9 Apr 2014, 7:58am
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Captain America, Anti-Hero?

Now that CAPTAIN AMERICA 2: THE WINTER SOLDIER has had a gigantic opening weekend, people are starting to talk about how it ought to have been done.

Take this post on Vulture, which says that Cap would be interesting if he was a prick. As supporting evidence, the author trots out Millar’s repugnant characterization of Steve Rogers in the first few Ultimates comics, adding this panel to his post:

Captain Freeper

Do we really think a guy who actually fought the Nazis would have the same opinion of France as some random member of the freeper cheetotariat? Yes, the Nazis attacked and occupied France in WW2. You know what we call people who mock victims of the Nazi war machine? Assholes.

So try to guess how impressed I am by the idea that Steve Rogers isn’t actually interesting unless he’s being some kind of jerk. (Not very.) There’s a weird mentality in comics that treats cynicism, misanthropy, and nihilism are somehow more mature than idealism; it’s a teenage boy’s idea of agency. It’s all about contempt: for people without power, for social rules and bonds, and for compassion. It’s a hero who “Does what has to be done,” which the narrative conveniently frames as acting like a ruthless thug.

But none of these stories are being created by teenage boys: it’s middle-aged adults, whether we’re talking about The Boys, or Wanted, or one of the New 52 storylines (like the much-discussed new Harley Quinn or Starfire, or the bit about the Joker’s face) that rub their hands together gleefully and sell ever-shrinking numbers of copies to their aging audiences. Clearly, the author of the Vulture article is deep into this mindset; why else discuss (and post a panel from) part of a story where Bucky is made out to be the killer that Captain America could never be, as though the American people couldn’t accept a WW2 soldier who kills Nazis? [1]

Nevermind that, based on where Cap was born and raised, he’s unlikely to be the France-mocking conservative reactionary the Vulture writer seems to expect. Nevermind that the big wave of anti-heroes seems to have passed and left us with very few lasting characters. [2]

More interesting is that Captain America has been around, and been successful, for decades. Comic book characters come and go and they always have. Some are superpopular and fade away. Some keep getting reinvented without really breaking out. Some fade into obscurity. How many times has Marvel tried to launch a Dr. Strange comic to middling sales and eventual cancellation? [3]

Most of these characters stick around. They’re ongoing IP, turning up in other characters’ stories, but they can’t sustain their own ongoing series.

Cap is one of those who can. Forget about the ridiculous costume (which they had fun mocking in THE FIRST AVENGER), he’s been popular for a long time, even with readers like me, who are not exactly overflowing with reflexive patriotism. He works in the comics (and has for decades). He works in the movies (as you can see by the box office and rave reviews). Where so many others have failed, he continues.

Instead of saying he needs to be roughed up to make him interesting, it would be worthwhile to figure out why he’s already successful. [4] I suspect it’s because the conflict is not inside him, it’s between his ideals and the distinctly non-ideal world around him. No anti-heroes necessary.

My spoiler-filled review of CA2: THE WINTER SOLDIER here.

[1] Yes, there were years when comics were ridiculous about the death toll that would come from superpowered combat in Manhattan. “Thank goodness the buildings the Hulk just collapsed were all condemned! Someone might have gotten hurt!” When comics became more realistic about the damage their fights could do, that was a welcome development. I just wish it hadn’t gone so far.

[2] Wither art thou, Darkhawk? What about you, Maggot? Shatterstar?

[3] Not that I have anything against Dr. Strange, who ought to be a wildly successful character, with the right writer.

[4] A trade collecting part of Mark Waid’s run is pretty much the only superhero comic my son has ever enjoyed.

Randomness for 4/8

1) What is NeoRealism? Video. Extraordinarily interesting contrast between neorealist and Hollywood movie techniques. h/t @RodneyRamsey

2) The Uncomfortable, a collection of deliberately uncomfortable everyday objects.

3) Sony gets Blender-made animated short pulled from YouTube even though they have no copyright claim to it. You can still watch it on Vimeo, though.

4) Vatican to digitize 41 million pages of ancient manuscripts. Of course, the manuscript pages themselves will outlast whatever file type the Vatican chooses to put them in.

5) Workouts inspired by your favorite fandoms. Heh.

6) What if the moon was a disco ball? Video. A question we’ve all asked at one point or another.

7) The Love Me Letters, Open Letters to Random People.

5 Apr 2014, 4:19pm
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Captain America 2 and Institutional Power

I was supposed to take my family to see CA2 next Wednesday but, while that’s still going to happen, I didn’t want to wait. So I caught an early matinee on Friday when I was supposed to be writing.

It’s a fun superhero action movie, and Chris Evans is better than anyone would ever have a right to expect him to be in the lead. Johanssen is just as great playing Black Widow as she was in The Avengers, but that’s what I’d expect from her. Evans is a happy surprise.

Spoilers for the rest: more »

1 Apr 2014, 6:47am
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A Regression Analysis Comparing Box Office With Meta-critic Ratings

Boom.

Quality didn’t much affect earnings on opening weekend, but after that? The better the rating, the more money. Check it out.

Oh, and I know what day it is, but this isn’t a prank.

25 Mar 2014, 8:09am
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Social Media Creates Sleeper Hit, a case study

Last weekend, a new low-budget movie called CHEAP THRILLS opened in LA and Austin, as well as on iTunes, Amazon and whatever. It’s about a guy who gets fired from a shitty job and finds himself desperate for money to avoid eviction… on the night he and his buddy meet a couple willing to pay them to do crazy stuff.

Here’s the trailer.

It looks intense.

It’s also a surprise hit, with great per-theater earnings, terrific VOD revenue, and a 94% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. What makes this movie different from any number of terrific indie films? A great social media campaign. Check out this article on how they managed it. I have a non-academic interest in how this sort of thing is accomplished, of course, but it seems the short version is: great movie, enthusiastic friends with huge social media footprints, and a little craziness to attract attention.

Anyway, interesting stuff.

21 Mar 2014, 8:03am
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More on Veronica Mars

I watched the movie again, mainly because I really like mysteries. Last night, the family finished watching season 2 (It’s slow going getting individual discs from Netflix on a one-at-a-time plan) and I have to say S2 was better than I remember it. Obviously, Lilly Kane was the heart and driving force behind season 1; Amanda Seyfried’s performance was so incredibly charismatic that the school bus explosion–with its numerous but mostly faceless victims, plus Meg–couldn’t touch. Every ep of S1 showed Lilly in some kind of flashback or dream sequence, if I remember correctly; how could sweet, honest Meg lying in a coma compete with that?

Still, watching both seasons all in a rush was very interesting. In season 1, knowing that some viewers would miss episodes, several of the clues and story beats were hit in several different episodes. How many times did they “reveal” that Weevil was having a secret relationship with Lilly, and that he loved her more than she loved him?

In season 2, they talked about the clues they’d discovered previously, but didn’t play them like story beats. What’s weird is that S2 almost completely drops the bus story line for several episodes in a row. The season gets caught up in a bunch of mini-mysteries that are either tangential to the bomb story (At no point did I believe Terence Cook was a serious suspect) or completely separate from it, like the murder of Felix Tooms. Then there’s the whole plot line that takes Wallace to Chicago, or the Casablancas family business troubles…

In fact, there’s a lot going on but much of it doesn’t seem to have much to do with the supposed Big Mystery of the Season. It feels fractured, leaving Veronica to act without the same wrenching need to Solve Everything she had in S1. The driving forces that should have been there–her guilt over surviving and over Meg’s condition, plus her name being written on Curly’s hand making her think the bomb was meant for her–just don’t feel immediate enough.

Another choice that felt weaker was the decision to lose the family lives of Duncan and Logan and replace those characters with Kendall Casablancas and the “Fighting Fitzpatricks”. Yeah, it’s a fine thing to widen the scope so we see more of Neptune, but Irish gangsters aren’t anywhere near as compelling as a fucked up family. Papa Casablancas is only in the first few episodes, Wallace’s mom goes up in a puff of smoke when she breaks up with Keith, and Aaron Echolls mostly turns up in his jail cell. Keith and Terrence Cook are pretty much the only parents on the show, and the Cooks are not nearly as fucked up as they should be for a long form mystery.

Still, the episodic mysteries were as strong as every, and Bell is still amazing as Veronica. I like Logan as a character but I’ve always had zero interest in their supposedly epic love. Seriously. If S1 didn’t exist, S2 would have been one of the best shows ever.

S3 is up next, and I remember it being more soap opera/relationship-focused than previous seasons. I was also Team Piz back in the day and I was even more firmly Team Piz after the movie. Still.

Anyway, the movie: I was sure the show would not work once the characters were adults. There was something incredibly effective about addressing class issues through teenage characters. They’re screwed up by the system but not really to blame for it, either. Plus, school forces everyone to be in everyone else’s spaces; you can’t avoid your enemies if you’re stuck going to school.

It worked anyway, which gives me hope for a sequel. Supposedly Warner has a dollar figure they want to see from the movie before they sign off on a sequel and no, I wouldn’t back another Kickstarter. Whatever annoyance I felt at the Flixster thing has been washed away by the movie itself. Still, Veronica with a cleaned-up Logan, back to work at her father’s PI office? I’d love to see a resurgence of PI stories.

Anyway, the show and the movie are buzzing away in my head, making work on my own stuff seem dreary and unpleasant. Must break through and get back to good things.

15 Mar 2014, 2:27am
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I watched the Veronica Mars movie

Okay. As much as I was annoyed by the decision to distribute the movie through Flixster, I actually sat down to watch it tonight.

It’s good. I mean, very good.

The portrayal of Neptune is the most winning part of the movie: Everything that was awful about the divide between the rich and the poor has gotten ten times worse since the series ended, the place is more corrupt than ever, and things look bleak. The characters are back, obviously, and they’re great but it’s the noir tone that makes this work. The only real let-down are a few cartoonishly nasty villains taking their three to five minutes to strut their bullshit for old times sake. That stuff doesn’t have the power it did when everyone was in high school.

But that’s easily overlooked. It’s a good movie, and I have to admit that it’s nice to see a real mystery played out in (just under) two hours. I’m not sure how well a Veronica Mars tv show would play out with a grown-up Veronica, but I’m glad I decided to back it.

If you haven’t seen the TV show, the movie would still make sense, but I wouldn’t recommend it. A great many characters breeze in and out, and it can be tough to keep track of them all. Better to watch the show first, if you haven’t seen it. The first season is great, the second season is not as great but still very good, and I haven’t rewatched the third season in a while so I’ll have to let you know. I’m making my wife and kid wait until they’ve seen the whole series before I play the movie; I recommend that for everyone.

14 Mar 2014, 3:20pm
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Downloading the Veronica Mars movie and feeling like a commodity

Veronica Mars, as a tv show and as a set of characters within a set of plot tropes and conventions, is pretty fucking great. Seriously, I enjoyed the hell out of that show and the famous Kickstarter for it has given me a chance to share it with my son. There are so many things that I really liked that bores the shit out of him (any kind of fantasy, anything I write, Buffy, stuff with spaceship battles, whatever) that it’s a real pleasure to see him latch onto something cool.

So, when the opportunity to download the movie came (which is today, because today is the movie premiere) I took it.

I’m not what you call a movie-buyer. I own a few DVDs (maybe a dozen or so, most bought at yard sales) and I watch Netflix, but I’ve never bought and downloaded a full movie before. Still, I know it’s a thing people do. iTunes, right? Or Amazon? I’ve definitely seem Amazon purchases in my affiliate link reports.

But the Veronica Mars Kickstarter did not direct me to either of those options, nor did they stick a file on a server and send me a link to go fetch it. Instead, I had to sign up for Ultraviolet and Flixster.

Apparently, Ultraviolet is a service created by the studios that lets people download films without the worry of omg piracy, and why am I being forced to turn over my name and email to some third-party service just to get the thing I already paid for?

Because I am a commodity. I’m being turned over to these two companies so they can market to me, and they can add my account to their user numbers when they go hunting for new clients.

It’s disappointing. I’d rather watch the DVD, but that’s two months away, apparently. To get the movie now I had to become someone’s marketing opportunity, and I pledged a Kickstarter for the privilege.

The endless flood of updates into my inbox was bad enough, but this tears it. Not more big media corporate Kickstarters for me.

27 Dec 2013, 5:54am
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18 Dec 2013, 5:58am
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I judge each version of A Christmas Carol by the ghosts

And the best ghosts in any version of A Christmas Carol was in Chuck Jones’s 1971 tv special, which you can watch here:

If the embed doesn’t play you can watch it on YouTube. I don’t care much for this version of Ebenezer, and at only 25 minutes the story is obviously extremely short–the big change at the end barely feels earned.

However, as someone who already knows the story very well, I appreciate the abbreviated version of it, especially since it’s so fucking gorgeous. Seriously, there are so many amazing choices being made here, from the candle-lit darkness of Scrooge’s stair to the zooming POV to the inclusion of Ignorance and Want (which I screencapped for my holiday Twitter avatar).

I watched this as a little kid and there was a lot I didn’t understand: What contract did Scrooge have with the sad young woman? What was the big deal about the lunch and the bed curtains? Still, those ghosts scared the naughty out of me.

Of course, if you just can’t bear another version of Dickens’s story, there’s always Ernest Saves Christmas.

Randomness for 12/4

1) Surreal paintings onto the human face.

2) 80′s New Wave stars as they are now.

3) Six wild modern playgrounds.

4) The bulletproof Bespoke suit.

5) The sound arrows make as they whiz by. Video.

6) Movie posters as neon signs.

7) Video artist Patrick Liddell uploaded a video of himself, ripped it, then uploaded it again over and over to track the degradation of the recording. Video.

8 Nov 2013, 3:14pm
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Verdict on THOR: THE DARK WORLD? Netflix

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.

Spoilerish

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.

31 Oct 2013, 6:15pm
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Halloween Live Blog

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.

Fingers crossed.

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.

9:49: Shit.

10 Oct 2013, 6:52am
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Things my son said while we watched Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn

“Nice hair.”

“Oh hey! That’s Sam Axe!”

“wut.”

“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!”

“What?”

“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."

"What? What?”

“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!”

and finally:

“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.


Randomness for 9/27

1) How to clean your ear buds. I had no reason to google this. Nope. No reason at all.

2) Ladies and gentlemen, a cat playing a theremin: video.

3) Classical sculptures dressed as hipsters, and they look great.

4) THE MATRIX as retold by Mom. Video.

5) Hilariously Bad Book Covers.

6) Attention filmmakers: The future is already here. I have been tricked by an April Fools article in September! It even says “April Fools” right there in the tags! Let’s pretend that’s a rare thing, and thank you Rose Fox for catching that.

7) A gif that demonstrates that, when the martial arts ref tells you to stop fighting, you should stop fighting.

  • The prequel to Child of Fire: see here for more details

  • Starred review from Publishers Weekly

  • Starred review from Publishers Weekly

  • Named to Publishers Weekly's "Best 100 Books of 2009" list. Get the audiobook here.

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