Friday, April 24, 2015

This Week in Neat-O

So, Variety says that Michelle McLaren's creative difficulties with Warner Bros. over Wonder Woman were that she wanted a Braveheart-style epic and the studio wanted something "less heavy on action." Seriously? Would these same executives ever say there should be less action in a Superman or Batman movie? But the girl movie should have less action? It's hard not to get annoyed by it, especially after that idiotic Batman v. Superman teaser. Someone doesn't realize that too much grimdark becomes its own kind of campy.

:: The Daredevil/Night Court opening is pretty cute.

:: This week, the 1977 (Richard Shickel-penned) documentary The Making of Star Wars showed up on YouTube and people are making a big deal about it. It was the first documentary about Star Wars. I remember watching it a lot when I was a kid, but I haven't seen it in a couple of decades and it was neat to see it again. I used to watch it on a VHS that had a preview for The Empire Strikes Back that played after the credits. Great stuff.

:: The new Fantastic Four trailer is almost a hundred percent Warren Ellis' Ultimate Fantastic Four.

:: The new Jurassic World trailer. This movie looks fun as hell.

:: Tomorrowland also looks fun as hell.

:: I'm sure it's blasphemy, but I'm more excited about the second season of Star Wars Rebels than I am about Episode VII. But Episode VII doesn't have Ahsoka Tano, so there we are. The second season trailer was released, and Darth Vader is all over it! And they're bringing back Captain Rex from Clone Wars! And Hondo Ohnaka!

Speaking of movies I'd rather see...

Just stop running from the camp... it's a guy dressed as a bat. Stop apologizing for Superman not being cool, and quit running from the silliness. I'm not saying it has to be silly, I'm just saying we need to stop pretending it's serious.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

More Betty Thoughts

I talked about this last summer, but with Age of Ultron right around the corner, the Hulk has been on my mind. Today I was checking out all of the deleted scenes from The Incredible Hulk, and if you have access to them (or find them online, which is easy enough), I recommend watching them. They turn the film into a much more satisfying movie. They're all scored and edited and mixed, too, so if you have good edit software and know how to use it, you could easily add them into the movie and create a special edition.

If it really matters, there are spoilers in this post.

Though not on the bottom for me (hello, Iron Man 2), The Incredible Hulk is one of the least satisfying movies in the MCU. I could never really pinpoint why that's so, but after watching all of the deleted scenes, it's simple: it lacks an emotional core. The sad thing is, the film once had an emotional core, and the filmmakers seem to have decided to cut it all out in favor of a lesser movie. I've always liked The Incredible Hulk, but I've always acknowledged it as a movie that doesn't quite work and doesn't feel complete. Turns out there was a lot there that deepened not only the characters, but Bruce Banner's entire dilemma.

The filmmakers have committed that old, unpardonable sin of jettisoning character development and emotional resonance in favor of getting to the action. I can easily see someone deciding to cut "all that boring talking" in favor of the smashing, not realizing that the smashing has no resonance if it's not in the service of an actual story. I don't give a damn if it adds a whopping 45 minutes to the film, it was absolutely the wrong call.

The heart of the Bruce Banner/Betty Ross relationship exists in the deleted scenes, giving the movie's themes more room to grow and develop.

(Also, William Hurt has some scenes that explain why General Ross is so obsessed with capturing the Hulk; now I understand why Hurt would agree to appear in a superhero movie as the heavy; turns out his introspective scenes hit the cutting room floor.)

I've gone on before about how important the Bruce/Betty stuff is to me, and why it resonates with me. I never really thought before today--even though it's pretty obvious--that Bruce is really mentally disabled. Hey, so am I. It's not just the outbursts of uncontrollable anger I can relate to, it's also the desire for control and how fleeting that control can sometimes feel. There are incredible moments in the deleted scenes that show how hard Bruce struggles to control, and how odd it can be to just feel neurotypical sometimes. During a scene where he has dinner with Betty and her new lover, Leonard Sampson (played by Ty Burrell, whose entire performance was basically jettisoned), Bruce finds himself laughing during an anecdote and then suddenly breaks into a crying jag because it's the first time he's felt genuine happiness in five years. I've been right there. I know what it's like to resign yourself to never feeling joy again and then suddenly realizing you have and it's too much to feel at once. That was a beautiful moment.

I can relate to all of the reasons why Bruce fled from Betty and how hard it is to approach her now, with five years of guilt and distance between them. He feels constantly guilty about having hurt her in the first lab accident that created the Hulk--a scene which is alluded to in flashbacks, particularly in the alternate opening where Bruce is driven to suicide (he references it in The Avengers). In the movie, there's a scene where Bruce and Betty almost make love in a motel room, but the excitement is too much and he pulls back because the danger of turning into the Hulk is too great, and he's already living in fear of hurting her again. The movie then cuts to a rather lame impotence joke.

There's a deleted scene there, though, which is absolutely necessary to Bruce's journey: Betty brushes her hair back and shows him the scar she still bears from that lab accident, the scar he gave her when, as the Hulk, he injured her. She actually makes him look at it so that she can absolve him of that guilt, telling him that the pain goes away, but not knowing what happened to him was far worse. She forgives him of the thing he could never forgive himself for.

Liv Tyler is a wonderful counter to Edward Norton. Norton plays Bruce as always guarded, always afraid, always on edge. As someone with panic disorder and agoraphobia, I can relate. Being in a lot of situations is very scary for me, and my eyes are often darting around, looking for exits, looking for danger, as though I'm afraid that by not being on alert, I'm somehow inviting the danger in. By contrast, Tyler's Betty is soft, giving, and generous. Deeply generous. She speaks softly in that gorgeous voice and lets Bruce know he's safe. That's the thing that really touches me about the character and Tyler's portrayal: if she's ever nervous, it's not because of Bruce. She's not afraid to touch him, to speak to him. She knows how to handle him without handling him, if you know what I mean. She's questioning without being confrontational. She's gentle, but with the deleted scenes, you can see how underneath it is a strength and sensitivity. She can calm the Hulk.

Again, that's so important to me, as someone who doesn't often consider himself worthy of being loved like other people. And to see the warmth between them, even after a trauma they were unable to confront together, like maybe they should have, is truly touching.

What's also great is that Betty really gets her own ending in the deleted scenes. She has an arc. She confronts her father about how he's played a significant role in altering Bruce's life forever, and she also confronts Leonard at the end of the film, realizing that he called her father out of fear. Betty, giver that she is, understands Leonard's fear, accepts it, and forgives him... but doesn't come home to him, instead deciding she needs to move on and find herself. She can't just be the nurturer. Now that she knows Bruce is alive, now that she has closure on the trauma, it's time for her to find who she is without it.

It's a real shame that none of this survived into the final cut. This was very nearly a movie about people.

I've talked before about how I want to see Betty (preferably in the person of Liv Tyler) come back into the MCU at some point, but I'd honestly just be happy to see her role in Bruce's past at least acknowledged. I like how The Avengers gave us a Bruce who had made some peace with his disability, but who also learned--through his friendship with Tony--that it was okay to embrace it, to feel joy and confidence, to give himself some damn credit. That the Hulk didn't necessarily have to be a curse. That he could learn to live with it, try to manage it. That's tremendous growth.

I can see so many of the things I struggle with reflected in Bruce and the Hulk, albeit in an obviously exaggerated, science fiction way. And Betty's role in making that growth possible is significant. So, just some kind of acknowledgement would mean a lot.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Film Week

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

You all know I'm not really a big fan of the X-Men movies, but outside of The Wolverine, this was easily the best one since X2. And I don't really like Bryan Singer, but I have to assume he's the reason why this movie was remotely enjoyable. Unlike most of the other filmmakers who have followed him, he at least had ideas about what the characters were supposed to be about, so this one feels like there's some purpose there, some urgency. Still, like all of these movies, it's a mixed bag. Any of the alternate future stuff is pretty incomprehensible and boring, even for an X-Men movie. But all of the stuff that takes place in the 70s is pretty damn enjoyable. The First Class-era actors are enjoyable in their roles (especially Fassbender), and with Hugh Jackman added, that works out pretty great. The celebrated Quicksilver scene is celebrated for a reason; it's a virtuoso sequence, but more than that, it's so rare in these movies to just see someone enjoying their abilities and getting to cut loose with them. The whole thing ends with a couple of retcons that were surprising, but might fix some of their broken chronology. It doesn't really make a difference to me if they keep making X-Men films or not, but if they keep putting them on HBO, I tend to watch them. This and The Wolverine were surprisingly enjoyable. It would be nice if they were stronger going forward. ***

TROLL 2 (1992)
I can't rate this movie seriously, but I do want to say: this is a really bad movie, but in an enjoyable way. This movie really illustrates the problems I have with the Ironically Bad Movie Industry we have today. Troll 2 is from an era when something epically bad could become a cult favorite--the kind of movie you had to see because it was so bad that you enjoyed watching it with people because can you believe this thing? We don't really get that kind of movie anymore because anyone with a digital camera can make a movie with their friends over a weekend and get it on Syfy. This is the era of Sharknado, when we're putting out Bad on Purpose movies constantly in an attempt to turn them into cult faves almost ironically. But I think Sharknado shows that you can't make a bad movie on purpose, especially since Sharknado never quite goes as gonzo as it thinks it does. A movie like Troll 2 happens because of that special mix of good intentions and general incompetence that you can't fake. It's weird that this movie made me wistful for a time that I think is gone now.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Ranking Al: #100-91

100. "Trash Day"
(Parody of "Hot in Herre" by Nelly; from Poodle Hat, 2003)
This song reminds me a lot of my childhood. Mainly because I was not a clean kid, and I let the mess pile up until it was a real problem. Weird Al proves once again that he's one hell of a rapper. The parody is a little bit like shooting fish in a barrel, but it works.

99. "My Baby's in Love with Eddie Vedder"
(Original; from Running with Scissors, 1999)
My first girlfriend after high school was totally in love with Eddie Vedder and, like a weird amount of people I knew who were at the tail end of Generation X, obsessed with her own status as an Xer. So making fun of someone who can't get over the Pearl Jam frontman is pretty funny to me. Doing it as a zydeco song? That's just,,, that's so unexpected that it ends up being pretty brilliant. He gets the sound down, too.

98. "Nature Trail to Hell"
(Original; from "Weird Al" Yankovic in 3-D, 1984)
This was a Halloween staple for me for a lot of years when I was younger. Today, I get a bit antsy from the length, and the lyrics don't sound shocking and edgy like they did when I was 12. I love the production and the instrumentation a lot; there are those bells again. As a trailer for a fictional slasher movie, this one kind of begs for a video. (Backmasked message at 3:40: "Satan eats Cheez Whiz!")

97. "Grapefruit Diet"
(Parody of "Zoot Suit Riot" by Cherry Poppin' Daddies; from Running with Scissors, 1999)
Oh, third wave ska, you weren't over soon enough. Al goes back to the "guy who's really fat well" and sings a tune about a guy starting a diet, but as a fat guy, his songs about fat people never sound insulting to me.

96. "Sports Song"
(Original; from Mandatory Fun, 2014)
I feel like Al is just challenging himself to write a song in every style he can think of. For some reason, I really hope that means he's going to record a rag... This fight song is just a fun bit of silliness, insubstantial as a cloud but enjoyable.

95. "One of Those Days"
(Original; from Polka Party!, 1986)
Al has a bad day that escalates all the way up to global annihilation. It's a funny song, but musically it sounds a bit dated. It did get me through some frustrated days as a kid, though, and the lyrics--combining mundane irritations with over-the-top worst-case scenarios--are hysterical.

94. "Don't Wear Those Shoes"
(Original; from Polka Party!, 1986)
The major difference between this song and the previous song for me is just that this one sounds so much like the Kinks. Even Al acknowledged it. But it's so much fun to listen to.

93. "Generic Blues"
(Blues parody; from UHF, 1989)
Al sings the blues, with a list of bad happenings and bad feelings that gets more and more over the top with each verse. It's kind of obvious to do a hyperbolic blues song, but it's funny and the instrumentation is great. Favorite line: "Maybe it's a chemical imbalance or something." I also love the great guitar solo bookended by "Make it talk, son, make it talk" and "Okay, now make it shut up." Hey, BB King said it was one of his favorite blues song, so it must work.

92. "I Remember Larry"
(Style parody of Hilly Michaels; from Bad Hair Day, 1996)
I've never heard Hilly Michaels, so I can't speak to the style parody, but I like the music on this one. It's about a prankster whose pranks get worse and worse, and then takes a dark turn as the narrator has his revenge; the dark lyrics juxtaposed with the upbeat music just makes me laugh. This one has a backmasked message at 3:10. ("Wow, you must have an awful lot of free time on your hands.")

91. "CNR"
(Style parody of the White Stripes; from Alpocalypse, 2011)
Chuck Norris Facts was one of the worst things that happened to America. Not only were they not funny, but I just couldn't cotton to the weird hero worship cult that grew around noted Total Gym pitchman and maker of some of the shittiest films ever made Chuck Norris. I just didn't like seeing that homophobic, Huckabee-endorsing, birther asshole turned into a figure of fun. So that whole meme was pretty ripe for satirizing, and along comes Weird Al with a song about awesome, made-up Charles Nelson Reilly Facts. They're in the same ultra-manly vein, but because CNR is so unlikely, they're actually funny. The video's just hilarious gravy.

Until next time.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Muppet Monday

Garrett Gilchrist has been out doing tremendous restoration work again.

You might remember from several years back that Garrett Gilchrist was the man who worked tirelessly to put together a new cut of Richard Williams' thwarted masterpiece The Thief and the Cobbler. Working from many sources, including the fabled workprint, Gilchrist was able to put together a damn incredible edit that was much closer to Williams' intent than the ruined version released in theaters two decades ago. His "Recobbled Cut" is one of the best things I've ever seen, and Gilchrist's work in restoring Williams' work and making it more available was the work of a dedicated fan.

It would have been enough of a gift to the arts if Gilchrist had stopped with Williams, but he kept going. Now he's been attempting to restore and unearth rare bits of Jim Henson work, for which I will be forever grateful. There is so much Henson stuff that hasn't seen the light of day yet, and I can't wait to consume all of it.

This video has around forty minutes of Sam and Friends. I've featured some of these on this blog before, but certainly not all. It's sad to think that, from a daily show that Jim Henson performed live, sometimes twice a day, from 1955 to 1961, this forty minutes is merely a drop in the bucket, and nearly all that survives. I'm just glad we have anything at all, but that's six years of Muppet history that just fell victim to the time period. Who knew that people sixty years later would want to watch?

On this video compilation you'll see the bits "Huntley and Brinkley," "Powder-Burn," "A Horse Named Bill," "C'est Si Bon," "I've Got You Under My Skin," "Poison to Poison," "Where Hunger Is From" (my favorite of these), "Visual Thinking" (my second favorite), ""The Westerners," "That Old Black Magic," and "Singin' in the Rain." There are also some Muppet commercials for the show's sponsor, Esskay Meats.

If you're only going to watch one, and I'll make the huge assumption you've seen all the ones I've featured previously, skip ahead to around 30 minutes in and watch "That Old Black Magic." It's really wonderful. First, it's the only one that survives that features the show's nominal star, Sam! He and Kermit sing (lipsynch) the old Louis Prima-Keeley Smith song, which is a favorite of mine. Jim Henson is performing Sam, and that dance he does is fantastic! Jane performs Kermit in this one. Also, the device of Harry the Hipster and Yorick watching them on television is pretty impressive, considering this is all being done live. Professor Madcliffe and Omar also appear. It's great stuff.

At the end of this video is the first part of a meeting film done for Wilson's Meats and featuring spokesmuppets Scoop and Skip and a guest appearance by Rowlf the Dog. This is from 1965 and promises a look behind the scenes of how Henson Associates makes commercials. If you'd like to see that material, it's on this YouTube video (via the Jim Henson Company) and is marvelously deadpan. Plus, you get to see Jim, Frank Oz, Jerry Juhl, and Don Sahlin working behind the scenes a decade before The Muppet Show.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Song of the Week: "SuperLove"

Just a dumb, fun pop song for a nice spring day. I approve of how much music sounds like the late eighties right now. I'm enjoying it. Charli XCX's Sucker was a fun album.