Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Jerry Springer has been invited by the graduation committee - comprised of L3 students - to give the commencement at Northwestern Law School's commencement May 16. Apparently some students are rather displeased with the selection of Mr. Springer to give the commencement address, even though he is a NU Law grad and an accomplished politician in his own right. He apparently also hosts a television show. One student articulates their objection to Springer's address by saying, "People feel like he has made his name and fame by taking advantage of people." Ummm, correct me if I am wrong, but isn't that EXACTLY what about 93% of the graduates Springer is addressing are going to do with their careers? He sounds like the perfect(!) commencement speaker for a law school commencement. Although you could make a case for these two clowns.
This is a preview and exhibit #1 for a future terrible logos post.
And this if the funniest thing I have seen this year, without question.
American guys would NEVER react like British guys, right? RIGHT?
Sunday, April 27, 2008
As much as I enjoy writing about Miss Scarlet and the appeal of comic book films, nothing is as much fun to write as post-LOST episode musings filled with irresponsible speculation. After an involuntary five-week hiatus caused by the writer's strike this fall/winter, LOST returned with one of its richest, most exciting and spectacular episode ever. "The Shape of Things To Come" illustrated what LOST at its best can be - revealing, emotional, thought-provoking and fun. Once the announcement was made that LOST would produce eight episodes worth of material in six episodes, I wonder aloud how the pacing of the remaining season 4 episodes would change and how it may be exactly what fans were hoping for in terms of accelerated payoff. "The Shape..." clearly answered that question and did so for the better. I viewed the episode not so much as a door-opening, game-changing journey - although there was plenty of that - but more of a bridge between on-island life and post-island exploits. Here are a bunch of quick hit takeaways and observations from an episode that joins "Walkabout", "The Hunting Party", "Through the Looking Glass" and "The Constant" atop the show's Mt. Olympus.
Cold, brutal and startling - and probably the most unexpected television death since the final seconds of 24's first season. This may seem overly simplified/obvious, but what surprised me about Alex's execution is that it actually happened. Alex was perhaps the final instrument of leverage the Freighter Folk had to get Ben to cooperate. By killing her, they sacrificed their high ground and opened the door for Ben to unleash Pig Pen's brother onto them without worry about harming his daughter. It seems short-sighted and rash and makes me wonder if Keamy actually wants to get Ben alive or whether alive is preferable, but dead is still OK. (Note: This could also be explained away if the actress who portrays Alex requested more time to appear in Maroon 5 videos.) Regardless, the execution-style slaughter, Ben's "He changed the rules" reaction and the resulting hell unleashed upon the camouflaged-clad killers made for compelling television.
Holy Hell. I'm not sure what to add here, but it clearly appears that Ben has at least some sort of control or influence over the enigmatic Smokey. After returning from his hidden room looking like Santa after he traveled down a recently used chimney, my favorite black character on LOST (sorry, Rose and Abaddon) unleashed a focused hell upon the freighter assassins. Like its appearance late in season three when it appeared to snap photographs of Kate and Juliet, Smokey flashed multiple times as it ravaged the tree line just outside of Otherville as the 815ers and Ben stood watching. I can't imagine Ben has complete control over Smokey, much like my parents don't have complete control over their black labs, but both Smokey and the labs can be dispatched periodically with a specific mission, such as "Go terrorize those people" - which both Smokey and the dogs respond to. Anyway, it was another small, but important piece to the mosaic that makes up Smokey's story and purpose. It also makes one wonder what other tricks Ben can pull in his little room. Like...
I am hesitant to speculate much about Ben appearing to be able to travel instantaneously around the world, but this will most certainly come to play in the next handful of episodes. What I will do is direct you to this video released by the exec producers this past summer about a yet-to-be-seen/located Dharma station. The name on Ben's parka when he arrives in the Sahara corresponds with the doctor's name in the video - Halliwax. What I also found interesting about Ben's travel-portal abilities is that Sayid is apparently unaware of them when he confronts Ben in Tikrit, asking quite pointedly how he got from the Island. I have always thought that Ben got the Oceanic 6 off the Island in the same way that he travels from the rock to the mainland, but that apparently isn't the case. I'd be open to ideas about how and who exactly gets the Oceanic 6 off the Island if anyone has any because it isn't looking like Ben any longer and the Freighter Foursome are becoming more trouble than they are worth.
Sayid's Transition Into Hitman
When I say that "The Shape..." serves as more of a bridge than as a unveiling of a new frontier, the clarified post-Island dynamic between Sayid and Ben is the best example of my thinking. We now understand why Sayid has signed up as a foot soldier in the war between Ben and Charles Widmore - the murder of Sayid's wife Nadia in LA pushed him over the edge and into Ben's camp. But I'm not convinced that it was a Widmore associate who murdered Nadia. I think it makes a lot more sense if Ben had orchestrated that in an attempt to recruit Sayid to his side. We know Ben is a master manipulator and Sayid's contention at the end of "The Economist" when Ben was treating Sayid's wound ("you used her to recruit me into killing for you") at least hints at the possibility that Sayid now knows Ben had some knowledge of Nadia's murder one way or another. My guess is that in the elapsed time between the end of "The Shape..." and "The Economist" Sayid becomes aware of Ben's involvement in Nadia's death, but continues to work for him because of another reason - perhaps the continued safety and presumed release of the remaining 815 survivors still on the Island. I have a few issues with my own theory here and how it matches up with what I have previously written about, but it is a little too complex to try and type out so if you are REALLY interested, you can ask me in person.
As I have written before, my favorite scenes in LOST deal with Jacob's cabin and the interaction between Locke and Ben. But the closing scene of Thursday's episode was both poignant, important, and beautiful. While it didn't have the same shock value as the flash-forward reveal at the close of season three, it was the LOST equivalent of Khrushchev and Kennedy meeting in the same room to discuss the Cold War. It was a wonderfully shot scene - Ben in all black, Charles in white; a frequent motif on the Island - with half shadows and chilly, cutting dialog. Here's to hoping that this isn't the last verbal spar between the master puppets in the theater to determine the Island's fate and ownership. And the chilling revelation that Ben was on the hunt for Penny evoked an audible gasp from my girlfriend and left me more than a little surprised and intrigued at the prospect of Ben keeping LOST-madness champion Desmond from his life's love. Lingering questions from the scene: why can't Ben kill Widmore? What previous involvement with the Island did Charles have? Where could Penny be hiding that makes Charles so certain of her safety? And if Ben and Widmore know of each other and interact, why would Sayid be used as a mechanism for getting at/locating Elsa's presumed boss during "The Economist"?
And just to clarify what Hurley had to say regarding Risk, Australia is actually the least important continent in the game.
A solid, fantastic, and splendidly woven yarn reminded me again as to how much I enjoy - and missed - LOST. Any thoughts from you are welcome and appreciated.
Sunday, April 20, 2008
This is half-assed, but I decided to post it so that there was something new this week before a LOST-post next weekend. I like Michael and Pam and Dwight, as well as Jack and Liz Lemon, but nothing is better than Jacob and Ben, Desmond and Sayid. Anyway, on to this post...
By now, most everyone who pays even peripheral attention to politics has seen footage of last week's Democratic Presidential debate between Sens. Obama and Clinton. The way the debate's first hour was handled by ABC moderators has been criticized from a number of different angles, but Sen. Obama's camp was without question the most dismayed and taken aback by the questions posed. However with all due respect to two of George Stephanopoulos' most awful moments - the "does Rev. Wright love this country as much as you" and the "I know you don't want to talk about it" dismissal of a Clinton-Richardson conversation - ABC let a Pennsylvania citizen - Nash McCabe - provide the greatest unintentional highlight of the befuddling evening. In response to Obama removing an American flag pin from his lapel early on in his candidacy, McCabe asked if Obama believed in the American flag, but tried to soften her question by saying the inquire was not intended to question his patriotism. It seems as if as long as the question wasn't "Do you believe the American flag actually exists in physical form?", McCabe was questioning his patriotism. Since Obama is both hesitant to wear the American flag pin and is sick of having to answer questions about it, here are some prop/flair suggestions for Obama to wear during the next debate so that people clearly knows about his love of America and its citizens. We could each make our own Barak-debate doll, plugging in the pieces of flair we would want our leaders to wear on the trail. It'd be Mr. Potato Head politics. I personally think it would be hilarious if he walked onto the podium looking like this, displaying the minimum 37 pieces of flair.
Captain America's Shield
Nothing says "I love this country" more than wielding a nigh-indestructible convex shield made from a fusion of vibranium and with an experimental steel alloy measuring 2.5 feet in diameter. It would serve a number of purposes. First, it is red, white and blue - the most successful color-scheme in world history - and presumably made in the USA. Patriotic and economically stimulating! More questions from the moderators that Obama doesn't want to answer during the debate? CLANK! across the questioners grill. Hell, the ricocheting shield toss could take care of multiple moderators AND Clinton in a single toss. And the shield has already defeated the Nazis. The GOP and shadow terrorists would hardly be a test of its power. Clearly, the shield would be a bigger addition to the campaign than Oprah.
World's Greatest Dad Mug
Defending oneself for two straight hours must parch one's throad. That's why instead of having a boring, standard water glass, Obama should clearly drink some Dunkin Donuts coffee - the brew of the masses - from a "World's Greatest Dad" mug between questions. Because nothing says "World's Greatest Dad" like having to tell your school age kids that they will have to follow daddy and mommy to Iowa for two months in the winter, then around to a cadre of other states and then maybe they will have move into a house Mr. Rezko didn't buy for them.
What better prop to draw attention away from one's Dumbo ears than to sport one of these stylish wears across one's forehead for the duration of the debate - or maybe just one appropriate question. It is a simple way to appeal to three separate Demographics - Christians, Jews and Muslims at the same time! - while connecting with one of the world's most recognizable and socially active stars - Bono. In fact, I would suggest that Obama wear exclusively Bono outfits, namely this one, and this one, and this one.with former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill.
Presidential Seal Accessories
What says "I'm both Presidential and America-loving" better than walking out with a fist full of arrows in one hand, an olive branch in the other, and a dozen sheets of toilet paper being held in his mouth with "E Pluribus Unum" scrawled on it?
Statue of Liberty Crown Souvenir
He may have an aversion to wearing red, white, and blue, but there is a color that everyone understands and can agree on especially when Mother Economy is on vacation in China - green. The stylish Statue of Liberty crown would be a wonderful addition to Barak's wardrobe.
There have to be more, but I can't get myself excited to write about them.
Sunday, April 13, 2008
The wholesome female monarch is married to King Candy and his huge phallic candy stick. However not all may be sugar sweet in the Candy Kingdom and Miss Frostine seems to be back on the market. In recent editions of Candy Land, the Queen has been renamed Princess Frostine, making her one of the most eligible board game sirens. Not only is she angelic, but powerful and influential; her occupied space on the Candy Land board is the furthest along you can automatically move by drawing a card. As much as I like Mr. Mint and Plumpy, drawing their cards rarely helps you actually win the game. There is little competition from other Candy Land women. Grandma Nutt may be a cougar and a good cook, but not exactly crush material and Princess Lolly looks like she is about 6. My guess is that Chris Hansen's team emails photos of Lolly out to guys in order to get them to come to the "To Catch A Predator" house. Chances it would work: 70% - she gets the benefit of the doubt on the apparent divorce and the second times a charm, right? Maybe.
What is there not to like about Carmen? Brazen, powerful, mysterious, jet-setting, and with her own amazingly awesome song inspired by her globalexploits. The only draw backs? She may be too elusive, enjoying her "bachelorette-dom". There is lots of competition for her attention - Vic the Slick, the Double Trouble twins, RoboCrook and Top Grunge, not to mention the four members of Rockapella and Greg Lee. And we can't be absolutely certain that her face is vaguely similar to the Opera Ghost in the bowels of the Opera Garnier. This recent photo of the felonious fetale doesn't soothe any concerns I have. 3.8% - first of you, you need to find her and then convince her to settle down. Exciting prospect, but not likely.
Up there with Queen Frostine in the board game hierarchy, the sultry Scarlet just can't help but attract the unrequited attention of twelve-year olds. Cunning, beautiful, and resident in an expansive nine room mansion, the biggest hang-up with her is that she always seems to be skirting the law and under investigation for murder. Rumors persist that she has lecherous tendencies and cannot shake the overzealous eye of Colonel Mustard or the trophy-wife seeker Mr. Green. Other female competition in the Boddy mansion is pretty limited though. Mrs. Peacock looks to be related to Grandma Nutt and while Miss White appears ready for some role-play adventure, my guess is that she's spending most of her time getting high in the conservatory. 57% - if she stays out of jail and doesn't go for the nice guy in the Boddy Mansion - Professor Plum - then it could work.
The Princess seems to share a wardrobe with Queen Frostine, but doesn't come with all the baggage that a recent divorcee does, which makes her seemingly more of an attractive mate. But Queen Frostine must have gotten at least half of the Candy Kingdom in her divorce while the Princess ALWAYS seems to be getting herself kidnapped by King Koopa. She may be more work than she is worth and she doesn't seem to have learned her lesson. She gets saved by the Super Mario Brothers in the game's first installment and runs around in the second one before getting captured again, sending the brothers on another epic journey in Super Mario Brothers 3 - although I may be able to forgive her for it because the third installment of SMB may be one of the greatest video games ever. So if she was the face that launched a thousand raccoon tails, then she should be thanked for that. Three other quick points - she induces a serious case of the blue balls because every time Mario thinks he's gotten to the right castle to save the Princess, she is always somewhere else. She also now has a unsettling resemblance to what an older Jonbenet Ramsey might look like. Regardless, she beats out Zelda on this list because Zelda was entirely helpless and the Princess actually is a decent driver in MarioKart. 83% - it may not be exciting and you'd have to live far away from any castles, but the odds are for it working.
With the leather form-fitting outfit and the whip, potential suitors should probably be worried about her being into some serious S&M. But at the innocent age of eleven, that really doesn't cross your mind. She is Carmen Jr. - masked face and flair for the theatrical, but her burglaries don't really hold a candle to Sandiego's epic thefts. While sexy, I can't look beyond the awful movie. Not even a ripped leather outfit on Halle Barry - nor promo photos like this - could save that film. Plus, she has had a recurring love-affair with the Dark Knight, thwarting all boyhood dreams unless they lost their parents in Crime Alley and live in a Manor outside of a fictitious metropolitan area. 2% - she carries a whip with her. That'll get old before you unpack all your boxes. Plus she likes cats.
The red-headed flame of the Mystery Machine, Daphne didn't always fill the damsel-in-distress role, although it happened pretty often. But her tendency to yell a startled "jeepers!" always made me think that Fred was maybe putting the moves on her. But that never happened thanks to the world's most effective and consistent cock-block - Velma - who always shadowing Fred and Daphne when the quintet went off to investigate mysterious happenings. I would pay probably upwards of $50 to see an episode where Velma volunteers to go with Daphne and Fred to explore the haunted house, followed by Fred clocking her across the face with a fairway wood so he could get some alone time with his fellow ascot wearer. 98% - but only if you can separate her from Velma. If not, then .04% - chances are that a homicide will be taking place and Daphne will be a jail-house widow if Velma came in tow.
She is the epitome of "press box hot". There is nothing more hilarious than watch the mostly male media members ogle and swoon over a marginally attractive female in the press box, who is only getting the attention because she is the only female in the place. If Patty Bouvier - Marge Simpson's sister - were a sports writer, she would be treated as if she were Scarlett Johansson. It's the same way with Smurfette. She is the only female in a sea of blue skinned, white pant-wearing men. It doesn't matter what she looks like...she is "press box hot" and thus gets obscene amounts of attention, much of it undeserved. 4% - the competition is just too great.
She's cute and all, but there are two things that are huge warning signs. My guess she is the cattiest, most obnoxiously demanding, and spoiled one on this list, but I suppose she comes by it honestly. Her mom just swipes George's wallet from him at the end of the opening credits. And the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Plus, she's - what - 17 and she already has a head full of gray hair. That is just not right. 12% - who would have thought a Christina Aguilera marriage would have worked? But young Judy could easily teeter towards Spears-dom.
Monday, April 7, 2008
There are a few events every year that mark the beginning of seasons to me. This means winter. This means fall. This just sounds like the trees blooming and the coming thaw of spring. And increasingly summer sounds something like this. Or this. Or this. Since 2000, the summer movie docket has been populated – perhaps overpopulated – with superhero films based on comic book characters. In each year of the new millennium, a superhero film has finished as one of the top ten grossing films in the country – from 2000’s X-Men to 2007’s Spider-Man 3. The future Hollywood landscape looks similar – Iron Man makes his silver screen debut in May. The purple jeans-clad Hulk gets a much needed – albeit not highly demanded – re-visitation after Ang Lee’s tedious attempt earlier this decade. And a certain young man is almost beside himself waiting for The Dark Knight. 2009 will see the release of a Wolverine origin story starring Hugh Jackman, a Captain America pic, and G.I. Joe (I am hoping it starts like this). The success of these films comes at a time when the mainstream popularity of comic books has dropped significantly over the past two decades. But the heroes who once found themselves published only in the marginalized mediums of comic books have captured wide and loyal viewing audiences.
Why have these films found traction? Why can’t Hollywood get enough of them? And why are even more coming down the pipeline? A few thoughts.
The incredible number of characters and stories
Hollywood loves to take an idea or story formula and beat it into the ground until there is nothing but the tired shell of the original idea. Think of what they did to television game shows in the late 1990s and how they spawned bastardized off-spring of shows like Friends, The X-Files, and Sex and the City to see this pattern. Comic book films are a similar phenomenon. One studio sees another score a huge hit with a comic book adaptation and they want their own. Fortunately, the comic book canon is enormous, both in the number of characters and their rich, numerous story lines. These characters have been created and recreated countless times and are available to be reinterpreted on film again. Studios can delve deep into the character’s cannon to pull the most compelling stories to adapt onto the big screen. The material and storyline often times just needs to be found, not created. The incredible depth not only provides a single story arc, but a number of compelling plots and angles for a single character, making sequels that much more viable and attractive.
Batman is a great example of this. Warner Brothers released four Batman films between 1989 and 1997 with the final installment – Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin – essentially killing the franchises’ momentum. After waiting almost a decade, Warner Brothers revived Batman by fusing three of the character’s best graphic novel stories into a film, relying heavily on Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One. The resulting film – Batman Begins – stayed true to the character’s roots, scrapping the previous image of the Batman from the 1990s films and in doing so found greater success at the box office than any of the other previous Batman movies.
Special effects and compelling stories merge
Much of the film’s appeal to an audience much wider than core comic book readers stems from the reemphasis on the compelling characters and narrative structure rather than relying solely on special effects to sell the film. Since audiences have come to take awesome and intricate special effects for granted, studios can no longer rely solely on special effects to sell a film, a la Twister. The novelty of special effects has worn off, resulting in audiences now expecting some dimension and complexity to the characters and a certain narrative quality in addition to the visual fireworks. Comic books are uniquely ripe for this type of adaptation. Comic book films allow for the film makers to uniquely structure a compelling story arc – a vast canvas with complex characters, flawed figures, and intricate emotions – within the traditional blockbuster blueprint whose foundation is in special effects.
Emphasis on the story means emphasis on the alter ego
Because the character’s emotional component is on the forefront of the story, this means that the superheroes’ alter-ego is an important component in connecting with the audience. Audiences are unable to relate to Spider-man’s graceful swings down New York City’s concrete canyons, but they can emphasize with Peter Parker’s rent problems and his overriding concern for his Aunt May. A movie-goer might not be able to share Wolverine physical make-up, but most in the audience can connect with the character’s status as marginalized and misunderstood. The X-Men series does a particularly deft job at balancing their protagonists’ super powers with their emotional baggage. There is a judicial display of their superpowers throughout the films in order to not dilute the human element of the story. The script even calls for the X-Men to call themselves by their given names (Logan, Scott, Eric), not their mutant names (Wolverine, Cyclops, and Magneto, respectively). These psychologically complex characters with obvious emotional concerns provide these films their ethos, making it easier for the director to communicate the story to the audience.
This also impacts the casting of these characters. The casting decisions take into account both the superhero and the alter-ego. Tobey Maguire might not seem like he would be a natural pick for Spider-Man, but he is spot on as Peter Parker, showing that both sides of the character were considered when casting the role. The other component is that most of these leads in the superhero films since 2000 have been relative unknowns; Maguire as Spider-Man, Christian Bale as Batman, Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, and Brandon Roth as Superman. This makes it easier for the director to communicate with the audience because they are not distracted by seeing a well-known actor in the role, but rather the physical representation of an iconic image.
Another advantage to comic book adaptations is the way in which comic books are written. They are essentially story boards to the directors, a graphic organizer of illustrations that are displayed in sequence for the explicit purpose of visualizing motion sequences. Comic strips in the 1930s and 40s are now generally considered to be the video tape of its day. The advancements in special effects has allowed for directors to create a world where the action of the character can be convincingly and believably shown on screen, whereas before the movement of a Spider-man or Magneto could only be imagined by the reader in the static pages of the comic book. Special effects in motion pictures filled in the imagined action only implied in the two-dimensional, static world of comic books.
It is fun to watch
This may be obscenely simple, but superhero movies – on the whole – are fun to watch. Most of these characters are unrealized heroes and boys of all ages like things that fly, explode, and have capes. As long as it is treated seriously, then it is tough to go wrong. That means stay away from these clowns.