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I think I had read somewhere that Joss Whedon had written and directed the new uber-geek movie in a long line of monotonous comic book superhero movies, but I had forgotten that until just before agreeing to bring my kid and his friend to see The Avengers (no, it doesn’t violate the copyright for the TV series with Diana Rigg with lame remake with Uma Thurmond).  It’s the one that geeks everywhere have been waiting for.  Action movies actually tend to bore me.  I don’t think there’s an extended fight in any movie I’ve seen where the outcome isn’t easily predictable based upon conventional plot lines, when it takes place in the movie (good guys lose the first fight and win the last), and the relative mood of the antagonists.  The longer the fight scenes get drawn out the more I start rolling my eyes.  And I’m really not impressed with 3D technology.  It gives me a headache.  But when the sequences are funny, they’re fun.  And these were funny.

But with Whedon, at least you know it’s going to be funny.  If there was too much CGI; too much of the movie was taken up by tedious and predictable “suspense;” and too much deference to the mass market (and there was on all three counts, but Whedon has learned his lesson and probably wants to make some money – and he made it as the opening weekend broke all records); it was going to be funny.  And it’s hilarious.  From the first moment to the two epilogues, one following the animated credits and another following the overly detailed credits – the first being a gift only the uber-geeks (like me) will get, and the second worth waiting for if you have a sense of humor.

John Bennett of the NCJ wrote a great review.  I agree about Ruffalo being the most compelling of the heroes.  I disagree that Loki wasn’t menacing or compelling – I thought, oh, whoever it is who played him, actually did the most real acting in the film.  Johannasen isn’t very convincing as an ex-Russian spy turned good, but her character is probably the most fun to watch.  Some geeks have complained about her lack of accent, but as she is a super-spy, I would expect her accent to be perfectly American.  She does cry out in Russian at one point of stress, but I don’t know if her accent would be convincing to anyone who speaks the language.  One of the more hilarious moments of the film (which is saying something) is her early “interrogation” scene (of questionable appropriateness for kids considering the prurient imaging, but nothing to throw a tizzy over).

The premise of the Avengers was originally conceived by Marvel Comics as the anti-Justice League.  Where all of DC’s pantheon of heroes were basically morally perfect at the time (with some exception for early writings of Batman), the Avengers was a dysfunctional team of social misfits, egomaniacs, and sociopaths with superpowers kind of thrown together by circumstances – a perfect setting for Whedon to weave his magic.  There’s a great scene where the heroes are all arguing over stupid crap while the evil Loki’s machinations come to fruition.  Anyone with half a brain can see it coming, but that doesn’t detract from the effectiveness of the delivery.  It’s fun.

And with all the big names in the film, I have to wonder if there were ego fights on the set that played into the storyline.  Somehow, Whedon managed them well.

Anyway, there’s absolutely nothing deep about the film at all.  It’s pure fun.  But how many action movies are this well written?  The last one I can remember is Die Hard.  And this script is actually better.

Here’s the trailer.  It doesn’t do the movie justice.  But I’m sure it sold plenty of tickets.

I’ve never been big on romance stories, not just because I’m a guy, but because the plot lines and resolutions are fairly limited (Couple lives happily ever after, couple breaks up, one partner dies in tragedy, etc.).  But there are some stories which have been classified as “romance” with a backdrop which carries enough interest to dilute the more predictable plot line.

1.  Gone with the Wind

2.  West Side Story

3. The Way We Were

4.  Reds

5.  Bull Durham

6.  Eat, Drink, Man, Woman (Taiwanese)

7. Harold and Maude

8.  Bonnie and Clyde

9.  Romeo and Juliette (the one with Michael York as Tybalt)

10.  Wings of Desire (German)

Okay, this list has changed dramatically in the 5 minutes I took to type it up.  I guess the question to be answered is, “what is a romance?”  Is Kiss of the Spiderwoman a romance?  Is Bonnie and Clyde?  Obviously most movies involve some sort of love interest, but I assume that we agree that the romance – the coupling, or the frustration of potential coupling, must be at the core of the plot.

Found this video the other night.  Youtube has a plethora of these sort of things, but this one’s well-thought piece on the video-maker’s favorite giant movie monsters.  He’s obviously partial to stop-motion monsters, and I can understand that.  It was an intricate art, now lost on the CGI-spoiled crowd.  But personally, my top ten list would probably consist almost entirely of Toho Productions monsters.  I’m partial to the rubber suits.

I’d have to include a couple of CGI critters as well, including the Cloverfield monster (great movie!) and the Lord of the Rings’ Balrog.  And if I was going to emphasize stop-motion monsters I’d have to include the Blob and the It Came from Beneath the Sea monster, particularly in its iconic scene tearing down the Golden Gate Bridge with its tentacles.

And I’d have to include Darryl Hannah’s version of the 50 Foot Woman.

But this guy’s list is good.

Alright.  Have to get the kids’ dinner now.

Pretty cool actually.  The sign in the photo contains the title of the current movie and clicking on it takes you to a page containing a review and trailer.  And they have the reviews and trailers for coming films.  There’s a moderated comments page.  And a history of the theater page with some old photographs and newspaper clips.

Click on the photo to enlarge.

The Brannans have operated the theater for next to nothing, sometimes even losing money.  It really is a public service.

Addendum: Apologies.  Forgot to provide the link.

For another lazy Friday post continuing the top 10 movie series, I offer the ten best lawyer movies of all time.

1. To Kill a Mockingbird

2.  Anatomy of a Murder

3. The Verdict

4.  Witness for the Prosecution

5.  Inherit the Wind

6.  Philadelphia

7.  Amistad

8.  A Few Good Men

9.  Judgment at Nuremberg

10.  The Accused

A few honorable mentions:  And Justice for All, Presumed Innocent, and Breaker Morant.

No, I don’t like any of the Grisham novel adaptions I’ve seen.  I think I’ve only seen The Firm and Rainmaker.

Addendum: A Passage to India belongs on the list.  I don’t know where.

I had to be in Santa Rosa on Tuesday so I spent Monday evening with my father and brother as my parents live in Guerneville.  We all like Star Trek, maybe partially inspired by the namesake, so we ventured out of Guerneville to the Windsor cinaplex for our pop culture fix.  As I said before, I had trepidations about the marketing of the movie (“not your father’s Star Trek”), but in the end I was only mildly annoyed with the direction they took.  It was entertaining and the actors obviously had fun reinterpreting the characters not going overboard for the most part to make them hip.  The homage to the original sound effects and set designs was fun, though some of us are left wondering why the ship’s weapons capabilities exceed the enterprises supposedly in its future.  And it seems that with each successive interpretation, the hand phasers become less and less effective for those of us who remember the original series where the phaser would completely disintegrate out of existence any human shaped object.  The necessity of more interesting gun fight scenes have trumped continuity really since The Next Generation where the phasers didn’t even put a dent in the rocks or trees they hit.

Let me just start off another of what Cristina affectionately refers to as my “fanboy rants” by clarifying.  I’m not a continuity nazi who notices and takes exception to some plot development which impacts the canon of say, Federation/Romulan history established by a line in the script of an episode aired sometime in 1967.  Actually, I have to congratulate the franchise for its creativity – a plot twist in the latest movie which should (but probably won’t) put an end to the whining from here on out.  The twist is also an effective technique in throwing us off as certain plot developments we don’t believe will happen (because we think we know the history) do so, and actually become permanent.  Once these events happen, they lay it out for us, or Mr. Spock does anyway.  I can’t go into more detail without giving much away, and it’s not all that deep, not even for a fanboy.

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I love Stewart Kirby’s line in this week’s Independent review of the Wolverine movie (which looks so bad that it’s commercial value will probably be limited to the enthusiasm of the geeks who have waited through three movies for their beloved Gambit character).

“I’m the best there is at what I do,” Wolverine says.  It’s a debatable if enigmatic point.  Some lay claim it’s Freddy Krueger, hands down.  I say Edward Scissorhands.

Looks like a movie I probably won’t see until it’s on DVD and I’m in the video store looking for something mindless and it’s left on the shelf along with an old copy of Mosquito Coast – the video cover you always look at and wonder why you never heard of it if Harrison Ford was in it.

….

The other geek movie was discussed on NPR this morning, specifically over the marketing slogan, “not your father’s Star Trek.”  I suspect what this means is “we won’t burden you with the wonder of the original series which was based on the ‘final frontier’ developments in real life combined with the social optimism of the time, and instead we’ll go all Matrix on you and dazzle you with CGI and one-liners because we know that actually thinking about what you’re watching isn’t high on your agenda.”

But that’s too long for a movie poster.

Taking a break from torture, plague, and the ethnic cleansing of hippies from the subdivisions, and trying not to be redundant with my previous lists here and here.  As before, I make no warranty as to the precision of the quotes.  All are as close to the originals as my memory will allow, unless I’ve googled it.  Name the title, and extra points for naming the characters and actors making the statements.  I’ll list the answers in a few days.  When I have quotations from more than one character, I leave the names unless I think they’re so memorable they’ll give the title away.

“I’ll have four fried chickens.  And a coke.”

“Hello.  My name is Inigo Montoya.  You killed my father.  Prepare to die.”

“You gentlemen aren’t really going to kill my son, are you?”

“Mr. President, you’ve got bigger problems than losing me. You just lost my vote.”

“I ain’t fallin’ for no banana in my tail pipe!”

“Well, I still jerk off manually.”

“Well, well, well! Well if it isn’t fat stinking billy goat Billy Boy in poison! How art thou, thou globby bottle of cheap stinking chip oil? Come and get one in the yarbles, if ya have any yarble, ya eunuch jelly thou!”

“Well, all I’m saying is that I want to look back and say that I did it the best I could while I was stuck in this place. Had as much fun as I could while I was stuck in this place. Played as hard as I could while I was stuck in this place. Dogged as many girls as I could while I was stuck in this place.”

“Look Doris, someday you’re going to find that your way of facing this realistic world just doesn’t work. And when you do, don’t overlook those lovely intangibles. You’ll discover those are the only things that are worthwhile.”

“Well I don’t want Fop, godammit! I’m a Dapper Dan man!”

Elliot: “He’s a man from outer space and we’re taking him to his spaceship.”
Greg: “Well, can’t he just beam up?”
Elliot: “This is REALITY, Greg.”

“Don’t you think one of the charms of marriage is that it makes deception a necessity for both parties? May I ask why a beautiful woman who could have any man in this room wants to be married?”

“Dave, my mind is going! I can feel it! I can feel it!”

“I run my unit how I run my unit. You want to investigate me, roll the dice and take your chances. I eat breakfast 300 yard from 4000 Cubans who are trained to kill me, so don’t think for one second that you can come down here, flash a badge, and make me nervous.”

“So much time and so little to do. Wait a minute. Strike that. Reverse it.”

“It could be worse. A woman could cut off your penis while you’re sleeping and toss it out the window of a moving car.”

“You homo sapiens and your guns.”

“I am honored and grateful that you have invited me to your house on the day of your daughter’s wedding.”

“I am not a gun.”

“Of course, you can say it backwards, which is dociousaliexpilisticfragicalirupus, but that’s going a bit too far, don’t you think?”

“Oh, him? He’s harmless. Part of the free speech movement at Berkeley in the sixties. I think he did a little too much LDS.”

“You can’t just take people away like that. Do you hear me? He was a good man, a good person. It’s not fair! We are not just helpless children! He had a life! Do you hear me? I mean, do YOU hear ME? What’s the matter with you?”

Joe Oramas: Hey, Olivia, you got a garlic press?
Olivia Harris: No.
Joe Oramas: How can you not have a garlic press? (don’t cheat and hit the links!)

“It was as though this plan had been with him all his life, pondered through the seasons, now in his fifteenth year crystallized with the pain of puberty.”

Zip: Figures. We finally get a chick in the band, and she’s a lesbian.
Bobby: How do you know?
Zip: I asked her if she wanted go out with me, she said No.
Bobby: Zip, this town’s full of chicks who won’t go out with you.
Zip: Yeah. Lesbians, all of ‘em.

Character 1:  “Whatcha hit him with?”                                                                                                              Character 2: “Hit whom?”                                                                                                                               Character 1: “Whom”? Are you a northern boy? What’s a northern boy doing down here?

“Ah, Herr Bartlett. And Herr MacDonald. We are together again. You’re going to wish you had never put us to so much trouble!”

“The question is whether you were lying then or are you lying now… or whether in fact you are a chronic and habitual LIAR!”

Diana Christensen: Hi. I’m Diana Christensen, a racist lackey of the imperialist ruling circles.
Laureen Hobbs: I’m Laureen Hobbs, a badass commie nigger.
Diana Christensen: Sounds like the basis of a firm friendship.

“I wouldn’t put on an electric blanket for any reason. First, I’d be worried if I get electrocuted. No, I don’t trust technology. But I mean, the main thing, Wally, is that I think that kind of comfort just separates you from reality in a very direct way.”

Thank you Tom Hanson for insisting that I put The Lives of Others at the top of my Netflix queue.  As in the past Germany has lived in something of denial about life in East Germany until just under a couple of decades ago.  As with Nazism and the Holocaust they don’t like to talk about it too much, particularly as many of the people who were responsible for injustice against their fellow citizens have blended in well during the integration with the west and are now businesspeople, political leaders, and otherwise legal and apparently guilt impervious neighbors with people whom they spied on, informed on, and had arrested.  I guess the idea is that in such an extreme system it was difficult to survive without making serious compromises of humanity, and this movie is one of very few German pop-culture attempts thus far to deal with the issues in any meaningful manner.

The premise revolves around a quote the filmmaker attributes to Lenin about not being able to listen to Mozart lest he lose the resolve to fight the revolution.  The lead is a Stasi agent assigned to conduct audio surveillance on a prominent artistic couple.  He is a purist, a true state loyalist, and suspects the couple of something even before his superior orders him onto the case.  His confidence in the righteousness of his cause are almost immediately undermined when he learns of corrupt motivations behind the investigation, and further undermined as the music, art, and integrity of the people whom he is spying on begin to move him.  The film doesn’t try too hard to shore up the plot with plausibility, though it makes some reasonable efforts.

The officer is played by the late Ulrich Muhe (with an umlaut) who had in real life resided in East Germany where his ex-wife reportedly informed on him (she has vehemently denied this despite official records which seem to make it clear).  The story only makes the film itself more compelling.

Before he died, William F. Buckley saw the film and said it was the best he’d ever seen.  Ironically, criticism that the movie soft pedals the oppression in the GDR comes from a source on the left.  Slavoj Zizek (I don’t know how to do the little umlaut-like things above the letters) made the following points in a review for In These Times:

Like so many other films depicting the harshness of Communist regimes, The Lives of Others misses their true horror. How so? First, what sets the film’s plot in motion is the corrupt minister of culture, who wants to get rid of the top German Democratic Republic (GDR) playwright, Georg Dreyman, so he can pursue unimpeded an affair with Dreyman’s partner, the actress Christa-Maria. In this way, the horror that was inscribed into the very structure of the East German system is relegated to a mere personal whim. What’s lost is that the system would be no less terrifying without the minister’s personal corruption, even if it were run by only dedicated and “honest” bureaucrats.

It’s a point well made.  The lead character, before his conversion, is more scary to me than the corruption.  The true-believers are the most dangerous to basic liberty.  But this isn’t a docudrama.  It’s a story about the versatility of humanity even when we as a species construct situations which threaten to wipe it out.  And it doesn’t oversell the concept.  The conversion is not sudden, and it’s not dramatic.  The ending is perfect.

….

I just watched Religulous, and while I find Bill Maher’s take and approach hilarious, it’s really not informative.  He interviews an assortment of nutcases, morons, and con-men to make his points.  It would have been more informative, though perhaps not as entertaining, for him to have interviewed serious theologians with his questions.

On the DVD itself I strongly recommend the outtakes in the special features section.  There you’ll find fragments of an interview with David Icke, someone who has received some attention around here.

….

In 1997 my wife signed us up for cable.  I didn’t watch much of it, but one night I was “channel surfing” and came across some haunting urban cinematography with an equally haunting Celtic score.  It immediately grabbed my attention, and within moments I was drawn into the story.  I think I saw maybe three episodes, then life took me away from it, and I came back a couple of months later but it was gone.  It was entitled EZ Streets, and now a few of the episodes are available on a DVD entitled Brilliant but Canceled: EZ Streets (Brilliant but Canceled is a series of DVDs with, well, what it says it is).

This was a well written, excellently acted, and brilliantly filmed series which aired in 1996, but the pinheads on CBS underestimated the audience and messed things up much the same way Firefly was messed up (episodes shown sparsely, and out of order – in fact they aired just about the same number of episodes as Firefly). It takes place in a decaying fictional city across the river from Canada (think Detroit, where it was probably filmed) and takes a multi-layered noir approach to television crime drama, with very blurred distinctions between good and evil. You’ve got a brooding cop played by Ken Olin perpetually trying to solve the mystery of his partner’s death. Joe Pantoliano plays his likable criminal adversary who weaves a dance through dark comic relief, genuine brotherly loyalty, and creepy malevolence. Caught in the middle is a morally conflicted ex-felon trying to find some footing on some very slippery ground. Their stories are backed by a very strong supporting cast with numerous fascinating characters. Like Firefly, anytime the story seems to drift towards anything remotely cliche, you’re yanked onto new terrain with a backdrop of barren subject photography of neighborhoods in disrepair and a Celtic music score which includes artists like Loreena McKennitt to let you know that a streak of romance laces an atmosphere of despair. It was too far ahead of its time.

….

I commented before on what I had characterized as “improvements” to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  After rereading the story (to my children) and having viewed the newest film version from front to back, I’ve changed my mind.  I’d previously complimented the film for altering the White Queen character, but really, they didn’t have any business doing that.

Let me start from the beginning.  CS Lewis wrote the story.  He was a Christian with socially conservative politics.  As a young man he’d been an atheist and I think had some liberal if not socialist politics, and had been a feminist to a certain degree.  His conversion led him to rethink his feminism and he concluded that feminism is a rebellion against God and his order.  The Bible makes very clear that men have authority over women so he argued, and it’s in the nature of the “mystery” of the sexes that men should have decisional authority even if they are “equal” in intellectual and other respects.  If you have any doubt read his novel Perelandara where emissaries from God and Satan visit a planet which has not yet fallen, both appealing to Perelandara’s “Eve” to go their way.  A good portion of the arguments made the the Devil’s emissary were those made by feminists.  God’s emissary argued the virtues of female submissiveness.  When Eve gets confused, God’s emissary kills Satan’s emissary.  That’s the story.  Sorry if I’ve spoiled it.

In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Lewis depicted the Queen as cowardly and scheming in the very traditional female sense.  That was his vision.  You may not like it.  I didn’t like it even as a kid.  But that was his character.  It was his story.

It was also in his story where Father Christmas delivers the gifts to the children and instructs the girls to stay out of the fighting.  When one of the girls protests that she could be brave, F.C. responds, “that is not the point, war in which women fight is an ugly thing” or something like that.  In the more PC movie version he simply tells her that war isn’t pretty, missing Lewis’ point and altering the message.

So, to make the story more palatable to me (and if you read my old comments on the film, you’ll see that it is indeed more palatable to me) and others likely to watch it, they stipped CS Lewis of his intention to offend me and make me think about it.  He does so even more in Voyage of the Dawn Treader where cosmopolitan values are seen as more fashion than substance, and cultural simplicity (ie. what the average middle class white kids are into) are indicative of virtue and humility.  I imagine that will be whitewashed from the upcoming film as well.

My point is, I don’t think they had the right to do that.  I didn’t like it when feminism was stripped from Watchmen.  I certainly don’t like the fact that none of the several version of War of the Worlds have been stripped of HG Wells’ original point, which was to present a parable in opposition to colonialism.  I didn’t like it when the political allegories were removed from Wizard of Oz.  I have a much different view of the world than CS Lewis, but his stories were his expressions.  He has been deprived of his voice.  It’s plagiarism as far as I’m concerned.  They took something and appropriated it to their own uses without regard to its vitality.

Okay, the Monolith, the thing from Space Odyssey 2001 – was it merely a harbinger of turning points in evolution, or was it an instigator?

October 2014
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