Friday, September 04, 2015
:: The trailer for The 5th Wave looks kind of interesting. I hope it takes a cue from The Maze Runner and goes a little harder than some of these YA adaptations.
:: The arguments against Idris Elba playing James Bond are bullshit
:: The history of the pie fight.
:: Jezebel has a horrifying article about how those new Texas textbooks are talking about slavery.
Thursday, September 03, 2015
Earlier this same month, Baron Zemo made his first appearance in Avengers #6, Hitler's greatest scientist who returns to strike at the revived Captain America (and who, it turns out, is responsible for Bucky's death). So it's a neat idea that in the same month he's introduced, we see Zemo in action back in World War II against the Howlers. Time to build up the character's WWII credentials. Hey, since we've established that the 40s Timely comics and the 40s era Marvel comics co-exist, does that mean at some point we're going to get to see Captain America show up in the pages of Sgt. Fury? That would be... that would be pretty cool, and I'm not familiar enough with this book to know if it happens.
(Checks Marvel Database... yes, it does happen, and in five issues!)
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. This issue also introduces us to a new member of the Howling Commandos, replacing Junior Juniper, who died in action way back in Sgt. Fury #4. Say hello to Percival Pinkerton.
But Percy's real trial by fire is joining the Commandos on their next mission: to enter the heart of Nazi territory in Germany and capture a death ray that's been developed by Hitler's top scientist, Dr. Zemo. In typical Fury fashion, their entry into Germany involves ramming a Nazi sub with a PT boat, clearing out a machine gun nest, and a run-in with a tank. Gabe Jones, badass that he is, deals with the tank by leaping on top of it from a tree and dropping a grenade into the cabin. It takes out the tank, but it nearly takes out Jones, too. There's a tense episode where they have to get him medical help from a Nazi doctor, who they then force to spirit them out of town.
In probably my favorite passage this issue, Fury actually forces the Nazi doctor to treat Jones by holding a lit stick of dynamite in his face. "The master race! What a laugh!!"
And for good measure, they blow up the ammo dump on the way out of town. Actually, they get the town's contingent of Nazis to do it themselves. This is classic stuff.
Zemo is holed up in a castle that's wired for sound and full of booby traps, with Zemo shouting threats into a PA mic. (Aside: Zemo's high intelligence is partially portrayed by having him be literally the only German character in the story who doesn't speak in that pidgin English that the Nazis always have.) Zemo unleashes his death ray, which is basically a laser rifle, but Reb is able to get it away quickly with his lariat and Zemo escapes in his plane. The death ray itself is destroyed remotely by Zemo to keep it out of Allied hands.
So in the end we've been introduced to our new Howler and a new villain. I wasn't sure what to expect in Sgt. Fury, but we're building up an interesting roster of villains, assuming they return. Baron Strucker and Dr. Zemo are both potentially interesting characters who elevate the pulp Nazi villain into the Marvel style. I hope we see them both again soon.
:: This issue opens with an entire captured SS squad being marched into camp; apparently, this is how Fury's squad spent their furlough. I love it. I'm waiting for the issue where Dum-Dum is literally just sitting around chewing nails to prove how tough the Howlers are.
:: Dum-Dum once again insults his wife in this story, and throws his mother-in-law in for good measure.
:: Well, we almost got through a whole issue where Gabe Jones was colored correctly, but he's accidentally Caucasian in one panel again.
:: This issue introduces the book's letter column, "Tell It to Fury."
:: This issue also introduces us to our new regular penciler, Dependable Dick Ayers. I'm gonna miss Kirby's art on the book for now, but Dick Ayers' style is great, too. I've enjoyed his work on the Johnny Storm stories in Strange Tales, but there's a real exuberance to his style in this issue, and I'm really looking forward to more.
The reason Kirby is off the book is, of course, because both The Avengers and Sgt. Fury are now going monthly, and Kirby can only do so much work in a month. I mentioned that I have some trepidation about The Avengers being a monthly book, but I'm very much excited about monthly adventures of the Howling Commandos.
But first, next Marvels: Dr. Strange enters the Nightmare World once more.
Wednesday, September 02, 2015
Directed by Jeannot Szwarc; screenplay by David Odell; produced by Timothy Burrill.
When we were kids, my sister loved this movie. I certainly didn't. I didn't so much that, if my sister is reading this, she's probably already rolling her eyes in anticipation of what I might say.
What I should say is this: when you're a kid--and hopefully you grow out of it, thought a quick glance around the internet will show you that not everyone does--you do have a tendency to look at something, not be able to relate to it, and write it off as dumb. That was certainly the case with me and a lot of what my sister liked when we were kids. I could look at a movie like Supergirl, which was very much a female-oriented story, not recognize why the women in the movie were doing certain things because (as a boy) I couldn't relate to them, and I would just assume it was bad rather than just something I didn't understand. It's the essence of bad criticism. No attempt at empathy, no attempt at trying to understand, just a quick, thoughtless write-off because it wasn't catering directly to me, the white male, whose stories are apparently "universal." Hey, in my defense, I was 8 years old.
Seeing it now, three decades later, I still don't love Supergirl, but I was surprised at how much I really did like about it. And actually, what I like about it now is what I hated about it as a dumb kid: just how female-oriented it really is. At heart, it's a story about a teenage girl falling in love with life, learning about herself, finding her power and strength in the world around her. It's unique in superhero movies, and just the scenes where she's enjoying that she can fly are delightful. I like Helen Slater in this movie; she plays it... not naive exactly, and not earnest, either, but with a sort of... goodness. She's selfless, and she often acts without thinking to help other people. Supergirl isn't played as a complex character, but she's sort of unfailingly good-hearted, and I like that about her. Slater plays her as someone always discovering, always taking things in, always thinking. And she never once forgets that Supergirl is an alien, which is a neat contrast to Christopher Reeve's human-raised affability in the Superman movies.
Where I think the movie falls, though, is in two ways.
First, there's just too much going on, so not enough really lands. Kara Zor-El comes from Argo City, which is in inner space, to recover a Kryptonian relic (the Omegahedron) that has the power to create. The Omegahedron is found by Selena, a power-hungry witch who starts to channel its powers and wants to take over the world. The two cross paths when Selena uses a love potion to attract the attention of a local handyman (Hart Bochner), who falls in love with Kara's human identity, Linda Lee, by mistake. Yeah, there's a subplot of Kara laying low in a girls' school as a human, becoming friends with Lois Lane's sister Lucy (a vibrant Maureen Teefy), and also Jimmy Olsen (Mark McClure) is there for some reason. And then there's a sidetrip back into inner space where Kara attempts to rescue her mentor (Peter O'Toole), and Peter Cook as Selena's warlock lover/Lucy's math teacher. Anyway, like I said, there is a lot going on in this movie. Probably too much. And for a movie that runs (in the version I saw, which was a director's cut) 138 minutes, it creates some serious pacing problems, particularly since these things aren't interlaced very well, and the movie seems to stop at times to deal with things that just become boring. The whole trip into the Phantom Zone with Peter O'Toole is interesting, but it also a very slow patch just as it seems like the movie's climax is about to start.
The second problem with the movie is the villain, Selena, played by Faye Dunaway.
Part of the problem with Selena and her storyline is that Faye Dunaway is too put-together as the movie starts. I felt she needed to be more like Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns, where the character is weak and kind of pathetic in the beginning and then becomes more powerful and with that power becomes more vengeful. She's actually a good counter to Kara in that way, because she's her opposite: the things that make Kara strong are the same things that have made Selena cynical. But Selena is beautiful and strong the whole time, and although Dunaway makes some laugh lines work, she plays it a little too one-note until the second half, when she becomes a more and more unhinged supervillainess. I wish the progression just had more of an arc to it. It becomes monotonous at times, and since the rules of how her powers work are never clearly defined, it's hard to become invested in.
(That said, basing her in a defunct amusement park? Excellent touch.)
What works in this movie works pretty well, and there's a lot I liked about it (shout-out to Jerry Goldsmith's score), but there are just pacing problems and what should be the central performance too often falls flat. I was surprised to discover that Muppet Show writer David Odell wrote the screenplay. He also wrote The Dark Crystal, which is a movie I consider very well-paced.
(That said, it was supposedly rewritten pretty heavily by others, so who knows. This is a product of the Salkinds, which can only mean it's a miracle that anything works, because without strong creative types like Richard Donner and Tom Mankiewicz around, they put out Superman III, which was the kind of silly slapstick and camp they wanted to include in the first two movies until Donner and Mankiewicz fought for more verisimilitude. Never forget that before those guys came in, the script for Superman had a cameo with Telly Savalas in character as Kojak.)
A review of the films I've seen this past week.
Well, you tried, DisneyNature. Your first few documentary films were quite good and didn't do any of the anthropomorphism that can drag down nature docs and make them so pointless to watch. That's been over for a couple of years. But this one, this one was especially annoying about it, because the way the bears are so damn humanized and have human emotions thrust upon them by the narration and editing is as distracting and false as some of the early True-Life Adventures were. Beautiful photography, so ** there, but a disappointment otherwise.
PERFECT HIGH (2015)
Lifetime movie about a high school girl on the dance team (Bella Thorne) who injures herself, falls in with a crowd of dope addicts, and does one of those Lifetime spirals. It tries to be a cautionary tale--I mean, she graduates to heroin and greasy hair and almost prostitutes herself for drugs--but they never make us care about the lead characters, do they? It's just too removed, and quite frankly, this girl's real problem is that her parents just aren't paying attention. Also, Bella Thorne is a cute girl, but she can. not. act. **
LETHAL SEDUCTION (2015)
Creepy Lifetime thriller about a teenage boy caught between two crazy, manipulative women in their forties--Dina Meyer, the seductive cougar he's sleeping with, and Amanda Detmer as his extremely overprotective mother. They needed to draw that parallel a little closer, because that bitch was nuts. *
IN SECRET (2013)
Close. Adaptation of an Emile Zola story starring Elizabeth Olsen as a woman who is raised by her aunt (Jessica Lange), more or less forced to marry her sickly cousin (Tom Felton), and has her inheritance stolen to make a life for the family in Paris. There, she begins an affair with her husband's artist friend (Oscar Isaac) and the two settle on a course of action that they are then tortured by, and the entire second half of the picture just turns into a drag. Parts of it are good, and I felt invested in the affair, but Tom Felton plays his character in such a nice, affable way that I just felt sorry for him. The movie doesn't really handle the complexity well; no one is really a monster, but the film plays its morality--and its supporting cast--too broadly to really get at what any of the characters are about. The four leads are pretty good, but the film just doesn't serve its story as well as it could have. ***
LABOR DAY (2013)
Josh Brolin busts out of jail and spends Labor Day weekend with hostage Kate Winslet and her son, forming a makeshift family that is briefly happy. Yes, this movie is as bad as you have likely heard. It took me a while to figure out why, exactly. It's not that it's an inept movie, or that it's garishly bad in a weird way. It's just that everything is so artless. There's no passion to it, no point the filmmakers are trying to make, nothing being said. Things just happen, there are hints of a weird Oedipal thing with that kid that never get touched on, and then the epilogue goes on for way too long and ends with an insulting summation of mental illness. (Kate Winslet's character is agoraphobic.) It's played far too earnestly in a way that would become laughable if it weren't so long and exhausting. But artless is truly the word for this waste of time. *
KIRIKOU AND THE SORCERESS (1998)
Excellent French animated film about an African child who takes a journey to discover why an evil sorceress is so evil, in order to save his village from her demands and her mystic fetishes. It reminded me a lot of Rene Laloux in a way, with its straightforwardness. Really a beautiful movie. ****
LAKE PLACID (1999)
Fun horror comedy about a gigantic Asian crocodile terrorizing a Maine woodland. Very of its time; remember when just sarcastically commenting on tropes being played exactly straight was considered gender-progressive? That's about what I expected when I saw David E. Kelley wrote the script. But it's enjoyable as heck. Fun cast (I particularly liked Oliver Platt as a rich, eccentric croc expert, and any chance to see Meredith Salenger), it doesn't take itself seriously, and it has a great Stan Winston creature. Steve Miner directs it almost like it's a straightforward horror flick, but the dialogue is all comic and the actors are putting a spin on it. I can't believe it took me this long to see it, but it was fun. ***
Tuesday, September 01, 2015
15. "This Is the Life"
(Original; single from the motion picture Johnny Dangerously, 1984)
We're pretty much getting into esoteric favorites from here on, I think. Johnny Dangerously is just the worst movie. I remember it used to be on one of my local stations (WFLD-32, I think, or maybe WGN) an awful lot when I was a kid. I never thought it was funny, but I watched it a ton because of my incredible crush on Marilu Henner, which has never really gone away, honestly. I watched too much Taxi as a four year-old for it to ever go away. Anyway, as much as the movie blows, this song is just wonderful. I'm honestly not sure what it is I love so much about it; the lyrics, about a rich gangster living the high life, are ridiculously exaggerated, but not in a way that sounds really fresh after 31 years. But the enthusiasm of the production and Weird Al's performance is infectious; it's this weird, exuberant silliness that comes through. Actually, this does have one of my favorite Al lyrics: "If money can't buy happiness, I guess I'll have to rent it."
14. "Good Old Days"
(Style parody of James Taylor; from Even Worse, 1988)
Gosh, I know so many people who hate this song. At the time, it really felt like a vindication of my warped, occasionally cruel sense of humor. Hey, I got it from having to go a step further than the assholes who were bullying me. Which was everyone. Even my Mom, which is why I especially enjoyed playing this for her. This is a perfect parody of exactly the kind of crappy wuss-rock and easy listening that she was exclusively into at the time. See, when I was a little kid my Mom was all kinds of fun, but as she got older and the pressures of adulthood really wore on her, she got really, really depressed and spent less and less of her time engaged with us kids. She was a young mother (19 when I was born), and she could lose her patience all the time, every day, and get physical with us, and we were always kind of afraid of her losing her cool and screaming at us, but she could also be really fun, and we kind of lived for those moments. But she fell into this depression for a long, long time, and that was just shattering, because I assumed it must be our fault somehow, and I didn't know how to fix it. She would just lie in her bed, upstairs, with the curtains closed, watching TV and eating. It became harder and harder to pretend things were normal, and even now, I feel weird thinking about it, because I've pushed a lot of that whole time period out of my mind. Seriously, anything between late 1984 until 1994 can be blurry and uncomfortable.
So as my parents were separating and the inevitable divorce was coming, my Mom stopped being the rock-loving, fun-loving girl she was when I was little and became... well, a clone of her own mother, who wanted everything gentle and nice and would make me feel bad and wrong for being a loud, rock-loving 12 year-old, which was just reinforcing the way the kids at school made me feel bad and wrong for being fat and clumsy and (in a total reversal of my earlier school years) withdrawn and quiet. Oh, and still into cartoons, because I was fucking 12, Shane, you impossible piece of shit.
Anyway, this song came along at the right time for me, because it was Weird Al's version of gentle and nice and he just destroys it by being a complete and total psychopath, and it was exactly what I needed at the time. And I remember playing it for adults who would not only be horrified at the Charles Manson meets James Taylor lyrics, but disgusted with me for finding it hilarious, which was basically my way of rebelling at the time. I was a freaky kid, and... well, I didn't love it that way, but it was basically my attempt to try and force the world to deal with me on terms that I set for it. It didn't always work, but this was a time when it did.
Sometimes I even amaze myself when I get off on a tangent like this and realize that most of my life has just been a defense mechanism. How fucked up is that? And how fucked up is it that, just before this song came out, I got into my own depressed state and tried to deal with it by laying in bed all day and just listening to music, only for my Mom to scream at me until I got up? Jesus Christ. Let's move on.
13. "Dog Eat Dog"
(Style parody of Talking Heads; from Polka Party!, 1986)
Some time ago, I proclaimed that I had finished Polka Party! quite early, naming it one of my two least favorite Weird Al albums. It still is, easily, one of my least favorite Weird Al albums, but I forgot that it has one legitimate masterpiece on it: this exquisite style parody. It's especially funny to me having worked in offices in the past, because I find that kind of job totally empty and mind-numbing. I'm always surprised when I listen to this song how many of the lyrics have been in my own lexicon for ages now. I still find myself saying "Hold on a minute, just one more jelly doughnut" (I don't even like jelly doughnuts) and "I'll have a coffee with a carcinogenic sweetener." Oh, and of course, "Where's my liquid paper? WHERE'S MY LIQUID PAPER??" I love the way Al imitates David Byrne's clipped vocal delivery on this song.
And with that, I am now finished with Polka Party! for real.
12. "King of Suede"
(Parody of "King of Pain" by The Police; from "Weird Al" Yankovic in 3-D, 1984)
The original version of this song is my favorite Police song; I love that Al takes a song about depression and rejection and spins it into a song about a clothier who is very proud of his business and claims the title of King of Suede. It fits in with In 3-D's theme of celebrating the mundane rather than ridiculing it. The Police song is full of so much hyperbole that truly gets at the emotional depth that emotional pain can feel like when you're young and everything is so epic and sweeping, and then Al juxtaposes that odd rhythmic structure of despair and turns it into a declaration of dedication to a craft.
Aside: Al sings the song with accent. Is he saying the store is next door to Willy's Fun Arcade, or Wheelie's Fun Arcade. Because I've always heard Wheelie's, and I just want it to be that, so... who cares which is right, I'm just going to go on picturing Wheelie's Fun Arcade.
11. "Smells Like Nirvana"
(Parody of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana; from Off the Deep End, 1992)
I never felt any closeness to the original version of this song. When Nirvana happened, I was so walled off from a lot of what was happening in popular music because I just didn't want to associate with my peer group, even from the removed distance of just partaking in music. I didn't want any particular sense of cohort with the kids who were even still tormenting me daily, so I just didn't get into Nirvana, because suddenly everyone was wearing flannel shirts and growing their hair long and feigning disaffection and telling me that the very things that made my life so hard to live--being poor, being different, being sensitive, being frustrated and angry--were suddenly "in." Like... what? Since when?
So, funnily enough, me being me, it was actually the Weird Al version of the song that helped me when I needed it.
Weird Al released both the movie and the album UHF in 1989. The movie was a flop, but I loved it. My Dad and I went to see it in the theater at a time when I felt like things were really falling apart. We went to see it on a weekend, just the two of us, and laughed and laughed. He had long since moved out of the house and was living with my future stepmother. My parents' divorce had been finalized just a few weeks before. Everything just felt shattered, and I was periodically going through intense depressions and just closing myself off more and more from everything and everyone, because at home, at school, in the world, everything was reinforcing this feeling I had that I shouldn't express myself to anyone, because my feelings weren't important. But Weird Al was always something my Dad and I could laugh at together.
Weird Al didn't release anything after that until suddenly this song came blazing onto MTV in 1992. It took everyone's favorite song and poked fun at the fact that the lyrics were unintelligible--so hard to understand, in fact, that MTV used to play a subtitled version of the video. Annoying at the time how many kids there were who didn't get what the lyrics were meant to represent, but still pretended it was deep and meaningful and represented them in some way. Yeah, TJ, your mommy's been buying you everything you ever wanted since you were a baby and coddling you like you were gonna be veal someday, but now you're really depressed and disaffected, man, life's real hard here in the fucking suburbs, right?
As you can see, I was bitter about how grunge took my age group by storm and turned them all into even bigger hypocrites, so I wasn't really into their music. Honestly, I never even listened to Nevermind until... well, until earlier this summer, after I saw Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck on HBO. And it is a great album, actually. But I really needed the distance to fully appreciate it.
Weird Al's always going to mean more to me, because this song, and the accompanying album, came out in 1992 and, once again, my Dad and I had a Weird Al album to laugh with. And it came with a bonus of taking the self-importance out of a bunch of self-involved assholes who were oh-so-sensitive but still tormented the shit out of me.
Esoteric reasons. All that said, it's a damn good song.
Until next time.
Monday, August 31, 2015
As the Muppets prepare for their new sitcom debut on ABC, here's a clip from the first time ABC was home to the Muppets: a clip from a 1964 episode of The Jimmy Dean Show, in which Rowlf and Jimmy discuss jazz.
Rowlf appeared as Jimmy Dean's sidekick in 7-10 minutes of each episode as long as it aired, from September 1963 to April 1966. It's an important step in the development of the Muppets; Sam and Friends had been a daily live show set to pre-recorded music, and it was really only available in the Washington, DC-Baltimore area. But here was Rowlf getting national exposure, and his time on the show not only allowed Jim Henson the opportunity to develop an original character over a significant period, it also taught him how to have a Muppet and human interact, how to write comedy for television, and how to perform in front of a live audience. It was also where Jim started to sing. (In the clip below, he gets to sing "You Are My Sunshine," one of his favorite songs.)
Having Rowlf on the show was actually Dean's idea; he needed a comedic sidekick, and Dean had seen some of Jim Henson's commercials and was inspired. Rowlf was so popular on The Jimmy Dean Show that Dean estimated that Rowlf got about 2000 fan letters every week. Watching the clip, it's easy to see why. Jim Henson (performing with Frank Oz as Rowlf's right hand, or possibly Jerry Nelson, or possibly both; 7-10 minutes is a long time for a performer to have their hand up in the air) was able to develop a full personality for the character. Rowlf is amiable and likable, but he's also his own personality, independent of the sketch.
You can't understate the influence of Jimmy Dean in the development of the Muppets, either, and I think this sketch also shows that. Dean treats Rowlf like he's real, and that interaction is key to making the Muppets personalities in their own right. This is also where Jim learned to ad lib (one of my favorite parts is where he cracks up Dean with a well-placed ad lib just as the song is starting, and Dean's reaction of genuine laughter as Jim Henson steals the scene). Neither one of them is pulling focus in a way that hurts the sketch itself, and the audience is enjoying it. You can really see the future of the Muppets beginning here, and it's wonderful.
Muppets, Inc. were involved with the Rowlf scenes, even though the show wasn't a full Muppet production. Don Sahlin not only built Rowlf, but also a lot of the sets used to conceal Jim Henson and Frank Oznowicz (as Frank Oz still was credited then) or Jerry Nelson, and Jerry Juhl would often assist in writing the sketches with the show's writers (including Dean himself and comedy writer Buddy Arnold).
A quick story I've always liked: while the show was on, Jim Henson offered Jimmy Dean nearly forty percent ownership of Muppets, Inc., and Dean turned it down, later saying "I didn't do anything to earn that [...] A lot of people have said, 'Well, I bet you're sorry now.' No, I am not. Because I couldn’t have lived with me. I’ve got to do things that let me live with me and shave my face in the morning."
Sunday, August 30, 2015
George Harrison songs are always a go-to for me when I'm feeling... well, I haven't been feeling depressed, exactly, but in the same late summer doldrums that have been a feature of the past few Augusts, when the days just drag the hell on. At least there hasn't been an outpouring of negativity to try desperately not to internalize this time around. You may have noticed I haven't been around much this week, but it's more of a burnout than a disengagement. Just burned out being online. I've been watching a lot of movies and, surprisingly, Seinfeld, I show I'm really rediscovering. That's one I didn't exactly miss the first time around, but didn't really get into on the same level as everyone else did. I guess I needed a couple of decades to appreciate it. Also, I got Lego Batman 3 for my birthday and I've been playing the hell out of that.
So it's our False Fall now, that couple of weeks where temps drop into the 60s and 70s and it clouds over and rains a lot. It'll be hot and humid next week, though, which is what always happens at the beginning of September. The lack of sun and the long days have been generally doing me in, especially with how out of control my allergies were--I wasn't sick this week, but I might as well have been, because my energy was gone and I needed to sleep a lot. Blurgh. Just a mixed bag this week.
Anyway, it's not as bad as it sounds, so here's some George Harrison to get me back on track, with the whimsical Eric Idle-directed video for his 1976 single "Crackerbox Palace."