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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths


Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths is a misnomer; the crisis actually involves multiple Earths. This is the DC Universe. It's always gotta be about multiple Earths. Regardless, Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths is a step above all other DC Universe Animated efforts, surpassing even Justice League: The New Frontier as a satisfying whole adventure.

A heroic Lex Luthor from a parallel Earth recruits the Justice League to join him in stopping the evil Crime Syndicate on his world.  What results is action, very good action where Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, and The Flash get to utilize the full spectrum of their superpowers against foes who are their physical equals.  In between the many battle sequences, the screenplay by Dwayne McDuffie lobs some intriguing ideas at the audience: Whether or not the Justice League has the ethical right to travel to another reality and impose what they believe is justice (they do, of course, or else the movie would be over in ten minutes). Batman actually sits the first half of the movie out in protest until the evil doppelgangers The Crime Syndicate jump to "our" Earth and invade the JLA Watchtower.

The structure of the Crime Syndicate, with the core villains Ultraman, Superwoman, Owlman, Power Ring, and Johnny Quick has the heads of Families, each overseeing a battalion of superpowered "Made Men" was a compelling idea. (I thought the portrayal of Ultraman as a Tony Soprano-type with an Italian accent was pretty silly, but I particularly enjoyed the evil Wonder Woman doppelganger in charge of the evil versions of the Captain Marvel Family.) The Owlman reveals himself to be the villain of villains, with a nihilistic scheme to destroy every Earth, which is ultimately foiled by his counterpart Batman. Of course, the fate of the multiverse falls to two guys dressed as animals having a fistfight on an alien world, but the philosophical dialogue from Owlman contains some fascinating theories about choices and their impact on the creation of parallel worlds.  Batman also gets the crap kicked out of him quite a bit by the Crime Syndicate; he must have guessed that would happen hence his initially trying to sit this crisis out. (Batman later pulls a morally questionable trick on Johnny Quick, bamboozling him into taking The Flash's place in a suicide mission - all to prove he does "like" Flash.) 

The voice acting by Mark Harmon, William Baldwin, and James Woods is very fine. Woods is particularly good as Owlman. In a 75 minute movie with a couple of dozen characters, some, like Green Lantern, get the short shrift. Taking center stage are villainous romance between Superwoman and Owlman that indicated by its maturity this movie wasn't particularly intended for children, while Martian Manhunter gets a love subplot with the President's daughter which ends rather lamely - even Wonder Woman calls J'onn J'onzz out for being an idiot. Meanwhile, Wonder Woman makes the most of the spotlight she's handed in the best portrayal of the Amazon Princess (Lynda Carter aside) I may have ever seen. If I came away from Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths with one thing, it's an acceptable explanation for how Wonder Woman got her invisible jet and why she would want one.

The Flash: "Why do you need an invisible jet anyway? You can fly."
Green Lantern: "You drive a car."
The Flash: "That is so not the point."

Monday, May 24, 2010

Lost 6x17 - "The End"

The End. I scarcely know where to begin.

That finale was a love letter to those characters whom we've watched for six years. It was entirely about the characters and finding resolutions (and in Ben's case absolution) for them. It was also a love letter to everyone who stuck with Lost from the beginning.

The reward was not "answers", but callbacks. Symmetry, linking the finale to moments throughout the series and especially the pilot, right down to the last shot reversing the first shot of Lost.

Some of Lost's best episodes were the ones centered around Desmond and Penny's love story. For the finale, the love story was extended to everyone. I loved the way almost every character was awakened in the sideways universe by love and by finding their Island soulmate in the sideways.

I especially loved the juxtaposition of how on the Island, Jack is making the ultimate sacrifice by his newly accepted faith in his purpose, but sideways Jack was still the Man of Science, stubborn and resistant, the very last of the characters to accept Awakening..

I loved Jin and Sun Awakening and instantly remembering how to speak English, and then the amused looks on their faces when Detective James Ford, LAPD, came in to their room.

God, how great was it to have Juliet back? How happy was she to be back on Lost, away from Anna, Tyler, the Fifth fucking Column, and the godforsaken letter V? The Awakening of Juliet and Sawyer together was magical. (The mystery of "Who Is Sideways Jack's Wife?" was no mystery. It's Juliet. Moving on.)

Great to see Shannon and Boone again. Once he was Awakened, Sayid couldn't keep his paws off of Shannon. "Nadia? Who's Nadia? Look how hot Shannon is! I wanted to bang this girl for the two weeks I knew her until she died."

Even Smoke Locke's meta-dialogue echoed my contention that Jack was too obvious a choice. Hurley was the right choice. Having Hurley be the Island Protector, with dialogue from Ben to suggest that he did the job differently - and better than Jacob or his mother did - was the right call. And I don't need to know more than what we were provided for how that all panned out:

Hurley: "You were a great number two."
Ben: "You were a great number one."

I loved the choice of Hurley as the new Jacob, King of the Island. Because if there's one guy who would have spent the rest of his natural life asking all the "important" questions: "Dude, where'd the four toed statue come from? Dude, what's this temple for? Who built all this stuff and why?", it would have been the Island's resident sci-fi and comic book nerd. Ask Hurley all your questions. By the time he stepped into the white light with Libby, he probably had all the answers.

I loved that Ben couldn't go into the church, that he wasn't ready. He has the most to reconcile from his past, but he also has Rousseau and Alex in sideways, a do-over. And that one final Ben and Locke scene was joyous.

I also loved the explanation of the cuts on sideways Jack's neck and the gash in his side, from the knife fight atop the cliff with Smoke Locke, and how the Island reality was bleeding into the sideways reality literally.

Is there confusion? Why? It was very clear: Everything on the Island happened. The flashbacks happened. The flash forwards happened. The time travel happened. That was Lost, that was the show.

What we learned was the sideways reality wasn't sideways at all, it was a post-life do over for the characters, an idea (still with its flaws because people are flawed) of what could have been without the Island and Jacob, and the gateway to their actual reward for their losses, sacrifices, and their betterment, which was to be together with the people they loved.

So Lost bled into the sideways, which bled into the white light.
Did I like the idea of the white light and the stairway to Heaven? Eh. But I can accept it. I love the characters and that was their reward. It's cool. (But I loved the happy cast wrap party in the church. If I'd been there, I'd have been hanging out at craft services. That's what I do.)

This doesn't even scratch the surface, but yeah, I'm satisfied. More than satisfied, I loved it.

Damon Lindelof and Carleton Cuse told a great story for six seasons, serviced the characters all throughout, and gave them a worthy end. That's really what they owed us and they delivered.I'm going to miss these characters. I'm going to miss this show. We were lucky to have Lost for the last six years. Lucky that what happened, happened.

See you in another life.

P.S. No one can kill Frank Lapidus!

Saturday, May 22, 2010



"It's time to pound some Cunth!"


Naturally, when attempting to turn a series of Saturday Night Live skits into a 90 minute action comedy, the main concern is whether the joke can last more than the two minute length of the original skits.  MacGruber successfully stretches its jokes out to about a good 30 minutes. A third of MacGruber is really, really funny if you like dick jokes, cock jokes, suck your cock jokes, cunt(h) jokes, jokes about ripping throats, jokes about fucking ghosts, jokes about sticking celery up your ass, jokes about cutting dicks off and eating them, jokes about shitting in fountains, jokes about peeing on corpses, jokes about shitting on corpses, etc. (I like.)  MacGruber more than earns its hard R. The "action movie" part of MacGruber is less successful or interesting. There is never any doubt that MacGruber will eventually stop his arch enemy, the terrorist Dieter Von Cunth, from launching a nuclear missile at Washington DC. The action part of MacGruber's action comedy is really besides the point; it's just the clothesline to hang the aforementioned filthy jokes on. Will Forte, who wrote the screenplay with director Jorma Taccone (Hot Rod, which I loved) and John Solomon, is totally out there as MacGruber. Honestly, Mr. Forte, I never need to see your bare ass again - the audience never asked for that particular privilege but you more than gave us our money's worth. Ryan Phillipe was also very good as the capable solider and straight man reacting to MacGruber's incompetence and desperate sexual bargaining. I especially liked the human shield gag, and MacGruber spinning him around. (Don't need to see your bare ass ever again either, Mr. Phillipe.)  Val Kilmer's humor was comparatively more subtle as Dieter Von Cunth, but yes, I would like some potstickers and a Molson, being no stranger to substantial CostCo runs. I liked how the first five minutes of MacGruber had Powers Booth explaining MacGruber's awesome military achievements and then the rest of the movie completely goes against all that set up as we watch MacGruber fuck up again and again. Despite Will Forte, Kristin Wiig and Ryan Philippe hosting WWE Monday Night RAW a few weeks ago, I'd totally forgotten Chris Jericho, Kane, MVP, Mark Henry, and The Great Khali (all credited as such) were in MacGruber. There wasn't nearly enough of them, and they made a hilariously explosive exit from the movie reminiscent of Vince McMahon's "death" a couple of summers ago on RAW. But of the WWE guys, it was the Big Show and his liplocking who completely stole the show. MacGruber's all-1980's pop soundtrack is the jam and Blaupunkt couldn't have asked for better product placement.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (Män som hatar kvinnor)



IMDB says the alternate international title for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is "Millennium Part 1 - Men Who Hate Women." That title is apt. Based on the best selling novel by Stieg Larsson, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo might also be called "Sick Shit The Swedes Are Up To." Disgraced journalist Mikhail Blomkvist is hired by an old millionaire to solve the disappearance and possible murder of his niece 40 years ago. In the course of his investigation of the Vanger family, isolated on a forbidding frozen island in the northern part of Sweden, Blomkvist stumbles upon a lurid history of Nazism, ritual murder, serial killing, anti-Semitism, torture porn, rape, incest, and licorice. (I'm only kidding about the licorice.) Blomkvist is aided by mysterious, inked up, Doc Martin-wearing Goth hacker Lisbeth Salander, the titular Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, who's got her own problems. Boy, does she. Salander's own life story mirrors a lot of the sordid happenings of the main Vanger investigation; her subplot starts off pretty fucking twisted with physical assaults, sodomy, rape - all kinds of woman hating atrocities. Though an entertaining and well-made whodunit, the frankness of the pure evil from the men who hate women on display in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is genuinely unsettling. Hannibal Lecter wouldn't do some of the heinous stuff these evil Swedes perpetrate, and Jigsaw from Saw would cover his puppet's eyes at some of the depraved goings-on. The acting all around is very good.  Strong performances from the leads, Michael Nyqvist as Blomkvist and Noomi Rapace as Salander, make up for the film's glossing over the intricate character details in the novel. Julia Sporre as young Harriet Vanger in the flashbacks provides the beautiful blonde Swedish girl one goes into a movie like this expecting to see. 

The Office 6x25 - "The Whistleblower"

The IT guy (what was his name? Champ? Nick? Sport?) going off on the Dunder Mifflin crew was awesome. "You're not a photographer, you can't fit into a size 2, and he's the snitch!" Never piss off the IT guy. The IT guy knows everything in your work computer. He's the most dangerous person in the office.

Toby's mystery novel and his reaction to Jo's plot suggestion. "Write your own damn novel."

Kevin: "I'm a runner."

WOOF! From the mind of Ryan Howard, the guy who once wished his iPod could make phone calls but didn't want an iPhone.

I liked Michael signing for Pam to meet him in Meredith's van. "I weirdly know exactly what you mean."

Dwight buying Scranton Business Park (and threatening Hank with the loss of his chair and forcing him to stand guard like Buckingham Palace) has a world of hilarious possibilities.
But I think what I liked the most was the tease for Holly's return, and the tacit acknowledgment that Michael - and in effect the entire show - has been in a bit of a funk for a while. Michael - and I guess I also mean Steve Carell - just seems tired and largely going through the motions.

Whether or not next year is Steve Carell's final season as rumored, I hope this break finds The Office creative and cast refreshed and galvanized when they come back in September.


Parks and Recreation 2x25 - "Freddy Spaghetti"

Bittersweet finale considering how long we have to wait to go back to Pawnee. But maybe by the time we get back there, the government will be up and running again.

We reaffirmed how vital Leslie is and what a great character she has become this season. Michael Scott would never have the universal respect from co-workers for work ethic, loving the job, and caring about people Leslie Knope has.

I love how protective Ron is of Leslie, and the crazy bump he took on the grass when he ran to the park to warn her "They're coming!" They can't fire Leslie. I would have suggested giving Gerry a raise and a promotion and then firing him.

The good cop/bad cop dynamic between Rob Lowe and Adam Scott cracks me up every time.

I can't believe I'm actually going to miss Mark. I wouldn't have thought so before, but he had a very subtle and graceful exit. Plus he was a quiet voice of sanity. I guess Adam Scott is sliding into that role for however long he sticks around.

Tom playing Boys II Men "On Bended Knee" during sex is so perfect. As was Ron's bacon wrapped turkey leg and how impressed Tom's new girl was.

The tag at the end - Ron got it on with Tom's ex-wife! I almost missed it because of NBC's stupid timing issues where my DVR cuts off the tag every week.

April and Andy - they found a way to deny us the coupling we've been wanting all season, but still keep both completely lovable.

Andy: "There's an old saying in show business: The show must go wrong. Everything always goes wrong, and you just have to deal with it." Profoundly true. Certainly has been the case of every movie or video shoot I've ever been a part of.

I miss these people already. It's going to be a long however long until they're back on television.

I think maybe I'll eat a Swanson in the meantime.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Community 1x25 - "Pascal's Triangle Revisited"

Drama 101 to finish off the first season. For all of Community's numerous strong points, Jeff (and Joel McHale) as a romantic lead isn't one of them.


All of the call backs to characters and events from the first half of the season were great. Vaughn going to Delaware and being written out of the show. John Michael Higgin's "sieze the day" professor. Where were Jack Black and Anthony Michael Hall's bully?

So Britta and Professor Duncan have been conducting therapy sessions all year! "He'll make you talk all year long and then at the end tell you to get a makeover."

The rivalry between Duncan and Senor Chang was great. As was Senor Chang's shots at Britta about wearing too much lipstick: "Your mouth looked like a coin purse."
Pierce's Greendale song was back. Greendale's the way it goes. (Oh, Annie believes in me.) It took me forever to get "That's Just The Way It Is" out of my head the first time that episode aired.

The Dean's dalmatian fetish was weird. We need to find out more about it. Wait, no, we really, really don't.

I loved Britta telling off Slater at the Tranny Dance, hearing her name called, bragging, "Excuse me, I just won a contest for being hot", and then starting to make an acceptance speech as Tranny Queen only to find the Dean was just reading the names aloud.

Jeff and Britta. Jeff and Slater. Jeff and Annie. I cast my vote with John Michael Higgins: "Jeff, choose Britta." Annie deserves better.

Regardless, Troy and the giant cookie and the lesson he learned pwned the love quadrangle.

Troy: "There was an episode of Happy Days when someone actually jumped over a shark, AND IT WAS THE BEST ONE!"

Have a great summer, Greendale!

V 1x12 - "Red Sky"

I'm pretty sure when V returns for season 2 I won't be there. That finale sucked. Sucked the big one.

Among my many, many complaints, the most important one is that when that episode was produced, they did not yet have a renewal from ABC. Therefore, as far as the V producers knew, it was the series finale. And that's what they gave us? Not a single concrete answer of why the Visitors are on Earth.  

Instead Anna turns the sky red. Everyone behind Anna, as she has her "first human emotion", smirks, reflecting their trademark changes of heart. Apparently, everyone on the V ship with a speaking role is betraying Anna, has been for some time, or just figured out how to.

Father Jack's Big Purpose this whole season was to finally give a Poorly Written Homily that the old priest kept warning him not to give.

Erica, Tyler, Lisa and Anna had the most boring, contrived dinner party ever with almost everyone leaving the table in turn to conduct their Secret Clandestine Affairs. (What about who was left at the table while people were missing? How awkward was that small talk?)

And then the Lamest Ray Gun Battle in TV History. Ptew! Ptew! Until Erica shots Joshua dead, but no, he isn't.

Don't even get me started on Ryan's Baby with the Lizard Tail. 

I don't care about a single one of those characters. Not a one.

Now, I actually liked the episode two weeks ago when the Fifth Column blew up the V shuttlecraft, mainly because for once Anna wasn't just smugly planning something ineffable and making faces. She was actually taking action that saw her one step ahead of her enemies. In other words, someone on the show was behaving intelligently for once.

Because Erica Evans is a nothing-collection of simplistic motivations, Elizabeth Mitchell is, in a word, lost. She has nothing in terms of a character to play and has to wring what little she can from those dumb ass scripts. The four characters who make up the Fifth Column we see every week basically all share a single brain, and it's not much of a brain to speak of.

Since Mitchell's talent is basically hogtied, Morena Baccarin ends up head and shoulders above everyone else on the cast. She's like Terry Silver, the villain from Karate Kid III - she'll give you a serious look, then turn around and immediately smile and snicker to herself. I enjoy it. It's comical. She's the only actor who seems like she's enjoying herself. Everyone else is so grim, or glum, or sleeping while standing upright. 

Baccarin's emotional control as an actor, like when she announced the Vs were leaving because Lisa was "assaulted" last week, is really good (and she immediately turned around, smiled and snickered to herself.) Same this week when she freaked out after her soldiers were all killed.

But please, the writing is the first thing that has to be fixed in season 2. Those scripts are just terrible, beyond dumbed down for "the masses" that aren't watching V.

The Fifth Column (they're no longer the Resistance nor have they been for many episodes) somehow killed off all the Soldier newborns. The Soldiers, we are supposed to be shocked to learn, "are bred to kill humans". You know who else can kill humans? Any normal V. Why breed soliders? They didn't bring an army of Vs with them on all their ships? Well, I guess that explains why those ships are so empty all the time. All that wasted space.

That's what V is. A waste of space.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Lost 6x16 - "What They Died For"

Penultimate Lost. So, who else is feeling anxious about how this is all going to end?

I don't have a lot of jokes. Sawyer told the best one: "I thought that guy had a God complex before."

Last week's episode was important, I guess, for showing the ritual of how the Island Protector mantle gets passed from one sucker to another. Jacob did the same ritual his fake mother Allison Janney did for him, so I guess it's official that Jack is King of the Island. There goes my theory that it would be Sawyer in a swerve. Unless it's still Sawyer in a swerve on Sunday.

The dialogue about the Light at the Heart of the Island was a little frustrating.

"Beyond the bamboo field, over the ridge, is the Heart of the Island."
"There's nothing out there."
"No no, there is now. I mean, it was always there."
Uh huh.

I'm powerful confused about the time that has elapsed in the episodes before last week. Because apparently, from the time Ben, Richard, and Miles broke off from the Candidates to destroy the Ajira plane, they spent forever getting to the Barracks while the Candidates reunited with Smoke Locke, Sawyer lead the commandeering of Desmond's boat, Jack jumped off Desmond's boat, the Candidates went to Hydra, got captured, Locke came to Hydra with Jack, they got on the sub, Jin and Sun and Sayid died, and the rest of the Candidates survived and went off to run into Jacob while Widmore and Zoe went to the Barracks. So while ALL THAT was going on, Ben, Richard and Miles were just walking to the Barracks?

Widmore did plant the C4 on the plane, three steps ahead of Ben's crew, who never even made it to Hydra.

I did like all the killin' in the closet. So long, Zoe. Ben and Widmore still hate each other's guts. "He doesn't get to save his daughter." Is Richard dead? I hope not. Where did Miles go?

I don't know how satisfied Jack, Sawyer, Kate and Hurley must have felt from the answers they got while having their fireside chat with Jacob. Jacob was pretty vague. He never mentioned he and the Smoke Monster are brothers. I did like his answer to Kate about her name in the cave. "It's just chalk on a wall, Kate. The job's yours if you want it." She did not. Nor did Hurley. But Jack did. Which is why I still don't think he gets to keep the job. The Island Protector probably shouldn't want it.

Plus Desmond's on the loose. And now Widmore's dead without ever explaining why Desmond's resistance to electromagnetism is so important.

The Sideways universe was pretty awesome for all the Dr. Linus stuff, plus seeing Danielle Rousseau as a normal, un-crazy woman. I could go for some coq au vin right about now. They left Ben and Danielle is a weird, kind of flirtatious state.

Meanwhile, Sideways Jack finally gets to fix Sideways Locke so he can "let go." Locke must need glasses if he thinks Jack's son looks like him.

Sideways Desmond seriously creeps me out. I find his perpetual state of calm (unless he's beating the shit out of Dr. Linus) very unsettling. Something big's going down at the concert Miles is going to, which Desmond, Kate, Sayid, and Hurley will now be in attendance for. Where are the Kwons?

Waited this whole season for Ana Lucia to appear in the Sideways universe and it was like, oh, hey, there she is. Envelope full of money. Well, see ya.

It comes down to Ben and Jack, doesn't it? Jack is Jacob's boy now. Ben was promised the Island by Smoke Locke.

Sunday night, it's The End.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Robin Hood


Rise and Rise Again Until Lambs Become Lions


WHERE THE FUCK IS AZEEM?! Oh also, where's the Robin Hood movie? When you call your movie "Robin Hood", one naturally expects to see Robin Hood. And Azeem. But seriously, where's Robin Hood?

Now, shall I have a fit that Robin Hood barely qualifies as a Robin Hood movie, more of a "prequel" of sorts? Shall I cross my arms and stick my lower lip out in a pout that the tried-and-true tenets of Robin Hood movies are missing; that Robin Hood lacks the expected moments we've seen over and over in various iterations: No quarterstaff fight between Robin and Little John, no archery tournament, no Robin maneuvering in Nottingham incognito as a beggar, no hearty swashbuckling, no Robin Hood and Little John walkin' through the forest, oo-de-lally, oo-de-lally, golly, what a day. 

Should I take up arms over all of this? Nah, I don't care. I feel no umbrage. Robin Hood may not be Robin Hood, but it's a well-made, action-packed, historical epic by a master in fine form. Production design, costume design and special effects-wise, it's top notch. If you can find it within yourself to get past how Robin Hood is not a Robin Hood movie, there's quite a lot to enjoy. It also helps a lot if you happen to like the Crusades.

The main thing that becomes apparent in Robin Hood's first act is that even after releasing a three hour-plus Director's Cut on DVD, Sir Ridley Scott did not get the Crusades out of his system in Kingdom of Heaven. At the conclusion of Kingdom of Heaven, Orlando Bloom is living a quiet life in France after his Crusading days have ended, when King Richard the Lion Heart passes by and says hello on his way to the Holy Land. Robin Hood is a sequel of sorts, picking up 10 years later as Richard is making his way home to England from the Third Crusade (after up and quitting on retaking Jerusalem, I might add) via plundering France. (No mention is made of how Richard and King Phillip of France grew up "more than friends, closer than allies" and were flaming it up across Palestine.)  

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves ended with King Richard (played by Sean Connery) returned to England and his throne. Robin Hood: Men in Tights ended the same way, with Richard played by Patrick Stewart. In Robin Hood, the Lion Heart never makes it back at all.  According to Sir Ridley Scott and screenwriter Brian Helgeland's take on English history, Richard, played by Danny Huston, is killed by an arrow to the neck by a common French archer. Prior to that, we get to hang out with Richard the Lion Heart quite a bit for the first time I can recall in a movie. Not only is Richard a main character, even in death, he becomes sort of like Poochie, referenced constantly by his brother King John and their mother Eleanor of Aquitaine (never expected to see her in a movie). 

It's amusing to see how Robin Hood found ways to homage Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Matthew McFadyen plays the Sheriff of Nottingham (not even close to the main villain this time around) as an ineffectual stringy black-haired parody of the Sheriff Alan Rickman played. This Sheriff still hangs out with an old crone and still wants to stick his arrow in Maid Marion's quiver. Like in the last act of Prince of Thieves, Marion is nearly raped again (not by the Sheriff but by an evil Frenchman), only it's 2010 and Cate Blanchett's Marion can save herself and slay her would-be rapist, thank you very much. Duncan, the loyal blind servant of Lord Locksley and Kevin Costner's Robin Hood is absent here, but instead Max Von Sydow plays Sir Walter Loxley as a blind man at the end of his noble life. There's even a mop haired boy in the woods of Sherwood who bears more than a passing resemblance to that boy named Wolf in Prince of Thieves. (And yet, there's no Azeem approximation to be found...)

Russell Crowe's take on the Robin Hood character gives us Robin Longstride, an orphaned archer in King Richard's Crusader army. As Robin Hood tells the tale, Crowe's Robin was admired by King Richard for his honesty. The Lion Heart gives Robin an attaboy for being honest and telling his king they are all godless murderers for the atrocities they committed in the Holy Land. Then Richard put Robin and his Merry Men - Little John (Kevin Durand), Will Scarlett (Scott Grimes), and Alan A'Dayle (Alan Doyle), all amusing but underused and ultimately forgettable in their roles - in the stocks, because he's the king and he doesn't really want to hear shit like that from the men. When Richard takes the ol' arrow to the neck, Robin sees this as a sign to book it back to England while the gettin's good.

Crowe's Robin is ever the opportunist. Everything he does, he does it for himself, and then later for the people. But mainly himself. Chancing upon the murdered Sir Loxley, who was charged with returning King Richard's crown back to London, Robin and his Merry Men pose as knights and later find themselves in Nottingham so that Robin can return Loxley's sword to his father.  In events straight out of The Simpsons when the real Seymour Skinner returned to Springfield, blind old Sir Walter Loxley pulls an Agnes Skinner and accepts Robin (Tanzarian) as his ersatz prodigal son. He even pimps out Marion to him as his wife, for appearance's sake, of course.  Next thing Robin knows, he's pretending to be Sir Robert Loxley, prancing around the village as a nobleman and falling for Blanchett's liberated Marion. Robin spends his nights watching her disrobe in her chambers while he literally lies with the dogs. Later, when Marion shows up at the climactic battle decked out in full armor, Robin scolds her: "For God's sake, Marion!"

For all his gruff toughness and manly stoicism, Crowe's Robin is not all that interesting. The dynamic of Robin Hood being a nobleman born who fights for the underclasses is lost in Robin Hood. Instead we have a poor archer pretending to be a nobleman and very slowly forming his worldview about fairness, decency and the symbiosis of loyalty a king owes his subjects and vice versa. To kick off act three, Von Sydow sits Crowe down and explains to him All The Stuff He's Been Wanting to Know: that his father was a common stonecutter but also a visionary who foresaw an England where the people own their land and are subject to but not pawns of the King... complete with a document ensuring such freedoms, some kind of charter...

For its first half, Robin Hood is very much about what detrimental political effect the Crusades had on England. Later, the picture becomes about France at war with England. But what Robin Hood is really about, which made my jaw drop, is the Magna Carta!  I loved this. In fact, if Robin Hood were titled "The Magna Carta" and audiences went to see it and then discovered Robin Hood characters were in it, it might be less upsetting to people expecting a traditional Robin Hood movie. (But then, no summer audiences would flock to theaters to see "The Magna Carta".)

While Crowe's Robin is a bit of a bore, King John, played by Oscar Isaac, is by far the most entertaining character in Robin Hood. Fifteen years after Patrick McGoohan's magnificently evil king in Braveheart, there's now a worthy successor as best villainous British monarch in cinema.  Isaac plays John as a seething, petulant, egotistical teeth-grinder, ecstatic to be sole ruler of the realm with Richard's demise. John also has the best taste in ladies, kicking his dowdy English wife aside to marry the incredibly hot Isabella of Angoulême (Léa Seydoux. Lordy!) 

There's a terrific scene where King John meets with all of the noble lords about what an unjust king he is and steadfastly refuses to see things their way, until Robin shows up and provides reason enough for the King to acquiesce to his subjects' demands to sign a Magna Carta if they help him defeat the invading French. John is hilariously excited leading his men into war as Richard would have. ("It's my first war!") As Sir Ridley Scott would have it, Robin Hood and King John fought side by side to repel the French from England's shores, but when the French surrender to Robin and not John, John forgets his gratitude and freaks the fuck out in a jealous rage, burning the Magna Carta and telling all of his subjects to go fuck themselves. Fantastic. By the time King John declared Robin Hood "an outlaw!!" I was prepared to declare Isaac's King John the greatest evil British movie king since Braveheart's Longshanks. I'd want to see a Robin Hood sequel (you know, where it's actually a Robin Hood movie) just to watch King John (and Isabella) again.

Fulfilling Robin Hood's requirement for more traditional villainy, double crossing heavy Mark Strong is Godfrey, the boyhood friend of King John who agrees to sack the towns of Northern England pretending to collect taxes for John. He's really funneling it all to France to weaken England for King Phillip, paving the way for a French invasion of the British Isles. Strong does what dastardliness he can with what little character there is for him to play. He was much more fun last month when he was wondering why parents were throwing their children Kick-Ass parties.  

I wish I got to watch Robin Hood premiere in Cannes. Robin Hood is so pro-England and anti-France, Sir Ridley must have been snickering in his seat the whole time during the opening night screening. Some of the funniest lines talk down to France, like when William Hurt reveals that Mark Strong is working for France and declares "his army is French!" with all the bile he can muster. Later before the climactic battle, King John peers over the cliff at the arriving French army on his shores and quips, "That's a lot of French!"  In Robin Hood, there is no lack of unscrupulous Englishmen, including the King himself, but still, the worst thing you can be is a frog. Qu'est-ce que c'est?

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Office 6x24 - "The Chump"

Who knew Gabe had an office? I've been wondering for weeks where he actually sits and works at Dunder Mifflin. Kathy Bates doesn't think much of him for giving Jim's office to Darryl and making him work in a corner near Toby, Kelly, and Ryan.

Ryan gave me the biggest laugh when he saw Michael take what he wants, bolted out of his chair, told Erin to sleep with him, got shot down, and came back defeated.

Creed's one line was also great. "He don't give an F about nothin'!"  We haven't heard much from Creed all season but the last two episodes, his token lines have been showstoppers.

The season's over next week, I believe. I don't side at all with the people who think this was a horrible season overall, but I do believe that the second half of the season after the Christmas episode was not nearly as good as the first half, which had the wedding, the aforementioned Christmas episode, Scott's Tots, the end of Dunder Mifflin Corporate, Michael dating Pam's mom, etc. I thought that stuff was great.

When Sabre took over, The Office suddenly, confusingly felt like season 19 of The Simpsons. Almist overnight, the show felt exhausted and redundant. That's just what I think. Not that there wasn't good stuff in the second half, like when the sales staff were acting like assholes, but something felt off the last several episodes since the return after the Winter Olympics. Personally, I never recovered from resetting the paradigm and having Jim go back to being a salesman. The forward progression of events in the office halted.

At the end of the day, though, chin stroking analysis of a sitcom is pointless since the goal is to make people laugh. I still laugh a lot at The Office, I still like the characters a lot. Community and Parks and Recreation's freshness and creativity hit The Office hard and 30 Rock harder. But then, I have friends who only watch The Office on Thursday nights who tell me it's as funny as ever. Maybe it is, but I'm just looking elsewhere for new laughs.

Parks and Recreation 2x24 - "The Master Plan"

Is there a non-gay way I can ask Adam Scott to go camping with me?

Andy's intentions were never as 100% clear as they were last night. I feel like it would be in April's character to force the camera man to show her the footage of Andy singing the November song, if she knew such footage existed. But like The Office camera people, those documentary filmmakers have hearts of stone.

Jean-Ralphio is always welcome. "That Ralph Macchio guy's a douche." But what a heartwarming story of how he stood outside the house of the woman he wanted to drill.

I will miss these people the most over the summer.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Community 1x23 - "English as a Second Language"

They really took the piss out of Good Will Hunting. Fantastic. Good Will Hunting's had it coming for 13 years. And shockingly, no one hugged Annie and whispered "It's not your fault!" over and over.

The joke of the nature sounds - "And here come the crickets!" - just amazing.

It was nice to see Jeff in command of The Group again. "Does anyone know how to study?"

I thought the paint gun war would have been the ideal season finale, but there was still work to be done to set up season 2. Anthropology in place of Spanish class. Senor Chang joining them as a student.

I also feel the same way about Avatar as Britta and know when to shut up when everyone else in the world voices how much they love it in unison.

I would have to say that except for Arrested Development, Community had the best season one of a sitcom I've personally ever seen.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Lost 6x15 - "Across the Sea"

I can sum up this episode in one word: midi-chloreans.

Once upon a time, Jacob and his nameless twin brother were a couple of bad child actors. They were born to a hot Spanish lady who shipwrecked on the Island and had the misfortune of running into creepy Island witch Allison Janney. Similar to how Luke and Leia were born, the hot Spanish lady popped out Jacob and named him thus, and then popped out a second baby... and then died. Only she didn't get to name the second baby, and in Revenge of the Sith the medical droid didn't say "I'm sorry" and crack Padme's skull with a rock.

Actually, I feel like Allison Janney spoke the Man in Black's name after he stabbed her and before she thanked him, but I couldn't hear it even after a couple of playbacks. I'm sure the Internets will provide it soon enough if she did.

I'm trying to think of what in this episode worked for me and I'm coming up pretty empty. A lot of stuff distracted me: like how when they became adults both Jacob and the Man in Black must have visited the Island stylists to get their modern haircuts, even when they had the more period-appropriate long hair as children. Or how the "Others" on the Island who were on the same ship as Jacob's mother spent 43 years on the Island and never, ever encountered Allison Janney or found her cave, even though she and Jacob often spied on them, usually out in the open.

I thought Allison Janney was also secretly a smoke monster, but I guess she wasn't. So how the fuck did she alone bury the wells dug to find the electromagnetic energy and then burn the "barracks" and kill all of the "Others"? I guess she really must have been a witch.

These seem like petty complaints but what tends to happen when you're not entertained by a movie or television is you start to ask questions and pulling at the seams. For the ante-penultimate episode of Lost, not being entertained - especially by an hour-long download of Island mythology and backstory - was really the last thing I expected. But now we definitively know who "Adam and Eve" really are, so that's something.

Actually, I liked that Jacob was the neglected brother and the Boy in Black was Allison Janney's favorite son, the "special" one she handpicked to be the Island protector. I liked Jacob telling her that she wanted her favorite to be the protector and now she's turning to Jacob because he's all she has left.

I also liked the Boy in Black's line to Jacob about the rules of backgammon and how Jacob can always make up his own game and make up his own rules. It would have been better for the lives of countless people in the future if Jacob was just allowed to cheat at backgammon as a boy.

So it was The Man in Black who built the wheel beneath the Island and who somehow knew via the extremely forward-thinking wise men amongst the "Others" he lived with for 30 years that he could leave the Island by turning the wheel. I wonder if the Smoke Monster ever learned from Jacob or anyone else who actually turned the wheel in all the years since that it magically transports to Tunisia? Not that the Smoke Monster would know where and what Tunisia is.

Wacky theory number one - and this is conjectured entirely by the actors' hair color (and the fact that season one Jack had the exact same haircut as the Man in Black) - even though Sayid said "It's going to be you, Jack" before he took an armful of C4 and Arzted it up, that was all a ruse and it will be Sawyer who becomes the new Jacob when it's all said and done.

Wacky theory number two - the light inside Marcellus Wallace's briefcase in Pulp Fiction is actually from that magic cave on the Island that we'd never, ever heard about before now.

The Thinker

If Rodin were alive, he'd scrap "The Thinker" and re-sculpt it as Batista.

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A bump only Batista could bump.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Iron Man 2: The IMAX Experience



In Iron Man 2, the party started in the first Iron Man two years ago continues with gusto. Robert Downey, Jr. is once again front and center as comic book cinema's most lovable rogue Tony Stark. He not only doesn't miss a beat, he finds a couple of new steps (just not 12 steps). After shocking the world with his proclamation that he is Iron Man, the sequel picks up right where the original left off, then rockets six months into the future, with Stark reveling in the adulation of the masses and then succumbing to his personal demons and excesses as new enemies align against him at home and abroad. 

Director Jon Favreau and screenwriter Justin Theroux throw just about everything they can think of into Iron Man 2. They say you can't have too much of a good thing; Iron Man 2 tests that old adage. There's more of everything this time around - more action, more characters, and a lot more movie. Except for Jeff Bridges' evil Obediah Stane, just about everyone from Iron Man is back for the sequel, including Stark's cuddly helper robots, Paul Bettany as Jarvis, the artificial intelligence of Stark's Malibu mansion, Clark Gregg as SHIELD agent Coulson, and even Leslie Bibb as the ballbusting reporter Stark slept with in the first movie. (Stan Lee gets his obligatory cameo, this time as Larry King of all people.) Though bloated at the seams with copious helpings of plot and character back stories, Iron Man 2 still delivers all the heavy metal Marvel mayhem you could want - you just have to wait a little bit longer for most of it.

Gwyneth Paltrow's long-suffering Girl Friday Pepper Potts is now CEO of Stark International. We get it: It's tough to be Pepper Potts! Wrangling Tony Stark and keeping him from killing himself, destroying his company, and/or both is a full time job in and of itself. Paltrow again plays a terrific straight woman to Downey, which requires her to maintain a stern frowny pout and tsk tsk disapprove while Downey runs amok, all the while still selling to the audience that she loves and cares for this guy. Fortunately, Stark only has eyes for Pepper; well, mostly, unless his new assistant is in the room, but that's just Tony being Tony.

In Iron Man, we all remember James Rhodes gazing wishfully at the silver War Machine armor and saying "Next time, baby". Little did we know then that when next time rolled around, it wouldn't be Terrence Howard donning the armor as James "Rhodey" Rhodes. Don Cheadle nicely stepped into the role and, except for some amusing meta dialogue when he enters the movie ("I'm here. Deal with it."), Cheadle quickly makes the audience forget there was another Rhodey. Cheadle, like Paltrow, spends most of the movie exasperated by Stark. Even after their armored mano e mano slugfest and Rhodes betraying Stark by taking off with the War Machine armor and turning it over to the US Government, it never even occurs to Stark to hold a grudge. When Cheadle gets in on the action, fighting side by side with Iron Man as War Machine, Iron Man 2 really rocks. It's the ultimate show of boys with toys.

Even with Mickey Rourke as Ivan Vanko (aka Whiplash, but the movie doesn't call him that) and Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer, it still turned out to be tougher than expected to replace Jeff Bridges as Iron Man's new arch villain. Rourke provides both brawn and brains as a tattooed, monosyllabic (unless you speak Russian) brute who's also a genius nuclear physicist. Rockwell is more entertaining as Stark's business nemesis Justin Hammer, an odious slickster with a motormouth, a lot of money, and a fondness for weapons, but no talent for technology. Neither ever seem quite up to taking down Tony Stark, even when they join forces. Rockwell turned out to be the one completely out of his depth while Rourke, sporting an armored suit of his own with his specially designed laser whips, couldn't hang with being double teamed by Iron Man and War Machine. Stark and Rhodey beat Vanko awfully fast with their combined repulsors-into-a-blastwave move, but using their best tactic up front was foreshadowed by Iron Man using his spinning laser trick to wipe out Vanko's Iron Drones and War Machine urging him to "lead with that next time!"

Even though Scarlett Johannson has two names in Iron Man 2, curiously, neither of them is "Black Widow". Johannson is absolutely smashing to look at as SHIELD agent Natasha Romanov, working undercover as Tony Stark's new assistant under the name Natalie Rushman, and she fills out Black Widow's black spandex groin-grabbingly well. Johannson has the requisite sexual tension with Downey that never goes anywhere, nor does her fleeting professional rivalry with Paltrow. (One of the funny lines, after Johannson and Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan both side with Paltrow as CEO of Stark International, is Downey quipping, "So I lost both kids in the divorce?")  

Eye candy and her one ass-kicking fight scene aside, when you think about it, Johannson's character is completely superfluous. We don't learn much about her, don't really develop any empathy for her, and she doesn't really do much in the movie. If Natasha Romanov/Natalie Pushman was cut out of Iron Man 2 entirely, it wouldn't hurt the story at all. Johannson's one major plot point is breaking into Hammer Industries in act three and reprogramming the War Machine suit so that Cheadle is back in control of it, but that could have been accomplished a number of different ways if Johannson's character didn't exist. In fact, why did Johannson stop at reprogramming War Machine? Why didn't she also reprogram Rourke's Iron Drones to not try to kill Stark and Rhodes, instead of just watching all the action on TV? Seems like Black Widow really dropped the ball there.

We only saw a few fleeting seconds of Samuel L.Jackson as Nick Fury in a tag at the end of Iron Man's credits, but in Iron Man 2, Nick Fury is positively ready for his close up. No one seems more impatient for the Avengers movie than Sam Jackson, who revels in his expanded screen time. I loved the scene in Randy's Donuts where Stark, Fury, and Romanov are all sitting in a booth chatting away while wearing their costumes. I got even more geeky joy out of that than from all the scenes of Iron Man and War Machine blowing up Iron Drones.

With the origin story out of the way, Favreau and Theroux have their work cut out for them in not only deepening the story of Iron Man and his universe but laying the necessary groundwork for the larger Marvel Movie Universe and the sequels to come in 2011 and 2012. Not only do Iron Man 2's credits end with a shot of the Mighty Thor's hammer Mjolnir, but a prototype of Captain America's shield is put to an amusing practical use in Stark's lab. (The lack of reference to Edward Norton and his Incredible Hulk does make one wonder what the Hulk's status is going forward.) There is a lot of ground Iron Man 2 has to cover in its two hours, to the disservice of the narrative as a whole.

After Vanko nearly kills Stark with his laser whips in Monaco, Iron Man 2 greatly meanders in its second act. Essentially what happens is Stark goes off into a corner to figure out how to keep his arc reactor from killing him and ponder what his father Howard Stark (John Slattery with a welcome cameo) is trying to tell him from beyond the grave. Meanwhile, Hammer and Vanko commiserate in trying to get Hammer's Iron Drones up and running, and they don't get along. Meanwhile, Pepper has to explain away Stark's behavior and keep his company running. Meanwhile, Rhodes has to explain away Stark's behavior and keep the government from taking his armor.  Meanwhile, Stark gets hammered at his birthday party, pees in his suit, and blows up half his house, then gets put by SHIELD in the most incompetent form of house arrest ever where Stark leaves and comes back without SHIELD batting an eye. Meanwhile, while all those meanwhiles are going on, there's not a lot of action happening until the big showdown at Stark Expo at the end.

Comedy was abundant: The funniest scene of Iron Man 2 is Stark grandstanding in front of a Congressional hearing chaired by puffy-faced Senator Garry Shandling, hacking into Justin Hammer's video presentation, and rolling out of there scot free while Shandling curses "Fuck you, Mr. Stark!" Since the Tony Stark character was originally modeled after Howard Hughes, it's a hilarious parody of when Hughes was forced to defend himself against charges of war profiteering in front of Congress (as seen in Martin Scorsese's The Aviator). Shandling gets a little revenge on that "prick" Stark in the end, even while he's being humiliated by honoring the guy he hates most.

Of all the action scenes involving Iron Man, War Machine, Whiplash, Iron Drones, and Black Widow, the funniest action scene - Jon Favreau's prolonged fistfight against one of Hammer's security guards - was also the best simply because it was the only fight that was realistic. The expanded role Favreau gave himself is one of Iron Man 2's highlights. I also adored the "fuck with the audience" reveal of Justin Hammer's super weapon, "The Ex-Wife", where Hammer launched into a monologue about its destructive potential and when fired by War Machine, it was a total dud that bounced harmlessly off Rourke's armor. Brilliant.

As charming and fun as Downey plays Stark, the most interesting aspect of the man who is Iron Man is that for most of the movie, he's dying. Stark doesn't just worship at the altar of technology, he's the deity of technology in the Marvel Movie Universe, and the technology that keeps him alive - that glowing arc reactor in his chest - is also killing him. Stark's devil-may-care behavior towards his march towards oblivion brings out the worst aspects of his character, including a riff on the famous "Demon in a Bottle" comic book storyline about Stark's alcoholism. Ultimately, I'm glad Favreau chose to touch upon "Demon in a Bottle" but not go down that road. Tony Stark destroying his life because of alcoholism would be a downer of a summer movie. Iron Man works best when Tony Stark is upbeat, soaring the skies, and, with his rakish glee, making the audience believe that anything is possible with technology.

Iron Man 2 is genuine entertainment. Iron Man and Iron Man 2 together create the most enjoyable comic book movie universe for an audience to spend time in. It's always a sheer pleasure to hang with Tony Stark and his peeps. They're such fun characters in an inviting, exciting universe. Even after the Avengers Assemble, I sure hope we get another chance to get armored up with Iron Man. There just ain't no party like a Tony Stark party.

Iron Man Returns


Reader Jayne Cobb chimed in with his opposing views on Iron Man 2. An excellent, thought-provoking critique discussing his problems with Iron Man 2 in detail. I still liked Iron Man 2 and was very entertained by it, but when Jayne Cobb is right, he's right.


I didn't care for Iron Man 2.  There.  I said it.  I thought long and hard about it for a day, but that's the bottom line.  I didn't hate Iron Man 2.  It's not Ghost Rider, or one of the Fantastic Four movies, or Daredevil or Elektra or Wolverine (man, Marvel sure can make a shitty movie when it wants).  What I really mean by "I didn't care for Iron Man 2" is that I didn't care about Iron Man 2.  I didn't care about any of the characters or any of the events that took place in the movie.  Ultimately, it felt like I paid $15 (damn faux-IMAX fee) to see a two hour trailer for The Avengers, and at the end of the day I wasn't sure I wanted to see The Avengers.  Allow me to elaborate.

Let's start with the Main (Iron) Man himself, Tony Stark.  In the original Iron Man, we were introduced to a playboy war profiteer with little regard for the consequences of his actions.  He enjoyed being smarter and richer than everyone else and it never occurred to him that just because one can do something doesn't mean one should do something.  He is then knocked off his pedestal, confronted with the ramifications of being a manufacturer of weapons of mass destruction, and dedicates his second chance at life to righting his past wrongs and bringing peace to the world.  That is a character arc.  

In Iron Man 2, Tony is once again a self-obsessed a-hole who seems to have learned nothing from his experiences in Iron Man.  What has changed is that Tony is dying.  He is constantly checking the toxicity level in his blood.  Jarvis makes it clear that his continued use of the Iron Man suit is accelerating this problem.  Now that would be compelling if Tony was turning a blind eye to the harm he was doing himself because he could not turn his back on all of the good he was doing as Iron Man; but in two hours we did not see a single proactive thing Iron Man did for the benefit of humanity.  Iron Man was either showing off at the Stark Expo, partying down, fighting his best friend, or fighting the villains who only existed to destroy him (more on that point later).  Tony tells us that he privatized world peace, but we never actually see that.  We just see the drunken billionaire playboy who would rather drive fast cars and piss in his super suit than deal with actual problems, either in the world or in his chest.  I have no problem with Tony Stark enjoying being Iron Man; but he should ultimately be a hero, not a jackass.

Pepper Potts?  First off, Bill O'Reilly was right.  Who the fuck makes their personal assistant CEO of a multi-national, multi-billion dollar company?  What would happen if Steve Jobs made his personal assistant CEO of Apple?  First, the stock would drop through the floor.  Second, the board of directors would stop him.  It was established in Iron Man that the board of directors of Stark Industries can disempower Tony when he behaves erratically, and making Pepper CEO was way more erratic than anything he did in Iron Man.  Second, I think the film missed an opportunity by keeping Pepper in the dark about Tony's medical condition.  She could have shown some real emotion watching the man she loves slowly (actually, not that slowly) kill himself.  Instead, she just (understandably) was mortified by Tony driving in a grand prix and drunkenly pissing in his suit.

Now let me turn to our three new characters.  In doing so, I'm going to draw heavily on a certain super hero sequel that we all know and love which also introduced three strikingly similar new characters: Batman Returns.  I do so because Batman Returns gave us three well-developed characters with clear back-stories and motivations that allowed me to relate to those characters and care about what they were doing.  In Iron Man 2, none of that held true.

First, we have Justin Hammer, the Max Shreck of our tale.  Just as Max was the evil billionaire counterpart to Bruce Wayne, so too was Hammer the billionaire counterpart to Stark.  I must say that Sam Rockwell did a fine job with what he had to work with.  I understood that he was playing a man who was trying to be Tony Stark but due to his own lack of skills could not pull it off.  As a great man once said, however, just because I don't care doesn't mean I don't understand.

The key difference between Hammer and Shreck was that Shreck's agenda was completely divorced from Batman/Bruce Wayne.  If Batman/Bruce didn't exist, Shreck would still have wanted to build his power capacitor.  It was his legacy, what he left behind, for Chip.  Thus, Gotham was fortunate to have Batman to stop Max's villainous plans.  (Although, in retrospect, I'm not sure why it would have been such a bad thing for Max to have succeeded.)  In contrast, if Iron Man didn't exist to give Hammer something to compete with, he would have been content to continue to make his crappy guns and defective Ex-Wives.  And, ultimately, what did Hammer do to warrant getting arrested?  He didn't steal the Iron Man armor; the U.S. government gave it to him.  Sure he built killer drones, but that is what the government wanted.  Sure the drones went evil, but he had nothing to do with that.  OK, maybe he broke Whiplash out of prison, but really, what's the big deal?  It's not like he recruited Whiplash to run for mayor.  I just didn't care.

Which brings us to Whiplash.  Once again, this villain exists only because of a personal blood feud with Tony Stark.  Contrast this with Oswald Cobblepot.  Both Vanko and Cobblepot were set up as mirror images to their respective heroes.  Vanko and Stark both the sons of brilliant physicists, Wayne and Cobblepot both the sons of Gotham's privileged elite.  While Wayne and Stark became wildly successful playboys who fight crime in super suits, Vanko and Cobblepot were outcasts living in the shadows.  Cobblepot, however, was not driven by a need to seek revenge against Bruce Wayne.  Like Shreck, had Bruce Wayne not existed Cobblepot would have had the same villainous plan.  Once again, Gotham was luck to have Batman to stop him; and unlike Max's benevolent gift of a power plant, it's pretty clear that it would not have been a good thing if Oswald had succeeded in killing off all of Gotham's first born children.  

On the other hand, if Tony had never become Iron Man, Vanko would have continued to live in poverty in Russian never causing the world any harm.  The other key difference between Cobblepot and Vanko is that the former was legitimately wronged; his parents dumped his deformed ass into a freakin' sewer.  Early on in Iron Man 2, we are led to believe that Vanko too was wronged; that Howard Stark had stolen his father's technology and (metaphorically) dumped the Vanko's in a sewer while becoming a billionaire.  That would have made Ivan a bit more identifiable.  Nick Fury, however, made it perfectly clear that Vanko Senior was a traitor and a failure and that the shinning pillar that was Howard Stark acted completely honorably in having Vanko deported while founding S.H.I.E.L.D.  So much for moral ambiguities.

And finally we have the woman who shall not be called The Black Widow.  So what was her deal?  Where did she come from?  Why and how did she join S.H.I.E.L.D.?  What kind of missions did she have in the past?  I'll assume that the entire bio that Stark pulled up on her was forged by S.H.I.E.L.D. to get her close to Tony, so none of that was true (they probably even photoshopped her modeling portfolio, those bastards).  I won't even bother comparing her to the full character arc of Selina Kyle, whom we get to see transform into Catwoman and are easily able to identify with her clear motive in Batman Returns: kill Max Shreck.  Sure, the row of 13-year-old boys behind me flipped out at her one action scene -- and I'll admit she wasn't hard on the eyes -- but, once again, I just didn't care about her "character."

There was actually a pretty interesting intellectual question underlying Iron Man 2: what does it mean to have one man privatize world peace?  Is it a good thing that the Iron Man tech remains in one man's hands?  What happens when that one man is a self-destructive narcissist who is slowly dying?  To his credit, Rhodey seemed to grasp this ("You don't deserve to wear one of these!"), and to the extent there was a character I could relate to in the movie, it was Rhodes.  But the film was not set up to embrace and fully explore that theme.  Had the villain been an independent threat to the world (and not just to Iron Man himself) that Tony could not defeat alone because the same tech that made Iron Man possible was killing him, we could have explored that theme.  But, alas, that was not the case.

Actually, the one character I did like was John Slattery as Howard Stark as Walt Disney.  But it's probably not a good thing that the character I liked the most only appeared in old film reels promoting the Stark Epcot . . . I mean Expo.  But even then, let's look at Howard's function in the film.  He bestows upon Tony the model of the Expo that is an encoded key to the element that will allow him to survive.  First off, what the fuck were the odds that that model was going to survive several decades so that it would be of any use to Tony?  Second, what were the odds that this mystery element would be just what the doctor ordered to safely power the arc rector in Tony's chest that was keeping him alive?  Third, does that element have any other functions?  Will it somehow revolutionize the world?  If so, how?  I also kept waiting for them to call the element vibrainium, but I guess the prototype Cap Shield was all we were going to get on that front.  The whole thing just came off as way too much of a deus ex machina.

At the end of the movie, Senator Garry Shandling pins medals on the chests of Stark and Rhodes, and all I could think was, what the hell did they do to deserve those medals?  Much like the Fantastic Four, all they did for two hours was create their own messes and then clean them up.  When all was said and done, I had no reason to believe that the world was better for having Iron Man in it.  To the contrary, all of the mayhem, chaos and death in Iron Man 2 would not have happened had Tony Stark been killed in Afghanistan.  

Leaving the theater I thought about the other "second" Batman movie, The Dark Knight Iron Man and The Dark Knight were both critical and financial successes when they were both released, in 2008.  Two years ago.  The Dark Knight was actually far more successful, both critically and financially, than Iron Man, but we won't be sitting down to watch its sequel this summer, or even next summer.  Warner Brothers is allowing a full four years to pass between Batflims because they want to get it right.  In stark contrast (pun intended), Marvel put out Iron Man 2 in half that time, and the whole thing felt rushed; like it was more important to get this movie in theaters to make some money and set up The Avengers than to make a fully-developed Iron Man movie that stands on its own.  That's just a shame.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

WWE NXT #11 5/4/10

I could have DIED laughing when The Miz admonished Daniel Bryan for failing the obstacle course: "You don't use INJURIES as an excuse, EVER!"

Michael Tarver and Daniel Bryan, the two guys who nominated themselves for elimination next week (Tarver was kidding but everyone believed him, to his chagrin), were tossed in the ring against each other. And then it turns out Michael Tarver vs. Daniel Bryan was BY FAR the best match between two Rookies we've ever seen on NXT. That was a terrific NXT match. They fucked each other up. After I saw that match, I don't think either man should be eliminated.

Tarver actually seemed like a new man. Michael Cole and Josh Mathews even brought up how suddenly motivated he seems. When motivated Tarver is actually a really good heel, and he seems to have ability. He also has the best T-shirts on NXT. That has to count for something in the Pros Poll.

Can we all agree by now that David Otunga is the most worthless in-ring wrestler that has graced a WWE ring in many a moon? He is absolutely terrible. Just by his wrestling, Otunga deserves serious consideration for elimination. The guy can't wrestle. His gimmick is arguably the best of the NXT Rookies but should that be enough to save him from elimination when he's such a piss poor wrestler?

That looked to me like a real fight at the end between Wade Barrett and Darren Young. When they went at it, I thought to myself, "Wade Barrett is gonna kill this guy!" That seemed to be the referees' opinion as well as they piled on top of Barrett to stop him instead of Young.

Honestly, I'm not sure who they should eliminate. I can make a case for everybody except Heath Slater, Justin Gabriel, and Barrett (who quit the challenge this week, a big no no).

My gut says Bryan is out - but whether or not that occurs will indicate to me whether NXT eliminations are shoots (like the challenges seem to be) or part of the work like the rest of the show is.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Lost 6x14 - "The Candidate"

I can't believe it. I can't believe they did that.

They killed Frank Lapidus!

Oh, and Jin and Sun! What the fuck?! I was kind of in shellshock when that sub went down with the Kwons still on it. I'm glad they gave Jack, Kate and Hurley a moment to react to the loss of Jin and Sun, at least. It's gonna be a while until I'm okay with Jin and Sun's deaths. Ji Yeon is an orphan now. Sun's father is still alive, right? Her parents left her alone in a world where the Korean Devil can still find her and raise her.

The writing was on the wall - or more like the bulkhead was in Frank's face - when the plan shifted and they boarded the sub instead of the Ajira plane. Suddenly, they didn't need a pilot anymore.

Oh shit, I forgot, they killed Sayid too! But Sayid's really been sort of dead for most of the season. Sayid was the weirdest case the whole episode - half Zombie Sayid but still kind of like the old Sayid, especially in the noble sacrifice at the end. "It's going to be you, Jack." Seems to be too blatant a declaration that Jack is the new Jacob. There has to be misdirection there. Also, Sayid told Jack that Desmond still in the well, which means he found enough of his humanity not to execute Desmond but he still left him down there.

The foreshadowing was pretty obvious when Smoke Locke switched the backpacks, and Jack figured out Smoke Locke's plan and spelled it out for everyone a little too late.

So we're clear now, no more ambiguity: Smoke Locke is the bad guy. He was never to be trusted. He's the enemy. Sawyer's instincts served him well in regards to Smoke Locke - just not when a bomb was in front of him that Jack pleaded with him not to diffuse. That pesky free will screwed everything up again.

When the bomb was revealed on the sub, the following theory hit me, that pretty much turned out to be false but hear me out anyway: I thought they were all going to die. Furthermore, I thought once they all died, the endgame of Lost would be somehow for the sideways version of the characters to replace them in the Island reality.

Meanwhile on Not Lost, Jack's bedside manner is worlds better than it was on Lost. We got the explanation of how Locke lost the use of his legs; a plane crash he caused that turned Anthony Cooper into a drooling vegetable not unlike what Captain Pike looked like in the original Star Trek, only minus the space wheelchair that blinks one for yes and two for no. Jack even got a hug and a kiss from Peggy Bundy. And Claire continued to accept any invitation she is offered, this time to stay with Jack, the only family she has in LA, it turns out.

I like that everyone on Oceanic 815 is keenly aware of how bizarre it is so many people from that plane keep bumping into each other in LA. I also liked Bernard accusing Jack of flirting with Rose, on an episode when Jin and Sun basically became Jack and Rose Kwon. (But their hearts will go on and on...)

Here's a question: The bombs on the Ajira plane - did Widmore plant those? I don't think he did. I think Smoke Locke thinks it was Widmore and lied/bullshitted the story to everyone that Widmore wanted them all dead. Smoke Locke didn't know about Richard, Miles, and Ben. I'd have to guess Richard, Miles and Ben planted the bombs on the plane, since that was their objective when we last saw them and we haven't seen them since. So where the hell are those three?

Oh, and one episode removed from my pointing out Kate has never been shot or wounded on Lost - BLAM! Kate gets shot! That was my personal biggest Holy Shit! moment.

Doctor's Note

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