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by Harry Connolly
2) Steve Rogers: Premature Anti-Facist. h/t James Nicoll
6) Pacific Rim in the Power Rangers style! Video.
7) Want to deter pests without using chemicals or traps? Try an automatic lawn sprinkler with a motion-sensor attached.
Let me start with this: I think THOR (the first movie) was underrated. No, it’s not a great movie, but the performances were solid and there was a human story buried under all that cgi and hammer-swinging. Two brothers, a father disappointed by them both, an heir disinherited and forced to live among common folk where he learns humility, the bond of love and resentment between the brothers… Strip away all the stuff about frost giants and being worthy of Mjolnir, and you have a basic story that anyone can relate to.
In T:TDW, you don’t get any of that. You have a villain trying to destroy the universe with a hidden superweapon that was taken from him, like The One Ring, in a long ago battle. Now the weapon has attached itself to the humblest of creatures, a Jane Foster, and the Big Bad Villain is hunting for her so he can reclaim it.
Except that The One Ring was a ring you could wear that had magic power in it. Everyone has heard of magic rings. In T:TDW the deadly weapon is a cgi liquid that flows through the air like a movie special effect.
And the baddie has to get the weapon in time to use it during The Convergence, when the nine worlds are aligned, and he has to use it in a special place…
Look, I’ve written my share of climaxes that take place at the site of a magic ritual, and the big danger is that the whole thing can seem so arbitrary and artificial. It’s not a conflict between members of a family, it’s a race to stop a guy from doing a thing in a place that looks good on camera.
So, the visuals are cool. The dark elf masks are creepy as hell and Asgard, while not as beautiful as the first movie, is still eye candy.
But where are the complicated relationships? Thor and Loki still have their thing, although it’s evolved to be less complicated than it was.
There’s nothing that hooks the stakes into a real-world concern we can relate to. It’s not an invading army. It’s not lost love (a theme that gets toyed with but not taken seriously). It’s not family drama (seriously, the first THOR could have been moved to a mundane corporate setting without too many changes).
It’s just a bad guy who wants to take the universe back to the state it was in before there was light, which is a thing you can do with magic/superscience floaty liquid, apparently.
Another thing I can’t say I’m fond of is the decision to make the Asgardians and the other members of the Nine Realms aliens. In the comics, Thor is the Thunder God, and what that means cosmologically is whatever the story needs it to mean. He controls the weather, he’s super tough, he comes from a distant place.
In the film the dark elves are given ray guns and space ships with fancy readouts. Yeah, they fight Asgardians with glowing not-light-sabers, but the Asgardians have ray gun anti-aircraft emplacements and flying Viking boats with missile launchers.
It’s a deeply odd set of design choices, especially since the villains have a major advantage with their powerful ranged weapons. Honestly, it would have been better if they’s stuck with magic and pre-gunpowder war-making; Odin would have seemed like less of a tool sending his soldiers into combat with spears and shit.
If you like spectacle, there’s spectacle. Hemsworth, so winningly cheerful in the first film, is mopier here. Yeah, it makes sense that he’s missing Jane but come on. The guy is incredibly charismatic. Let that show. And since this is the spectacle paragraph I’ll mention that he only goes shirtless once, which seems like a missed opportunity.
Anyway, I should have waited for other peoples’ reviews. I wish I had. I liked THOR but THOR: THE DARK WORLD did not live up to expectations.
Okay! The jack o’lanterns are lit, making a path from the top of the stairs to my apt door. Spooky lights are lit. Dracula is on the Netflix, but it won’t load because I can’t imagine why a horror classic would be slow to load on Halloween seriously can’t imagine.
I also have a candy bowl with four Butterfingers, four Snickers, four Nestle’s Crunches, and four (meh) Milky Ways.
There is also a cold beer in the fridge, waiting for my kind attention.
I’m going to live blog the number of kids who come, what treats they take, and what costumes they have. Assuming any show up at all.
Anyway, movie’s playing. I always liked swapping out Renfield for Harker at the start of Lugosi’s Dracula. It simplifies things.
6:28: HOORAY! A tiny little girl dressed as “a rabid raccoon” selected a Crunch candy bar. One kid, at least, has come by.
7:00: No other kids have come by.
7:39: No other kids. Should I just give up? Shut out the light and stuff the candy into the freezer?
7:59: Seriously considering the freezer now.
“Oh hey! That’s Sam Axe!”
“Wow, this movie takes forever to get started!” <-- Sarcasm
"I have no idea what is happening right now."
"This is really cool! Who directed this?"
"I like how there's always five doors to kick down."
"This is a really great actor." <-- Said while Ash's evil hand dragged him unconscious across the floor
"Oooo I can't watch this!"
"Ha! A Farewell to Arms!”
“Nope nope nope nope.”
“Ha ha! Oh my god! AAAAHH!” <-- eyeball bit
"Did he bring the axe? I can't tell. He'd better have brought the axe."
"Great. She's dead." <-- when character runs outside.
"Oh my god."
“Is this really awesome makeup or cgi?”
“Aw, yeah! Chainsaw hand!”
“What. The. Heck. Whattheheck!”
“Chainsaw! Use the chainsaw!” (singing) “Chainsaw chainsaw to the neck! Chainsaw chainsaw to the neck!”
“AAAAH! Ha ha! Oh my god!”
“Dad, did it every occur to you that maybe I don’t like horror movies?”
Hey, it’s on Netflix and it’s just as rough as I remember but even funnier.
making books personal: a blessing of monsters film the boy
by Harry Connolly
Part of the homeschool project surrounding the writing of my epic fantasy trilogy was that my son would make (with a very little bit of help from me) a book trailer with his Legos and the music software on his computer.
He’s a clever kid. My only input was to explain what happened in the books that he should animate and to ask him to reshoot things that were out of focus.
I think the music is especially nice. Check it out.
Last night Twitter (and the rest of the internet) had a bit of a freak-out about Ben Affleck being cast as Batman in the new Man of Steel movie. Most of them were all: “Have we watched Daredevil and died in vain?”
But hey, remember when this guy was cast as Batman?
Good times, good times. Everyone thought he would be completely wrong for the part, and you know what? He was!
But it wasn’t his fault. Tim Burton made a Batman movie but he didn’t actually like Batman.
Remember this guy?
Head quirks aside, George Clooney was a terrific Batman, but his movie was even more ridiculous and off-putting than Keaton’s. There’s a case to be made for calling it a camp classic, I guess, but it didn’t do much for the franchise and it certainly didn’t help Clooney.
But what about Batman Begins? That was a great Batman, right? Hey, did you know how hard it is to find a picture of Bale in the mask with his mouth open? I think this is why:
Look at that damn tongue. When he’s playing other roles, t’s not such a big deal that Bale talks with his whole freaking tongue right at the front of his mouth, but the Batman mask focuses people’s attention on the actor’s mouth because that’s the only human part showing. It was the most distracting thing about the movie, even beyond the voice.
But you know what? It was still a good performance. Even better, it was a pretty good movie with a pair of good/pretty good sequels.
And now the terrible Affleck Daredevil is the cause of a lot of shirt-tearing. Well, I’m going to come out and say it: The problem with Daredevil was the movie itself, not the performance. Affleck’s name is the one everyone knows, but he wasn’t to blame for that script (with Murdock kung fu fighting in his civvies to flirt with Elektra) or the ridiculous cgi and sound effects. There were several scenes that worked, and part of the reason they worked was Affleck’s performance (I’m thinking about the aftermath of the fight in the bar specifically).
I wanted to drop in a clip of the more egregious fake effects here, but Fox is careful about yanking its IP off YouTube.
So Affleck’s performance as Batman will be well-received in large part depending on how the script is written, how the scenes are shot, and a thousand other factors. Batman movies have reached the point of being franchises, like James Bond; it’s no longer enough for most of the audience to say “Batman movie!” and get people to line up. You need to make an actually decent movie. Like Clooney, Affleck will be remembered by the quality of the film he’s in.
Did I mention it’s being directed by Zach Snyder?
Cinefex Magazine is going to digitize their backlist, and this Kickstarter gives you the opportunity to pick up, say, all of their stop-motion issues, or all of their Star Trek or Star Wars issues.
I’d heard THE WOLVERINE was okay but not great so I thought I’d give it a watch. Personally, I think “Okay but not great” is overstating things by a mile, but it can be instructive to watch and talk about movies that fail, so what the hell.
The basic plot is this: Logan is freed from a WW2 POW camp just outside of Nagasaki just as The Bomb is being dropped, and he saves a prison camp guard’s life, mainly because he freed Allied prisoners as soon as the air raid sirens went off.
Actually, never mind the motivations. Motivations aren’t going to make much sense here.
Anyway, jump to the modern day. Logan is living in the wild like a depressed hobo, dreaming about Jean Grey, the woman he loved and killed in the third Xmen movie, when a fellow mutant (one of those plot-convenient precogs) whisks him off to Japan to meet that same prison guard it seems he’s now the super-wealthy head of a giant corporation and he’s dying. He’s also willing to take Logan’s healing factor off his hands, since he knows (somehow) Logan thinks of his eternal life as a curse.
There’s some handwaving about how Logan’s healing factor has to be “suppressed” before it can be transferred, and he spend most of the movie in some weird gray area limbo of minor powers where he can be slowed down and made to limp from gunshots or whatever, but he’s not unkillable anymore. Nevermind that his powers are supposed to be genetic.
Anyway, there’s a snake woman villain named Viper who spits poison acid at people and brags about being immune to poison (I’ll bet that comes up all the time) but who seems to have no motivation other than to get paid and therefore has no reason to stick around for the lethal battle at the end. There’s a beautiful woman who, being Asian, has a sad history; also, she must get kidnapped as soon as Logan fucks her. There are ninjas who declare themselves devoted to the old dying guy but who shoot arrows at anyone the plot requires. And there’s the Silver Samurai, which in the movie is a gigantic robot-looking thing (actually a suit of armor, and boy will you be unsurprised to discover who’s driving it).
And you know what? This is all stupid and careless and a little insulting, but it’s not like I’ve never enjoyed a movie that was careless for the sake of being fun.
However! THE WOLVERINE has an astonishing lack of fun. There’s a fight atop a bullet train that’s inventive and different, but all of the other confrontations are nothing new or interesting. There’s a running fight at a funeral and through the streets of Tokyo that looks like the same mook tussle over and over. There’s a red neck bar fight. There’s a samurai sword/claw fight right where you would expect to see it.
And the ninjas, man. That whole sequence sucked the life out of the movie. Logan has to get off his motorcycle for reasons, and he has to not fight the ninjas because if there’s one thing Wolverine fans hate, it’s seeing him slice up a bunch of ninjas.
Worse, he just runs down the center of the street so they can shoot arrows into him. Not even a little juke to the side here and there.
The weird thing is that, Movie-Wolverine never says “I’m the best there is at what I do,” because on the movie hero level, he’s a really shitty fighter. Because he has a healing factor, filmmakers stage fights where he’s shot in the gut from close range, stabbed, bashed on the head with a bat… It doesn’t matter! He can’t defeat a trained samurai without his healing powers because he has to let the other guy get five or six lethal blows in before he can score one himself.
The ninjas kick his ass with poison arrows. The Yakusa who kidnap Sad Asian Lady shoot him in the leg because he helpfully announces that he’s rushing to the rescue. The Silver Samurai beats the hell out of him until Sad Asian Lady intervenes.
I mean, nevermind that the climax shows the baddie stealing Logan’s (unsuppressed) healing powers by… drilling into the stumps of his wrecked claws? How does that even work? But nevermind. The whole movie is about a guy who really sucks at what he does.
If you’re going to make a Wolverine movie, you don’t show/use his healing factor in every fight. You save it for the true badasses. And you don’t line up a bunch of ninjas opposite him and have him run away, ffs.
PACIFIC RIM: the story of a talented but troubled pianist searching for love.
At least, that’s what I told my son it was about when I told him we were all going to see it. He’s old enough to to tell when I’m joking most of the time, but I kept telling him it was part of music appreciation and homeschooling, so he eventually just flat out admitted “I can’t tell if you’re being sarcastic or serious.”
Note to self: teach son meaning of “sarcastic.”
Anyway, once he saw the poster outside the theater, he knew there would be zero piano players. He bought his usual treat of a small popcorn with extra butter, but when the movie ended it was completely untouched. He’d been so engrossed in the film that he’d forgotten all about it.
A big question for me is: WHY? He wasn’t half a block away before he started picking nits. Why did the pilots have to be inside the robots? being the big one. My wife and are were also laughing about how ludicrous the whole thing was: Our Hero has a jaeger that is analog, not digital, because it’s nuclear powered? I guess that mind-meld technology runs on diskettes.
Anyway, the whole thing is deliberately absurd, but also powerfully affecting. When we got home, there was a Netflix disc in the mailbox. It was THE MATRIX, another movie that worked like gangbusters despite the fact that it made no damn sense at all.
So why do they work? It’s not the spectacle. There are plenty of dull movies full of spectacle. (We just watched 2012, so that’s fresh in my mind.)
The real secret is that the relationships between the characters, and the way the characters change, is what draws us in. Yeah, there’s a visceral thrill from the sight of claws, teeth, and roaring. Yeah, the music gooses your emotions.
But all of it falls flat if the emotions don’t work.
The funny thing is that I spent years trying to understand narrative structure, and so much of that time was spent on plot mechanics and exposition. It wasn’t until I began using the structure to focus the characters’ emotions and relationships that I began to have any success at all.
Stories are better if the plot makes sense, but if the characters don’t appeal no clockwork plot in the world will make it worth the audience’s time.
People make fun of Google plus, but like any social media it has exactly the value that you and the people you interact with put into it.
For example, Fred Hicks posted this:
It’s amazing. Seriously, you should watch it with the sound on. Don’t bother if you can’t listen, too.
Social media is a lot like real life socializing. It’s not usually what you do or where, but who’s there with you.
The Public Insight Network has posted a comic called Moral Injury, Beyond PTSD (well, they’re calling it an “illustrated story” but so what). It’s incredibly powerful stuff and I recommend everyone read it. I’d originally planned to drop it into a Randomness post, but it felt too big for that.
Seriously, you’ll want to read that.
I’ve seen this sort of thing addressed in fantasy before, but not in a way that satisfies me. Not in a way that breaks out of the hero/villain paradigm.
Part of it, I think, is the incredibly powerful appeal of the dehumanized enemy and the heroic capable figure. Is Aragorn supposed to have nightmares about all the orcs he’s killed? Is he supposed to change his most basic self-concept after all that killing? Frodo returns from his adventure a ruined man who can no longer live in his own community, but that’s due to the proximity to and temptation of the power of evil. It’s not because he recognizes that he did evil to an enemy that was very like him.
I’m also revisiting Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns (by watching the dvds). The whole thing plays like a parody of the superhero genre written by someone who wants to call out its most fascist aspects. And yet, even while I’m disgusted by, for example, Miller’s contempt for peaceful protest, I’m also feeling the powerful pull of the narrative of justified violence.
It’s incredibly affecting and entirely artificial. Reading that comic I linked to above makes me a little ashamed of it. #SFWApro
Most of us have favorite holiday specials from when we were kids (and after!) so I thought I’d take a moment to list my favorite holiday-themed movies, specials, and TV episodes about everyone’s favorite holiday, The Purge.
It’s The Purge, Charlie Brown! Sent to buy supplies for all of his friends just before the big night, Charlie Brown returns with only a single, undersized firebomb. The other kids mock him and drive him away until the realize that, with a little laundry soap and a bag of fertilizer, the tiny firebomb isn’t so bad after all, driving home the true meaning of Purge night.
The Grinch Who Stole Purge Living a lonely hermit’s life, The Grinch hates that the Purge disturbs his solitude every year with the sounds of gunfire and screaming. One year, he sneaks into the local village to steal every gun, bladed weapon, and explosive they have only to discover the true meaning of Purge night when the villagers begin to murder each other with their finger nails and teeth.
Purgetown Starring Debbie Reynolds. Three kids find themselves transported to a magical town where every night is Purge night.
It’s a Wonderful Riot Facing scandal, prison, and bankruptcy, George Bailey wishes he had never been born. An angel appears and grants his wish, taking him on a tour of the smoking crater his gated community would be without him.
Miracle on 35th Street The skeptical young daughter of a psychoanalyst experiences the true joy of The Purge when, against all logic and reason, a NY court rules that cathartic rage for therapeutic purposes is totally a real thing.
(This post inspired by @timcarvell’s tweet.)
Guess what turned up on Netflix Streaming recently? (The subject header above is a subtle hint.) Yep, it’s the 1985 non-classic REMO WILLIAMS, starring Fred Ward. Apparently, the film is based on a series of men’s adventure novels that I haven’t read and never will, so whatever. It’s the movie I want to talk about. Remo’s adventure might have begun with that picture, but it didn’t go any farther. (I live in the happy world where the TV pilot doesn’t exist.)
Anyway, I saw this movie a great many times in the bong-fueled haze of post-college daytime cable and I loved it. Watching it again last week with my family reminded me how charming and fun it is.
It also brought back how completely fucked up this movie it. Seriously.
First, have this: How to be a fan of problematic things. It’s a good article written from the perspective of a person fighting for social justice who’s following GAME OF THRONES. Even if you’re not such a person, it’s worth reading.
And it applies to REMO in spades.
Let’s talk briefly about the setup: Fred Ward is a tough NYC street cop who is “killed” in the first few minutes of the movie. He wakes up in a hospital bed with a new face and identity; he’s been recruited by a secret government organization headed by Wilford Brimley. Why?
Brimley’s character sums it up like this: “This is a great country, my boy, but the justice system doesn’t work the way it should.” I know what you’re thinking, right? They’re going to reform the justice system!
Actually, no. They’re an assassination squad operating domestically under the direct control of the president. The only limits to their power is that they must never “embarrass the president.” That’s it. They investigate people and, if they have too much money/power to be prosecuted, they arrange a convincing “accident.”
To effect this plan, Ward is to be trained in the ancient and mysterious martial art of sinanju, which will allow him to dodge bullets, run without touching the ground, and other goofiness.
If that were the end of it, REMO would be little different from other odd 80′s action movies about heroic vigilantes. Unfortunately, the elderly Korean master who teaches Ward is played by… Joel Gray.
Yeah. It’s a white guy in yellowface.
Here’s the thing. The yellowface makeup was nominated for an Oscar. Gray’s performance earned him a Golden Globe nomination. If he’d done a shitty job in the role this would be an utterly forgettable movie. Actually, until Gray appears onscreen, it IS a forgettable movie. Ward is charismatic. Kate Mulgrew is terrific as a major in the army trying to prove that the bad guys are breaking the law. But until Gray appears as Chiun, the movie feels rote. I watched this with my kid and I had to beg him to stick with it. By the end, he was laughing and giving it a thumbs up.
Gray and Ward have fantastic chemistry together; their scenes (which are mostly amusing training sequences of one kind or another) are pretty much the only heart the movie has.
So, you know, it’s complicated. It’s a terrible idea to cast a white dude in yellowface to play the part of a Korean man. It’s certainly possible that an Asian actor could have done just as good as job as the prickly, obnoxious, condescending Chiun. But we don’t live in that world; we live in the world where Joel Gray got the part and did a fantastic job with it.
Anyway, the movie’s on Netflix Streaming. It’s problemmatic, but I’m a fan of it anyway.