these idiotic kids and the way they wrap themselves in and mimic their obsessions and call it depth is diminished by apologizing for his abrasiveness and given the cliched out that he's acting out because of his own personal pain. Way to neuter your own work, movie. It pissed me off that this puddle-deep nothing of a movie is what passes for hip and thoughtful to the attention-span-challenged Juno generation. It pissed me off that this movie is so in love with its intellectual references and meta-analysis of metaphors and yet is devoid of intellect and metaphor. It doesn't even let you find your own feelings; it explicitly spells out how you're supposed to feel about everything.

I saw someone on Reddit who summed this all up perfectly: "This isn't a movie about cancer, love and death. This is a movie about thinking about cancer, love and death."

But yeah. Willem Dafoe is good as Genius Recluse. He has the one good moment in the movie before they pull it out from under him later in one of the many scenes where the movie explicates the obvious, as it imagines smart stories probably do. I wouldn't be surprised to find out he based his performance on Werner Herzog. I wanted to spend more time with him and less time with the entitled brats.

This is a moron movie for morons. It's the worst kind of moron movie, actually: the kind that thinks it's too smart and needs to explain itself. *

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Site Stuff

I just found out while writing the post below that Google is forcing a policy on Blogger where any blog with images of nudity on it--and mine certainly qualifies--will have its settings changed to private after March 23. As usual, Corporate America is falling below the low standards I've already set for it when it comes to their desperate quest to keep anybody anywhere from accidentally seeing a boob.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do here. 10 years is a lot of posts to go through in order to weed out nudity. I might be able to do that, sure, but I might also export my blog and go somewhere else (but where? WordPress?) or even start over again on another Blogger. I have no illusions about permanence on the internet; I've had accounts and blogs deleted in enough places that I've become accepting of the disappointing yet easily wielded power to delete something. And I worry that, like everything else on the internet--DMCA takedowns, for example--this new rule is going to be misapplied in all manner of ways.

I mean, do I really need to go through 10 years of Sunday Hotties posts and check them for tits? And if I find them, do I take them down? Find a new picture? It just ruins the whole flow.

I'll figure it out. Like I said, might be time to move. Or maybe I'll just make a bunch of changes.

This whole thing is unbelievably ridiculous.

Ranking Al: An Introduction

I've had this idea kicking around in my head for some time, and since I'm a fan of wasting time on big blog projects, and since a lot of the medicinal haze is gone and I can concentrate a bit more, I thought I'd finally start this.

Back in November, Roger shared both his and his daughter's lists of favorite "Weird Al" Yankovic videos. I was excited about this; Weird Al is one of those formative things in my DNA, like Disney and the Muppets and Legos and Marvel Comics and G.I. Joe. And like all of those things, I've lived through times when I was mercilessly ridiculed for my love of all things Al, or found kindred spirits who loved him like I did (or at least suddenly liked one of his recent hits). So seeing someone young appreciate this guy that I've loved since I was a kid was pretty cool. I was thinking of making my own list of my favorite Weird Al songs.

But then it started to become something bigger in my head... I was impressed by Tosy and Cosh's multi-year project to rank every U2 song. He finished that project in September. I also loved having discussions with Nathan about Weird Al's albums last year when he did several posts about each of Weird Al's albums. Then I ran across Roger's ranking of every Beatles song. And Roger shared with me a fascinating blog discussing all of Elton John's greatest music: the stuff from 1969 through 1977. He also shared this list of every Billy Joel song ranked, which I don't really agree with, but that's a whole other project.

So I finally decided, what the hey, I'm going to rank all of "Weird Al" Yankovic's songs.

So, a couple of criteria and notes here:

:: I'm going to rank every song, but I'm limiting myself only to the stuff that's been commercially released, either on one of Al's albums or compilations or on a soundtrack. I'm not going to track down the myriad songs that weren't officially released. I love "Pac-Man," and I find a lot of that stuff on YouTube, and I'm just focusing on all of the official stuff. It's just easier. I'm lazy and mentally ill.

:: I'm also not counting any of the bits on the UHF soundtrack or "Bite Me," the hidden joke track on Off the Deep End.

:: Nor am I counting his Peter and the Wolf or Carnival of the Animals: Part 2 collaborations with Wendy Carlos. Wonderful album, but it doesn't fit here.

:: There's not set schedule for this; this is going to be a kind of "whenever I have time to do it" sort of endeavor. I've got the whole thing narrowed down to a list of 165 songs, which is a nice, even number. The first post will be the bottom 15, and then I'll do 10 at a time from there, probably, because I don't know how long these things will end up being.

One caveat: I understand it's hard to be objective on a list. I always have problems with the idea of "best" lists, because my instinct is to do a "favorites" list. I'm going to try to be a little more objective, but I have to admit, a lot of the rankings are probably just going to come down to my personal taste. I also recognize that, since Al does so many parodies, there are a lot of times when I'll especially like a song because I like the original so much. I'll try to be more objective there, too. Sometimes the parody is tired and Al has nothing else to add. Sometimes his lyrics rise above someone else's mediocre song. And sometimes his new lyrics add something to the song that wasn't there before (self-awareness, usually) and the whole thing transcends the idea of parody. That's the magic of Al for me. So I hope I can share that here.

Coming soon.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Muppet Monday

February's not even over, and there's already been so much great Sesame Street stuff in 2015. A bunch of people made sure I saw these videos, and I thank you all. It means a lot to me that so many of you actually want to ensure that I see Muppet stuff; you wonderfully outnumber the people who have laughed at me or tried to make me feel embarrassed about being a grown man who's still into Muppets. (And come to think of it, I'm related to all those people... sheesh.)

These videos were both produced by Mashable.

Firstly, the riff on this year's Oscar winner, Big Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Orange Pants) with Carroll Spinney, and directed by Joey Mazzarino (who performs Murray on Sesame Street):



That's Matt Vogel inside the Big Bird costume in this one. I've heard rumors that when Spinney retires, Kevin Clash might inherit the bird.

And second, Simply Delicious Shower Thoughts with Cookie Monster is brilliant, and co-produced by Muppet fanatic Annie Colbert, who has done a lot of great videos and articles about Muppets for Mashable, including the ones with Grover and Kid President, and that great news video with Cookie Monster and John Oliver.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Song of the Week: "I'll Get You What You Want (Cockatoo in Malibu)"

The actual best song of the year wasn't nominated for an Oscar, so here it is. I'm not watching the ceremony tonight, as I stopped watching it a few years ago, but I am FINALLY sitting down with the first season of Downton Abbey. Here's the official single version of the best song from Muppets Most Wanted, sung by its composer, Brett McKenzie from Flight of the Conchords.