Thursday, September 29, 2011

Recommended Reading

Steve Kornacki looks at the circus-like atmosphere pervading the GOP's presidential field, and explains why the sudden implosion of Rick Perry means that marginal candidates like Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain are getting renewed bursts enthusiasm from the Republican base -- even as it's understood that they don't have a snowball's chance at actually getting the nomination.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Great Right Dopes

Last Thursday saw yet another in the seemingly ever-flowing stream of GOP presidential debates, which have drawn more attention lately for the belligerent, Rorschach-like reactions from their audiences than for the shenanigans of the contenders. From cheering Rick Perry's tally of executions in Texas to being very okay with the notion of letting a patient die due to lack of health coverage to booing a gay soldier currently serving in Iraq, the fact that these vocalizations are so freely elicited provides a very instructive window into the mindset driving the current model Republican voter.

So driven by blind ideology are they that all notions of decorum have been left by the wayside, making reactions like the above somehow acceptable. Now, this is hardly a new phenomeon, as we saw its roots first branch out during the latter days of the McCain/Palin campaign in '08. But thanks to regular doses of sunshine and water via three years of hateful invective from politicians desperate to assure electoral victories, we're seeing this hate now boiled down to its purest form, all but assuring that the '12 presidential content will be an exceptionally nasty one.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Bustin' Back in Theaters!

Not sure if this is a move to test the waters for the long-planned third Ghostbusters flick or merely a reaction to Disney's success with their Lion King re-release these past two weekends, but regardless of the whys-and-wherefores, '80s babies like me got some good news late last week with word that Sony will be re-releasing the original "Who ya gonna call?" classic to 500 screens nationwide next month for three showings on three consecutive Thursdays leading up to Halloween. Having greatly enjoyed the 25th anniversary theatrical reissue of Back to the Future at this same time last year, I have to admit that this news gets my nostalgic heart all aflutter. Yes, I've lost count of the number of times I've seen both of these movies and can practically recite them by heart (yeah, yeah, even the second one that everyone but me seems to hate...), but the chance to see the first one up on the big screen with a crowd of fellow fans is pretty tough to pass up. For more info as it unfolds, including presumably which theaters you need to hit up, click "like" on the official Ghostbusters Facebook page.

Trunkless

Earlier in the month I wrote a (mostly) humorous piece reflecting on the need for Superman's uniform to be adorned with the red trunks that have been a trademark since the 1930s, in defiance of the newly-trunkless design for the iconic hero in the comic books and the upcoming feature film. Well, clearly I'm not the only one who's spent time meditating on this one. Proving out the adage that you take your wisdom where you find it, Pastor Skye Jethani, writing for the Evangelical Christian website Out of Ur, has found some unexpected -- and surprisingly insightful -- leadership lessons that one can take away from the decision-making surrounding Superman's (lack of) shorts.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Nostalgia Theater: Starman Edition

We bring back "Nostalgia Theater" this week after a layover of nearly half a year with this little-seen, mostly-forgotten curio from the mid '80s. Starman was a TV series that aired on ABC during the 1986-1987 season, based on the 1984 John Carpenter film of the same name (and not the DC Comics character, also of the same name). The movie, about an alien being who's lost on Earth and trying to find his way back to his homeworld, was clearly an attempt by Carpenter to "do" E.T., which had set the box office alight two years prior -- but with Jeff Bridges instead of a crinkly animatronic puppet as the titular character.

Roadtripping toward his pickup site with the widowed Jenny Hayden (Karen Allen) -- whose late husband he's assumed the shape of by replicating the DNA in a lock of his hair -- while evading the authorities, the Starman learns what it means to be human, forms a romantic bond with Hayden, and eventually leaves Earth (but not before leaving her with a *ahem* special present). In my opinion, it's a perfectly forgettable movie that hasn't retained much significance beyond the fact that it earned Bridges his first "Best Actor" Oscar nom.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Cop Talk

Back in march I posted about MGM's planned remake/reboot/restart of their RoboCop franchise (one of the few arrows left in the Lion's quiver beyond 007), with acclaimed Brazilian director José Padilha signing to helm after Darren Aronofsky vacated the big chair. Since then it's been radio silence, but Padilha recently talked up the new Robo to Dutch site, Film1 while promoting his new film Elite Force 2, and here's what he had to say (blame the iffy translation on Google Chrome):
Earlier this year, you announced that the reboot of RoboCop will direct. The original from 1987, directed by Dutch director Paul Verhoeven, with that movie made ​​its debut in Hollywood. How will your vision differ from those of Verhoeven? 
I love the sharpness and political tone of RoboCop , and I think that such a film is now urgently needed. But I will not repeat what Verhoeven has done so clearly and strongly. Instead I try to make a film that will address topics that Verhoeven untreated. If you are a man changes into a robot, how do you do that? What is the difference between humans and robots developed? What is free will? What does it mean to lose your free will? Those are the issues that I think. 
RoboCop is your first movie in America. Like the political apparatus of Rio de Janeiro, the Hollywood film industry, a system in which not everyone thrives. What is your strategy to survive in Hollywood? 
I try to make movies that I like, that I feel and I deal with social problems involved. I will continue to do where I work. If I can develop in Hollywood, then I make a movie with all the means Hollywood. If that fails, then that movie is not.
I think the biggest part of making a new RoboCop work in this day and age is having a director onboard who understands the property's potential for social commentary and critique -- something that elevates it above your standard blood-and-guts actioner. Verhoeven got it, which is why his film still resonates with audiences nearly a quarter-century later, and it sure seems like Padilha gets it too. I just hope the studio system allows him to make the personal film he wants.

Save the Millionaires

Here's a brilliant segment from last night's Daily Show that takes a wayward comment by a Louisiana congressman about the impoverished state in which he finds himself thanks to his current tax rate (that I also mocked via Twitter earlier in the week) and spins it into comedy gold that lays bare the ridiculousness of the economic arguments being proffered by the GOP:

From The Onion...

Oh man, so much I relate to about this one:
Cool Dad Raising Daughter On Media That Will Put Her Entirely Out Of Touch With Her Generation
From the article:
Since her early childhood, a period sources said featured a Danger Mouse–themed birthday party that utterly baffled the assembled 6-year-old guests, Campbell's daughter has been fed a steady diet of marginalizing cinematic masterpieces from the world's very best filmmakers.  
"Jean-Luc Godard, Stanley Kubrick, Billy Wilder—you simply need to know who these men are if you want to call yourself culturally literate," Campbell said of the three iconic directors whose creations could not have less utility to his daughter as she searches for a way to achieve a sense of belonging among her fellow middle-schoolers. "Sure, she makes a face when I don't let her see some ridiculous movie with CGI robots because it's John Sayles Night and we're watching The Secret Of Roan Inish instead. But I'm giving her a leg up, even if she doesn't know it."  
"I'm not unreasonable about this," Campbell added. "If she doesn't want to watch Harold Lloyd shorts tonight, that's no problem. We still have another five or six Prisoner episodes to get through."
Read the rest here.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Government-Sponsored Islamophobia, Addendum

After last week's story about the FBI offering seminars on how to deal with average American Muslims (i.e. treat them with suspicion, assume they're all sleeper agents, etc.), writer Spencer Ackerman, who first broke the news for Wired, has a piece up on his blog wherein he discusses the negative reaction he's received to his initial report from the "Booga booga! Stealth jihad! Creeping Sharia!" crowd that this kind of thing usually brings out of the woodwork.

Specifically, he talks about the common refrain deployed by the nutbar anti-Muslim contingent when called on their bigotry, couched in some variation of, "Have you read the Koran? You need to!" which is usually deployed by people who have demonstrably not read the Qur'an beyond a few passages, bereft of all context, and who most certainly haven't done any research beyond having their worst impressions confirmed by a few trusted sources and happily leaving it at that.

Says Ackerman:
"Read the Koran!" has become such a ubiquitous and self-righteous exhortation of the Sharia-Panic circle that it's easy to overlook exactly what it means. At its heart, it presumes that a religious text sacred to almost two billion people around the world for 1500 years is... easy to understand.  
Put aside for a moment the additional presumption that the Koran is a blueprint for war, something like Mein Kampf. That's noxious enough. But just consider that for centuries, theologians, scholars and believers have grappled with the meaning of the Koran -- constructing reconciliatory arguments about its contradictory passages, incorporating counterevidence, arguing with others who give slightly more weight to this-or-that textual nuance. Whole schools of thought develop -- often heatedly -- about the correct understanding of Islam. And none of that matters.  
Because after 9/11, a group of Americans with minimal prior exposure to Islam figured it all out, for all time. They discovered the plot that lurks within the heart of the Koran. They can even quote you passages, like real scholars. The quest for meaning and understanding has reached an endpoint. 
Proving out the point about folks becoming self-appointed scholars despite their demonstrable lack of real world experience, with neither facts nor anything else changing their position, there was the thread that unspooled on my Facebook wall in response to my post on the subject after one participant, R (who also spurred this discussion and this discussion), felt the FBI was right-on, full steam ahead. Read past the jump to see the conversation that ensued. As with previous Facebook threads I've posted here, I've gone ahead and redacted all names except my own, but everything else is exactly as it played out.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Ch-Ch-Changes

Last time we talked Star Wars here was when I commented on the friggin' God-awful box art for the "Complete Saga" blu-ray set containing all six flicks. Well, ghastly though it is, that didn't stop me from locking in my pre-order, and the discs arrived this past Friday. Of course, as with all things Star Wars these days, while there's been much anticipation for the seminal series to finally make its hi-def debut, there's been just as much teeth-gnashing at the constant tinkering that creator/abusive parent George Lucas has inflicted on his films over the decades (especially the original three), tweaking, nipping and tucking here, there, and everywhere, like a rhinoplasty addict armed with an unlimited budget -- remember that gem up-top?

I've said a few times that I really don't mind all the changes. Ultimately, he can do whatever the heck he wants. I just wish he'd hit "Save As" every once in awhile so we could watch the movies in their unvarnished forms too. I'm out of town right now, so I'll have to wait 'till later in the week to get a full gander at all alternations (one of which I've made my feelings plain on), but as this graphic courtesy of The Geek Twins helpfully illuminates, it's not like Lucas' tendency toward retroactive engineering started with the 1997 "Special Edition" releases and the onset of CGI technology (though that sure launched it into hyperdrive). No, it stretches right back to practically the moment the first Star Wars came to theaters (no "Episode IV" and no "A New Hope").

Click here to check it out.

Spectral Televisions

The last time Fox TV went into business with DC Comics, we emerged with Human Target, which showed enough promise at the outset  -- both creatively and in the Nielsens -- to warrant a second season pickup, but which swiftly went south on both fronts thanks to the dreaded network interference, and was put out to pasture last May. But while Target may have flamed out a lot quicker than anyone involved (and I) would have liked, that isn't stopping the net from going back to the DC well once again, with this week's news that they're developing a weekly skein based on long-running supernatural vigilante The Spectre, who first appeared in 1940 courtesy of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel (along with artist Bernard Baily).

Friday, September 16, 2011

3D Deep Sixed?

Despite the fact that seemingly every big blockbuster that hit theaters this past summer came with an option to view in 3D, the only time I took up that offer was with Transformers 3, which I didn't pay the premium price for (and we all know the kind of experience I had with that, anyway). Based on the dwindling box office returns from 3D screens, it sure seems like I wasn't the only one who's decided to take a pass on the third dimension of cinema, putting to the lie Avatar director James Cameron's conceit that eventually 3D will be the only way we watch movies. As things stands, it sure seems like this is a fad whose time may have passed*, and Daniel Engber at Slate lays out some of possible reasons why.

* Until Avatar 2, that is.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Government-Sponsored Islamophobia

I spend plenty of time on this site going after pundits and politicos who make their bones by stoking the fear of Islam and Muslims among the dullards who don't know any better, and while that does offer its little pleasures, it's always been with the understanding that, for all their bluster, these folks' Islamophobic ambitions are ultimately inhibited by the constitutional freedoms that ensure protect all of us. I've never believed that the government is "out out to get" Muslims, and I still don't.

All that said, my shorthairs do tend to stand on end when I read things like yesterday's story by Spencer Ackerman at Wired, which lays out in exacting detail an FBI program that trains agents to view Muslims -- average, everyday Muslims -- as being essentially hardwired for violence. And while this program, presented through several briefings, is disclaimed by the bureau as optional, the mere fact that a government body that's supposed to protect all of us is propagating this hate is worrisome indeed. From the piece:

Monday, September 12, 2011

Recommended Reading

The Daily Show's Muslim correspondent Aasif Mandvi on how the events of 9/11 ended up shaping his religious identity. I have a feeling this echoes the experiences of many American Muslims in the post-9/11 world. I know it does for me, certainly.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11/2011

I'd initially intended to type up some kind of a reflection about the events of ten years ago and their impact on me and mine. But before I could even get a decent thought-flow going, I started reading the many, many wonderful pieces that have popped up on the web in the past week and realized I really don't have anything to add to the discussion that hasn't already been put out there -- and much better -- by others. I didn't lose anyone in the attacks (thankfully), and I haven't personally dealt with any Islamophobia in the years since (also thankfully), so the two main avenues for expression aren't really as open to me as they are to others. I guess in that sense that makes my 9/11 experience a quintessentially American one.

As do most of us, I remember where I was and who I was when I heard the news of the first plane hitting the towers, and the roil of emotions I felt at that moment can never fully be wiped away. Of course, given the distance of time, a kind of gauze descends on our collective memories, and even the many airings of old news footage currently making the rounds doesn't change the fundamental reality of human existence that the further away something gets from us, the less impactful it seems. Instead of an experiential "now," it becomes an archived "then." The other reality is that the subsequent decade has brought far too much political and social context to ever view 9/11 as an event unto itself. Too many things that shouldn't have changed did, and too many things that should have changed didn't.

As he does so often, writer Mark Evanier encapsulated these feelings on his own excellent site:

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Morrison on "GD" Superman

A brief update on yesterday's piece about the North Carolina comic shop owner who found an insult against God in a two-letter grunt of pain by Superman. So exorcised was this character that he immediately cancelled all orders for Action Comics going forward, as well as all other work by author Grant Morrison. As soon as this broke, I was wondering if Morrison would have something to say, and whether it would involve the words "idiot" and "moron."

No luck on the latter part, but here's his response via DC's blog:
It should go without saying that the offending panel and caption, a mere ‘GD’, is a sound effect grunt – to suggest Superman’s breath being forced through gritted teeth – much like ‘DHH’, ‘GNUHH’ or the many others used throughout this book and in general in the comics business. It’s not in any way representative of God or a curse.

Mosque Madness in Murfreesboro

The saga of the mosque in Murfreesboro, TN and the efforts by a dedicated band of local bigots to prevent its construction has been playing out for more than a year now, with nary an end in sight. Last time we checked in, the anti-mosque crew had exhausted all legal avenues open to them, but they were promising to soldier on.

But legal arenas aren't the only forum in which this case is being decided -- there's also the court of public opinion, and as Janell Ross at HuffPo explains, that's a venue that's proving just as twisty and tempestuous. There's so much ground covered in her article that I won't try to encapsulate it all, but suffice it to say, this is one of those pieces that makes you feel proud of people's capacity for basic, fundamental decency, and at the same time disgusted by the equally-present capacity for defiant, blatant, belligerence.

That's the human condition in a nutshell, I guess.

By the way, via the article, here's a 25-minute short film by Eric Allen regarding the mosque controversy, a longer version of which is promised for next year:

Friday, September 09, 2011

Comical Re: Action

As I alluded to earlier in the week, I picked up the first issue of the newly-renumbered Action Comics on Wednesday, and as I tweeted that evening, I thoroughly enjoyed it -- far more than I ever would have expected to -- and look forward to seeing this new take on Superman evolve in the months ahead. But while the general mood across the web seems to reflect my reaction, that shouldn't be taken to mean that everyone is onboard with the Grant Morrison-led reboot.

And while opinions are opinions and everyone is entitled to like or dislike what they please, one over-the-falls crazy overreaction has been registered by the owner of North Carolina comic shop The Comic Conspiracy (which should not in anyway be confused with the great Bay Area store Comics Conspiracy), who's decided to boycott Action forthwith over what he perceives as an overt attempt by Morrison to insert blasphemy into the mouth of the Man of Steel.

Witness this stream-of-consciousness onslaught courtesy of the store's Facebook page:

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Recommended Reading

With the post-Labor Day spell signaling the start of the school year for many (including yours truly), award-winning teacher Ron Clark (who was the subject of a made-for-TV movie a few years back starring Friends alum Matthew Perry) offers a list of things that teachers really want to tell parents. Not being a part of the public school system, I can't relate to everything here, but a lot of what he says is just plain ol' fashioned common sense. Definitely worth a look.

Everything Ends

Comedy Central's Daily Show/Colbert Report late night tag team have finally returned to the airwaves after what seemed an interminable hiatus, and Colbert's "The Word" segment from last night typifies the kind of off-kilter social commentary I'd been missing. Funny, thought-provoking, and bonus points for how he manages to work in a dig at this summer's flop-tastic Green Lantern flick:

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

The Social Justice Superman

I've already gone on record as feeling pretty "meh" towards DC Comics big "New 52" reboot initiative, but then I've also gone on record as saying that I'm pretty clearly not the audience this thing is aimed at. Of course, as you'd expect, the one character I'm understandably curious about is Superman, and while I'm not crazy about the costume redesign by Jim Lee, I'm still very interested in how they plan to rewrite his origin (which has itself been re-written a few times in the recent past).

The sole reason for this interest (notwithstanding my love of the character) is because it's being implemented by writer Grant Morrison (whose Rolling Stone interview -- wherein he concurs that this reboot is akin to a "death spiral" -- I linked to here). With the first issue of Morrison's Action Comics run re-envisioning the original superhero as a social justice crusader in T-shirt, jeans, and work boots due to hit stores tomorrow, the author chatted at length with Newsarama, and spelled out how he aims to make the Man of Steel relevant in a postmodern, post-9/11 world.

Here's one exchange that stuck out:

Monday, September 05, 2011

Recommended Reading

Former Republican operative Michael Lofgren has a lengthy piece up wherein he explains why he left the workaday life of political activisim behind, in the process echoing a point I've made more than a few times on this very site about how the inmates have taken over the asylum in the GOP (a situation which the ascendancy of the Tea Party has only exacerbated). Says he:
To those millions of Americans who have finally begun paying attention to politics and watched with exasperation the tragicomedy of the debt ceiling extension, it may have come as a shock that the Republican Party is so full of lunatics. To be sure, the party, like any political party on earth, has always had its share of crackpots, like Robert K. Dornan or William E. Dannemeyer. But the crackpot outliers of two decades ago have become the vital center today: Steve King, Michele Bachman (now a leading presidential candidate as well), Paul Broun, Patrick McHenry, Virginia Foxx, Louie Gohmert, Allen West. The Congressional directory now reads like a casebook of lunacy. 
And make no mistake about it, Lofgren also reserves plenty of fire for the Democrats as well, who he feels are just as complicit as their congressional counterparts for the current shabby state of our governance, but per his thesis, the difference between the two parties comes down to one of haplessness vs. maliciousness. Read the rest at the link. It's a long one, but it's well worth it.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Fearing Sharia

We've spoken at length on this site about the coordinated, concerted effort by a marginal few to sow fear and distrust of both Islam and Muslims, with the convenient target of Sharia -- Islamic religious law -- serving as a readymade boogieman upon which this cadre of bigots and enablers can project their hate. This is being manifest by several anti-Sharia measures wending their way through legislatures across the country that would, in effect, make it illegal to be Muslim in America ("No," the laws' proponents will no doubt argue, "only if you practice Islam!").

Now, while I think these measures are somewhat alarming, I also think they'll ultimately fail. It's been my experience in the past that windbags like this usually blow so hard that they eventually bluster themselves out. Still, it's always helpful to get a clear sense of what it is, precisely, that the anti-Muslim crowd (and yes, that's what these people are) rail against, and to that end, here's Yale Religious Studies professor Eliyahu Stern to lay out why we have nothing to fear from Sharia in America, creeping or otherwise.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

From The Onion...

I have a feeling this sums up perfectly what many of us felt as we watched Dick Cheney smirk his way across the TV news gauntlet as he hawked his new memoir of fictionalized nonfiction.
New Cheney Memoir Reveals He's Going To Live Full, Satisfied Life Without Ever Feeling Remorse And There's Nothing We Can Do About It  
NEW YORK—The publication this week of Dick Cheney’s memoir, In My Time, has revealed the former vice president enjoys a fulfilling life unaffected by any sense of guilt or regret and there’s absolutely nothing any of us can do about it. “This unique look at an otherwise intensely private man’s inner thoughts shows us he couldn’t be prouder of his life’s work and will never feel one single moment of anguish over his actions no matter how desperately we want him to,” book critic James L. Warner writes of the 576-page memoir’s disclosure that Cheney would spend his retirement never second-guessing his advocacy of a disastrous war, the torture of detainees, illegal wiretapping, or tax cuts that created devastating budget deficits and crippled the U.S. economy. “Nothing we do will ever change the fact that this man sleeps very soundly at night and, in fact, looks back fondly upon a long, rewarding career. You almost have to admire that.” The book also reveals that none of the former vice president’s five heart attacks has caused him even the slightest amount of pain.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Putting Victims First

This week brought the news that Law & Order brand, having already migrated across the Atlantic for its very-successful UK iteration, has now landed in South Africa, where a Law & Order: Capetown is being readied for a 2012 debut -- definitely curious to see how that one turns out. But while the brand is branching out in all directions across the globe, stateside it's still all about Special Victims Unit, which now has to not only hold up the flag for the whole franchise, but also keep the lights on past this season while weathering the loss of one of its signature stars. That's no easy task, and it's the mess that writer/producer Warren Leight unknowingly wandered into when he signed on to become SVU's new showrunner late last season. In a far-ranging interview with TV Guide, Leight (who also guided Criminal Intent through some of its best seasons) discusses his plans to deal with Elliot Stabler's absence, what's next for Olivia Benson, and how he hopes to keep the series going well past year thirteen.

Why Superman Needs The Red Underoos

As a Superman fan for as long as I can remember, I've seen the character suffer through his fair share of derision over the years, and one of the things that's received the most derision has always been his famous red trunks, otherwise known as the infamous "underwear on the outside" that he's had since his debut, and which every actor to play the role onscreen has sported. This week, however, we've gotten not one, but two different redesigns of the iconic costume that dispense with the trunks, and both demonstrate, I think, why they were there to begin with.

First up, there's Jim Lee's new take on Superman as part of the ballyhooed DC reboot (the announcement of which I first discussed here), which made a one-panel appearance at the end of this week's debut release, Justice League #1 (a book I was vastly underwhelmed by):
There's just something about this design that I find off-putting. I'm not sure whether it's the vaguely-fascistic collar, the needless aztecking splotched all over his armor, or the fact that freakin' Superman even needs armor. Taken together though, it just feels focus-grouped to within an inch of its life, without any kind of eye toward what's made the look last unchanged for so long. Part of that look is the red trunks (along with the yellow belt), which you realize after looking at the Lee version helped give a much-needed sense of visual balance.

The other reason for Superman really needing those trunks is demonstrated quite ably by these pics of a costumed Henry Cavill on the set of the now-lensing Man of Steel. These might be considered mildly spoilery, so just to be safe, I've placed them after the jump: