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Saturday, March 24, 2007

TMNT (**1/2)

March 24, 2007
I watched a lot of cartoons as a kid but I never got into the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles like others did. I liked the few issues of the original comics by Eastman and Laird I read more than the more popular cartoon that followed. The comics were dark and violent, not so much watered down with the faux-cool, late 80's-early 90's surfer vibe ("Cowabunga, dude!") that was used to reel in the kiddies. Bart Simpson stopped saying "Cowabunga!" a year after The Simpsons debuted because the writers quickly figured out it's lame. The Ninja Turtles still say it. It's still lame. The first Ninja Turtles movie in 1990 with the turtle costumes designed by the Jim Henson Company was pretty good for its time, but the sequels got worse and worse. And that's my history with the Turtles in a nutshell. Or half-shell.
TMNT is a compromise: the gritty look and action of the original Ninja Turtles concept is preserved and yet the movie is safe for the Chuck E. Cheese crowd. The CGI animation by Imagini is excellent. The movie is great looking but a little dull. I wasn't digging the story so much and found it difficult to maintain interest in what was going on. But by the time Raphael and Leonardo had the fight on the rooftop they'd been building to the entire movie, I realized in that respect the movie was working. Leonardo as the prodigal leader returning to bring his brothers back together and Raphael as the angry, insecure brother left behind are the only characters in the movie with arcs. Everyone else is a supporting character, including Donatello and Michaelangelo. The plot of 3,000 year old warriors and interdimensional monsters was pretty neat but seemed too big for the four Ninja Turtles with their katana swords, nunchucks, sais, and wooden bo staff to handle. They handled it anyway and it all turned out all right.
The voice over acting is terrific. The cast was a Futurama jambearoo with John DiMaggio, Billy West, and Phil LaMarr contributing voices. Of the celebrity hired guns, Patrick Stewart as the Immortal villain Winters, Zhang Ziyi struggling to win her tongue-wrestling match with her English dialogue as the leader of the Foot clan, and Sarah Michelle Gellar as a much hotter-designed April O'Neil than expected were standouts. But what made me happiest was Mako as Splinter. He wasn't given a lot of dialogue, nor was it much more than the usual "wise, old sensei" cliches, but it's Mako and Mako was great. I especially loved the beat when Splinter shuffles into the kitchen to get tea, humming a Japanese ditty, unaware of the latest royal screw up by his Turtles. I think this was Mako's last cinematic role before he died last year. There wasn't enough Splinter in the movie. I love that wise old rat.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

One of My Finest Moments: Shotgun Saturday Night

March 13, 2007
One Of My Finest Moments
I came across screencaps of Shotgun Saturday Night from ten years ago.  This is a pretty awesome find for me personally.  My friends and I still remember/talk about/make fun of me for what happened at this show but none of us have it on videotape.  That's right, videotape.   This was 1997.
For a few weeks starting in January of '97, WWE, which was then still the WWF (World Wrestling Federation), decided to tape a weekly late night show from nightclubs and locations around New York City.  These Shotgun shows served as an experiment in having a grimy, intimate, risque feel mimicking ECW's setting.  Shotgun predated what eventually became the WWF Attitude era on Monday Night RAW.  Shotgun Saturday Night ran for only a few weeks; they were held in locations like World Famous Webster Hall and even Penn Station before the ill-fated live show in a saloon in Texas that featured Terry Funk.  It was at that show where Funk, given a live microphone, called announcer Todd Pettingill "a son of whore" amongst a flurry of other colorful expletives. Shotgun was then immediately canceled. 
Shotgun's brief life did contain some very important moments in wrestling history, however, and I don't mean Sunny's "sex video" with a giant tickle me Elmo.  It was at the Webster Hall show (which I also attended) in week three that the crowd attacked Rocky Maivia with "Die, Rocky, Die!" chants, which eventually lead to Maivia's heel turn and transformation into The Rock.  We all know how that turned out.
But an even more historic moment occured in the first episode of Shotgun, which I was at.  That was the fateful first time ever when the WWF experimented with nudity, having Marlena (Terri Runnels) take her top off to distract the Sultan in his match with Goldust
You wanna see a douchebag?  There I was/am clear as day, in the white Andre the Giant Obey! shirt and glasses on the right.  You can't miss me.  Look at me contorting like a boa constrictor past the guy in front to get a clear look at Terri Runnels' giant (pastied up, I now know) saline balloons.  The stupid look on my face: it's like I've never seen a pair of giant fake breasts before.  And I hadn't... at a wrestling show.  This was perhaps the height of my douchebaggery, and that's saying something.  Ah, precious memories.

Trivia:  My good buddy Bill Rosemann and I think Mark Bernado and Andy Ball of Marvel Comics were also at this show, but back in January of 1997, I didn't know them.  I met them months later.  They didn't have quite the view I had.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Darth Incompetent


March 11, 2007

The Empire Strikes Back is on HBO HD quite a bit. I've probably watched it a half dozen times. Naturally, I have some observations:

One doesn't appreciate the cleverness of the Wampa attack on Luke at the start of Empire that explains his mangled face until one learns that Mark Hamill got into a car accident in 1978. The accident really fucked his face up.  I like that they dealt with it at the start of Empire with the Wampa slashing Luke's face. I also like that it kind of fits Luke.  By losing his hand and being physically deformed over time, it echos what happened to his father. That's called turning a negative into a positive.

There was a big difference between the military agenda of the Empire and the crazy personal agenda of Darth Vader, whose whims the Imperial forces were subordinate to. When the Alliance transports evacuated Hoth one by one, the orbiting Imperial Starfleet should logically have pursued and destroyed them. Vader should have committed the firepower of the Imperial fleet into blasting the Rebel transports to smithereens, ending the rebellion once and for all. Instead he ignored the Empire's greater goal to personally chase after a few (albeit important) Rebels.

Vader committed the fleet's full resources into chasing the Millennium Falcon through an asteroid belt.  They didn't even catch the Falcon, I must point out.  Vader resorted to bounty hunters to eventually trap them on Bespin. One would say it would all have been worth it had Vader actually captured Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Chewbacca, or even either of their droids at least.  But he did not.  He had them all in his custody in one form or another but they all escaped.

So how did the Empire actually win in the second movie, as it is commonly believed they did? Because Vader cut off Luke's hand? The maiming of Luke Skywalker and the carbonite freezing of Han Solo are small, hollow triumphs that do the overall Empire no good.  As Solo even pointed out while he was tortured prior to the carbonite freezing, "They didn't even ask me any questions."  Why didn't Vader force Solo to reveal the secret location of the Alliance rendezvous?  There is no excuse for not doing so.

The facts are glaring: Darth Vader was incompetent. He screwed up left and right.  No wonder the Emperor sought a replacement in Luke Skywalker. Vader had lost it.  He had gone soft. Clearly, the Emperor was aware of Vader's lack of productive results. I suspect Vader was also aware that the Emperor schemed against him.  Why else would he have been so desperate to gain his son's allegiance?

The Emperor had a great deal of political proof that Vader needed to be replaced. Not that he would ever need to justify getting rid of Vader. Vader wasn't the most popular guy in the Empire. As one watches Vader in Empire today, it's actually helpful to visualize Hayden Christensen behind the helmet. It lends a lot to Vader's incompetence and to why his fellow Imperial compatriots can't stand him. Not to mention that Vader was executing Imperial officers left and right to cover up for his own incompetence.

Anakin was a crappy Jedi and Vader was just as crappy a Sith Lord. The galaxy is better off without him. Hell, the galaxy would have been better off if he'd never been born. Damned midi-chloreans.

Friday, March 9, 2007

300 (***)


This is Sparta!

300 is exactly what it says it is. It's a visual feast and the action is entertainingly absurd.  It's not deep or complex and never claims to be. I liked 300 more than Sin City because it told a better story and wasn't as preoccupied with how cool it was. I don't think any red blooded man in the theatre watching 300 didn't fantasize in the moment about being as bad ass as a Spartan. Or at least having their pecs and eight pack. If those long-dead Spartans could see how 300 portrays them - noble, courageous, half-mad, and unstoppable in battle - they'd no doubt be pleased. Of course, a real Spartan has no time for movies, he'd be too busy killing anyone who looks at him cock-eyed.

A couple of little things in 300 struck me as odd or out of place. The line "Tonight, we dine in Hell!" for instance. Hades, you mean. What the hell is 'hell' to an ancient Greek? The last shot of the movie also left me scratching my head. After the 300 are dead a year and David Wenham gives his closing speech to rouse his army against Xerxes' hordes, he leads a charge to close the picture. It's an unusual battle strategy when Leonidas explained earlier to the misshapen traitor who wanted to be a Spartan that the secret to Spartan victory is an impenetrable defensive phalanx. But whatever. When Leonidas threw his spear and made Xerxes's cheek bleed, in my head I heard the black guy in Rocky IV: "YOU SEE? YOU SEE? HE'S NOT A MACHINE! HE'S A MAN!" Or not a god, he should say. Leonidas should have said that as he was lying there with all the arrows in him. 

WWE Films puts out a couple of movies a year now starring their wrestlers but 300 is the closest I've seen a motion picture come to what watching WWE is like. As I write this, I'm watching Friday Night Smackdown and the similarities couldn't be more obvious. Over the top action? Bloody ultraviolence? Check and check. Ripped and jacked nearly naked men? Check. Dialogue yelled at the top of their lungs? Check. Straightforward storytelling with clear cut good and evil? Check. All problems solved by fighting? Check. Freaks of all sizes and shapes? Check. Strong, sexy women being demeaned with violent comeuppance to the villains who mistreat them? Check. Some homoeroticism? (See above photo). Oh my, yes, that's a check. The Immortals even busted out a dropkick and their big muscle monster hit a chokeslam. Warner Bros. could have put this on pay per view and charged $45 for it, but they're no Vince McMahon. Then again, Leonidas never did kiss Xerxes' bare ass.