Archive for July, 2010

Watch This Shit
July 25, 2010

I’m usually pretty on top of upcoming films that pertain to my interests. The Internet makes it absurdly easy to follow a project from announcement to release and everything in between, and something that piques my curiosity rarely escapes my notice.

Batman: Under the Red Hood totally escaped my notice.

Batman: Under the Red Hood is totally fucking awesome.

It opens with the death of Robin #2 (Jason Todd) at the hands of the Joker. Fast forward five years later, and a masked vigilante calling himself the Red Hood has appeared on the Gotham scene, appointing himself the immediate successor to the city’s other masked vigilante. Batman, needless to say, isn’t all that into the idea of premature retirement. Throw in appearances by Nightwing, Ra’s Al Ghul, Black Mask and the Riddler, and shit is gonna go down.

Hood manages to balance all these characters without ever losing sight of the story’s main theme – Batman’s guilt over his second protege’s murder. They all tie together smoothly into the plot; it never feels like overstuffed fan service.

But it is fan service in the literal sense of the words, in that fans will love the hell out of it. They’ll love the crackling, quasi-anime visuals, the alternately moody and pounding score, the unsettling but never gratuitous violence. They’ll especially love the maturity of the story, how its handled with loyalty to character, and with such poignancy at times that I felt myself genuinely moved (the very last scene and image in particular killed it for me).

Rare is the film without noticeable flaws, and Hood does have a few. There are too many one-liners that fall flat, and Jensen Ackles (Red Hood) doesn’t have the chops to pull off his character’s most emotionally charged dialogue. I’d also have appreciated a more menacing and less comically over-the-top Black Mask – he may look like the Red Skull’s minority counterpart, but that’s where the similarities end.

Still, flaws and all, this is a very fine Batman film that I found more honest and affecting in its emotional beats than The Dark Knight. I’d rank it behind Batman Begins and Return of the Joker as my third favorite entry in the Batman canon and I recommend it to anyone looking to add a little badassery to their day.

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Inception
July 18, 2010

The word ‘pretentious’ gets thrown around a lot, co-opted and misused by unintelligent people who think they’ve found a catch-all to dismiss any work they weren’t able to follow. To such people, any complexity or high-minded discussion that goes over their heads is ipso facto just the condescending ramblings of those hated intellectuals.

This is not what ‘pretentious’ means. What ‘pretentious’ means is dressing up unimportant ideas with the veneer of importance, lending heft and gravitas to that which is unfit for such distinction. It’s pure self-unawareness – treating your material with more seriousness than it deserves.

Inception is a pretentious movie. Inception is an overwhelmingly pretentious movie.

A brief plot summation: Leo DiCaprio plays Cobb, a dream thief – he enters your dreams and steals your secrets, for the right price. For a righter price, he’ll attempt inception – not taking something out, but putting something in. The righter price is offered by Saito, a shadowy mogul who promises to somehow get our on-the-lamb Cobb’s heinous crime of some sort expunged, thus allowing him to reunite with his children in the US. So Cobb gets a team of experts together, and they set off into the dream world of Saito’s target, the young heir to a rival company of Saito’s, with the intention of implanting in his head the idea to break up his father’s company.

Director Christopher Nolan has crafted a technically precise and coldly impersonal tale headlined by a brooding protagonist with some serious personal demons – that is, he’s done with Inception what he’s done with all his films to date, to varying degrees of (never as great as the headlines would have you believe) success. But never before has Nolan allowed one of his efforts to become so weighed-down by endless amounts of leaden exposition. His characters spend pages and pages of dialogue setting up and explaining the totally arbitrary rules of the barely interesting dream worlds he shows us, and it is, needless to say, excruciatingly dull.

That’s the pretentiousness I was talking about. The unending, crushing bore that is one barely defined character talking at another barely defined character about the over-defined intricacies of the universe as constructed and obsessively loved by the filmmaker. It’s hopelessly self-indulgent, self-unaware and altogether uncommonly silly.

All of which would be almost forgivable if Nolan got the other stuff right. He doesn’t. I could look past the ponderous explications if Inception delivered on essential humanity, humor or depth of character – as with Nolan’s entire catalog, it does not. The man has never been interested in characters so much as dour ciphers that embody the more morbid of human emotions (with his Batman films it’s regret, with Inception it’s grief). The few attempts at humor are flat and perfunctory, as laughably out of place in Nolan’s otherwise relentlessly downbeat series of character beats as the similarly disingenuous scenes in The Dark Knight of Bruce Wayne playing at being a playboy.

There is no fun. There is no warmth. There is no character (not one member of Cobb’s team is ever anything more than the role they were recruited to fill). There is only the unending onslaught of noxious “reading of the rules” dialogue, joyless and banal. The action sequences fare better, and Nolan’s visuals are at times genuinely grand. But why even bother when your story seems to exist only as an exercise in seeing how many layers of unreality you can pile atop one another (A dream within a dream! A dream within a dream within a dream! I am awesome at narrative complexity!), your characters are dull and the entire world of your movie is barricaded by an almost impenetrable ruleset?

I found Inception to be wholly preposterous, at some times cacklingly self-congratulatory and at nearly all times a flat-out bore. This movie has been gestating in Nolan’s mind for a long time, and it shows in his graceless handling of feeding the viewer the necessary info to establish the rules of his universe (nothing is ever more interesting to a creator and less interesting to a consumer than the minute rules governing that universe). And if he does at points deliver on some mind-bending visuals, well, $160 million’s gotta buy you something, right? For Christopher Nolan it bought a bunch of sound and fury signifying nothing something I couldn’t care less about. It sure as hell didn’t buy much of a script.

Nearly everything Inception wants to be (simultaneously heady and exhilarating) and tries to do (create an intriguing world revolving around our subconscious) was done over a decade ago and with far greater competence by The Matrix. Save a trip to the theater and a few $$$ and just pop that in instead.

The Loser
July 12, 2010

An interesting look at where John McCain, only a few years removed from a time when he was widely considered the most honorable politician in America, currently finds himself. A few lines that sum up the man as well as anything:

McCain admitted that in the 2000 presidential primary, he’d supported South Carolina’s right to fly the Confederate flag against his own belief that it was a symbol of racism.

“I didn’t want to do this,” he says. “But I could tell from the desperate looks of my staff that we had an enormous problem. And that it could come down to lying or losing. I chose lying.”

“I chose lying.”

And that says it all, doesn’t it?

It’s one thing to do wrong because you’re stupid or uncaring or bigoted. Bad as that it, it’s at least genuine. You’re doing what you believe. In contrast, here is a man who knows the right thing to do and, in a cynical political calculation, ignores it.

Just as he currently does with a whole host of defining issues, descending to the nether regions of the far right, be it immigration reform, Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell, tax cuts for the rich, carbon emissions and, most perversely of all for someone who’s experienced first hand its horrors, torture. John McCain knows the right position to take on every one of these pressing issues, and I know he knows because he was once on those sides. And now he’s not, because he got spooked by a small-time, teabagging radio kook and feels the need to prove his bona fides to the batshit crazy crowd that comprises the southern Republican primary electorate.

It’s shameless. It’s petty. It’s indecent. It is, above all else, unthinkable – to knowingly, willingly and calculatingly choose to do wrong.

Whatever else he once was, John McCain is now shameless, bitter, obsessive, opportunistic, and (rather anachronistically) an infantile old man. He is, simply put, a loser, and in a way that has nothing at all to do with the last presidential race.

“…and if you get raped by a pack of niggers it’ll be your own fault!”
July 9, 2010

Ladies and gentleman: Mel. Fucking. Gibson.

It’s not often I’m rendered speechless, but I got nothing for this one. Just… wow.

SPOILER
July 8, 2010

Sources close to Favre-ian attention whore LeBron James have leaked to my office exactly what will be going down tonight in his primetime ESPN special:

INT. GYMNASIUM – NIGHT

LEBRON and a REPORTER sit opposite on a raised platform, surrounded by buzzing spectators.

REPORTER
So, LeBron, the question is: what is your decision?

LEBRON
Well, I know it’s been a long and drawn out process. A lot of hype and thought went into this, and I’m happy to announce that, for next season and beyond, I’ve signed a multiyear contract to play for the–

CUT TO BLACK.

WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY DAVID CHASE

No, random sports columnist, *you’re* the idiot
July 6, 2010

This is Bruce Jenkins:

Really, just look at this fucking guy. The combover, the douchey grin – knowing nothing else about him but what you can ascertain from that picture, is there any way this is not the face of a giant fucking toolbag?

No. There is not. The wonderful people at Fire Joe Morgan already did a commendable job ripping this guy a new one a few years back, wondering if he was the “Dumbest Man of the Last Fifty Years,” a question a lot less hyperbolic than it would seem on the surface. To wit:

Somebody show Andy Roddick a photo of Berdych as he posed with Nadal during the post-match ceremony. Look closely, Andy: No hat. Berdych took the damn thing off. Play in a hat if you must, but when you’re down there in the presence of royalty, being photographed for the pages of history, reveal your countenance and especially don’t turn the hat around backward. My friend and colleague Scott Price has a great way of describing what that look says to people: “Hey, I’m an idiot.”

Really, fuck you, you self-satisfied little prick. You can practically feel the smug oozing out of your screen just reading that, and it’s that special kind of smug that comes from someone who’s in no position to be making judgment calls with regard to anything imposing his own arbitrary standards of etiquette onto others.

The “hats are disrespectful!” thing has always bothered me, from the times when I was told to take mine off in school. Here’s the annual exchange I’d have with whichever power-tripping uncivil servant decided to enforce that particular conventional but baseless standard:

Them: Take your hat off.
Me: Why?
Them: It’s disrespectful.
Me: Why?
Them: TAKE IT OFF RIGHT NOW OR I WILL SKULLFUCK YOU INTO OBLIVION!
Me: *cries*

Yes, in my day teachers were very into apocalyptic rapethreat. But more importantly, they were into petty displays of authority and superiority, of which the no-hat rule is the quintessential (but by no means singular) example.

Mr. Jenkins, Andy Roddick can wear a hat if he wants. He requires neither your permission nor your approval to do so, and Roddick, being a pretty sharp guy, would probably agree with me that it isn’t so much a demerit to be labeled an idiot by the likes of you and your no doubt equally pompous friend Scott Price so much as it is the implicit mark of personal pride that comes with having your character and intelligence questioned by those who so obviously have none for themselves.

In conclusion, eat a dick. Then wipe your mouth, because you certainly wouldn’t want to look like an idiot, would you?

This is the Mystery Link
July 6, 2010

Click and see what’s on the other side!

It could be anything! It could even be a video of a rather creative chimpanzee using a frog as a makeshift masturbation apparatus.

It could be.

Independence Day
July 4, 2010

I’m generally all in favor of people using holidays as an excuse to celebrate drunken awesomeness, but I really must insist than on July 4th Americans know something about what the fuck’s going on.

Know that Thomas Jefferson was the principal writer of the greatest set of written principles man has ever elucidated. Know that Ben Franklin, probably the greatest mind this country has ever known, in his non-theistic forward-thinking convinced Jefferson to change the truths we originally held to be “sacred and undeniable” to “self-evident” and thus divorced from the idea of our rights as providence bestowed from high on down. Know that George Washington, the greatest leader the US has ever been privileged to be lead by, despite his secure wealth and social standing nonetheless took up the charge of leading a ragtag group of rebels into war against the battle-hardened and never-defeated British army, with no incentive but his own conviction that men should be self-governed, and not the purview of a distant King and Parliament.

HBO ran a series two years ago, John Adams, which should be required viewing for anyone with so much as a passing interest in how America, The Great Experiment, was birthed. Check this scene, where the Declaration is being drafted, and Franklin expresses his delight at Jefferson’s invention, the swivel chair.