Monday, February 15, 2016

President's Day: Warren Gamaliel Harding, America's 29th President

Ol' Number 29
I've been trying to use President's Day to spend some time at least Wikipedia-ing the non-All Star Presidents of the United States.  As in any period, the pool of folks in play trying to be President and who actually win out (and what they do when in office) can tell us a lot about the times in which they lived.  So, with the batch of cartoon characters we've currently got gunning for Leader of the Free World, I really look forward to books written about this era, which will be called America's "WTF? Era".

In the wake of World War I and the iffy conclusion of the Woodrow Wilson presidency,* an unlikely Republican took the nomination on the 10th ballot of the GOP convention in the summer of 1920.  back then, party folks showed up at a real convention and really placed ballots.  The convention was not a televised advertisement.  A lot of dirty laundry got aired and political fortunes were won and lost overnight, and if I could reduce the election cycle to four months, I would gladly opt for the old-style form of corrupt politics over today's corrupt politics.

Once selected, Warren G. stayed home and ran a "front porch campaign", something I think 99% of America would fully back if it would mean the news cycle would stop shouting at us.

Coen Bros. Watch: Hail, Caesar! (2016)

As I said to Jamie when we left the movie "Normally I get annoyed when it's clear the filmmakers expect you to watch the movie more than once to 'get it'."  It's a ridiculous value proposition.  And I am not talking about returning to a mystery movie once you've seen how it all plays out so you can see the pieces working together before the big reveal.  I'm referring to a brand of filmmaking that works extra hard to show how damn smart they are that they forget to tell a compelling story and instead leave a breadcrumb trail for a message that, ultimately, you wonder why they felt they needed to make it so complex you needed a Lil' Oprhan Annie Decoder Ring to decipher it, and it still wound up being "Drink your Ovaltine."

But complexity in messaging has always been the case with the Coen Bros., going especially back to Barton Fink and playing out in even some of their most commercially viable films.  There's always a Mike Yanagita scene, a curve ball leaving you with more questions than answers or at least begging to make you look deeper, and, if you sort it out, it unlocks the picture.   After all, the Coen Bros. do not make mistakes.  They do not do extraneous.  That scene is saying something.

Now, I have my ideas about what the final scene means in Barton Fink, but I would always, always be willing to hear someone else explain it to me, because as much as I like that movie and like what it has to say about the assumptions and pretensions of the creative person, I can't quite nail that last scene on the beach.  I have my ideas, but I am willing to be convinced otherwise.

Sometimes I have a lot of patience for what the Coen Bros. are up to (Inside Llewyn Davis), and sometimes I don't (The Man Who Wasn't There).  And, frankly, while I enjoyed The Big Lebowski's screwball atmosphere the first time I saw it, it was the second time I watched it that the pieces fell in place and I felt like I actually "got it".  Which, of course, makes me want to re-watch The Man Who Wasn't There despite the fact I can't really seem to find it.  Maybe I forgive them because it doesn't feel so much like pretension as a solid movie they're putting out there, one where they offer everything up, and you can try to keep up.  And it's okay to have that nagging feeling that maybe you just saw something that you didn't entirely get on the first round.  With them, I really don't mind giving it another shot.

Hail, Caesar! (2016) was marketed as a sort of slapsticky comedy, something the Coens certainly did back in the Raising Arizona days and which they embraced mightily in The Hudsucker Proxy (a movie I will defend with punches, if necessary), riffing on post WWII-era Hollywood and the innate charm, goofiness and endless scandal that were part of the era.

But this is not that movie.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Having a Rough Valentine's Day? You Got Nothing on Theodore Roosevelt

Just a few years out of Harvard, Theodore Roosevelt was living in New York City in the Roosevelt family home with his mother, his father having had passed just a few years before.  He was an incredibly young, brash and vocal member of the New York State Assembly and so was in Albany when he received word his wife had gone into labor with their first child.

He raced home, and en route received word his wife was gravely ill.  By the time he arrived home, the child was born and his wife was comatose.  She passed on the 14th.

At the same time in the same house, his mother also died of typhoid.

This is the entry from Roosevelt's diary on that terrible day.

goddamn, that's heartbreaking

Roosevelt responded to all this by quitting politics, buying a ranch in South Dakota and becoming a cowboy.  That is, until the call to New York politics became too much and he went on to become the TR we all know and love (and fear).

The baby survived, becoming the completely out-of-control Alice Roosevelt, about which TR, as President, once said "I can either run the country or I can control Alice, but I cannot possibly do both."

So, as you throw your pity party for yourself that you're not having a good Valentine's Day, remember - you could have gotten on Tinder today and resolved your issue.  And, you're certainly not responding to any of this in ways that are generally recognized as totally bad-ass, a la President Roosevelt and his cowboy-solution.

Valentine's Day - Let's Talk Romance!

Ah, romance.  Specifically, the kind we think of when we hit Valentine's Day.

Valentine's Day is, let's be honest, for people who are a-courtin' or long-time couples to jump through a few hoops so it's clear they're still engaged and interested in each other and the fire hasn't totally died out, but at a reasonable cost (Christ, you just bought them a Christmas present, like, 6 weeks ago.  You're not made out of money and you're still paying off those credit card bills.).  On Valentine's, single people will start to conspiracy theory minded, insisting those coupled-up folks are rubbing it in the faces of those who don't have someone with whom they readily swap spit.*

No one is going to accuse me of being the world's most romantic-type person.  Sentimental, sure.  But as "romance" is so ill-defined outside the cover of novels which are usually just set-ups for Cinemax-late-night action for people to read like its classy, I'm just not clear on what "romance" is supposed to be.  When I buy flowers, I don't really know why I'm doing it.  It's because I can read a calendar and I can replicate both human emotion and expression of emotion when given access to a website and functioning credit card.

It's probably also instructive to mention that I haven't been on a first date since 1995, and I've never seen The Notebook.  And, I have had to be instructed to please not pause movies and point out why two people supposedly in love are acting like complete morons.

So, what do I find A-OK when it comes to romance?

Let's take a look at some examples of some ideal romances in media.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

TV Watch: Legends of Tomorrow

Oh, man.  So many mixed feelings about this show.

Here's what I think:  If I hadn't been reading superhero comics for 30-odd years, this thing would seem fresh as a daisy  Lots of superheroes having an adventure, living a little, learning a little, comparing and contrasting themselves, speaking entirely in exposition.  It genuinely has the pacing and plotless weaving of a real DC Comics crossover event comic, complete with all the clunky dialog and trying to do too much with too many characters in too little time, and you kind of stick it out through the parts that don't work (which are many), because when it does work, it's a lot of fun.  And, it may actually "count", depending on how well received the thing winds up.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Our Valued Customers: The End is Nigh

On Monday, one of the longest running and one of the best online comics out there, Our Valued Customers, announced that the curtain will be coming down.  If you follow one of my more modern social media outlets - say, fb or tumblr, you've likely seen me link to the strips on a very routine basis.

I'm taking a risk and posting this strip without permission, but I do respect a good cease-and-desist request

The one-panel comic was about those of us who wander the aisles of our local comic booke shoppes, but the humor was always universal.  The set-up of the strip is a caricature of a real person saying a real thing overheard by the folks working the register.  And, having spent time in many-a-comic shop, it all rang exceedingly true.  I believe he's got a network of other comics retailers sending him heir best stuff, but I don't know exactly how this works.  Just that it does.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

They Say It's Great, But I Hate It! - We Want To Hear From YOU!!!

As Fleetwood Mac Sez: You Can Go Your Own Way

As folks who are regular visitors to the site may have gleaned, I don't take any particular pleasure in disliking things which are either popular by mass appeal or critical consensus.  For example, the entire thrust of my discussion of The Revenant was really about how I thought it was a good movie, but maybe not a great movie.  And how I figured this meant I'd spend the next six months trying to decide if I needed to be polite in mixed company, or if I'd just be "that guy" and make noise about my opinion.

A few days ago, an old high school pal, JoeC, started asking folks on facebook about what bands people hated that folks seemed to really dig.  You could say why, and some folks did.

Today he asked folks about what movies people hated that had popular or critical acclaim.  He volunteered his own answers and gave some great explanations why - some were logical, some visceral - and then invited others to join in.

I am afraid I came off as a pretentious jerkface for bitching about Whit Stillman, but, man, I cannot stand that dude's work.

I love the idea of us all working through our cognitive dissonance together.  So, I'm going to ask the same thing Joe asked:

What movie do you hate that seems to get all the kudos, laud & honor - and you think it's just terrible?

Musical Watch: Bye Bye Birdie (1963)

I take exception with the promise of this poster's tagline

My Sophomore year of high school I had participated in some stuff in the drama department at my high school.  By the end of the year they were doing the Spring musical, which, that year, was Bye Bye Birdie.  As I'm not a single-threat, let alone a triple one, I wasn't planning to participate.  But, as I am extremely good at happening to be just standing there, someone came by and grabbed me to work crew on the show.  And, because I believed there was no "I" in "team", I somehow wound up as the guy in the "fly booth".  Which is a small box above the stage with a few cranks where I'd wrangle the signs, "flying" them in and out of view of the stage.

So, for three showings of Bye Bye Birdie in the Spring of 1991 (and lord knows how many rehearsals) I sat in a black box thirty-something feet above the stage and pondered the imponderables of high school while my classmates danced, sang and "acted" their way to glory.*

Consequently, I know the play of Bye Bye Birdie fairly well.  Or did, I guess.  And, for a while, I was really over my fear of heights.

I think I've seen the movie version before, but it was a long time ago, and, frankly, I didn't remember it at all.  I've also seen part of a televised newish version, but I doubt we made it very far through that one.

Monday, February 8, 2016

The Atlantic Takes DC to Task for Dropping the Ball with Superman

Whether you get around to reading my comments below or not, it's probably worth looking at this article in The Atlantic.  This is a fairly serious and well respected news and opinion source, and it's calling out DC Comics/ Entertainment for their poor handling of Superman in the past few decades.  A topic near and dear to my heart.

faster than microwaving his popcorn

I was awake and moving for all of 30 minutes Sunday morning before I looked at my phone and saw my brother sent the link to the story.  Honestly, I kind of rolled my eyes at the headline.  The past twenty or more years have been full of articles in places, both reputable and otherwise, writing about how and why Superman was no longer relevant.  Too goody-goody.  Not po-mo or meta enough.  Not "edgy" enough for today's gnarly kids and their totally radical view of bad-ass-dom.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Sci-Fi Watch: Ex Machina (2015)

So, I think Randy has asked me no less than 3200 times if I'd seen Ex Machina (2015) yet.  Really I have no idea why this movie made him think of me in particular.  And I say that without the usual first paragraph snark.  I guess because I like robots.  He'll have to show up in the comments and explain his reasoning.

I finally decided to check out the movie, mostly to see Oscar Isaac in something where he wasn't Llewyn Davis or a space fighter pilot, and, yes, he's every bit as good here as you may have heard, and we're nowhere close to seeing everything he can do.  I'm really hoping the scripts come his way that can make the most of him and not let him turn into some weird Al Pacino-like parody of a self of him we've not yet seen ossified.

If I hadn't rushed out to see the movie, it was one of those times I looked at a trailer, identified a few plot points and filled in the rest, and was okay with whether or not I'd ever see the film. "Female Automoton Is Objectified, Gets Angry, is Metaphor?" was what I pulled out of the ads I'd seen.  And, truthfully, the movie itself was, more or less exactly what I expected it to be, plot-wise and narratively, but - and I want to be very clear on this - because I think my meaning was misconstrued with the Revenant write-up - if you were going to make that movie, this was as good as that particular movie was going to get.  That's not a knock, that's a "this is where I am as a movie-goer who has absorbed a lot of stories in 40 years on this spinning rock."