Saturday, March 31, 2012

Avengers Assemble: Iron Man (2008)

In the run up to this summer's Avengers movie, Jamie and I are going to be watching the individual superhero movies that will take us right up to the big team-up picture.  Its a lot of flicks.  The Alamo will be running a marathon, but I just can't see myself sitting through what has to be roughly 12 hours of Marvel action of movies I've seen already multiple times.

  • Iron Man
  • The Incredible Hulk
  • Iron Man 2
  • Thor 
  • Captain America
That doesn't mean I don't actually quite like most of the movies, but...  I dunno.  The Planet of the Apes marathon was just truly something Ahab-like that I felt I had to do once in my life.  Now, if they screened all the Superman movies...  now we're talking.

Iron Man (2008) still holds up remarkably well, even if this was the first time I wondered why the 10 Rings terrorist association wanted Tony Stark to build the missile rather than kill him as Obadbiah Stane had requested to garner goodwill and maybe get those Jericho missiles off a truck.

Looking at Iron Man and comparing it to DC's attempt to launch a hydra-headed franchise like Avengers with Green Lantern, its a reminder that WB and DCE are really, really bad at all this, and there's no reason to think that they won't really mess up the upcoming Superman film, Man of Steel.  DC's answer to a cocksure hero like Tony Stark didn't work with the Ryan Reynold's "I'm a loveable goof" take on Hal Jordan, a terrible costume and pretty much no motivation for our hero or the audience to embrace.

Iron Man was actually such a trick and gave such a clear arc to Tony Stark as a character that trying to repeat the narrative success in the sequel didn't really take.  I recall not being exactly bored during Iron Man 2, but also knowing that they were going to learn a lot about what was missing for when they wrote the third installment.

May I also add:  I really like Gwyneth Paltrow in this movie.  I can genuinely say I never thought I'd give a damn about Pepper Potts, but I like her understated performance.  She isn't given that much to do in this boy's own adventure, but she manages to do a lot with what's on the page and feel like a bit more than the girlfriend-in-trouble that Kirsten Dunst got stuck playing over three Spidey movies.  Her scenes with Robert Downey Jr.'s force of nature Tony Stark feel terribly natural in the work-wife sort of vibe, and the dialog just works (see: the scene where she has to swap out Tony's batteries).  It goes a long way.

And, of course, Jeff Bridges as a super-villain?  This movie is just terribly well cast all the way down the line, including Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson, everyone's favorite G-Man.

Its a fun movie, even if it boils down to mad-scientist antics and two dudes slugging it out on a rooftop and goofing on a bit of BS for the conclusion to their spat (I am sure one can read all sorts of symbolism into the Arc Generator killing Stane, but I doubt 1 in 20 filmgoers found themselves weeping at all the lovely irony).  

On to The Incredible Hulk and Liv Tyler.  

Friday, March 30, 2012

Signal Watch Watches: Song of the Thin Man (1947)

Thursday I learned that someone in the ever-reliable movie industry has decided to remake The Thin Man.  That is, as they say, a disappointment, and we can talk more about that production as the movie nears.  But it did fire me up to watch the final movie in the original William Powell/ Myrna Loy run.

Song of the Thin Man (1947) is neck deep in the (white) New York jazz scene of the post WWII era, and catches us up with Nick and Nora now well settled into the role of parents of a 10 year old Nick Jr.  Tonally, the movie is the final conversion of Nick and Nora as sober, semi-responsible society folk and unlike the first appearance of the couple, plays off their "square-ness".  While they joke about booze, I'm not sure I saw them imbibe more than once in the course of the film.

An odd comparison to how they first appeared in 1934, but an interesting reflection of the move from the screwball movies of the pre WWII era to the movies meant for mass consumption as we rolled towards 1950's and TV's incessantly pleasant view of the world.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Signal Watch Reads: Gods of Mars

I've now re-read Princess of Mars and finished Gods of Mars.  I am now heading into Warlord of Mars.  Because, you know:  Mars.

I am also going to spoil the end of the book because its not a spoiler.  Its so that you know something I wish I'd known - the book ends on an amazing cliffhanger.  DO NOT EXPECT NARRATIVE CLOSURE.  The last forty pages of the book, I just kept thinking "wow, this is really not seeming like its wrapping up here.  The first book had that whole epilogue sort of ending.  Not this one."  Nope.  It ends with a very Two Towers sort of insistence that you will read/buy book 3, and you will like it.

And I will.  Well, I have a collection with the first three books in it, so...

its pretty much this for over 200 pages

Nobody is going to accuse Edgar Rice Burroughs of writing deep literature with the Barsoom novels.  His character, John Carter, is not here to give lit majors reasons to write papers.  Sure, you could spend a lot of time exploring ideas of religion, class, race, masculinity and femininity in his work, and it might not be wrong to do so as you grapple with 20th Century genre-fiction's long and shaky history with all of these issues.  But these are books for crazy, escapist high adventure and if you find something else in there, well, there you are.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Substituting Real Life for a life made better through Narrative Construction

In the past few weeks I've had three separate conversations with three separate people from very, very different backgrounds, all of whom were describing their individual situations and then wound up throwing their hands in the air and saying "this isn't how it is in the movies!"  They were not being hyperbolic or kidding.

I don't know if its any different from how CNN's favorite line from witnesses since 9/11 has been "it was like something out of a movie".  On the news, it seems, it's the only way to describe the fact that you're in one of those make-or-break/ life-or-death situations that comes along but once in a blue moon.  Unless you're in movies and your name is John McClane.

Have we found ourselves in a place where we speak more often about the construction of fictional character's lives than our own that our only model for how things go in life is in the condensed and scripted world of television and movies?  Are we learning more from watching Harry and Sally falling in love than we are from watching our parents or talking to friends?

As you know, I watch Mad Men, a program I feel manages to do what good fiction can do, and that's tell us something about the universal "us" or about ourselves as flawed, hypocritical, deceitful, kind, odd people who want to do the right thing, or the thing that we hope is right for us.  The program gets a lot of press coverage, and is well rewarded for its efforts by people who give out statuettes.  By taking place in the 1960's rather than today, we get some comforting distance, all while having a limited omniscience as viewers as we know where the world in which these characters are living is headed while they're just along for the ride.  Its meant everything from the shock of a Muhammad Ali win to the death of John F. Kennedy stopping everyone in their tracks for an episode.

On the season opener, which aired Sunday, apparently the opening sequence in which young advertising executives (not at Don's advertising agency, but another) were throwing bags of water down at African Americans from their Manhattan skyscraper offices while on the sidewalks a group of black protesters asked for equal treatment - was apparently pulled line for line from a newspaper story from the period in which the episode occurs.

A round-up of things (Cap Soldier Dad, UT political cartoon, Batman in his Lambo)

Hi guys!

Over the past few days I've received a few links from you guys, and I guess its appropriate to comment.

Cap Homecoming

If you haven't seen the video of the little boy receiving a visit from Captain America for his birthday, and then learning that the unmasked Cap is the dad he thought was in Afghanistan where he's serving, then you really need to watch it.

An amazing and poignant moment, and a reminder that the US military is a volunteer military of men and women who are also fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters. Here's to all of our Captain Americas coming home.

Yes, I saw the Gawker article and cartoon.  Yes, that's The Daily Texan.

Yes, The Daily Texan is the student paper at UT Austin where I went to school and currently work.  Yes, its embarrassing.

I have literally no idea what the cartoonist was thinking, but contextually, just the use of the word "colored", which is only used in Texas in a weird, gallows humor sort of way to suggest backwards thinking, tells me that this cartoonist was trying to make a point which never quite made it into the strip, and instead just made UT's daily student paper look backward and racist.

If the cartoonist was trying to make a point about how the matronly and condescending media is telling the story by framing the story to a child-like audience to scare them, then...  okay.  I guess I get it even if I don't buy necessarily buy that interpretation.  You'd pretty much need to be handed a few sign posts to get you there.

From looking at the rest of the cartoonist's work on the Texan website, all of her strips (if you want to call them that) are terribly inept and seem to fail to actually convey anything other than a general sense of "I watched CNN last night" and a bit of anger at someone running for student government*.  Frankly, political cartooning is hard.  The skill to create icons and symbolism to convey your opinion or some greater truth with a 2 second glance is hard to come by.  Even among comic nerds, political cartooning gets a certain level of respect for the difficult task it represents.  This student gets an F in cartooning.

But, pulling Eisner's work would mean The Daily Texan would then need to either fill that space with another cartoon (and lord knows how hard that would be to find), or run an ad for Forbidden Fruit or Tom's Tabooley or something.  I just wish the editor or faculty advisor had been able to make a better decision before letting this see print.

Update:  Eisner more or less admitted she screwed up the cartoon.  

Yes, I saw that a guy who owns a Lamborghini apparently likes to dress up as Batman

And I saw that the cops pulled him over for having a bat-symbol, I believe, as his license plate.

Several comics sites talked about the guy, and who can blame them?  A dude who owns a completely amazing black Lamborghini dressed himself up as Batman and drove around in the car (with the top down), pretty much doing what every single person in the world has always wanted to do.

Some were saying this guy does this for kids or a charity or something.  Really, I don't know why he does it, but he's okay in my book.

Speaking of Batman

Here's every window cameo on the 1960's Batman program with Adam West and Burt Ward.

And how can you go wrong hiring Andy Devine to play Santa?  I will tell you:  You cannot.

My Personal Bug-a-Boo of the Day

Mixing historical figures with genre tropes is getting played out.  Especially when you can tell that neither the artist nor the person writing the article (a) realizes this, or (b) realizes that this one in particular was done a long time ago and better as "Tales from the Bully Pulpit".

No, I don't care about the Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter movie.

Thanks to everyone for thinking of me and sending me links!  Keep them coming.

*dear students:  these elections will never matter anywhere, to anyone but to sad people reading grad school applications in basements

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Superman Custody Feud

The story surrounding the Superman legal custody battle is fairly complicated stuff, and there are actual legal minds out there in the blogosphere and in my own readership who can tackle the topic with better accuracy and understanding.

In case you don't know:  Two young men in 1938 signed away the rights to Superman to National Comics for under $200.  The idea was that they'd then work on this strip in this relatively new medium of comics.  Then it became a smash success, eventually bitter feelings grew between Siegel & Shuster and National Comics.  Since the 1950's, its been something of an ongoing legal feud, and its been in litigation again since, oh, I'd say 2005.  By this point Siegel & Shuster have died, only Siegel leaving any heirs.  National Comics became part of Time Warner in the 70's and its a big ol' mess.

The Siegel's likely now own "dude freaking out in left-hand corner"

It seems that Warner Bros., who owns my cable and phone line, Bugs Bunny, Time Magazine, CNN, Entertainment Weekly, The Wizard of Oz and small sections of our brains, presumably, has basically asked the courts to step up and resolve the issue of legal ownership of the Superman character once and for all.  I would guess that at some point the company looks at the ledgers and needs to ensure they don't spend more on lawyers' fees than they stand to make by owning the character.  I also don't blame them, nor would I blame the Seigels for wanting to get this settled.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Everyone congratulate my brother. He is engaged.

I'm going to forego a bit of our usual programming to raise a social media glass to my brother and Amy, who is now his fiancĂ©.  That's right, my brother is engaged.  To a person.

so much more about this now makes sense
I would have a cocktail to celebrate, but I think I've had enough cocktails for a few days.  We'll have plenty of time to celebrate later and plenty to celebrate about.  Right now, I am just very happy for them both, and I hope their bliss can survive the knowledge that Amy will now be loosely related to me.  God help her.

We all thought Amy was probably a little too good for Jason, but whatever.  She will soon be good enough to get half his stuff.

I love my brother, and our family has come to love Amy as we've gotten to know her.  We could not be happier that she'll be, legally, one of us.  Gooble Gobble.

Strange days as we plunge toward the future, but I am thrilled for them both.  Y'all congratulate them.  They deserve the absolute best.

Signal Watch Watches: From Russia With Love

I did.  I totally saw this at The Alamo Drafthouse Slaughter Lane.  Its Connery as Bond.  Robert Shaw all huge and dyed Aryan.  Its a great Bond movie.

Thanks to Jamie, Simon, Leta, JAL, The Admiral and KareBear for coming out.

Also:  if you go down there, may I recommend "The Vesper"?  Its James Bond's cocktail of choice, and its now mine.

I do not have time for this.

So, Mad Men is back

I could spend some time writing about Mad Men and the virtues of the program.  While, no doubt, we can all agree the show has tremendous visual appeal (thanks for bringing back Jessica ParĂ©, TV show!), the witty dialog, the solid character building, the completeness of the world...

Instead I'll talk about how Mad Men is one of the only forms of media that I partake in with a social bent with actual people and not, though you know I love you all, through social media.

With the start of Season 3 (Season 5 debuted Sunday, March 25th), Jamie and I began watching Mad Men with pals Matt and Nicole.  I don't know who had the brain storm to do so, or why we started watching the show together, but we're now entering our third season of getting together on Sunday nights (schedules willing), having some dinner, mixing a cocktail or three and ending the weekend with a bit of TV.

I don't think any of us believe the show isn't a bit soapy, and while I do believe it is one of the best shows on TV, I don't have a religious zeal for the program.  I'm not planning a Mad Men-Con (although, that might be fascinating...).  I haven't written any Mad Men fan fiction.  That you'll ever be allowed to read.*  But, yes, we have had 60's dinners, and I prefer to keep my drinks classic if we enjoy a cocktail during the show.

Aside from a few UT Football games per year, we really don't get together for media events in our home or at the homes of others.  Not even the Super Bowl.  As I've mentioned, I more or less do the comics thing on my lonesome here in Austin, hitting events by myself, and while the good folks at Austin Books are friendly as can be, I don't have many people I hang out with on a regular basis who share a shred of my enthusiasm for comics or superheroes.   I do still manage to catch a few movies with groups from time to time, but the "social" aspect of it also includes a 2 hour block in the middle where we're all sitting together, silently, in the dark.

For some reason, though,  on Sundays when Mad Men is airing, we finish our chores and activities early so that we can get together, watch an episode, pause it when something needs to be discussed, talk trash about anyone crossing Don Draper, and generally make a time of it.

I don't know if we watched it each individually we'd have feelings about the show.  In general, I don't get terribly invested in TV programming and can take or leave shows, even many I've watched for years (we're currently once again choosing to abandon shows at our house that we've watched for a few seasons).  But that's not how I've approached Mad Men, and I understand that's not how many of you approached shows like Deadwood and Sopranos. and other well received, critically acclaimed shows in which I never became invested.

So, with Sunday evening's return of Mad Men, so, too, have we seen the return of social Sunday nights.  I think it helps make it a lot more fun, and a bit more of an event.  There's probably something to that.  But I don't really need more than one show I approach this way.

*okay, in my timeline, Pete Campbell is also a spy and Peggy is secretly a girl wizard.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Signal Watch Watches: Trek Nation (2010)

At this point I think there are as many documentaries about Star Trek as there are Star Trek movies.

I'll be honest with you, I have very warm childhood memories of Trek, and I like the movies, but I am not a Trekker, I'm a bit more of a Trekkie.  I rarely get to watch reruns of either the original series or Next Generation.  I never watched much Voyager, DS9, Enterprise or the short-lived Animated Series.

I have, I suppose, muted enthusiasm for certain brands of Trek, especially those that weren't overseen by Gene Roddenberry.

Trek Nation (2010) isn't actually about the fandom of Star Trek, but the relationship between Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and his son, Rod Roddenberry, and Rod's discovery, as an adult, of the impact his father had on the world.

Sure, the Sci-Fi conventions are all there.  The geeks in their Klingon suits get coverage, a few of the aging stars of the franchise get some camera time and interview terrifically well, but far fewer of them than you'd expect.  But  to ask Shatner to reminisce about who Gene Roddenberry was isn't really the focus.  You do get just an astounding amount of behind the scenes footage, archival stuff, candid stuff...  its impressive what they dug up.

The interview subjects also include series writers like DC Fontana (turns out DC is a lady.  I did not know, but very in keeping with Trek, I think), George Lucas and Stan Lee talking about the impact of Trek and a bit of why it worked, and what that might have said about Roddenberry the Sr.  Also included are writers and producers from the later series, leading right up to JJ Abrams talking Trek with the son of Roddenberry.

That Rod Roddenberry so clearly did not know the man with whom he lived until his father died in 1991 is in every bit of the movie, and even if it can tilt toward familiar hagiography at times, its through the eyes of the grown man both thrilled and injured to see his father's legacy and he becomes a part of it.

I do wish they'd dug a bit deeper, perhaps.  There are some ellipses that could have used a full stop when it comes to how and why the Roddenberry men weren't close, but it doesn't feel incomplete.

I caught this as a two-hour broadcast on the Science Channel, just FYI.  I wasn't sure if it counted as a movie of 2012, but I'm counting it.

Happy Birthday to Jamie

Jamie gets lost in the wilds of Austin

Jamie won't be getting much of a present this year as she was in on the purchase of her present already: the purchase of a pair of tickets to see the Chicago Cubs play in Chicago this summer (v. The Astros).  We're giving the trip to one another in lieu of Christmas and birthday gifts.  We don't get to travel just the two of us all that often.

Tonight, we'll be going out for a dinner at one of Jamie's favorite places, and I hope the weather holds out and we can enjoy a great spring evening.  Then, of course, Mad Men premieres, as a special gift cooked up between me and AMC.

We've had a fantastic year this year, and I look forward to coming around the bend on birthdays next year and knowing that year will have been a good one, too.  But, you know, we get along.  Years with Jamie are usually pretty great.

Happy birthday, Jamie.  I love you.

You guys have no idea how much red wine I had consumed by the time this picture was taken