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Thursday, May 31, 2012

John Carter



The most bizarre yet delightful surprise about John Carter, for one who has never had interest in reading the novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs and knew next to nothing about these stories but does love television programs on HBO, is that in the movie, Mars is in the grip of a civil war between the cast of Rome and McNulty from The Wire. The two main Martian cities are helpfully color coded to tell good from evil. The good blue side is led by Ciaran Hinds and James Purefoy, both essentially playing Martian versions of Gaius Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. Opposing them in evil red is Dominic West, in another iteration of the grimacing villains he plays in movies. He was pretty much an identical heavy in 300. West doesn't have Bunk, Lester, Kima, or Herc from Baltimore with him, but Polly Walker from Rome jumped loyalties and is on West's side. You just can't trust Atia of the Julii.

If John Carter had just stayed focused on these HBO series actors, that would have been terrific. Alas, John Carter has to be about John Carter. Standing with good HBO against evil HBO is Tim Riggins from Friday Night Lights. Riggins - sorry, Taylor Kitsch - is an ornery young civil war captain who gets teleported to Mars by a mysterious blue light. The power of the blue light, which can provide trans-world teleportation or be used to shoot lightning from your hands, is coveted on Mars. John Carter discovers that on Mars, Earthlings are stronger and can leap miles into the air like the Incredible Hulk (but are no more intelligent, notes Mark Strong, an evil ghost-like servant of some ill-defined goddess, pulling the strings to keep Mars at war). Also, Mars isn't called Mars on Mars. It's called Barsoom, and the Martians - sorry, Barsoomians - have their own names for all the planets in our solar system that have nothing to do with Greek or Roman gods once worshipped on Earth.

Stripped down to a rags and tatters He-Man look, John Carter is knocked around a lot and endures pile-ons by every Martian he meets, be they humanoid "red people" or the 12 foot tall green praying mantis-looking barbarians he ends up spending most of his time with. They even give him an ugly, slobbering, but loyal Martian dog that runs with super speed. Carter befriends their leader, Tars Tarkas, voiced by Willem Dafoe, who ends up overthrown and imprisoned to fight in an Attack of the Clones-like gladiator arena with John Carter for being his friend. I confess I could not learn any of the other Martian names. Normally, I'm good at this stuff, but it all sounded like gibberish. Nor could I tell exactly what everyone was talking about and what it was in particular they wanted.

What the main Martian girl in the movie, Lynn Collins, doesn't want is to marry the evil West to bring "peace" to Barsoom. Collins plays A Princess of Mars, who's also some kind of Martian super scientist and more prone to spouting pseudo-scientific gibberish than the other Martians. She's pretty buff, but frankly, she's a bit of a pill. John Carter falls in love with her, of course. The movie doesn't give him any other options for women who aren't green monsters. This is in the Star Wars tradition. John Carter finally decides going back to his "cave full of gold" on Earth is less important to him than fighting for Barsoom. Thus he leads a rebellion to stop a royal wedding, just like when Flash led the Hawkmen to stop Dale Arden from marrying Ming the Merciless in Flash Gordon.

It should be noted the "John Carter of Mars" books are the pulpy predecessors of just about every space opera tale of the 20th century, but it did John Carter no favors to arrive long after the movies it inspired have made indelible impressions on pop culture. As John Carter, Kitsch is gung ho yet seems out of his depth as a classic pulp adventure hero. Still, he means well. Gazing across the dusty, windswept vista of Mars, it's at first unclear if John Carter really wants to stay or leave. In the end, as he must, John Carter of Mars chooses Barsoom forever. 

Monday, May 28, 2012

Chernobyl Diaries



Like the movie title The Neverending Story, I can think of at least one thing wrong with the title Chernobyl Diaries: no one in the movie keeps a diary, about Chernobyl or otherwise. That's like if no one in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants wore traveling pants. Chernobyl Diaries, from the producers of the smash phenomenon Paranormal Activity, outdoes Paranormal Activity in setting its stock horror tale in an eerie, haunting real place in the real world. Set in the abandoned ghost city of Pripyat, a stone's throw from the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant, Chernobyl Diaries makes effective use of its location. It's a shame the horror the movie inflicts on its half-dozen thrill seeking youngsters on an "extreme" vacation in Russia doesn't live up to the potential of the location. Two brothers, two girls, and an English couple ignore warnings and good sense in order to explore the ruins of Pripyat under the aegis of their burly Russian tour guide (the most interesting guy in the whole picture). When the wires of their guide's van are cut, they are remarkably slow on the uptake that a bear didn't sabotage their vehicle. Soon they are attacked, in a confusing, illogical manner, first by radioactive dogs, and then by bald, radioactive Russian vampire-types, a whole civilization of which seems to live in the irradiated shell of the Chernobyl plant. Despite vastly outnumbering the tourists, the radioactive Russians still play horror movie games like sending out a little girl (with hair) to distract them so they can kidnap them from the shadows. A cat and mouse chase that leads directly into the still-hazardous nuclear reactor provides some ghastly consequences but it's too little too late. Interest irrevocably depletes once it settles in that the characters are beyond screwed with no chance of survival and no real answers as to why any of this happened are provided. Chernobyl Diaries is bleak and pointless, though a wink to Blinky the three-eyed fish from The Simpsons did provide one genuine LOL.

Game of Thrones 2x9 - "Blackwater"

Game of Thrones should be heralded for delivering the most spectacular green fiery explosion in television history. When Tyrion's wildfire gambit blew up Stannis' fleet (and seemingly Davos along with it), that kablooey deserved to be seen on the biggest HDTV screen one can park one's self in front of.

First time ever Game of Thrones stayed in only one location and focused on the most pivotal battle of the series so far. I don't know if anyone had time to catch their breath and miss Jon Snow, Theon, Daenerys, or even Arya this week. All the action, and then some, was in King's Landing, specifically the Mud Gate, and it delivered gruesome gore and a couple of surprising character turns as well.

This was the series best showing for Bronn. Bronn has to be the breakout star of this season, as Tyrion was last season. And hanging with Tyrion certainly didn't hurt. Could there be a more touching "we may both be dead in the morning" farewell than Bronn and Tyrion.

Bronn: "Oh, so we're friends now?"
Tyrion: "Of course we are. Just because I pay you for your services, it doesn't diminish our friendship."
Bronn: "Enhances it, really."

We were also teased with a showdown between Bronn and the Hound, which when it sparked seemed like such an obvious and natural rivalry, it was genuinely surprising no one really brought up those two should butt heads before. Bronn even saved the Hounds life with a well placed arrow during the Battle of Blackwater. And another flaming arrow lit the wildfire that exploded Stannis' ships to smithereens. Bronn doesn't just deserve to be knighted, he deserves a Lordship, a castle, and anything he desires for his service that day.

Meanwhile, the Hound cracked like an egg. I guess he always was the lesser Clegane brother after all. The Hound completely lost his nerve during the battle, quit, and ran like a scalded dog, by God! He offered to take Sansa with him back to Winterfell, but she was sensible enough to say no to the blood-soaked craven lunatic hanging in her chambers.

"Blackwater" is also the series best showing for Sansa, and considering George RR Martin himself scripted it, it's a wild about face by him for how Sansa is depicted compared to the book. Sansa was great; she totally Jedi mind fucked Joffrey when he demanded she kiss his sword ("A king doesn't discuss strategy with stupid girls!") and she was ultimately right when she predicted Joffrey would survive the battle. "The worst ones always do." Plus Sansa gracefully handled Drunk Cercei and kept morale up when Drunk Cercei skedaddled from Maegyr's Holdfast. Sansa on the show is lightyears beyond the Sansa in the books. She really could make a great queen one day. 

How about Drunk Cercei, with her back up plans for suicide and having Ser Illyn Payne murder every one so as to avoid being raped by Stannis' men. "If it was anyone other than Stannis Baratheon," Cercei figures she could have fucked her way out of her head on a spike. Guaranteed her feminine wiles wouldn't have worked on Renly if he lived. Robb Stark wouldn't have gone for it either; he'd never have heard the end of it from his mom or his new girlfriend. Drunk Cercei was pretty well screwed, and not in the saving-her-neck way she hoped. The funniest thing in all her rantings and ravings to Sansa and Shae was Tommen in the corner passed out. Better than listening to his mom tell a teenage girl how much Stannis' men will enjoy raping her.

Considering he was knocked unconscious immediately before his first battle, Tyrion did a damn fine job leading the City Watch against Stannis' invaders. Weird that Shagga and the Mountains of the Moon men weren't involved in the battle since Tyrion brought them to King's Landing and even used them earlier in the season. Which King's Guard betrayed Tyrion and hacked up his face?

And you had to feel bad for Stannis, being so close to getting into King's Landing and claiming what actually is his crown, only to have it all go to shit in the last minutes when the combined forces of Tywin Lannister and House Tyrell lead by the Knight of Flowers arrived and routed his men. Since it's recorded as King vs. King, Stannis actually lost a war against Joffrey Baratheon. That's gotta be the most embarrassing defeat in the history of the Seven Kingdoms.

Finally, you also had to feel a little bad for Cercei, huddled on the Iron Throne with Tommen and trying to keep his morale up with a thinly-veiled metaphor fairy tale of the brave lion being crowned king over all of the evil stags, wolves and bears in the world. She was all set to gulp down that deadly nightshade when Loras Tyrell and and Tywin Lannister stormed in victorious.

"The battle is over. We've won!"


Oh wait, I was rooting for Stannis. Even though I was also rooting for Tyrion and Bronn. 

Oh well, Joffrey's still King. That's what's important.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Smallville: Season 11 #5 - "Guardian"



It's launch day (already) for the Lexcorp Guardian Defense platforms. This storyline, Lex Luthor privatizing space travel, is now incredibly timely and relevant with the recent successful mission launch of Space X and the impending privatization of space travel that will eventually let ordinary people willing to pay through the nose to travel into space. Lex Luthor isn't quite there yet with the space tourism, unless he sells tickets to let ordinary people use Guardian to shoot at aliens and Superman.

At the Lexcorp Cape Canaveral 50 miles outside of Metropolis (still in Kansas, of course), Lex receives an unexpected visit from his old private school chum Oliver Queen, the Green Arrow. Ollie's got his arrows in a knit but he's kind of all over the place: first he questions what Lex is up to in space and why the military is letting him go ahead and place Guardian in orbit, then he swings around to Tess and her "suicide". Oliver outright accuses Lex of murder, whereas Lex tows his company line that "faced with a failing company and the end of the world", Tess must have thought suicide was her only way out.

This scene actually raises a few logistical questions, the kind Smallville always likes to shirk off as if Superman glares at you for tugging at his cape: Queen Industries and Luthorcorp were a combined conglomerate all the way up to season 10. At what point did Lex separate the companies, or is Lexcorp a brand new company (that still is housed in the Luthorcorp Building, which became the Lexcorp Building when the Apokalips incident shook some letters off the sign)?  One would have to surmise Lex privately did all the necessary wheeling and dealing to establish Lexcorp as completely his once again.

In any case, Lex knows a lot more than he lets on about what Queen Industries is up to. Such as the fact that Queen is financing and constructing a mysterious "facility" on the far side of the moon(!). "Building a little clubhouse for our super friends, are we?" Holy Building a Lunar Watchtower Without The Explanation of Being Financed By Bruce Wayne's Money! (Plans were drawn, metals were mined, as Grant Morrison once put it.)  As for Lex's memories, he remembers being bullied at prep school by Oliver Queen quite well. In fact, Lex seems to remember much more than he's letting on.

Meanwhile, Clark Kent is in the Lexcorp dining room exclusively interviewing the man of the hour, Commander Hank Henshaw, who's chowing down as if he's Wally West. Quite a spread he's got on the table: spaghetti and meatballs, pizza, burger and fries, and a sensible salad. Henshaw explains this as his pre-flight ritual, as someone who savors the senses of "touch, taste, and sensation". Henshaw reveals that he's married and that in the Smallville universe, like ours, there's no more national space program. A private company like Lexcorp is the only game in space for the adventurous astronaut with the Right Stuff. Then the discussion turns towards everyone (but Lex's) favorite Man of Steel:

Red flag, Clark! Red flag! Henshaw sounds like some kind of closet fascist. Also, Henshaw watched Superman: The Movie since he's describing Superman's first night on the job. The interview concludes amicably and they both have jobs to do: Henshaw has a spacecraft to pilot and Clark has to report on it.

At STAR Labs, all monitors are also on the Lexcorp Guardian launch, but Dr. Emil Hamilton informs Chloe Sullivan-Queen that the scanner Superman placed into orbit last issue picked up an ion trail. Something landed... in Smallville. Chloe with the best line of the issue: "Why would anything crash anywhere else?" All roads from all points in the universe do always lead to Smallville for some strange reason.

Finally, we have liftoff, as Lois and Clark look on with the press and other on-lookers. Lois has a bad feeling about this, but Clark counters with that cheerful boy scout optimism that sometimes makes your jaw clunk on the floor. Clark notes that Superman can't be everywhere (and he should know) and that maybe the Lexcorp Guardians can actually help people. And Henshaw seems all right -- except for his fascistic tendencies. I guess Clark, with all his super senses, missed the red flag. Lois points out that even with amnesia, Lex is "dangerously charismatic". That sounds super-sexy. I'd like Lois to insult me some time.

Clark uses his Super Hearing to track Henshaw's progress in the cockpit and wouldn't you know it -- before you can even finish saying "Challenger", something goes horribly wrong and the Guardian goes KABLOOEY!!

Everyone's shocked... except for a woman dressed like Master Chief in Halo!

Update: I'm taking a stab in the dark on who the mystery woman above is. My guess: It's Lana Lang, who is superpowered when we last saw her, but emits Kryptonite radiation and can kill Clark by proxy, thanks to Lex's dirty tricks. Hence, the suit, for Clark's safety. If it is Lana, she has ample reason to want to stop Lex's Guardian program: she hates her ex-husband. We'll see if I'm right.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Game of Thrones 2x8 - "The Prince of Winterfell"

My favorite thing in this episode was Joffrey planning to ride out to meet Stannis when he arrives and give him a red smile from ear to ear. Joffrey wants to turn Stannis into the Joker. I'll say one thing for King Joffrey, the kid has swagger.

The other best stuff was the interplay between Tyrion and Bronn and Tyrion and Varys. Those guys are the cleverest cats in King's Landing. Bronn's awesome strategy for defending the castle: throw Tyrion's books at Stannis. And Bronn went ahead and killed all the known thieves to safeguard the food supply when the castle is seiged. Meanwhile, Varys informs Tyrion that Daenerys Targaryen lives and has three dragons. Varys gives Tyrion the attaboy that he's a better Hand than Jon Arryn and Ned Stark because he knows how to play the game.

Cercei is not quite as good at playing the game of squeeze Tyrion by the balls by kidnapping his whore. Great reveal that Cercei has Ros hostage and not Shae. Wrong whore. Tyrion learns the greatest relief a man can know: His sister is holding the wrong whore hostage.

There hasn't been nearly enough Davos this season for me considering how prominent he is in the books and what a great character he is, but the little bits we do get of him are great. We learn the story of how Davos became known as the Onion Knight for slipping into Storm's End during a seige that happened in Robert's Rebellion and fed Stannis' men with onions and salt beef. If Stannis gets the Iron Throne, he named Davos his Hand. Somehow, Davos seems like more of a Ned Stark kind of potential Hand than a Tyrion-level Hand, but good luck to all of them.

In Harrenhal, Tywin has left the castle under the command of Gregor Clegane, but left Arya there as well. Arya totally bamboozles Jaqen by naming him as his third and final kill so that he'd help her, Gendry and Hot Pie escape the castle. I liked how Jaqen was totally taken aback and pretty much begged her to unname him. A shame though that the awesome Tywin/Arya scenes must now come to an end. Maybe they'll run into each other again somewhere, but it's doubtful.

Robb Stark was busy this week, and he finally got busy with Talisa after being totally turned on with her story of how a slave resuscitated her drowned brother. Once again, Talisa just barges into the King's tent while Robb is plotting important strategy with Roose Bolton. And now Robb's gone and done it; he won't marry the Frey girl (over a bridge) and will become an oathbreaker to Walder Frey.

Robb also arrested his mother Catelyn for releasing Jaime Lannister and sending him off with Brienne back to King's Landing. Stannis is anywhere from one-to-two days away from King's Landing. Is it possible for Brienne to get Jaime back there from the Riverlands, even by little boat? Can she handle Jaime making fun of her the entire time and goading her to fight him?

North of the Wall, Jon Snow and Quorin Halfhand are prisoners of the Free Folk and are off to see Mance Rayder, the King Beyond the Wall. The Lord of Bones has a pretty awesome Halloween mask. Elsewhere, Sam and Jon's Crow buddies find a stone carved by the First Men covering up a Night's Watch cloak and a bunch of dragon glass (the maester's call it "obsidian") blades. Weapons to kill the White Walkers with.

In Winterfell, Yara Greyjoy arrives to take her baby brother, the "Prince of Winterfell" home, complete with touching story of wanting to kill him when he was a baby. Somehow, I don't think anyone is surprised that Theon was a rotten baby. Theon decides to stay in Winterfell, but doesn't suspect that Osha is there stealing food from the kitchens. Maester Luwin catches her and we find out the burned bodies of "Bran and Rickon" are actually farmer's children Theon is passing off as the little Lords. The real Bran and Rickon, plus Hodor and the direwolves are hiding out in the Stark crypts beneath Winterfell.

Finally, in Qarth, Daenerys gets a token scene where she's hiding out from the warlocks and convinces Jorah Mormont to let her go to the House of the Undying to rescue the dragons. The word for this storyline is "stalling". 

Sunday, May 20, 2012




What's the opposite of pride that you paid money to watch a movie in a movie theater? Shame? What's worse than shame? Battleship. In the noisy and excruciating Battleship, we humans built giant beacons on top of the mountains of Oahu (the Hawaiians must have been delighted to have their natural wonders defaced) to send a beacon to an Earth-like planet detected millions of miles away. The aliens took us up on our invitation to come to Earth and play Battleship with us, but these aliens are so incompetent, they crashed their communications ship into one of our satellites while entering the atmosphere; the debris of their ship lands in and wrecks Hong Kong while the rest of their fleet lands in the Pacific near Hawaii with no radar or means of communications. I believe this is what the movie says is what happened. Meanwhile, the US Navy is playing war games and gets caught in a force field the aliens erect over Hawaii, rendering their fleet without radar either. So now, both sets of fleets "can't see" each other - except they can because their ships are usually close enough to shoot each other - and thus can play the game Battleship with real ships, real guns, real explosions and real dying. Playing for the humans are the Dillion Panthers, led by Tim Riggins himself, Taylor Kitsch, a screw up of a lieutenant commander with poor character, terrible decision-making skills, and a yellow streak down his back. Landry is there too. So is Rihanna for some reason. There's also Admiral Liam Neeson, but he's largely benched; Neeson is in the movie for about ten minutes tops. Meanwhile, Kitsch's supermodel girlfriend Brooklyn Decker is inexplicably in a movie of her own; she's a physical therapist trudging through the Oahu mountains with The Man With No Legs, and they run afoul of the aliens, who are humanoids dressed like Master Chief from Halo. And get this, the aliens came all the way to Earth but they're vulnerable to sunlight. Battleship assaults the audience with relentless, mind-numbing nonsense, as our Navy sailors lose the game and get all their ships sunk, until the last hurrah when Kitsch and his crew re-commission the ancient USS Missouri, complete with the original crew from World War II and Korea manning the steam engines and guns, to sink the alien ships and save the world. No one ever says "You sank my battleship!", but that sinking feeling lingers long after one leaves the theater.

Smallville: Season 11 #4 - "Guardian"



After a three week break since issue #3 was released digitally, to allow the print collection of Smallville: Season 11 issues #1-3 to sell in comic stores, we are back with the best chapter in the story yet. For reals. This one was worth the penny-under-the-dollar.

Lex Luthor, concerned about his Tess Mercer hallucinations, is at Metropolis General for a medical checkup. Lex is, after all, an Lx clone of himself, and he's better than he was before: his brain, while fully grown, is essentially new. What's more, the neuro-toxin Tess used to wipe his memory had a beneficial side effect: Lex's brain now operates at a higher percentage than before. Lex is even more of a genius now. But he's still insane and, according to Tess, "obsessing about whether Superman will kill us all."

Tess reappears and insists she's not a ghost or a hallucination. (My guess is the neuro-toxin comic bookily contained the consciousness of Tess in nano-form. which allows Tess to share his brain and project herself into his vision - hence Lex's brain functioning at a higher capacity in order to accommodate them both. If I'm right, that's so crazy it's kind of awesome and I wish I thought of it, which I sort of just did.) Anyway, Otis can't see her, but I guess he's already used to his boss talking to himself in hallways. Otis dutifully reminds Mr. Luthor he has a press conference scheduled.  Ooh, time for Lex to bring joy to the masses.

Meanwhile, in orbit above the Earth, Superman is scanning for traces of the alien ship Watchtower detected that arrived when the Russian space station was attacked. Superman hanging in space using Infra-red vision is pretty awesome. Plus his call sign: "Watchtower to Boy Scout." Superman: "It's okay to use Superman now." But Oliver insists Chloe use "Boy Scout".  Oh, that Oliver, ever the prankster. Chloe had no idea Superman has new vision powers, but Dr. Emil "I Banged Tess Mercer" Hamilton informs that Superman has had access to a wider range of vision for months, due to strenuous testing of his X-Ray Vision.

We're in STAR Labs; "STAR" in Smallville continuity stands for Swann Technology And Research, established by Dr. Virgil Swann(!) to give The Traveler everything he needs to find his way on Earth. STAR Labs comes complete with a statue of Christopher Reeve. Man, I love stuff like this. Again, Smallville is the inheritor of everything from the Richard Donner Superman movies. At STAR Labs, Emil also has a legion of Hazardous Environment Drones, but they're not ready for field work or to go on a rampage for Superman to eventually destroy yet. (C'mon: an army of robots? Telegraphing this a mile away, guys.)

Superman doesn't mind being sent out in the field on a routine scout mission and Superblurs back into the same room Chloe and Emil were standing in. But his crotch starts beeping because of Lois. Rather, his belt buckle is also a cell phone and Lois has sent him a text: UR LATE SMLVLE. God, Lois can't spell and she texts at a 12 year old's level. Clark Kent, mild mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, is due at the Lexcorp press conference.

Superman: "Why is it I never find myself looking forward to any news out of Lex's mouth?" (If this were seasons 1-5, insert gay joke here.)

Okay, we're now at Lexcorp for the press conference and here's a sequence that I especially wish were on television so that the actors could perform it because it's vintage Superman/Smallville goodness. Lex isn't even one sentence into his opening statement when a reporter's hand goes up.

Of course, the pushy reporter is Lois Lane and she won't stop riding Lex's resurrected clone ass. Lois demands to know "Where were you?" She means where has Lex been in the years since Tess appeared to run Luthorcorp and declared him legally dead to the moment Tess herself "committed suicide" in Lex's office the night Superman pushed Apokolips away from the Earth? Lex states his time away was for his own protection because the Luthor name had been soiled by the dastardly actions of his twice-dead father Lionel Luthor. (Seems to be a family tradition that Luthors die at least twice.) Lex claims it was the legacy of their father that turned Tess against herself (well, there's a hint of truth there somewhere) but Lex is back to bring forth the change Luthorcorp and the world needs.

Clark Kent arrives, apologizes for being late...

Lois: "Space?"
Clark: "Space."

And hey, why does the Daily Planet need two reporters to cover a press conference? Clark whispers to Lois that they both know Lex murdered Tess (how?) but they have no proof. Lex isn't done by any means and hammers home his new "aliens are going to kill us all" fear mongering agenda:

Look! Apokoliptian Para-demons! This is all preamble to announce Lexcorp's Guardian Defense Platforms, which will be placed in orbit to protect the Earth from the next time aliens threaten humanity from beyond the stars. Lois immediately wants to know who Lex is going to get to place the Guardians into orbit on short notice, but that's a question Lex was ready for. Lexcorp's "savior", their very own "Superman" is...

Commander Hank Henshaw!

Uh, who (many ask)? This guy.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Dictator



The Dictator, a rude, ribald comedic gift to the Zionist West, is a bit of a cinematic departure for Sacha Baron Cohen. The wildly successful and beloved Borat and its follow up, the less successful and less loved Bruno were both loosely scripted ambush comedies featuring Baron Cohen immersed in method character playing bumbling foreigners confronting both common and celebrity Americans, awkwardly but hilariously revealing prejudices about race, religion, and political correctness. The Dictator is strictly a scripted comedy, though no less fearless, shameless, and  incredibly funny, with Baron Cohen once more playing a bumbling foreigner gleefully riffing on Western bias towards the Middle East as well as poking fun at every race, creed, and cultural ideal under the sun. Baron Cohen goes back to the well with a different bucket and finds it overflowing once again. The titular Dictator Baron Cohen plays is Admiral-General Aladeen, idiot supreme ruler of the oil-rich North African nation of Wadiya and the last of the great dictators -- his peers like Kim Jong Il, Saddam Hussein, and Gaddafi are no longer with us. On a visit to the United Nations, Aladeen finds himself unwittingly embroiled in a plot to replace him as dictator and have him executed the way he executed hundreds of people who displeased him in some way or another, like maybe, possibly questioning his intelligence. Aladeen finds himself lost in New York City, but befriends a crunchy organic grocer played by Anna Faris, a relationship that strains belief as if one were tugging on Aladeen's Beard of Doom. Somehow Aladeen must reclaim his position as supreme ruler of Wadiya and maybe learn a little something about democracy along the way. To say more would ruin the multitude of gut-busting gags, though it all leads to a monologue by Baron Cohen about how Americans couldn't possibly understand what it would be like to live under a dictatorship that is a scathing and devastating indictment of our current cultural and political landscape. The Dictator falls in between Borat and Bruno, but upticking towards the crowd-pleasing qualities of Borat. It's a very Aladeen comedy. The Dictator is so Aladeen, it redefines the word Aladeen. Though parts of it may be too Aladeen for some. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Game of Thrones 2x7 - "A Man Without Honor"

I'm going to make a controversial declaration but this episode has now thoroughly convinced me of it: Game of Thrones the show is better than the books. Now, I love those books (especially the first three), but the depth and complexity of the writing, acting, and directing in the show is incredible. The show takes what's on the page, circumvents your mind's eye, and fully realizes the potential of what was written.

Absent since episode one, Jaime Lannister is back in full force and he does not disappoint. Jaime is phenomenal, a rich and complex, utterly contemptible scoundrel. Han Solo fully pushed to the extreme, without the burden of having redeeming virtues. Yet, he's fascinating. Just his scene alone where Jaime shares memories of being a squire and tells his origin to his cousin, and then murders him on a dime to facilitate his prison break was already the standout moment of the episode. But then we get even more Jaime, letting loose with his forked tongue, shitting all over Ned Stark, whom he still hates to this day, and riding Catelyn for Ned fathering a bastard. Plus his breakdown of how contradictory all the vows are and what a pain in the ass it is to be a knight sworn to protect shitty kings. Plus Jaime's reaction to Brienne - "Is that a woman? Where did you find this beast?" - fucking perfect! I was already a fan of the Kingslayer from the books, but even moreso now from the show.

Cercei and Jaime both just outed their incest. Cercei pretty much confessed to Tyrion what he already knew (complete with Tyrion inching closer to his sister but neither could bear actually showing any affection towards the other.) Jaime just flat out told Catelyn he's only ever slept with his sister.

So many incredible character moments of raw honesty this week. Nearly all of the characters exposed some secret part of themselves.

Tyrion and Cercei commiserating on how Joffrey is a horrible, uncontrollable shit.

Cercei actually allowing Sansa to admit that she hates Joffrey and counseling her on putting all her devotion to her children instead.

Plus she told Sansa, who had her first period and can now be impregnated by Joffrey, about how King Robert used to abandon her during her childbirth to hunt while Jaime would be at her side.

Probably the most amazing scene yet between Tywin and Arya where he let her eat his mutton and revealed he knows she's highborn from the way she says "My Lord" instead of "Mi'lord". "You're too smart for your own good." This relationship is a complete invention of the show but it's just fantastic and a million times better than what George RR Martin had Arya doing in the book. I fucking want Tywin to adopt Arya somehow.

That asshole turncloak Theon actually confessed to Maester Lewin that his own people will think him a laughing stock if he can't retrieve the runway Bran and Rickon, and to a lesser extent Osha and Hodor. Those charred corpses of two children he brought back and displayed in Winterfell, I dunno...

Over in Qarth, that freaky woman in the mask got Jorah Mormont to confess the bloody obvious, that he's in love with Daenerys.

Daenerys finally told Xaro Xhoan Daxos to shut up about that same boring story he always tells about being born poor and becoming the richest man in Qarth. Then she blunders into Xaro's coup d'etat where he crowned himself King of Qarth and admitted he and the magicians stole the dragons before executing the rest of the Thirteen. (So long, Spice King.) I have to admit, I had no memory of this from the book so the throat slitting of the Thirteen surprised me as much as it did Daenerys.

Beyond the Wall, Ygritte completely mind fucked Jon Snow when he completely refused her many, rather enticing invitations to groin fuck her. Ygritte even explained the election process that made Mance Rayder the King Beyond the Wall that sounds suspciously like democracy, a word that doesn't exist in Westeros. Of course, she brilliantly baited Jon into a Wilding trap. "You know nothing, Jon Snow."(!!)

Finally, my only grievance of the episode: Lady Talisa interrupting a royal meeting and coming to Robb Stark directly about a mere supply order. Seriously, lady? You need some medical supplies and you ask the King of the North for them? If some dumb woman bothered King Joffrey in the middle of him doing something important like cleaning his crossbow and asked him for some new parchment or some shit like that, that crossbow would be emptied right between her eyes. Coming to the King of the North with a supply order. Ridiculous. So of course he ran off with her to "get supplies". Horny Young Wolf asking for trouble.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

We Need To Talk About Thanos

"We Need To Talk About Thanos" is my suggested title for The Avengers 2. Since everyone and their Asgardian brother has seen The Avengers by now, Thanos, who pops up in the closing credits tease for the inevitable sequel, has now been introduced to a global audience. 

Who is Thanos? Glad you asked. Thanos is the shit! Wikipedia can offer more than most need to know, but the important thing is Thanos is the mad god of Titan, a galactic nihilist who worships Death. 

Thanos also happens to be, in my opinion, the greatest villain in the Marvel Universe. For me, personally, Thanos is the second greatest of all super villains, second only to The Joker. That's right. A purple-faced alien in orange shoulder pads most people have never heard of before a week ago is the second most bad ass mofo in all of comic books. Both Thanos and The Joker are killers, mass murderers. In his most fevered dreams, The Joker wishes he could amass the body count Thanos has achieved in his lifetime of villainy. The Joker is a trifle of a killer compared to Thanos, who has murdered billions on an intergalactic scale. 

Yet the capacity for cosmic murder is not what makes Thanos special. What makes Thanos special is that, despite being an eight foot tall purple alien from a moon of Saturn who routinely threatens the well being of the Marvel Universe, he's actually a lot like us.

Thanos did it all - does it all - for love. Thanos is in love with Death, specifically Mistress Death, who in the Marvel Universe is an anthropomorphic personification that can be a skeleton in a black robe or a hot woman in a black robe. Thanos seems to show no preference for what she looks like, but he's 100% sure Death is a lady. Thanos is all man.

Worst of all, for Thanos, his love for Death is an unrequited love. 

In the greatest of all Thanos tales, one of the greatest Marvel stories ever told, The Infinity Gauntlet, Mistress Death resurrected Thanos from the ether and asked him to do one simple thing: Feeling that the number of people living in the universe has outnumbered the number of people who have ever died, Death asked Thanos to even the odds a little and wipe out half of all life in the universe. Thanos happily complied, almost with cartoon hearts in his black eye sockets, and, through murder and more murder, Thanos amassed the six Infinity Gems, which gave him total mastery over Time, Space, Power, Reality, the Mind, and the Soul.  Then he put all the Gems on a glove.

The Infinity Gauntlet. Thus, Thanos more or less became God. Quite literally, the master of all that is. 

Somehow, Mistress Death wasn't impressed. So Thanos did what she originally asked him to do: with the snap of his fingers ("He's really going to do it!", uttered an incredulous Mephisto, the devil of the Marvel Universe), Thanos wiped out half of all life in the universe. Just like that. This was the flashpoint of The Infinity Gauntlet, where the surviving Marvel heroes lead by the Avengers assembled with Marvel's cosmic dieties like Galactus to take down Thanos in a stellar conflict of unimaginable proportions.

Simply put, Thanos killed untold billions to impress a girl. And Death still shot him down! All of that power, all of that murder, becoming an equal to God in nearly every respect, and Thanos still couldn't get the girl. Thanos is a life lesson, a cautionary example, that you can't always get what you want. Even if you're the ultimate evil.

Besides being a fool in love with a girl (or abstract concept manifested as a girl) who won't have him, Thanos is also very human in his one true weakness: Thanos suffers from feelings of inadequacy. Deep in his black heart, Thanos knows he's not quite good enough for everything he wants. Thus, through his insecurities, he unwittingly provides his enemies with the means to defeat him. He's a much more psychologically complex villain than, say, Dr. Doom or The Green Goblin. Why, of all the nigh-invincible alien psychopaths the Marvel Universe has ever known, Thanos is the most... human.

If any of this, what makes Thanos unique and awesome, makes it into movie theaters, Avengers 2 could be something extra special.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Dark Shadows



The entirety of Dark Shadows' budget must have gone to Tim Burton's Verizon bill because he totally phoned it in. The latest patented crazy costume/goofy accent love fest between Burton and his manly muse Johnny Depp is a visually sumptuous but lackadaisical affair where Depp plays Barnabas Collins, a vampyre buried alive (er, undead-alive) in the 1760s and resurfaces in 1972. A bona fide family man, Barnabas must reestablish himself as the paterfamilias to the descendants of his line, his great great great -- whatever -- there's Michelle Pfeiffer, Chloe Grace Moretz, Jonny Lee Miller, and, because this is a Tim Burton Joint, there's also Helena Bonham Carter, who is of no relation to anyone in the Collins clan but lives in their giant gothic mansion anyway. How Barnabas, who was unlucky (to say the least) in love and never sired any children before becoming a vampire, even has descendants is a question Dark Shadows avoids like a vampire avoids direct contact with sunlight. Two amusing runners of Deppula trying to find a comfortable place to sleep (sometimes upside down) and anachronism jokes of this old-timey bloodsucker out of place in the culture of the Me Decade fleetingly distract from what Dark Shadows is really about: two immortal entities trying to control the fishing business of their sleepy town in Maine. The other immortal is Eva Green, a slinky, snarling witch who wants Depp's loins but cursed him to vampirism and then spent two centuries grinding the Collins family under her proverbial heel. Speaking of snarling, Moretz keeps her lips in a perpetual curl and speaks in a constant rasp: by this point in her young acting career, she has now played every monster archetype in the Twilight franchise (she was much better -- than Depp, even -- when she played a vampire in a much better film). All is resolved in a special effects action set piece where the Collins clan is basically revealed to be the Munsters. The kids of today should defend themselves against the vampire soap opera remakes of the 70s.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Game of Thrones 2x6 - "The Old Gods and the New"

We're at some points now in the story of "A Clash of Kings" where my memory of what happened in the book fails me outright.

1) I don't remember at all if Amory Lorch is the second man Arya asked Jaqen to kill, but that was a fantastic sequence and reveal. "You don't tell a man when to do a thing. But at the very next cut to scene, it will be done with poison dart to the neck, and it will be awesome."

2) I don't remember the dragons being stolen or if that happened in the book or who stole them.

There's just no negotiating with The Spice King for a hot, young Khaleesi, is there? Man, is that guy obstinate. She couldn't even get him to let her through a door, much less get some ships from him to go back to Westeros.

Xaro Xhoan Daxos is a broken record. Listen, we get it: You were born with nothing and now you're the richest man in Qarth. Anything else about you worth knowing?

The growing relationship between Tywin and Arya is captivating stuff, since it's a brand new invention of the show. We found out Jaime was dyslexic and there's no word for "dyslexia" in Westeros. Also, that Tywin is a nightmare of a home schooler... "but [Jaime] learned [how to read properly.]" I guess Tywin does miss his kids, even if one was a disappointment, another is a half-man who he blames for killing his wife by being born, and... we don't know how he feels about Cercei but he's probably disappointed by her too. At the very least, Tywin seems to miss having someone reasonably intelligent to talk to who also isn't an incompetent suck ass sworn to be loyal to his sword and coinpurse.

Arya stealing the letter about strategy against Robb was one of those moments where I felt disappointed it meant the Tywin/Arya stuff would come to an end so soon, but nope, Jaquen took care of Amory Lorch, so cool, Arya can keep pouring wine in Tywin's cup.

The arrival of Littlefinger at Harrenhal was also brand new stuff by the show. Discussions of what to do regarding the Tyrells of Highgarden, the death of Renly, Tyrion's offer to Catelyn -- Arya has a future as a spy for all the intelligence she was gathering. Arya knows more than 99% of the people of Westeros about how The War of the Five Kings is going. The looks Littlefinger gave Arya when he realized who she was and then tried to sort out whether Tywin had any idea who she was -- and realizing he doesn't seem to, that Tywin Fucking Lannister doesn't know something as important as Arya Stark pouring wine right under his nose -- priceless stuff.

Theon is a piece of shit. Apologies. Prince Theon is a piece of shit. He's such a swaggering idiot. You try to be sympathetic because he's so lost and confused, but man, is he an asshole. I loved how calmly Bran spoke to him initially when Theon barged into his bedchamber and announced he'd taken Winterfell. "Did you hate us the whole time?" It made everything worse for how Bran and Rickon begged and cried when Ser Rodrick Cassel was executed by Theon; executed as incompetently as possible.

Osha getting naked I think makes her the first member of The Order of the Phoenix in Harry Potter to go full frontal. I think. It's possible Gary Oldman has already in some movie when he was younger. Wait, no Daniel Radcliffe got naked on stage in Equus. Keep your pants on, Order of the Phoenix. The Death Eaters have more modesty. Osha whoring herself out to Theon as a ruse to get Bran, Rickon, Hodor, and the dire wolves out was brilliant. And different from the book, as the show has excised a couple of characters, whom I don't miss.

Also new material is Game of Thrones showing this growing relationship between Robb and Lady Talisa Maegyr, who has to be lying about who she is. Catelyn directly reminded Robb and us that he is promised to whomever is the least ugly daughter of Lord Walder Frey, and that debt must be paid! No shit, Cat. No shit. Plus Roose Bolton informed Robb that Theon has taken Winterfell, Robb promises to take Theon's head himself, and Roose gave a shout out to his "bastard at the Dreadfort".  There will soon be a meaner Ramsay on television than Gordon Ramsay.

The people of King's Landing sure don't like Joffrey. Neither does Sansa, who was almost raped, were it not for the Hound. How quickly will YouTube turn the newest Tyrion Slapping Joffrey moment into a meme?

In the vast list of disgusting moments on Game of Thrones, the rioters in King's Landing tearing apart the Septa and holding up her severed arm (probably because they were eating her) is right up there, along with the Hound disembowling that one guy who wanted to rape Sansa.

Finally, Ygritte! And she's played by Gwen from the first season of Downton Abbey. Which means she's much more attractive than she's described in the book, with clear skin and very white teeth for a Wildling. What's the Wildling health plan Mance Rayder has going for his people? It must be pretty good. Grinding Jon while spooning added to Osha doing Theon - the Wildling women do have lots of skills.

But I don't remember the details of how Jon Snow and Ygritte met in the book either. As Ygritte might (eventually) say, "You know nothing, John Orquiola."

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Marvel's The Avengers



On The Simpsons, Milhouse once lamented, "When are we gonna get to the fireworks factory?!" For Marvel's The Avengers, the answer is about two hours in, although a lot of shit blows up well before the spectacular alien invasion closes the picture. Four years and five previous Marvel movies in the making, writer-director Joss Whedon helms The Avengers into movie theaters to a global audience that largely made up its mind to love it well before anyone in the movie ever utters the famed battlecry, "Avengers Assemble!". Which, by the way, never happens. The Avengers are here and they will kick ass and save the world. And if they can't, they'll damn sure avenge it, whatever that means.

A lean, mean fighting machine, the two and half hours of The Avengers isn't. Culling from previous plot points from Thor, a cosmic cube of limitless energy called The Tesseract has landed on Earth and is in the possession of SHIELD, the paramilitary security force of men in black and attractive women in tight-fitting jumpsuits headed by Col. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the Asgardian god of mischief and (adopted) brother of the Mighty Thor (Chris Hemsworth) was rescued from his predicament of floating through space by a bunch of reptilian aliens. He gets a pretty sweet deal from them: go to Earth, get the Tesseract, and use it to open a wormhole so that they can invade the Earth, and after they kill all humans, Loki gets to rule what's left. Loki is down with this plan but then, he's a god with no other options.

To achieve his end of the deal, Loki comes to Earth and mind controls some SHIELD folks, including Thor alumnus Stellan Skarsgard and SHIELD's expert marksman Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). They steal the Tesseract and head off to parts unknown (Germany, it turns out). In response to this imminent global threat, Fury calls upon The Avengers Initiative, which was an idea of gathering up the world's burgeoning superpeople and getting them to fight as a superteam. This idea was scrapped at the behest of "The (Jedi) Council", a bunch of faces on screens lead by Powers Booth, who yell at Fury and bark orders at him. Orders Fury feels free to ignore at his whim, which he does throughout the movie. Whenever the Council overrides Fury, Fury just launches RPGs at their jets and overrides them right back. This is some organization protecting us, SHIELD is. At least our taxes are going to one bad ass looking Helicarrier.

With help from the perpetually pouty Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) with the lovingly photographed black leather-clad derriere, Fury assembles his super team, including the First Avenger recently unfrozen from ice, Captain America (Chris Evans), lovable wise cracking super rich brilliant inventor and dashing rogue Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), who is publicly Iron Man, and troubled gamma scientist Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo, replacing Edward Norton, who replaced Eric Bana), who becomes the Incredible Hulk (affectionately referred to constantly as "The Other Guy") whenever he gets angry. And, as Banner later points out, "I'm always angry!"  Soon after, Thor shows up because, well, it was time for Thor to show up. (Note that the Marvel girlfriends get shout outs: Gwyneth Paltrow barefoot cameos as Stark's lover Pepper Potts and the whereabouts of Natalie Portman, Thor's girl Dr. Jane Foster, are specifically addressed. No love for Liv Tyler, Dr. Banner's babe Betty Ross, alas.)

In Marvel Comics tradition, the heroes immediately start fighting. Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America get acquainted by using their superpowers to beat the bejezzus out of each other. Once they're done throwing Uru hammers, repulsor rays, and indestructible vibranium shields, they just argue amongst themselves with spot-on hilarious patented Joss Whedon snappy patter. What they should be doing is looking for the Tesseract, which Stark and Banner are onto, except they never do locate it. They get too distracted by arguing. It doesn't matter anyway since Loki's people just conveniently put it on the roof of Stark's Tower in New York City (complete with convenient force field that can't be penetrated until the exact moment Black Widow can, right when she needs to.) It's also doubtful whether Loki himself can fully explain just exactly what he was doing, beat for beat, during the entire movie. He was not lacking for seething speeches of his superiority, but what, pray tell, was he doing besides swinging a scepter around and getting into shouting matches with Thor and Tony Stark?

Once the heaping amount of exposition is dealt with, The Avengers gets down to business, first with an assault on the SHIELD Helicarrier that catches our heroes with their pants down. Except for the Hulk, who gets unleashed for the first time, and his purple pants stay on. A death trap designed for the Hulk by SHIELD gets used on Loki and then ends up trapping Thor, but said death trap - dropping the superhuman 30,000 feet - should probably go back to the drawing board since the super beings it was designed to trap don't end up in death, not by a longshot. However, the heroes learn to work together and save the Helicarrier. There's some dissension when the Avengers discover SHIELD wasn't just using the Tesseract as a means to develop renewable energy but to also develop super weapons to kill super beings and aliens, but no one seems too upset about it once the aliens finally do arrive in New York City.

A weakness of the previous Marvel movies have been underwhelming third acts, but The Avengers saved its best for last, with a sustained 30+ minute battle sequence of furious scope and wanton destruction.When the Avengers assemble in New York to repel the aliens and their enormous armored flying eel creatures, The Avengers settles into a groove of non-stop superpowered action that makes the long, strange journey of getting there ultimate(s)ly worth it. The aliens, indistinguishable, personality-devoid, and, it turns out, controlled by a central mothership, are basically CGI bowling pins for the Avengers to knock down.

Every superhero is given moments of marvelous derring-do: Captain America confidently assigns battle strategies and holds the street level, Black Widow and Hawkeye perform more human than human stunts of bravery, Iron Man zips through the skies taking out aliens and giant armored eels alike, Thor calls down the thunder, and the Hulk -- the Hulk absolutely steals the show. (Ignore, if you wish, the plot hole of Banner somehow making it to the New York war zone on a Vespa despite being separated from the group by several hundred miles.) Whedon's Hulk is a mean, green smashing machine delivering the two biggest laugh out loud moments in the entire picture, at the expense of Thor and his brother Loki. After two previous cinematic misfires, the pure, perfect essence of the Incredible Hulk in a motion picture is finally captured by Whedon and the formula is ingeniously simple: instead of human soldiers hunting Hulk, simply let Hulk smash alien soldiers and demi-gods without regret or fear of reprisal to his gamma-irradiated heart's content. Satisfying and hilarious.

Whedon, the creator of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and one of Hollywood's greatest advocates of strong female characters, devotes his emphasis on the only girl Avenger, Black Widow, the voluptuous, mournful Russian spy with "a particular skillset" and "a lot of red on her ledger". (Uh huh.) Operating in his favored wheelhouse, Whedon gives Black Widow a tragic backstory of death and regret, including an ill-defined torrid past with Hawkeye, and even a Hannibal Lecter/Clarice Starling-like scene with Loki. Whedon then apes through familiar Buffy ground, with Black Widow fighting off demons, monsters, and aliens, including a pulse-pounding sequence of being stalked and nearly killed in the cramped tunnels of the Helicarrier by the rampaging Hulk.  Whedon's mission was clear: make Black Widow essential the way she never was in Iron Man 2. Please like Black Widow enough after this and she may get her own movie after all, a first for a superheroine under the current Marvel/Disney regime. 

Despite the overwhelming odds against them, and the final act of heroic sacrifice by Iron Man that ended the invasion with a big bang, there's never truly a sense the Avengers can or will fail. They don't. They get tired and beaten up during the fight, sure - them's a lot of aliens - but the Avengers keep on ticking from all the lickings they're given. The Avengers suffers a tragic loss, the beloved Son of Coul (Clark Gregg) falls in the line of duty, which is a damn shame since he was the only SHIELD agent with a discernible personality. Midtown Manhattan is leveled to the cost of billions and billions of dollars, but the Avengers have other concerns. They'll assemble again, in 2014, when a Mad God from Titan in love with Death, comes calling like he promised over the closing credits.