Magic and monsters

28 11 2010

Continuing with the theme of entertainment-based flashbacks, which coming home always seems to trigger: Youthful lit is all the rage these days. The last two movies I saw were “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” (version 7.1) and “Tangled,” a charming 3-D animated romp through ye olde “Rapunzel” story.  Both of the films were very entertaining, and most critics seem to agree with me. During the latter, I witnessed a promo for the remake of “The Chronicles of Narnia” that is coming out at some point.

Got me thinking about some of the things I read as a kid. Of particular note to me were the John Bellairs series of gothic mysteries. The stories themselves weren’t particularly childish, but as the story goes, Bellairs was advised to rework an early piece for young adults because they seemed to be the best audience. (Think: “Goosebumps” et al) They were so chilling and mysterious and atmospheric … I just loved them. Another one of Bellairs’ books, “The Face in the Frost,” is supposed to be really good, but I’ve never read it. That’s apparently the work he’s famous for, a dark fantasy that pokes fun at the genre even as it moves through a fast-paced classic storyline. Or so they say.

Before there was Harry Potter, there was Anthony Monday and Lewis whats-his-name and of course Johnny Dixon, whose father was away at war. The idea of a kid being away from his parents and forced to deal with a supernatural element is nothing new. Don’t we all face that same exact challenge — finding your way alone, as an independent individual? You have a choice to embrace it, avoid it, or resign yourself to a life of miserably accepting the futility of your meaningless existence. The Rapunzel story is pretty much the same. A girl escapes from her isolation in a tower and does what every girl learns to do: leave home, face the big, bad world and find an animated love interest voiced by Zachary Levi. And what a voice it is.

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Strange little decade fetishes

24 11 2010

The ’80s are the new ’50s … and the 1990s are the new 1960s, I guess. Eh?

A bit ago, I was listening to the radio (which I haven’t done on a regular basis in years) and except for the sonic gyrations of Katy Perry, everything was pretty much as it was the last time I regularly listened. Or, more accurately, it was like a time machine of my teen years. Alanis Morissette was swallowing her jagged little pill, Weezer was rocking out, Gavin Rossdale was crooning sans Bush, Usher was doing some R&Bing. I looked up some Weird Al Yankovic videos for good measure, because that’s what we listened to when I was 13. And just imagine cruising through certain parts of Maryvale or South Phoenix (or down Boulevard in Atlanta) with Eminem cranked up. Yes. You know the feeling. Or you don’t.

At that moment, I felt that it could have been 1995 or 2000 again. Really, I felt like a time traveler, which tells you something about radio. So imagine that you made a time machine that goes back all the way to 1995, or perhaps a couple years earlier to when Kurt Cobain was still alive and young boys weren’t mourning in pea-green sweater-veils and stringy hair. My, how much the world has changed.

My thoughts immediately turned to the first “Back to the Future,” which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. In that film, the “future” is 1985. Heck, that’s almost before my past now. If you did a parody of that film in today’s world, you could have some kid go all the way back to 1995 and try to get their strung-out grunge-loving dad to marry their grunge-loving mom somewhere in a glamorized pre-hipster conceptualization of the Seattle rock culture. (You might want to bring in Weird Al if you’re planning any parodies.) Universal Studios is already working on the motion-simulator ride for its Hollywood and Orlando theme parks. Or not.

It seems like at the moment, the 1980s and 1990s are getting to be almost as fetishably foreign to us now as the 1950s were then. You already see a lot of romanticization of the 1980s, as evidenced by my recent iTune-age of the “1000 GREATEST HITS OF THE 1980s.”

Time and decades were a difficult concept for me to grasp as a child. “Happy Days” was the ultimate confusion. By that time in my youth, I had learned that there were old things and new things. But the advent of “Happy Days” was a layered mess of reruns of an old series that took place 20 or 30 years before. Very, very confusing for a youngster like me. At the time, people were fascinated with the 1950s in a very special way. Music from the era was all over oldies stations and was popular with other kids. (Side note: it won’t be long before the Phoenix, Arizona, oldies station KOOL FM will be playing Madonna instead of the Marvelettes.) Enter “Back to the Future,” which didn’t make much sense to me when I was very young. Particularly because the second film was coming out and they were going “back to the future” in the movie, weren’t they? But they had done that in the first movie? But that was set in the past, not the future … OK, I get it now.

Incidentally, Back to the Future (the first one) is one of the tightest films or stories I’ve ever seen, plot-wise, and I think that’s why its popularity has endured. Modern movies and films and music would do well to learn from this example, regardless of genre. The key to its memorable nature is its straightforward plot, built in two perfectly intertwined layers so that the time-travel plot is a device for the emotional exploration of Marty’s parents’ relationship. How many things have you seen that balance this dichotomy so well?

Anyway, the point of this post is: leg warmers are going the way of the poodle skirt, Happy Days was awesome, BTTF is awesome, and holy moly, Weird Al is still going strong. Oh, and Gavin Rossdale is still as appealing as he was back in the day. That is all.





10 Things I Hate About The Dark Knight’s Tale

23 07 2008

SPOILER ALERT: Spoilers!

I tried to think of 10 things I hate about this film because I wanted to make the title work, but I couldn’t really. Some examples of things I hate: 1.) Lack of goofy homoerotic imagery. 2.) Lack of Robin (see No. 1). 3.) Relative reduction in exposed chests as compared to Batman Begins. 4.) Lack of Michael Keaton. 5.) Lack of Jack Nicholson, which I’m willing to live with to see Heath Ledger’s spectacular performance. 6.) Lack of development of Batman, who I like, you know? He’s the good guy, and he’s sexy. 7.) Batvoice. He has this horrible growl in that suit and it bothers me, man. 8.) Clowns. Eww. 9.) Everybody quoting “Why so serious?” all the time. 10.) Part of me misses Tim Burton’s take on the whole thing, I’ll admit, but it’s all good. We can deal. That whole bag was getting tired anyway.

Movie Review Found HereBut getting on with the review, I’m not even going to bother going on and on about how great Batman’s latest installment is. Because you KNOW it’s good. Instead, I’m going to focus on a nitpicky sort of analysis that sticks a metaphorical fork in the whole deal and twists it around so you can more easily digest the many rich themes being fed to you. I mean, what’s not to like about “The Dark Knight”?

You’ve got heart-stopping action sequences, awesome special effects, killer clowns, epic battles, good, evil, pectoral muscles, all the things that make for great entertainment in my book.

This is the kind of film you might analyze to impress That Really Cool College Professor, who let you to work on the project with the intention of fooling you into thinking you’re learning. There are a number of themes popular in the Humanities that are strumpeted about much like codpieces on the Batsuit of the movie industry. Let us examine them one by one:

  • GOOD AND EVIL: The almighty manservant of the whole film, we are watching an epic struggle between “For the Win!” and “Epic Fail!” Or are we? The whole point seems to be straddling the line between the two extremes, a division horribly mocked by Harvey Dent’s gruesome transformation into “Two-Face.” The film is starkly realistic, so much that Two-Face seems horribly out of place. Little subtlety is left to the imagination. This film is more action flick than comic book.
  • REALISM: Batman skips the fantasy and goes straight for realism. Again, this is in tune with the idea that there is no almighty Good and Evil. Therefore, the city itself must be neutral and open to interpretation. Nothing is safe from examination. Gotham City is a near-literal translation of Chicago. It’s been said that Gotham is Chicago, but this Gotham is missing the Gothic that Tim Burton had worked so hard to establish. Johnny Depp will NOT be making an appearance here. Or will he? In a way, the starkness of it all is kind of sad, because I miss those dark touches and the emotional atmosphere (the sense of escape) of the Batman films, but it makes sense in terms of embodying the realism of the film. It’s been stripped of even the stylistic CG imagery seen in “Batman Begins.”
  • BLACK AND WHITE: Although black has traditionally represented evil and white has traditionally symbolized good, this is not a universal truth. Old films such as “Nosferatu” featured “white” villains wearing white makeup to enhance their evil visage. Cultures differ on the symbolism behind this color; it often serves a dual meaning of peace and death. When people die, they lose their color and they turn white before blackening and turning to dust. The colors white and black are intertwined and interrelated, and their meanings are malleable. Thus, a black Batman and a white Joker going at each other is pretty symbolic. What’s even more interesting is these colors were *chosen* rather then given or adopted. Both sides have ordinary human skin underneath, but they assume these colors and these roles arbitrarily and then give them meaning. A clown’s white makeup is creepy because it disguises the face and the true emotions of a person (a theme played with and toyed with as the Joker explored the idea of permanently cutting in a smile rather than just painting it on). It’s also creepy because the white facial makeup is a color that sometimes represents death and evil. Smear the makeup a little and draw an angry face, and a clown is sure to draw a frown or a deep feeling of fear. Batman disguises himself in black, but he is really white underneath. He may be a creature of the night, but he’s just an ordinary mortal man behind it all.
  • ARCHETYPES: The movie systematically mocks the standard-issue archetypes that are commonly seen in films by taking them to an extreme. The Joker’s back story is vague and he invokes several references to his own childhood upbringing inspiring him to commit crimes. You can never tell what he’s getting at. Christopher Nolan didn’t even bother giving Batman a role in the movie, and that’s telling because the movie ain’t about the caped crusader. It’s about exploring evil. Even when Batman is involved, he’s fighting his own evil impulses. Two-Face is a literal two-face, and he seems so out of place in such a realistic environment. Again, someone with a comic-booky aspect to him just doesn’t fit in. He’s clearly a strong archetype, and he meets a surprising fate in the film that is also quite telling.
  • THE OTHER (SOCIETAL): For this term, note that I’m going with two different Humanities definitions, the first of which opposes “the same” and represents exclusion from society. Most comic books are full of this idea because it allows characters to work in isolation and explore parallel societies and secret underworlds without too much complication. In this context, the Joker being a “freak” makes him more plausible because to be that twisted he would have to be excluded from society. You learn to be detached from what happens in this realistic-but-surrealistic underworld because there is such an air of “Other” about it. The concept of the Joker saying Batman is a “freak” like him, and of Batman himself being sort of an outcast (a Dark Knight as opposed to a lawful protector) is important. Batman does what he does because he has no choice. He is The Other. He is different. The message is one of individuality and of finding your own call to be a hero; to persevere even when you aren’t a complete angel devoid of mistakes. Comic books are beloved by so many people because of this message of acceptance and encouragement — embracing both purity and imperfection. Again, the extremes involved here are a sort of mockery of archetypes and the shallow motivations of comic-book characters. Simplicity is killed off, and complexity survives.
  • THE OTHER (FEMINIST): Batman is chock full of manhood (a regular sausage batfest) and the woman is truly “the other” here, although she plays a role in advancing the plot. A lot of hero stories were conceived at a time when women had a more traditional role. In addition, women don’t usually fight physically and they are less apt to want to jump on the battlefield to shoot each other (I know this is a gross generalization, taking into account the emotions I sometimes feel and the behavior I see from some women I’ve met!). In the context of this film, the woman is an object of male adoration and objectification (as are the children). A symbol of love and weakness and home and family. (Granted, there are some strong women in this film, but think overall.) The relationships with women are completely out of whack and thrown down into the dirt or ignored altogether. Harm to women does occur to make a point and create an atmosphere of fear. At least one woman is killed for the sake of the plot, and her death represents the uncertain future that remains in the wake of terrorism.
  • WAR AND TERRORISM: The specter of death looms over modern society just as it always has, but the fear is that much greater because of the instantaneous possibilities. During the Cold War people feared the escalation of nuclear powers into an all-out Armageddon of detonated bombs. At that time, we had “Dr. Strangelove” to mock our fear of complete annihilation. Now, we wonder if we’re going to be the next target of terrorism. And, we wonder if we’re getting the actual real story or if the truth is being massaged to make us feel afraid. We have “Batman” films and the Joker now to poke us where it hurts. The Joker uses explosions and massive destruction just as much as he uses individual deaths, and he laughs about it and finds humor. His destructive nature is quite funny at times; but it’s also cruel. He seeks to kill many at once and wages psychological warfare through the media just as much as he seeks one individual. He is enigmatic and shapeless and able to masquerade in many roles, including as a nurse; he is the force of terrorism — a hunger for destruction that supercedes any need for money or emotional gain. In a way, he wins, and in a way, he doesn’t. Are the terrorists winning, and can good ever win out? Or is there always a terrorist within and thus, our hands are never clean of the wars we disparage? There is a lot of moral ambiguity in fighting fire with fire — war with war — and we become Dark Knights ourselves as we try to outwit the tricksters of this world.
  • MEDIA UBIQUITY: Seen throughout the film is a network called “GCN,” Gotham City News, which is a local affiliate station that seems all too close to certain large media networks. It is everywhere and it is an instrument of the plot; a maker of the story. It not only influences people but changes the course of history. The network shows “disturbing” footage that resembles terrorist tapes that are released online from the Middle East, further adding to the symbolism. The film challenges the role of the media and uses it demonstratively and poignantly (just as many other modern films do) since we all know that news is there to inform and to give people the information they need to take action. It is not a passive force by any means.

In summary, the only thing certain about this film is uncertainty and moral ambiguity; “The Dark Knight” challenges you to strip yourself of self-righteousness and understand the onion-like layers that are nested within each of our hearts.





Entertainment musings…

18 07 2008

DISCLAIMER — I don’t normally write so much about work, but in this case, it’s all over the Webernets and thus I don’t care.

I guess it’s THE Rocker (August 20 release) and THE Dark Knight (Releasing NOW) up for my entertainment attencion right now. Today, Dwight K. Schrute, or rather the actor who plays him of course, stopped by the dotcom newsroom for a chat. We took iReport questions for him and got a decent response, including an image of a Bobblehead from an … old friend. We witnessed an unprecedented outpouring of love that arguably surpassed that given to any other person who has come in. People love the Schrute. Rainn Wilson is pretty cool, too. What can I say? He was hilarious in his weatherman sketch and even signed T-Bone’s exercise ball and took time to take a group picture with us. I’ve never watched The Office but I’ve seen clips of it.

If you are my Flickr “friend” at least in name only, you will be able to see the photos of this momentous event that I have taken (minus a group picture, which I plan to steal from someone).

Now, another thing going on this weekend is the release of “THE Dark Knight” as you know and which I already mentioned, which features Heath Ledger. One of my favorite films of all time is “Brokeback Mountain” and Ledger was simply fantastic in that. He was also great in “Lords of Dogtown” and “10 Things I Hate About You” and really anything he touched, so I’m looking forward to seeing his final film. If he got a posthumous Oscar it wouldn’t surprise me. And, you know, I love Batman. It is the ultimate comic-book film franchise. It’s just… a classic film series and I can’t wait to see this one. They never seem to disappoint.

So I’m slobbering all over this film but don’t have tickets to the IMAX, and I didn’t get the free tickets being given out, and I don’t really care to stay up past midnight or wait in long lines, hence my avoidance of the iPhone 3G (and my lack of desire to pay for it), and thus I will be a wuss and wait to see this film. Maybe a couple days. I might see it Sunday night or something. Time will tell.

As an aside, what the freak is the deal-io with the iPhone not doing video? Does Apple have a film reel stuck up its arse? Seriously, let’s have some iPhone video. If I hear one person say they were going to shoot video but the iPhone doesn’t let them, I am going to … buy a Zune. I dunno. Not good, people, not good.





Harold & Kumar revisited

28 04 2008

My top post of all time on this blog details my supposition that “Harry Potter” combined with “Harold and KumMovie Review Found Herear go to White Castle” would be the ultimate fun flick. You know, Harry & Kumar. (See, there was a reason for this pairing. It’s a clever pun.) So I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that I saw the second installment of the Harold & Kumar “franchise,” if you will, and I thoroughly enjoyed it despite nothing more than a “passing” reference to White Castle in the beginning. If you will. The way it skewers racial stereotypes and sneaks in sexual jokes, oh, and pot references, is brilliant. You would think that the whole Guantanamo Bay thing was totally random, but it makes sense. And I want to go to Amsterdam now. Was reading about it the other day. Not that I plan to overimbibe. Just because I’m curious. Some of the stereotypes are annoying and ridiculous, especially the tired Southerners jokes, but oh well. And it *IS* quite dirty, but hey. Shocking is much harder to do nowadays.

Overall rating: It’s da bong. No, I didn’t say “da bomb.” I said “da bong.” My Twitterscale is three-and-a-half Cyclops eyes out of five.