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Frankenstein, the Monster, and Hollywood

Side question: Where do action heroes find all these precipices to stand on? Why do they climb them in the first place? Seems like a waste of time.

Side question: Where do action heroes find all these precipices to stand on? Why do they climb them in the first place? Seems like a waste of time.

If you haven’t already, you will probably see the trailer for the new movie I, Frankenstein very shortly. For this, I am profoundly sorry and wish there were some way I could spare you the experience but, alas, I cannot. Hollywood has too much money tied up in that abomination, and they have every intention of stuffing it down your throat.

Now, I haven’t seen the movie and I didn’t read the graphic novel, so I suppose I leave myself wide open to criticism when I say that this movie will probably be unutterably terrible. Unlike Pacific Rim (which also was not a good movie by any objective appraisal), I, Frankenstein doesn’t even look like it will be fun. It looks like a maudlin, overly CGI-ed monstrosity representing a music video director’s idea of ‘gothic.’ We get to watch Frankenstein’s monster fight with gargoyles or something, which is a scene I doubt anybody was secretly hankering for, and we are led to believe that the monster is humanity’s only hope, which is so cliché at this point as to be an open insult to the viewing audience’s intelligence. Aaron Eckhart, who I like a lot and is a fine actor, evidently has a few house payments to make and this is how he’s chosen to do it. Fine – more power to him.

However, this film bothers me on a level beyond its apparent lack of quality. Plenty of crappy sci fi/fantasy/horror movies are made every year and very few of them actively annoy me the way this one does. In this case, the thing that sets this film apart is the title: I, Frankenstein. First of all, the monster is not Frankenstein nor would the monster ever willingly take his creator’s name. Victor Frankenstein created the monster and the monster destroyed him by systematically murdering everyone who mattered to him in his life. Dr. Frankenstein visited nothing but horror and hatred on his creation, and the creation responded in kind. To have the monster identify himself as his most hated enemy is bonkers and demonstrates either an ignorance or indifference to the source material that I find rankling.

Why does it rankle? Well, the whole point of the novel Frankenstein is about man’s relationship with his creations or, more broadly, about the ethical dilemmas surrounding scientific and technological research. Conflating the monster and the creator into a single entity or, as this film seems to do, having the monster self-identify with the creator removes what is interesting about the story in the first place. Granted people have been calling the monster ‘Frankenstein’ since the early 20th century – it may sound snooty of me to quibble with what has become common parlance – but to me the difference is essential to the essence of what the monster is about. If the man is not in the story, what are we left with, exactly? A big, strong man with scars? So? He is alone, he is apart, and the denial he feels from his creator drives him to do terrible things. Remove that motivation and all you have left is a grouchy man.

Now, I suppose the film could deal with the monster’s feeling of isolation, which would be understandable to some degree, but one has to wonder what he’s been doing for the last two-hundred years if not figuring out where to fit in. Additionally, having a loner character act as savior to the people he hates has been done to death, most recently by Hellboy, which at least has a better comic book pedigree to draw on.

World-building in comtemporary/urban fantasy tales is a tricky thing. Rare are the stories in that genre that I feel do it well (Jim Butcher’s work comes to mind). Too often these stories are the fevered imaginings of the adolescent mind (and not in the good way), beginning with the phrase ‘wouldn’t it be cool if…’ and then trailing off into indulgent, scarcely sane explanations of a normal world containing people with incredible properties. The more egregiously the author violates the ‘normal’ world with the ‘special’ world, the harder suspension of disbelief becomes until, eventually, you get something like this film.  This nonsense is just slapped together to the point where you can see the seams in the work, much like Doctor Frankenstein’s stitching is still visible on his creation.

That, then, is the final irony. I, Frankenstein is, itself, a monster. It was made in a laboratory of a different sort – one featuring advertising executives and movie producers  instead of scientists. Using laptops and powerpoints instead of beakers and test tubes, they have given life to a creature they intend as beautiful – a blockbuster movie to entertain the masses and coax a river of money to flow into their pockets. Instead, though, they’ve created an ugly thing – something dug up from the grave and not fully understood, made to walk about against its will. Rather than cheer, we recoil in horror. We abandon it in its infancy, leaving it bitter and alone and forgotten in the lower recesses of Comcast’s On-Demand menu. It leaves behind it the corpses of those fools who sought to bring it to life and, as punishment, are relegated to directing Vin Diesel vehicles for the rest of eternity.

Or so we can hope.

The 2nd Annual Hobbit Awards

Last year, after I saw The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, I handed out prizes rather than a review. I intend to do the same, here, but before I do, here is my brief review: It was a fun movie and I liked it. Is it true to Tolkien? No. Well, not really. They’ve decided to change the overriding tone of the story. They’ve made it more adult and more complex so they can fill three movies and have it still be interesting. In that sense, it works. I am interested and I had fun. I like the original book better, in that I feel it is a better self-contained story. This, though, wasn’t terrible. Not great, but certainly not bad.

Enough of this, though. To the awards!

Spoilers Below!

(though, if you haven’t read the book and don’t basically know everything that happens already, how on earth did you come across this blog, anyway?)

The Walt Disney Memorial Award for Outstanding Theme Park Advertising

movies-the-hobbit-desolation-of-smaug-dwarvesRecipient: The Barrel Scene

Screenwriter: Okay, so now the book says the dwarves get sealed into barrels and float down the river for days and days while Bilbo hangs on. Everybody comes out weak and miserable.

Producer: That doesn’t sound like much fun. Why don’t we have them ride in open barrels? That way they can fight while going down rapids.

But…why wouldn’t the elves just shoot them? Why wouldn’t they tip over and sink? Why wouldn’t the barrels sprout leaks after being shot by arrows? How the hell do all those dwarves manage to choreograph tossing swords around without dropping any? Where the hell did the goblins come from? Why is the fat dwarf suddenly dangerous because he’s stuck in a barrel?

Awww…who cares? It was fun. And we’re all going to be sitting in barrels in a theme park someday while holographic goblins shoot at us with arrows and we’re going to love the hell out of it, so let’s just all stop complaining.

Runner-Up: Gold Surfing with Bilbo

The Homer and Langley Collyer Award for Poor Housekeeping

The-Hobbit-Smaug-4Recipient: Thror, King Under the Mountain

Look, I understand that Smaug wrecked the place, but let’s face it – Erebor had some serious organizational problems long before the dragon kicked in the door. Why the hell did they mint so many goddamned coins, anyway? Even assuming this was a good idea (I’m not an economist), why didn’t they store it all in boxes or something? You can’t expect me to believe that Smaug spend the last century or so wheedling out boxes of gold from tiny rooms and piling it all up – he doesn’t have the manual dexterity. No, the dwaves must have piled all that crap up already, to the point where it obscured architectural features and probably killed people in stupid gold avalanches. The more I think about it, the more I’m forced to say that Thror was the Scrooge McDuck of Middle Earth and tried to go swimming in the stuff. This, oddly enough, makes Smaug the Beagle Boys. Weird.

Runner Up: Laketown or, as I call it, ‘Fire-hazard-burg’

The James Bond Prize for Stronghold Infiltration


Traps are called traps because they are traps. If you walk into a trap, you are not smart unless you have a plan for getting out of the trap again. You are also not smart unless, by walking into the trap, you gain something from being temporarily trapped. The only thing Gandalf seems to learn is that Sauron is secretly Andy Warhol, and who is he going to tell? Probably some moth, I guess. You know, for an old guy, Gandalf really is a fan of the ‘let the bad guys beat me up for a few days just on the off chance they tell me their evil plans’ strategy. No wonder he needs that staff to walk around.

Runner Up: Bilbo ‘I can’t seem to keep my invisible ring on my finger’ Baggins

The Toddler Prize for Extremely Poor Attention Spanthe-hobbit-the-desolation-of-smaug-130207104

 So, you have travelled across the world for months, undergone untold harships, angered elves and goblins alike, made promises you can’t keep, stolen things you shouldn’t have, and climbed a damned mountain all to get yourself to this place and then, after about three minutes of trying to get in, you give up and go home? The fuck?

I mean, seriously guys – the hobbit you dragged along really shouldn’t be the guy who decides to stick around and solve the riddle. He doesn’t have skin in this game. It isn’t his blood oath he’s trying to fulfill. Sheesh. Show a little patience.

Runner-Up: Tauriel (OMG isn’t he DREAMY) the Elf

There you go, folks – tune in next year!

Card and the Author Function

Because Ender’s Game comes out this weekend and I keep hearing about this, here are my thoughts on Card and his homophobic views.

Auston Habershaw

I have been avoiding the uproar surrounding Orson Scott Card and his recent tirades against gay people, the government, liberals, and so on. I have been doing this because I don’t really intend this blog to be a place to debate politics or current events. However, it comes to pass that I feel no self-respecting science fiction author, scholar, and blogger can avoid having the discussion without ignoring a rather large elephant in the room. So, if you don’t want to hear me talk about homosexuality and Orson Scott Card, best tune out now.

First off, let’s set the stage. You have a few things to read right now. First is this opinion by Card written in the Deseret News wherein he advances the self-evidently ridiculous notion that gay marriage is the end of democracy and that he believes:

Regardless of law, marriage has only one definition, and any government that attempts to…

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The Story of Jack

Jack_the_Giant_Killer_1So, there once was this guy named Jack – nevermind his last name, I can’t remember – anyway, he grew up very, very poor. Eventually, however, fortune smiled on him and, due to an unusual confluence of incredible stupidity and amazing cleverness, he got himself a reputation as a champion giant slayer and beanstalk climber. There was a good amount of money in this in the form of gold-laying geese, which allowed his family to live comfortably for a while. True wealth was beyond his reach, sadly, since that golden goose didn’t live all that long (gastrointestinal distress, said the veterinarian), but wise investing and the maintenance of a literal nest egg put young Jack through college.

speed-keanu-bullockHe started his career with the government, first as a hot-shot bomb-squad cop with something to prove. After a particularly poor bus ride, though, he met a girl and, after she dumped him, started to re-think his career path. He floated through a cool dozen different homicide detective jobs, investigating this and that impossible crime or terrible tragedy, and even took the occasional foray into massed automatic gun battles. He wasn’t very good at listening to his brusque but ultimately admiring captains/lieutenants/chiefs, which led him to think police work probably wasn’t for him. After a while, it just seemed like most of the reason they kept him around was so they could yell “JACK” at him, really loud, usually followed or preceded by some kind of profanity.

Anyway, Washington was calling him, and Jack answered. He did a stint in the FBI, but it turned out his real calling was in the CIA and its intelligence partners. Using his

He didn't age gracefully.

He didn’t age gracefully.

inherent knack for bucking authority at just the right time coupled with his unparalleled ability at being right, Jack’s career was off and running. He hunted down rogue soviet submarines, he fought IRA radicals, spent some time being shot at by Columbian drug lords, and there was even a bit about a nuclear bomb.

His decision not to dance with the president, though, was indicative of his career’s trajectory, since before he could be made president himself, he shifted his focus towards a counter terrorism group. No, wait – he became president I think. No, maybe that was a different Jack. Anyway, the Jack I’m talking about worked for CTU for a while. The days were long, though, and he had to spend a lot of time torturing people, which proved taxing. Worse than that, though, was the amount of time he had to spend on the phone so that he could understand what was going on and keep his bosses up-to-date on the things he learned while torturing people.

This job proved pretty dangerous.

This job proved pretty dangerous.

Burned out with that line of work, he went into the military for a while. Seeing his interest in doing things others wouldn’t, the first thing they did was task him with going through this wormhole device to explore other planets. This got him involved in a variety of interstellar conflicts older than the planet itself, but which, of course, he wasn’t allowed to tell anybody about. There was a lot of shooting and being shot at, which Jack typically enjoyed, as well as some workplace romance.

Still, eventually his bosses got tired of him and went off to try building some kind of super spaceship and he…wait. What happened to him? No, no, no – wrong Jack again. I think. Anyway, the Jack I’m talking about eventually got into the space program. Of course, his resume suggested he might be interested in off-the-beaten-track type exploration, so rather than shooting him into space, they miniaturized him and stuck him into Martin Short’s rear end. This was pretty exciting and, not only did it result in him being able to marry the girl of his dreams (who may or may not have been Russian…can’t remember), but it was a great career move. I mean, how many ex-cop, ex-spy, ex-military astronauts could say they killed giants and managed to spend a couple hours floating around Martin Short’s insides?

There were lots of job offers at this point, but Jack was pretty worn out with the dangerous, violent work of space exploration and so on. He drifted for a while, eventually getting a job as a truck driver. This was nice, calm work – the kind Jack had never experienced before – and he spent most of his time telling

This is after some reconstructive surgery, mind you.

This is after some reconstructive surgery, mind you.

people how awesome he was on the radio. Inevitably, Jack’s inability to accept his limitations led him to a fairly hair-raising encounter with an ancient Chinese sorcerer. His friends in the Chinese community helped him sort it out, but it led Jack back into police work of a sort. He became a drifter, travelling about in muscle cars, and not caring about evidence or laws and focusing, instead, on what was right.

He beat up a lot of people during this period. A few of them died of shame whilst he was being gentle with them, but that’s the way vigilantism goes sometimes. Overall it was a good life, barring the various gunshot wounds and his incessant arguments with government officials. The special age-reversing serums and reconstructive surgeries the government gave him when he left their service came in handy here, since he had the vitality of a much younger man.

Eventually, however, the government had need of him again. They talked him into taking a long-rang mission to the Jupiter area (his Russian wife was on board, which was an enticement) to investigate some big alien artifact. He was, of course, kidnapped, cloned, memory wiped, and the rest of it. Earth was mostly destroyed, and it was partially his fault. It was okay, since he blew himself up. No, wait, different Jack. The point is he made peace with it and then hooked up with some time/space travelling alien for a while.

This is what hard, heroic living will do to you, kids.

This is what hard, heroic living will do to you, kids.

Of course, he grew tired of that, too (I mean, the ship was only so big on the inside, and tempers flared), and decided to settle down in the golden age of piracy, where he retired being the worst pirate anybody had ever heard of (though, he hastened to point out, most people had heard of him). Here he lived a long, productive life of being dead but then not being dead and much of the things happening to him not making much sense. He lives there to this day.

No, wait – I forgot about that time his plane crashed on a desert island and he had to save everybody and then died. I think. Wait, was this Jack a spinal surgeon, or was it that other Jack? Well, anyway, I guess it doesn’t matter that much. The point is that Jack has had a long and productive life and, ultimately, would like to be left alone at this point. He’s done enough. Leave him alone.

It’s All Kung Fu to Me

I saw Star Trek: Into Darkness over the weekend. A good movie – I had a lot of fun and that fun far outweighed the parts of the movie I found a bit silly (the Enterprise hiding underwater, for instance). This post, though, is only tangentially inspired by the movie, and I only reference it as a way to indicate how pervasive the issue under discussion is.

What I want to talk about is kung fu. Well, not real kung fu, but movie kung fu. The kind of martial arts action sequences that have been slowly permeating western cinema for the past 40 years or so to the point where, currently, it has completely taken over. “But,” you say, “not every fight scene is a kung fu thing!” True enough, but the various unspoken tropes of the kung fu fight are still very much present. The piped-in punch sounds, the dramatic pauses between exchanges, the acrobatics, and the duration of most fights, whether traditionally ‘kung fu’ or not, are pretty much everywhere. I would count Benedict Cumberpatch’s take-down of the Klingon patrol in this latest Star Trek as kung-fu in style, as was his thumping of Kirk and his brawl with Spock.

Now, I’m not here to say that the average kung fu style fight is an inherently bad thing, but there is another way to do things. The kung fu battle is something of a dance – we watch to see the grace and ingenuity of the combatants, even though the end is not inherently in doubt. We don’t spend the fight on the edge of our seats, we nod along and applaud the good maneuvers just as we might when watching Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers skip across the floor. This is not ‘real’ fighting or even a facsimile thereof – this is performance art. It’s fun, but it isn’t really intense most of the time. It’s a precisely timed routine with beats and rhythm, and you know when it’s about to end based on that. There isn’t much surprise in the Kung Fu fight, because surprise and shock are not its purpose.

As an example of the Kung Fu battle, consider this classic:

This fight is about five minutes and change, and it’s a richly choreographed and impressively performed scene. It has as much to do with real combat, however, as Grand Theft Auto has to do with actual crime. Here is my counterpoint, and, for my money, one of the most intense fight scenes in cinematic history:

From Russia With Love: Train Fight


This fight is ugly, brutal, and spontaneous. It doesn’t look choreographed (even though it is) and it’s hard to tell who is getting the worst of it. Is it real? Well, no, obviously not (I doubt the train compartment window would break so easily, for instance), but it isn’t a dance. This fight means business, and I find myself holding my breath every time I see it. Why? Well, it doesn’t have any signals that indicate what’s supposed to happen next. There are no piped in sound-effects to tell me who hits who harder, there is no dramatic music to tell me how I should feel. I don’t know if Bond is going to get strangled or not, despite his mile-thick plot armor. The old movies of the 60s and 70s have a lot of fights like this. Check out the old 1973 Three Musketeers with Michael York, Oliver Reed, Richard Chamberlain, and Raquel Welch if you don’t believe me – some of the most intense swordfights in history right there, and all because they worked to keep them away from the kind of stage stylization that has become common in modern movies. The violence is spontaneous and unpredictable, ugly and fast, and it’s hard to tell when the battle is going to end and how. I like that. I honestly miss that stuff in movies today, since it seems everybody needs to have their five minute ‘I punch you but it doesn’t hurt until the music’s right’ scene.

Let’s have a little less theatrics and a bit more drama in our fight scenes. That’s all I’m asking.

Children of Vengeful Fathers

I’ve been thinking a lot about vengeance lately. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about the poor 8-year-old boy who was killed in Boston in the Marathon Bombing. More accurately, I’ve been thinking a lot about his father. The family are neighbors of mine and, while I don’t really know them at all (met them once or twice, seen them around the neighborhood, etc.), their loss has weighed heavily on me. You see, I, too, attend the Marathon sometimes. I, too, have small children.

It is cliché, but having children changes you. It changes you in surprisingly odd ways, sometimes – things you just don’t anticipate. Prior to becoming a father, I could not imagine a circumstance that would lead me to such a passionate state where I might kill in a fit of rage. Now, I know it is a very real possibility for me. After Sandy Hook, I was a walking raw nerve if I was with my daughter. Not so much for her safety, per se, but I knew that I was not in complete control of my own rational faculties. I love her so much that, should some fiend harm her in even the slightest way, there would be no power on this earth that could prevent me from destroying them. This is a harrowing self-realization, and not one that I am especially proud of.

Anderton watches home movies of his lost little boy.

Anderton watches home movies of his lost little boy.

I have felt this surge of anger and anguish now in places I never knew it could exist before. I now find watching Aliens almost unbearable, as Newt looks a *lot* like my little girl, and the thought of her frightened and alone in a dark facility full of monsters is the literal stuff of my nightmares. I encountered it again in a movie I’d seen before but never been struck by. The movie is Minority Report, which tells the story of cops that can tell the future, but more importantly tells the story of John Anderton, a cop whose little boy was kidnapped right out from under his nose and who he never saw again. That scene in the public pool hurts even to think about. I empathize with the character on a deep emotional level.

Say what you will about Tom Cruise, but the man is a fine actor. For evidence, I give you this scene, in which Anderton finally catches up with the man who kidnapped his son (don’t worry–I’m not spoiling anything major here. Still, spoilers nevertheless):

This moment, ladies in gentlemen, is a heroic one. A heroic one on a scale I cannot wholly fathom – something that makes Liam Neeson’s murderous rampage in Taken pale in comparison. It’s a pity the clip cuts off where it does, because to watch Anderton Mirandize the killer of his son is magnificent – the moment where reason and civility overcomes emotion and barbarism. The triumph of human decency over all in us that is indecent. My God, is that hard. That is so, so hard. I cannot say that I would be able to do as Anderton does. I hope that I could, though I even more fervently hope that I never have cause to find out.

Minority Report is a lot about free will and about predestination. Science Fiction is, by its nature, awash in such stuff – we writers of SF/F are in the business of imagining humanity’s future and depicting what we believe humans will become (or are). We are usually wrong, thank God, as the world is a better place than we think. This, in the wake of last week’s bombing, is important to remember, so I will repeat it: the world is a better place than we think. We can prove it, too. We can choose.

The Hobbit Awards

Spoilers Below

Saw the Hobbit on New Year’s Eve; I very much enjoyed it. I didn’t think it was the Greatest Movie Ever, really, but I fundamentally don’t understand the folks who are tearing their hair out with rage over the film being split into three movies. Seeing as Peter Jackson is doing every single thing in the book plus some stuff that can only be found in some ancillary Tolkien sources, filling 9 hours shouldn’t be a problem. What I’m mostly curious about is to see how the whole thing with Dol Guldur can be lumped in with the rest of the Hobbit once Gandalf takes off – the stories don’t really intersect again. Well, whatever.

My main reason for posting this is not to give a full review (which has been done plenty of times elsewhere and strikes me as rather tedious; it’s enough for me to say “As a great fan of the book, I liked it, and so probably will you if you are the same.”), but to point out the specific parts of the film I found most amusing, either positively or negatively. Here we go:

Thror Memorial Prize for the Advancement of Dwarfkind

Hello, ladies...

Hello, ladies…

Recipient: Thorin Oakenshield

You know what always frustrates me? Dwarves being depicted as filthy, stupid, ridiculous comic relief. That dwarf in the atrocious Dungeons and Dragons movie was just awful. Like, ‘If Dwarves Were Real This Would Spur a March on Washington’ awful.

Then, in this movie we get Thorin Oakenshield (played by Richard Armitage). He’s tough, he’s good-looking, he’s reasonably intelligent, he’s a leader. Yeah, he’s got a massive chip on his shoulder, but he, along with Kili and Fili, at last give us some dwarves who seem like actual people rather than ridiculous cartoons. Do you remember how silly the dwarves were in the Rankin/Bass animated Hobbit (shudder)? I’m glad that didn’t happen here.

On a side note, anybody else notice that when the White Orc smacks Thorin in the cheek with his gigantic mace, Thorin winds up with a small cut? That is one hard head Thorin’s got. He should have wound up looking more like Quasimodo after that hit.

Honorable Mention: Kili and Fili

Carrottop Foundation’s Award For Outstanding Use of Prop Comedy

Recipient: Dori

So, for the whole movie we noted that one dwarf who needed the horn to hear properly. As ear-horns are inherently amusing, we chortled lightly at the ridiculous dude with the antique hearing aide. Then they go to Goblintown, and poor Dori loses his horn and has it smashed beneath the heavy tread of a goblin. At that point, I desperately wanted someone to say something to him and have him say “What?” Stupid joke, yeah, but still. The movie, though, goes one better:

In the last scene, as Bilbo is talking to them, Dori lifts the flattened horn to his ear. I thought this was hilarious, in that it would be fundamentally true to an old dwarf’s character to not only retrieve his busted horn in the midst of a battle, but still insist on using it even though it clearly won’t work now. Comedy gold.

Runner Up: Radagast the Brown’s Bird-Poop Hat

Galadriel_Hobbit_PosterAudrey Hepburn Crown For “How Do You Even Do That?”

I imagine a casting director sitting down with Cate Blanchett and having the following conversation:

CASTING: “Cate, we’d like you to play Galadriel.”

BLANCHETT: “Who is she?”

CASTING: “She is one of the eldest elves in the world and the most heartbreakingly beautiful, inhumanly graceful, wise, warm, and wonderful person on the planet. She’s the kind of woman who smites men with a glance and, with a simple touch, can hold the hearts of kings and princes on a leash as strong as steel. She is, basically, a goddess.”


I’m a big fan of Cate Blanchett – always have been. She’s a phenomenal actress, but I think we need to take a good look at her Galadriel performance to really grasp how good she is. I mean, seriously – how do you encapsulate the character of Galadriel in a human body? Well, I don’t know, but somehow Blanchett pulls it off. It is simply amazing – she manages every movement to be perfectly graceful, every word to be somehow beautiful, and her smile is simultaneously warm and unattainable. I have no goddamned idea how an actress does that. Simply amazing.

The Terrence Malick Award for Pointless Cinematography

Recipient: Peter Jackson

You know what Peter Jackson likes? The long, slow close-up of a character while they go through a dramatic character shift. Do you know how I know this? The three thousand times it happens in every LoTR movie! Seriously, those things really drag; they last a full five seconds longer than they need to, sometimes more. How long did we really need to stare at Gollum’s pores while Bilbo considers killing him? How long did Thorin and the White Orc need to stare at each other longingly before finally fighting? Jesus! I felt like I was watching an episode of Dragonball Z at some points. Still, it was better than having to watch the dumb ship sail out of the Grey Havens for something like twenty minutes at the end of The Return of the King, or, as I like to call it, “The Movie that Never Ended.”

The Passive Aggressiveness Medal (warning, Medal may be radioactive. Maybe. Your call.)

Recipient: The Giant Eagles

The dwarves are half-dead, exhausted, injured, and carried to safety and spared from death by the Eagles thanks to Gandalf pulling in a few favors. If you thought the Eagles were okay with this, think again. Consider where the Eagles dropped the dwarves off: at the top of a hundred-foot high, narrow stone outcropping. Sure, the view is great, but how the hell are they supposed to get down? Thanks a lot, eagles. Yeah, maybe I won’t be eaten by wargs, but now I’ll get to break my neck as I negotiate an eight-story vertical climb. The eagles, of course, just fly away. They have plausible deniability, you know. “What? Oh, that’s right, you can’t fly! Our bad – everything on the ground looks pretty much the same height from up here. Oh well. Catch ya later, shorty!”

What a bunch of jackasses. Seriously.


Dark Knight Razzing

So, first off, I like Batman. I like Batman a lot. He is one of my favorite superheroes of all time. I also like Christopher Nolan –  The Dark Knight, Inception, and The Prestige are some of my favorite movies. You know what I didn’t like, though?

Dark Knight Rising Rises (sorry, didn’t like the movie enough to remember its precise title). Ugh.

Okay, I’m going to rant a bit here, and massive quantities of spoilers below, if you still care. I feel like I’m the last person to see this movie, so I doubt it matters, but still…

What I Liked

Before I get into tearing this mostly ridiculous movie apart, let’s go over the stuff that was honestly good. First on the list is Anne Hathaway as Selena Kyle – very well done, good character arc, good one-liners, etc.. Second is the character arc of Bruce Wayne himself, which was a fitting conclusion to the series as a whole. I also loved Joseph Gordon-Leavitt in this flick, and I would totally go see a Nightwing movie with him in it.

There we go. Positives done with. Let’s go through the problems, one-by-one, starting with:

#1: Batman is Such an Idiot

Batman is supposed to be smart. He’s supposed to be the world’s greatest detective. He’s supposed to have a plan for everything. So why, then, is he caught so flat-footed by Kyle’s betrayal in the sewers? How on earth is this surprising to him? She’s a crook and a con-artist and he’s going to follow her into the base of the guy she’s been working for and he doesn’t have a back-up plan? Seriously? This is where the movie, which was holding on until this point, starts to go downhill.

When Batman fights Bane, apparently his only plan is ‘punch Bane until he falls down.’ Then, when he doesn’t fall down, Batman’s plan is ‘punch Bane more.’ Errr…maybe a change in tactics is in order? Haven’t you got a taser or something? Knock-out gas? Something?

Then, Bane charters the private jet to Central Asia that, you know, he has just lying around to shuttle himself and Bruce Wayne to that prison in the middle of nowhere. For giggles, you know?  To show how he ‘grew up in darkness’ (despite this being the sunniest prison I’ve ever seen, but whatever) and to torture Batman with cable news networks on satellite TV forever. Mwa-hahahahaha! Oh yes, so evil. Sunny prisons with their own private climbing wall, no apparent guards, and dark-knight-prison-escapefree reign of the facility  sound awful.

Now, while I generally like the ‘Bruce Wayne clawing his way out of the pit of despair’ thing, I do have to question the man’s intelligence again.  Indeed, I think that perhaps this entire prison is designed to capture the irrevocably stupid rather than the wicked. Take a look at the picture to the right here. Look at it long and hard.

Am I the only person who sees the rope?

What the hell, guys? They have a pulley system set up to belay. It appears to go to the top of the pit. Hasn’t anyone in this ridiculous prison figured out that they could just hoist a guy to the top with the stupid belaying line and then he can climb out? Even if the pulley doesn’t go all the way up, it goes higher than that jump nobody can make. Has anyone considered, I don’t know, swinging from the rope for a while to cross the gap? I mean, of all people, shouldn’t Batman be able to figure something like this out? Jeez…

#2: Meanwhile, Back in Gotham…

Bane hatches his evil plot. His evil plot involves manipulating the entire Gotham PD to go into the sewers. At this point in the film, my wife  (who works in disaster management, homeland security, and interfaces with numerous police departments) starting laughing uncontrollably at the television. So, a couple things here:

  1. Why the hell would you send every cop you had into the sewers? You need cops to do other things all the time like, for instance, work security at a professional football game happening simultaneously.
  2. Are we to believe that every cop in the Gotham PD was put on duty? Yeah, that makes sense. All the cops on duty at once, sure. See what the police union has to say about that.
  3. Major cities have more than one police department in them. Boston, for instance, has the BPD, the State Police, around three to four university police departments, Transit Police, the Sheriff’s Department/Correctional Officers, and so on. A much bigger city like New York Gotham would probably have even more.

So, we’re to believe that all of the cops went into the sewers and then Bane blew up all of the entrances to the sewers? Sure, whatever guys.

Machine-gun toting thugs or not, this dude would start throwing shit.

Machine-gun toting thugs or not, this dude would start throwing shit.

Then, in order to show Gothamites that they are ‘liberated’, he blows up their football team. Because, you know, the best way to get John Q Public to do what you want is to blow up his favorite professional football team. Good plan, Bane. Yes, obviously you and your dozen mercenaries are going to be able to restrain tens of thousands of angry, half-drunk football nuts, especially since you say you have a nuclear bomb. Obviously. People are reasonable like that. They are going to listen to your ‘you are my hostages now, congratulations! Oh, and by the way, I have no demands!’ and say ‘the man makes a good argument. Plus the bums had a 5-6 record, so screw them.’

I’m not going to stray into the whole ‘what would people really do’ argument too far here, but lets just say this: in the five months that Gotham is under martial law, the only people who seem to actually live in Gotham are the half-dozen cops who weren’t in the sewers, the two dozen or so of Bane’s thugs, and Catwoman and her roommate. Everybody else stays home, I guess, for the entire five months. Patently ridiculous, of course, but let’s not get into it. Still…

#3: I Have Some Logistical Concerns

How many dudes does Bane employ, anyway? I ask because they seem to be freaking everywhere. Again, drawing on my wife’s expertise, she estimates it would take about 10,000 personnel to lock down a city like Boston (population 600,000). If Gotham is Manhattan-sized, it’s much bigger than that. Now, granted it’s an island, so let’s give Bane the benefit of the doubt and say he needed 15,000 men to keep Gotham under wraps. Fifteen thousand seems an unrealistically high number of guys for him to possibly employ. I mean, sure, he’s been collecting disaffected youth in the sewers for a while, but how the hell does he even feed all those guys? What are they paid? Are we seriously expecting all of them to be that loyal to him? Really? The dude in the wolfman-mask is scary, yeah, but wouldn’t most of those juvenile delinquents prefer playing Xbox on a stolen television in some dumpy basement apartment? Like, where’s the upside working for Bane? What does he promise them, exactly, and why do they believe him?

Okay, okay, I’ll stop. He’s got upteen-billion fanatical followers, sure. Whatever. I just can’t quite figure out how the hell this is supposed to work. There’d be so many holes in this ‘blockade’ it would be ridiculous. People would be leaving (and entering) via little boats every night. The forces surrounding the city would be engaged in some serious planning to isolate the bomb, negotiate with the terrorists, and play hardball whenever they can, nuke or no nuke. Fine, though, I get it – Batman has to save the city. I know, know. So let’s to it:

#4: Batman Saves The City with Punching

So, Bruce Wayne, broke, penniless, and a fugitive from prison, manages to effortlessly walk out of whatever central Asian territory he’d been imprisoned and hops a flight home, easily bypassing the blockade (along with, I presume, innumerable others).

He then busts the cops out of the sewers (seriously, guys? Five months?) and they come out, looking unusually healthy for guys who’ve been in the cold and dark for that long. They all then muster up somewhere (I’m guessing the park) and, deciding it’s the 18th century, march in ranks against the assembled ranks of Bane’s thugs (who also seem to have gotten the memo that today was going to be a big fight at city hall). The Thugs, who also seem to think it’s the 18th century, fire their machine guns once, and then charge in for fisticuffs. At this point in the film, my wife and I started singing “When

What's that? The mask he wears all the time is important? No!

What’s that? The mask he wears all the time is important? No!

You’re a Jet, You’re a Jet” from West Side Story. Seemed appropriate.

Then comes the climatic battle between Bane and Batman; they begin fighting, taking turns punching each other. At last, as though struck by a bolt of lightning, Batman has a revelation: Oh! I should punch Bane in the face! Ah-ha!

So then Batman loosens a tube on Bane’s face mask which, apparently, is really important. Bane has trouble breathing, Batman wins. Sort of. Some girl stabs him, but that turns out to not be that important, since stabbing action heroes in the stomach is a mild disadvantage, at best. The stomach, you see, is for eating, and since Batman isn’t eating, he should be fine. Plenty of time to see a doctor. Seriously. Blood loss isn’t really a thing. Neither is sepsis. Chill out everybody, it’s Batman.

Naturally, after all that, Batman picks up the nuke and flies it out to sea, since we all know that nuclear weapons that explode over the ocean aren’t dangerous. I’m sure there will be no ill effects. We’re all saved. Hooray Batman!

In retrospect, I am forced to wonder what other endgame did Bane and company have in mind. I mean, he clearly didn’t cause much of a panic. He basically gave the children of Gotham a five-month snow day, more or less. I mean, if he wanted to nuke the city, couldn’t he have just nuked the city? Isn’t the idea to destroy the city, after all? Oh, right – he wanted Gotham to suffer. But they didn’t suffer, did they? Like, maybe a little, but if they did, we didn’t really see it. Some rich folks got their houses looted. They made some people drown. They blew up the football team. It seems, though, that for the most part everybody just stayed home, watched On Demand, and waited for Batman to show up and do something about it. So, yeah, dumb plan, Bane.

And I’m not even getting started on the terrible editing, the overbearing soundtrack, or the absolute ridiculosity that is Christian Bale’s Batman Voice. Wow, silly. Michael Cane hasn’t done a sillier movie since Jaws 4, honestly. I hope, at least, that the house this one bought is equally as fabulous.

The Revenge of the Mouse

If *this* situation worked out for the best, one shouldn’t go jumping to conclusions.

Lots of people freaking out about Lucasfilm being sold to Disney today. Not that you asked, but here’s my take:

Everybody needs to chill out.

Seriously, this isn’t the end of the world. My argument goes as follows:

Disney Isn’t Such a Poor Steward

Disney, particularly in the last decade, has produced a lot of quality. You probably can’t accuse much of it of being ‘high art’, but neither is Star Wars, when you come right down to it. It’s space opera, which isn’t exactly rocket science (get it? No? Well…study your sub-genres, nerds) and is, exactly, melodrama. Do you know anyone consistently better at melodrama than Disney? Show of hands for all those who cried during Up (a Disney property)? How many of your hearts go all a-flutter when you hear the opening bars of “Circle of Life?”

Star Wars is melodrama; Disney has made melodrama a science. They got you covered.

It Isn’t Like Star Wars Was Doing Anything Good, Anyway

Let’s face it, George Lucas has become more machine now, than man. Twisted and evil. Is the Mouse better? I don’t know; I don’t really ascribe to those who accuse Disney of being the Great Satan. It’s a giant production company that churns out feel-good stories about self-discovery and adventure, that’s all. Lucas, however, has degenerated into ‘that guy who shoves more and more random effects into his otherwise decent movies.’ He hasn’t made a good movie in decades and I rather doubt he has one in him. What he has spent most of his time doing these past few years is seeing who will pay him to use his Star Wars franchise. We were never going to get an Episode VII out of the guy, so why are we complaining that someone bought him out and is now going to give us what we (presumably) want?

What’s that? You’re worried it might suck? Well, yes, it might. Then again, Star Wars sucks right now. Are you going to try and sell me on the argument that the prequel trilogy hasn’t already bled away any warm feelings we still had towards the original trilogy? Bah. Stuff and nonsense. I would provisionally make the argument that Star Wars hasn’t produced a top-of-the-line entry since Return of the Jedi. Some of the books were okay, the Clone Wars cartoon series was fun, but nothing has successfully caught that lightning in the bottle since. Disney probably can’t, either, but so what if they don’t? Disney can’t do any worse than has already been done.

It Is Physically Impossible For Star Wars to Become Any More Commercial

If you want to make the argument that Disney will ‘cheapen’ the Star Wars brand, you need to throw yourself out a window. That simply isn’t possible. Star Wars has sold itself out in every single conceivable way it can think of. Hell, that’s probably much of the reason Disney bought it; they looked at it and said ‘hell, our work’s already done!’ You’ve eaten the breakfast cereal, worn the underoos, and bought all fifteen versions of the same damn movie; you have no dignity left to sell, guys.

It is its DESTINY!

It Might, Maybe, If We’re Really Lucky…Be AWESOME.

This is a new day for Star Wars. Change for this bloated, stagnant, decaying franchise is a good thing. All of that nostalgia we feel for Lucasfilm is just so much rose-tinted glass and all-too-human fear of change. Get past it. If you really love Star Wars, you know something like this was bound to happen –  had to happen, dammit. Yeah, we would have preferred Lucas, in a fit of socialist madness, made the whole damned thing Open License (then I’d get to do this or this), but we all know that was about as likely as Santa Claus kicking in our door and giving us an actual flying pony for our 40th birthday. Passing the torch is the next best thing. There are talented people at Disney and it’s affiliates – young, hungry people with stories left to tell and the imagination and funding to make it happen. Let’s sit back and watch – it may just be the best thing ever.

Now, if you want to argue about whether Disney owning all the fun is a good idea in general, that’s a slightly different discussion. Just because they have all the good IP, that doesn’t mean they’ll mistreat them while under their care. It just means they’ll sue us if we mess with them.

Or, I guess, unless we pony up 5 billion dollars and put in a phone call.

Guilty Pleasure: Armageddon

You know how everybody has a cheesy movie that they just love? A movie that, if it happens to be on FX, you just can’t help but watch it, no matter how often you’ve seen it? For me, that movie is Armageddon.

Armageddon is heavy-handed melodrama coupled with the pacing of an action movie. From an objective standpoint, the entire thing is ridiculous. Let’s run down the list of foolish things in this movie, starting from the top:

  1. It would be easier to train astronauts to be drillers than drillers to be astronauts.
  2. Why the heck does the Russian Space Station float around with enough fuel to re-fuel two experimental shuttle designs so they can fly around the moon?
  3. Space Shuttles don’t have spare seats for Russian Cosmonauts.
  4. The US Government doesn’t fly around in black helicopters even a quarter as often as they do in this movie. Like, seriously, every single place any of the characters go there are 2-4 black helicopters rushing to meet them.
  5. The flight path of the shuttles would cause them to crash directly into the asteroid and die, not land on it.
  6. The weak gravity of the asteroid only ever comes up when dramatically appropriate. It also, oddly, does not follow the characters inside their (bizarrely spacious) shuttle.
  7. If NASA and USAF are working on an experimental shuttle program and have built a prototype, they have one and exactly one such prototype. You don’t build a spare of an extraordinarily complex prototype. That’s why it’s called a ‘prototype’.
  8. Pretty good odds that nuke wouldn’t actually split the asteroid like they wanted. Especially since they were digging in the wrong place anyway.
  9. NASA doesn’t put machine guns on rovers. If they did put machine guns on rovers, they wouldn’t load them on a mission like this. If they did load them on a mission like this, they wouldn’t be able to ‘shoot’ their way out of the wrecked shuttle without (probably) blowing themselves up or getting stuck.
  10. Why wouldn’t the drillers, when throwing out everything unnecessary on the rover, throw out the machine gun?
  11. NASA would be painfully aware that deep sea drillers are not the same thing as engineers and should not be allowed to mess with their designs.
  12. NASA can follow schematics and build drills. Even special, high-tech, proprietary deep sea drills.
  13. NASA doesn’t have the money to do any of this stuff.
  14. Even if the shuttles did land on the asteroid, they wouldn’t be able to take off again without some kind of VTOL capability, which the shuttles in the movie didn’t have. They just kinda ‘flew away’.
  15. If you had a mission patch sewn or fastened to the exterior of your spacesuit, you probably couldn’t rip it off to give to somebody. Even if you could, it would probably be a bad idea to do so.
  16. If the shuttles landed on the backside of the asteroid (as it appears), how is the shuttle able to communicate with Earth? What are they bouncing their signal off of to get around the mass of the asteroid? How powerful is their transmitter that they can power the signal through something the size of Texas?
  17. If a woman files a restraining order against her ex-husband and keeps his child out of his life, how is the fact that he’s going to save the world make you love him again? Even if you partially forgive him, does he really get a hug? If you threw him out of your life unjustly, just how big of a bitch are you to come back only after he’s landed on a freaking asteroid and saved the entire human race?
  18. Space Dementia? Really?
  19. Cosmonauts hitting equipment with wrenches does not make it work.
  20. If you just drop your wrench in the engine room of a space shuttle just before it goes through re-entry, something terrible is going to happen as that free-floating wrench gets accelerated some direction into something sensitive and causes a lot of damage.

There are more, but I’ll stop now.

Why None of That Matters

These guys will never have to pay their tab at the bar for the REST OF THEIR LIVES.

We don’t care about all those little persnickety details when watching Armageddon. Why? Well, the movie gives us all the other things we want and love. We have a romance. We have a father/daughter relationship. We have best buddies facing death together. We have everyday shlubs saving the planet by dint of their tenure at the School of Hard Knocks.

Armageddon gives us a bunch of loveable goofballs who man up, go into space despite their fears, save the Earth, and come home heroes. My generation grew up hearing about how this happened once before – it was called World War 2 – and we’ve been jonesing for our own chance ever since. Who doesn’t want to save the world? Who doesn’t fantasize about scenarios where they and their friends are humanity’s last, best hope for survival and somehow, despite their humble beginnings, they pull it off? You know who doesn’t want these things? People who don’t like Armageddon, that’s who.

And then, of course, there’s Harry Stamper. Harry Stamper is the quintessential American Alpha Male. He’s tough. He’s wise. He’s gruff. He’ll do anything for his family. He’s a self-made man. He’s protective of his daughter and hard on her fiancée. He’s the kind of guy American men all secretly wish was their dad and/or wish is the kind of dad they will become. The guy who rolls up his sleeves, gives his daughter a tearless goodbye, and wades into certain death with a grimace and a pithy one-liner. The character is concentrated, rarefied manhood; in ancient times, they would have bottled his sweat and sold it as a strength elixir. I choke up every time Colonel Willy Sharp snaps his incredibly tight military salute to Stamper’s daughter and asks permission to shake the hand of the bravest man he’s ever known. Why? Because I’m an American Man, that’s why. That’s how I want to be remembered. I want the respect of Captain America, dammit! So do you! Admit it!

So, yeah, I love this movie for all it’s faults. It pulls all the right strings and pushes all the right buttons. I also really, truly appreciate how hard the movie tries to kill Ben Affleck. After that gag-worthy animal cracker love scene, he really had it coming, and the movie respects that. So, thank you, movie.