Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Smallville - The Complete Series: Myth, Metaphor, and the Man of Steel

I thought I'd said everything I needed to say about Smallville in May when discussing the series' long-in-coming finale, but after spending most of the last week digging into the complete series set containing all ten seasons of the proto-Superman skein I'm struck by how, despite the many, many concerns I've voiced with the series' sloppy storytelling techniques and narrative cul-de-sacs throughout its run, none of that particularly mattered to me. Instead, we're left with the towering achievement of the series itself: 218 episodes of a series that stayed aloft for an entire decade when its whole raison d'être was pointedly about not being aloft, and which can now be viewed not as piecemeal distillates of a tale that may or may not reach its fruition, but instead one long story with a specific beginning, middle, and end, demonstrating the power of this character to reinvent himself for every generation.

Monday, November 28, 2011

"Conscious Cynicism"

Anyone who's been following the Republican primary process this electoral go-round knows that it's taken on the characteristics of a slow motion car crash, with bets being placed prior to every debate whether one of the candidates or the audience will deliver the most cringe-inducing viral video moment. As he's been doing evermore frequently of late, David Frum (one of my favorite sensible conservatives), again ponders the question of what happened to the Republican party in a lengthy new piece for New York magazine. Taking aim at the essential intellectual disconnect at the heart of current conservative orthodoxy, he says:
Some liberals suspect that the conservative changes of mind since 2008 are opportunistic and cynical. It’s true that cynicism is never entirely absent from politics: I won’t soon forget the lupine smile that played about the lips of the leader of one prominent conservative institution as he told me, “Our donors truly think the apocalypse has arrived.” Yet conscious cynicism is much rarer than you might suppose. Few of us have the self-knowledge and emotional discipline to say one thing while meaning another. If we say something often enough, we come to believe it. We don’t usually delude others until after we have first deluded ourselves.  

Recommended Reading

Dean Obeidallah breaks down the whys-and-wherefores of how an 18 year old high school student's Twitter diss of Kansas Governor Sam Brownback morphed into a national story thanks to the governor's thin skin. I'm sure the folks in KS are pleased at how their tax dollars are being dispatched.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Frank Miller and the Conan Doctrine

We've been having some fun (okay, a lot of fun) with comic creator Frank Miller lately, what with his rampant Islamophobia and his hilarious, Walt Kowalski-esque response to Occupy Wall Street. But two pieces I read recently -- one about Miller and one not -- unintentionally piggybacked off one another to help paint a very revealing portrait of the Manichean views that drive Miller and his ideological fellow travelers, and also how such thinking has hogtied the Republican primary process thanks to the expectations of today's GOP voters.

In digging into Miller's Occupy comments, Rick Moody at The Guardian argues (as I and others have previously) that anyone who's taken a real look at Miller's work over the years shouldn't be too surprised by their viciousness, nor the fact that he made them. Moody then goes one further and argues that the entire machinery of mainstream filmmaking (here in the States, anyway) is geared towards fostering and perpetuating similar such simplistic appraisals of complex issues:

Friday, November 25, 2011

Nostalgia Theater: The Untouchables Edition

One of the most valuable currencies in Hollywood is the power of brand recognition. This is at least partially to blame for the long-lived trend of taking old TV shows and turning them into feature films. Pre-existing awareness of a title means that much less time the studio has to spend fostering said awareness from the ground up. Of course, the brand itself doesn't mean anything if what we end up with is no good, which is why, for every flick like Maverick or The A-Team that takes its premise and really does something fun and engaging, we get forgettable crap like The Dukes of Hazzard and Wild Wild West.

Another trend we've seen, albeit less frequently, is when a TV property is translated to film, then subsequently reverse-engineered back to the small screen. The most recent example of this phenomenon is ABC's Charlie's Angels reboot this fall (developed by Smallville's Al Gough and Miles Millars), which has the distinction of being the first casualty of the 2011 season. But rather than spend this "Nostalgia Theater" mocking also-rans, I wanted to look at an entry in the TV-movie-TV sub-subgenre that grabbed ahold of the ball and ran with it creatively (though not so much commercially -- we'll get to that in a second): the 1990s revival of The Untouchables.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Fowl Play

A few days ago, anti-Muslim nutbar Pamela Geller blazed a new trail in her never-ending battle against truth, justice, and the American way by assailing the Butterball company's complicity in "stealth jihad" for selling halal-certified turkeys (prepared according to Islamic standards) just in time for Thanksgiving (duh-duh-DAH). Muslims: Conquering America one turkey at a time.

In the spirit of the day though, I really am thankful for people like Geller who are so out-and-proud with their stupidity, because they offer an immediate gut-check for all the rest of us over here in "Sane-ville" to know how not to be. And that can't help but be a good thing. So keep on truckin', Pam! Anyway, check out Geller's lunatic screed for all the unintentional hilarity, then read Wajahat Ali's response for humor of the intentional variety.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Recommended Reading

Tim O'Neil, whose excellent blog "The Hurting" I've enjoyed for many years now, reacts to the recent, horrifying spectacle of protesting students being pepper-sprayed in the face at UC Davis and turns it into a broader, lengthier reflection on poverty, capitalism, and the loss of hope both can engender that's well worth your time.

Cavill on the Cape

I spent some time a few weeks back engaging in a bit of armchair psychoanalysis vis-a-vis the Clark Kent-Superman dichotomy in a piece that appeared both here and at The Huffington Post, and it's a subject I expect to dig into a bit further when I take a look at the upcoming Smallville complete series set next week.

In the meantime though, Geoff Boucher at "Hero Complex" chatted up incoming big screen Superman Henry Cavill about that very subject while the actor was promoting his currently-in-theaters Immortals. Although Cavill understandably plays coy, he still manages to give some insight into how he views the character(s) and his approache to the material. Click past the jump for some highlights:

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Just Being Frank

When comic writer/artist Frank Miller let fly his criticism of the Occupy movement a few weeks back, it seemed to split the web in half, with comic professionals and others quickly chiming in with posts expressing either "right on" or "wrong-o" sentiments. Between the Occupy thing and the anti-Muslim thing, I've gotten quite a bit of mileage out of assailing Miller's crackpottery of late, but Colin Smith -- whose excellent blog "Too Busy Thinking About My Comics" has become a regular read for me thanks to his scholarly insights on the funnybook form -- goes further than most by really digging into Miller's oeuvre and tracking the metamorphosis of his views from The Dark Knight Returns in the '80s to his current output. It's a fascinating analysis that paints Miller's political (mental?) descent in stark, vivid terms.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Super Bad

In the wake of the long-winded, unnecessary debt ceiling fight last summer, it's now looking like the so-called "Super Committee" tasked with crafting substantive deficit reduction measures in its aftermath is barreling straight towards an admission of failure/defeat come their agreed-upon deadline this coming Wednesday. This failure is then set to trigger substantial cuts in defense and Medicare spending (on the order of $1.2 billion annually) come 2013. That trigger -- whose consequences have the potential to be absolutely catastrophic to both areas of expense, and the economy as a whole -- was supposed to be a "fear of God" mechanism that would keep the committee's membership (from both sides of the aisle) on task, but apparently even that wasn't enough to overcome the toxic atmosphere of partisan CYA that pervades Washington these days. This might sound like it's a bad thing, but as Paul Krugman explains, maybe not.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Nostalgia Theater: Automan Edition

We turn the "Nostalgia Theater" spotlight this week on a true time capsule of the early '80s -- with all that implies -- courtesy of legendary schlock TV purveyor Glen A. Larson. Inspired by the Tron's then-groundbreaking visual effects technology upon that film's 1982 release, Larson, creator of the original Battlestar Galactica and the original Knight Rider, dreamed up a superhero series the following year that could draw in the same throngs that were captivated by the Disney film

The big miscalculation, of course, was that there were no throngs captivated by Tron, and so the end result was Automan, starring Desi Arnaz, Jr. (whose career I don't think ever recovered from this) and Chuck Wagner as nebbishy computer programmer and high tech superhero, respectively. I could try to sum up the ludicrous idiocy of this thing for you, but I'll make it easier on myself by just having you check out this intro from the pilot, which seems to assume everyone in the audience is the dumbest person on Earth:

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Occupy Gotham

Tying in tangentially with my Batman-Occupy post from Sunday (now up at HuffPo), here's a vid that asks the Dark Knight to put his money where his mouth is:

From The Onion...

With Newtie's recent emergence at the top of GOP polls, this one from last March seemed especially apt:
Even Newt Gingrich A Little Depressed By Prospect Of Him Running For President
One highlight:
While confirming his ardent desire to be president, the former Speaker of the House told reporters the mere fact that American voters were seriously considering Newt Gingrich to be a viable Republican candidate in 2012 was a fairly distressing development that made him question the direction the country was moving in. 
It's funny because it's true. Read the rest here.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Brain Freeze

Governor Rick Perry's debate meltdown last week -- wherein he simply could not bring himself to remember which government agency he'd eliminate as president -- carried a shockwave so destructive to his candidacy that it actually travelled back in time and retroactively dubbed Howard Dean's yell from '04 as his "Rick Perry Moment."  Pretty much as soon as the Perry flub occurred, I think all eyes immediately turned towards Saturday Night Live to see how the veteran sketchcom would make sport of it, and they didn't disappoint this past weekend.

The Republican primary process this go-round has been especially bountiful for the show, gifting its writers with a prefab cadre of caricatures who've already done most of the heavy lifting comedy-wise before they even arrive at the scene, and the "oops" heard 'round the world helped make for an all-time great in the already-impressive canon of SNL debate parodies. My favorite bit comes when, after several uncomfortable seconds of Bill Hader's Perry flailing and fumbling, Jason Sudeikis as Mitt Romney pleads with the moderators to ease off: "I want to be president, but not like this."

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Occupy: What Would Batman Do?

I spoke my piece about the disturbing worldview of comic artist Frank Miller a month ago after his graphic novel Holy Terror -- a celebration of bigotry dressed up as a celebration of patriotism -- hit the shelves, and I was happy to let it be at that. But then he went and chimed in on the "Occupy" protests that have been multiplying all over the place, and, well, I just had to wade back into the deep end of the crazy pool. From Miller's blog early last week (with hat-tip to Bleeding Cool for pointing me there):

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Shades of Black

A couple of days ago I was having a conversation with a friend wherein I contrasted the apparent disparity between the wholehearted embrace that's greeted Herman Cain by (some on) the right with the abject disgust these same folks hold for Barack Obama. Far more than disagreement with his policies (which I myself have no shortage of, just to be clear), the venom expressed toward the latter crosses over into the questioning of his very legitimacy -- as both the president and as an American -- and this illegitimacy is couched in any number of blind alleys such as Birtherism, Socialism, or what-have-you.

What's more perplexing, from the perspective of strict conservative dogma if nothing else, is that Obama has seemingly done everything "right" to succeed (insofar as we define succes in our society). Academically, personally, and politically, he's excelled by keeping his nose clean and pressed tightly to the grindstone. But then, per the en vogue invective of right wing opinion-shapers like Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh, all that is simply not good enough, and never will be. Given a comparison between Obama and an economically uninformed, socially maladroit, and politically underwhelming candidate whose character, in the face of recent news, is at least in question, Cain nonetheless remains the clear choice for conservatives.

Why? Because, per Coulter, "our blacks are better than their blacks."

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Heavyweight Herman

Mike Tyson channels Herman Cain, via Funny or Die. Funny stuff, for sure, but when Iron Mike starts dinging anyone else for their perceived batcrap craziness, you really know we've crossed over into the Looking-Glass world.

HIGHLY Recommended Reading

Tim Dickinson has an exhaustive treatise up at Rolling Stone that's well worth your time, examining the steady transformation of the GOP over the last several decades into a party that stands, first, foremost, and steadfastly for that 1% people are so exorcised about lately. As instructive as it is alarming, one thing that becomes clear upon reading the piece is how the ideological zealotry of Grover Norquist and the policy machinations of Dick Cheney are just two cogs in a political machine-works that almost single-handedly drop-kicked our economy into the sun.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Another Interview With Me

I meant to post this last week, but better late than never, right? I recently chatted with Illume Magazine's Irfan Rydhan about Geek Wisdom, geek culture, and my role in both. Click over here to read what I had to say.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

The Menace of Nostalgia

When I talked about the impending 3D re-release of Star Wars: Episode I a few weeks ago, my dislike of the film couldn't help but color my "blah" reaction to the poster, and that dislike has colored my reaction to the reissue's trailer as well:

 

I was actually kind of surprised by my apathetic response to this vid considering how clearly the promo whizzes at Team Lucas are going for the same nostalgic jugular the Star Wars Special Edition trailer attacked when it first hit in fall of '96, right down to using some of the same iconography:

Friday, November 04, 2011

Second Class

In other news for Fox prequels, there's movement this morning on a follow-up to this summer's X-Men: First Class, which has had its fortunes linked with Rise of the Planet of the Apes since both films were rushed into production in summer of 2010. With Rise's sequel rumblings now beginning, it wasn't long until they started for the new Class, and writer Simon Kinberg has been drafted to craft the next story for the Marvel mutants' pre-franchise. No word on the timeframe we can expect the sequel in, what its storyline would be, or who else is involved, but as to Kinberg, I'm a little wary because of his role as one of the writers on 2006's abysmal X-Men: The Last Stand. Then again, he also wrote Sherlock Holmes, which I enjoyed quite a bit.

That said, I've watched First Class several times since my initial positive review, and while I'd hate to see it sullied by an unworthy second installment, I'm willing to give this one a little bit more rope given that the exemplary cast, headlined by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, are already signed, and director Matthew Vaughn seems like he'd be onboard as well, even spitballing ideas for the sequel around the time First Class was released. With Hugh Jackman's The Wolverine sequel still in the development pipeline with a new director and new release date, it sure looks like Fox intends to get the most out of the X-Men movie rights they've got an iron grip on. Here's hoping they've learned from the franchise's prior missteps.

Apes Sequel Rises

When I spoke with Rise of the Planet of the Apes writers/producers Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver last August, the pair was coy about sequel possibilities for Fox's prequel/reboot project, saying no serious discussions had taken place on the subject. Well, the notion of sequelizing Rise took a big a step forward from abstract concept to concrete reality with word of star Andy Serkis, whose motion-captured performance as lead chimp Caesar is the unquestionable centerpiece of the film, signing on for one or more sequels in a deal that will net the Once and Future Gollum a cool seven figures. Also locked in are director Rupert Wyatt and Jaffa & Silver. Notably not locked in are human stars James Franco and Freida Pinto (which, assuming they won't be back, makes me wonder why they didn't just stick with the original ending after all).

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Secret Identity Crisis

Whether we're talking about TV shows, movies, or red underoos, there's no shortage of Superman posts on this site, and I think a big reason why I continue to find the character so interesting is his role as a kind of cultural arbiter in our society, with an elastic appeal that makes him ripe for reinvention generation after generation. One of the most important aspects of this appeal -- and also of these reinventions -- is the ongoing tug-of-war, both textual and meta-textual, between his twin roles as "mild mannered reporter" and "strange visitor from another planet."

Unlike DC Comics counterpart Batman, whose "millionaire playboy" act has long been accepted as a public front in service of the masked vigilante, the question of whether Clark Kent or Superman is the "real" persona (bearing in mind, of course, that these are all imaginary stories -- but then, aren't they all?) has remained unsettled for decades, with the answer dependent almost entirely upon which portrayal or which era one chooses to focus on.

The Cain Scrutiny

As longtime followers of this site know, I've had issues with Herman Cain since practically the moment he entered the presidential field. Between his belligerent statements about Islam & Muslims and his stunning -- even by current GOP standards -- ignorance about current global and political realities, we're left with a very unflattering portrait of a candidate who has, improbably yet predictably enough, ridden the Tea Party wave of conservative dogmatism straight to the top of the Republican field. How long the Cain surge lasts is something only the next few weeks will tell, but the road to the nomination got that much harder when word surfaced of prior sexual misconduct by the candidate two decades ago during his time as head of the National Restaurants Association.

The resulting round robin of media discussion quickly gave rise to the talking point on the right that Cain was being attacked because of his race and his conservatism, and not because he's a politician and a frontrunner, and because sex always sells (see: Clinton, Bill). This in turn led to a rash of comical "so racist they don't even realize how racist they are" screeds from usual suspects like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, but the zenith/nadir was surely a video rant posted by noted Birther/attention-seeker Donald Trump yesterday, wherein he took Jon Stewart to task for his racism in making light of the Cain situation on The Daily Show. I tweeted my incredulity at Trump's dissonance-inducing video yesterday, and I figured it was a jump ball as to whether Stewart would address it on his show last night. Luckily for us, he did, and you can check out the embed after the jump.

James Bond Will Return In...

Nearly a year since we got word that the twenty-third 007 movie adventure was back from its bankruptcy-induced slumber (and almost three years since the character's last go-round), a press avail by EON Productions early this morning featuring Bond producers Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccolli alongwith star Daniel Craig and new director Same Mendes marked the official unveiling of the film's long-rumored title and long-rumored, very impressive supporting cast. Jump over to Empire for the full blow-by-blow.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Cracked Logic

One of the cornerstones of this site over the years has been my absolute befuddlement at how canards such as the Ground Zero Mosque or Birtherism or death panels continue to get oxygen even after they've been undermined -- seemingly definitively -- again and again by simple, easily obtained facts. We saw a small example of this phenomenon last week with a hilarious/depressing segment on The Daily Show that lampooned the current anti-science gauntlet that the far right/Tea Party crowd is making its politicos advance through in order to pass presidential muster. If this phenomenon has you feeling a mite perplexed at at people's continued credulity even in the face of verifiable evidence, riding to the rescue come the fine folks at Cracked with their brilliant countdown of "5 Logical Fallacies That Make You Wrong More Than You Think," which offers some insights into the mentalities and pathologies that drive not only the anti-science crowd, but all the rest of us too.