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“Cowboys & Aliens” – The Antiscribe Analyzes

So much has been written eulogizing the American western that to continue heaping laments on it can only be seen as repetitive and utterly redundant.  Needless to say, the Western has been more or less dead for a long time now, with a few fleeting reprises every now and then reminding us how great they used to be.  Sometimes very rarely, like the excellent 2007 film 3:10 To Yuma or the Coen brothers’ recent True Grit (both, it should be noted, are remakes), they remind us of how great they could still be.  Cowboys & Aliens is not one of those Westerns, nor even that fond reminder of how great they used to be.  Instead, it just reminds us of the very stubborn mentality that has kept the Western a dead commodity; the belief that Westerns can no longer be just Westerns…that they somehow have to be hybrids instead.

As anyone who has seen a commercial for Cowboys & Aliens already knows, the film mixes Western and science fiction genres (the latest in a largely unremarkable line), telling the story of a group of Western types and archetypes colliding with alien invaders who want nothing more than destroy the human race.  Chief among the Westerners is Jake Lonnergan (Daniel Craig), an amnesiac stage coach robber, and Colonel Dollarhyde (Harrison Ford), a rough hewn rancher and veteran of many of the major American wars of the 19th century, who must lead a rag tag posse of average townsfolk to rescue their assorted loved ones after they’ve been captured by mysterious “demons” who plunge out of the sky and lasso people like stray cattle.

An initially large problem with Cowboys & Aliens exists in its choice in tone.  The film plays its subject matter almost entirely straight, which I normally find appropriate, but here I would have preferred it if they went either far more tongue-in-cheek or, alternatively, more allegorical and earnest in tone.  When I first heard about the film, and that director Jon Favreau would be the one helming it, I personally hoped, and even expected, something along the lines of The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., one of my personal favorite one season wonders and among the best, and first, of the Western-Sci-fi hybrids.  Brisco County was a rousing, clever, funny series of romps filled with old fashioned derring-do that never took itself too seriously.  After enjoying the comedic flourish that were key to both Iron Man movies, I somewhat expected Favreau to add that same touch to a film with a title as silly as Cowboys & Aliens, but that was not to be, and the film is far less entertaining, and certainly more blase, for it.

On the other hand, Cowboys & Aliens could have also worked better by going the opposite direction; there were many deeper themes that the film could have incorporated that were ultimately left untouched.  The obvious one to me was the notion inherent in most Westerns, Manifest Destiny.  I mean, there really is an obvious irony when the predominantly white Europeans attempting to conquer the untamed West and its assorted indigenous cultures themselves face extinction from an another eradicating race.  The role of technology and the Industrial Revolution (a theme featured prominently in the 3:10 To Yuma remake) in the taming of the West would have been another.  Or even, if they just wanted to go the sentimentalized route, they could have made something out of the idea that the strength and toughness of American character of those who lived in the West was enough to conquer invaders from space.  Instead, in a reoccuring action that almost becomes an unintended running gag, the Cowboys and Indians fighting the aliens are best able to hold their own because they have horses that can be killed before they are.   The film, however, doesn’t touch upon any of these themes, and generally does its level best to stay subtext-free.  The only exception on hand involves the Indians (as in, Native Americans) with whom the Cowboys eventually form an alliance. The film treads upon the tired theme in contemporary Hollywood cinema of revising the horrors of colonial genocide by making the white characters ultimately benevolent to the colonized.  But really, it’s hardly special in that regard.

"Manifest Destiny" by W. M. Cary (1876)

Cowboys & Aliens is not without its qualities.  I found some of the little touches of UFO and abductee culture referenced by the film to be pretty clever, and many of the action scenes were perfectly solid.  The supporting cast is superb, including Sam Rockwell, Clancy Brown, Keith Carradine, Paul Dano, and Walton Goggins. But they represent a double edged sword as well, given that some of the material simply falls short of the quality of the actors.  Harrison Ford was also something of a disappointment; one would think he would be in his element in a Western, but there were many times his performance felt overly anachronistic.  The lovely Olivia Wilde, too, as a mysterious woman trying to help Lonnergan regain his memory, also demonstrated that she hasn’t yet found her breakthrough “superstar” role.

This screen capture of a naked Olivia Wilde is in no way intended to increase views of this blog. No siree.

The script itself felt like it could have used additional rewrite or two (of course, given the credited four writers, the opposite might be more accurate). The film has a good first act, and introduces some potentially interesting characters, but then they are subsequently abducted by the aliens and remain offscreen for the rest of the story.  The Dollarhyde character, too, seems in his introduction to be a villain, but before long he’s very clearly one of the film’s heroes.  It’s actually a really jarring situation, and it may be why Ford’s performance suffers as much as it does.

It would be highly unfair to call the movie overtly bad, but it would be equally so to call it good; it’s ultimately just kind of there. For me, Cowboys & Aliens falls firmly into the category of what I call a “cable movie”: if you come across it on a cable channel some afternoon or late at night, it may suck you in. You may watch it, moderately enjoy it, but then barely remember it twenty minutes after it’s over.

In the greater scheme of the post-Western era, Cowboys & Aliens will probably be little more than a footnote, if that.  But while watching it, as I watched so many of the modes and methods, types and tropes of the Western genre getting subsumed by elements of science fiction, they almost felt atrophied.  And it made me think about where the Western stands now, and where it may stand going forward.  Thirty and forty years ago, many of the emerging visionaries that redefined the culture  of American filmmaking learned to be filmmakers by watching the great and classic Westerns of Ford and Hawks.  Nowadays, when Westerns are referenced, those references seem to go back no further than Sergio Leone and the spaghetti Westerns.  It made me wonder if the time may someday come where filmmakers may no longer ween themselves on Westerns at all, and if all that will be left representing it to future generations will be movies like Cowboys & Aliens.  If that does happen, then they won’t make them like they used to…only like what we’re used to.

From "The Searchers," 1956 - Directed by John Ford

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Why “Captain America: The First Avenger” Succeeds -The Antiscribe Analyzes

“No matter what happens tomorrow…remember to be true to who you are.  Not a perfect soldier…but a good man.”

Call this sort of a companion piece to my previous entry on Green Lantern, where I discussed why I felt it was such a tremendous failure.  Having just seen Captain America: The First Avenger, which was a wonderfully fun “popcorn movie” that fired on nearly all cylinders, I felt compelled almost to use it as a way of reemphasizing my point by discussing why, in contrast, this film worked so very well.

Certainly, Captain America has some advantages that Green Lantern did not – for starters, most people could probably pick the title character out of a line-up.  All things being equal, Captain America is better known as an image than he is as a character, and for many years, like the Lantern has been considered a B-level hero in popularity.   But unlike the Green Lantern, whose backdrop is wacky, alien landscapes with extraterrestrial populations, Captain America is grounded very much in our history and cultural memory; a walking piece of wartime propaganda who lives on as a dependable exemplar of American ideals.  Nevertheless, Captain America can be a slippery slope all his own – a superhero whose image screams “corn,” and who can, at first appearance, seem as two-dimensional as the parchment Thomas Jefferson wrote his little Declaration on some 235 years ago.

The first appearance of Captain America, March 1941.

In that regard, the makers of Captain America tried to, successfully, invoke a different time – when patriotism was non-partisan and non-ideological, and good and evil were questions of existence instead of existential thought.  It’s the type of movie that kind of reminds us of why people ever really cared about superheroes to begin with…they were amazing, they were fun, they were idealistic, and they were unequivocally good.  Set during the Second World War, during the era where the superhero first made his appearance as a short-lived but popular patriotic character in Timely Comics (where he was created by Joe Simon and the legendary Jack Kirby), the film evokes a vibrant retroactive nostalgia for what is probably best called “the myth of World War II:” the illusionary narrative where the good guys always conquered bad guys, everything came up wine and roses, and the decimations of war and genocide were subsumed in favor of patriotism and inspiration.   And in the right situation, there’s really nothing wrong with that all.  It’s important to remember, it was the creation of that myth that helped win us that War in the first place.  And there is no more lasting vestige of that myth than old Captain America (or Cap, to his friends and fans).

The film relates the story of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), a scrawny, sickly, scrappy kid from Brooklyn desperate to fight for his country, and his journey and transformation into becoming the eponymous star-spangled super hero of wide renown.  After being rejected repeatedly from Army enlistment stations as unfit for duty due to his diminutive physical stature and medical history, Rogers, through a chance meeting with emigre military scientist Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), is given the chance to potentially take part in the government’s top secret Super Soldier program.  Impressing Erskine and project leaders Colonel Philips (Tommy Lee Jones) and Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwill) with his ingenuity, bravery, and compassion, Rogers becomes the first and only test subject for Erskine’s transformation process, which grants him heightened physical abilities including enhanced strength and increased size.  When the process is sabotoged by members of the Nazi breakaway group Hydra, Rogers is still denied the opportunity to fight, exiled into performing as the character Captain America at bond rallies in vibrantly splashy stage numbers. Going into action on his own and rescuing American and Allied troops from the clutches of Hydra, Rogers earns himself the respect of his fellow soldiers and the opportunity to see battle as a real, genuine Captain America.  Opposing Cap at the head of Hydra is his Nazi supersoldier counterpart Johann Schmidt, AKA the appropriately named Red Skull (Hugo Weaving).  Along with his henchman Dr. Armin Zola (Toby Jones), the Red Skull seeks to harness an otherworldly power source that may allow Hydra to take over the world…

The Red Skull: not a face you'd want to see on the one dollar bill.

Captain America, on its own merits, may not be a great movie, but it would be almost impossible to call it a bad one.  It’s one of those cases where not all the parts are great, but nearly all of them are good, and as a result you have a movie that hits a certain level of quality and manages to maintain it all the way through.  At the core of it is an outstanding cast – Evans is extremely likable and grounded as Rogers, and avoids the broad caricature that other interpretations of Cap often fall victim to, and the lovely Atwill has what is likely a breakthrough role as his love interest.  Tommy Lee Jones is as dependably gruff and lovable as ever, and Tucci gives the film’s best performance as Erskine; his scenes with Rogers are by far the film’s most poignant and philosophical.  As for Weaving and Toby Jones, they reminded me a great deal of Basil Rathbone and Claude Rains in consistency if not in approach; they can probably play villains like these in their sleep yet still do them better than anyone else.  The film also offers some of the best use of CGI I’ve seen in quite a while; to present the effect of the pre-Cap Rogers, Evans’s head was digitally placed on the body of a much smaller man, and the effect is remarkably seamless (admittedly, for issues of personal adequacy, I desperately wanted to believe that Evans’s Captain America physique was some miracle of CGI, but no such luck) .   The script is alternatively funny, touching, and exciting, but never so much of any of the three that it manages to overwhelm the material.  And director Joe Johnston, himself a veteran of so many period films, such as the thematically similar The Rocketeer, knows very well how to evoke the nostalgic elements of these earlier times.

Case in point, this poster - which is awesome.

But there is more to the success of the whole of Captain America than the sum of its admirable parts (and I’m not talking about Cap’s ludicrous pecs).  Just as Green Lantern failed by never understanding its character or the world around it, Captain America succeeds because it precisely understands  the appeal of its hero, and it’s creators crafted the film outwardly from there.  A shining example of this occurs in an absolutely marvelous montage sequence that could have been drawn directly out of a 1940’s musical (Yankee Doodle Dandy comes directly to mind), which encapsulates Cap’s touring as Captain America, performing an Alan Mencken-penned song-and-dance number.  In these numbers, Rogers wears a cheesy felt version of the “classic,” and admittedly silly, Captain America outfit, where he sings a song and basically makes a fool out of himself, before knocking out a Hitler lookalike at the climax of each performance.  The beautiful thing about the sequence is that it is postmodern and self-aware without being ironic.  It sends up the cornball aspects of the Captain America image to emphasize the more authentic one.  It displays a level of awareness and sophisticated understanding about this character that the makers of Green Lantern probably couldn’t even fathom.

Kelly, Powell, Astaire, Cagney...and Captain America.

The thing that has always made Captain American unique in the world of Marvel Comics (within which he reemerged in the early-sixties and has maintained a constant presence ever since), is that he is, within the Marvel continuity, something of a straight man to everyone else.  While Marvel has always been known as the home of “heroes with issues,” Steve Rogers has always been the “normal” one, whose main conflict has always been that the world around him is gray when he mainly sees things in black and white.  In this film, we’re given the earlier version of Captain America – the one before the world went irrevocably gray, and where superheroes were superheroes because they were heroes.

You know that it's saying something when the dude in the Betsy Ross get-up is the "normal one."

In a separate piece that I’m currently been revising for publication here, I partially discuss how the duality of good and evil have become blurred in the new millenium, and in ways that have been positive and negative.  Certainly, Captain America embraces the sharp duality of good and evil, but what I greatly appreciated was that it precisely champions the qualities of good and demonizes the qualities of evil.  It’s hardly a searing examination of either, but often other stories of heroes and villains are dependent on motive and psychological impulse.  Batman, for instance, is driven to fight crime by the death of his parents and Spider-man by the guilt over failing to save his uncle from being killed by a criminal he let escape.  Captain America, however, is a hero because he understands the difference of right and wrong, pain and loss, triumph and sacrifice due simply from his own quality of character in the face of a life of adversity as “the little guy.”  Everything we understand about Steve Rogers he wears on his sleeve, and from the first time in the film he laments that others are giving their lives for his country and the he should not be expected to do anything less, we know everything about him that we need to know.  Captain America deftly reminds us that the main job of a hero is not simply to fight evil, but to help his fellow man – who, with simply a little change in circumstances, could have been a hero themselves.

Captain America surrounded by his fellow man...and also a hot Englishwoman.

In contrast to Rogers – who, ironically, would be the physical embodiment of the Nazi Ubermensch – is the Red Skull.  Like Cap, he wears his personality skin deep (though perhaps more literally), but his character’s evil within the film is the thematic opposite of Cap’s goodness.  While Cap sees himself as just another soldier, the Red Skull sees himself as a god among all men.   Many reviews I’ve read have commented a great deal on how this film upholds the tradition of using Nazis are such dependable villains, but the film actually takes great pains to establish Hydra as a rejection of Nazism, and Schmidt actually makes a point of disparaging Hitler’s fascistic ideal.  The Red Skull of the film certainly does share the Fuhrer’s own self-deification, but his evil is almost more a byproduct of objectivism than fascism.  This Red Skull is not about finding the ideal, he’s about placing everyone beneath him, and therein lies the contrasts between both he and Hitler and he and Cap.  For a movie so heavily steeped in nostalgia, I think there is a contemporary point being made here.

As it turns out, it wasn't Old Man Withers - who runs the haunted amusement park - after all.

What, in many respects, separates Cap from so many other heroes, truly, is that he is not a Demigod made flesh, but the Ideal Soldier – one who defends his country, regardless of the sacrifice, regardless of the odds; who fights bravely and for the right reasons, and ultimately, albeit in slightly altered fashion, gives his life so that others may live.  And certainly, from Cap’s enduring heroism comes the film’s almost wonderful nostalgic feel, from its excellent Yankee Doodle Dandy inspired USO montage, to its almost newsreel like sequences (well, if newsreels were ever directed by Michael Bay) depicting Cap’s heroic career, to its romance, to its humor, to its pure uncynical heart.   Of course, Captain America: The First Avenger, is not, in and of itself, the end of our hero’s journey.  But that story gets told on another day.  (That “another day,” of course, is coming in May 2012.)

By the way, if your projectionist turns the movie off before the credits are over...kill him.

Of course, the one real problem I had with the film was that the studio felt the need to tack on the awkward subtitle of The First Avenger, which will actually be used as an alternate title in foreign markets where it is felt that anything with “America” in it will foster resentment and drive away business.  It’s a sad and deeply cynical state of affairs when the image of our country, that so many people over the last 235 years have given their life for, has come to this.   I wonder what old Cap would have to say about that?

Why “Green Lantern” Failed – The Antiscribe Analyzes

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Soooooo baaaad...but if you were judging by this poster, you probably already knew that. (Warner Bros.)

Well, after seeing Green Lantern, the long-awaited if not necessarily anticipated film version of the popular DC Comics superhero, I kind of knew I had to write about it…but for some reason, a regular old review didn’t seem to be quite enough.  Or perhaps I should say “bad review,” because this movie was plenty bad.  But for me, the reasons why a movie is bad, especially when it costs a ridiculous amount of money to make, is always far more interesting that just outright emphasizing how terrible a movie is.  And hopefully, for someone somewhere, more constructive.

It bears significant emphasizing, though, that Green Lantern is pretty terrible, and the tepid response it has received from fans and critics and at the box office – $52 million it’s first weekend, with a large portion of that inflated due to 3D  – only cements that fact.  Nearly two weeks in, it has made only about $125m, or less than 40% of its estimated $325 million production and marketing budget (numbers courtesy of BoxOfficeMojo), essentially rendering what was intended to be  new movie franchise dead on arrival.   The film rather underwhelmingly tells the origin story of the Green Lantern, Hal Jordan, played by Ryan Reynolds – who does a lousy job, but he’s honestly  among the least of the film’s problems.  An all around hotshot test pilot in the cliched Top Gun mold,  Jordan ends up recruited by a dying member of the Green Lantern Corps  (kind of an intergalactic police force made up of aliens of various races), to be its newest member.  Armed with a green ring that projects energy constructs fueled by its wearer’s will (or something like that), Jordan must win acceptance from the elite Corps members, including the hard-nosed alien chief Lantern Sinestro (Mark Strong), battle a planet consuming entity named Parallax, defeat the insane psychic-powered, cranial enhanced villain Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard), and woo his boss and true love Carol Ferris (a miscast and overly gamine Blake Lively).  Chosen by his ring because he apparently knows no fear, though the film stupefyingly takes great pains to emphasize that the opposite is true, Jordan’s journey takes him to Oa, homeplanet of the Guardians of the Universe – sort of the governing body of the Corps – and, well, a few particular locations on Earth, I guess.  The relative lack of scenery change in such as supposedly epic movie is another of this movie’s issues, actually.

Its hard, really, to choose simply one place to start to describe the relative “badness” of this movie, but I’ll try to keep it to the macro.  The film isn’t attrociously bad, like this year’s Green Hornet, or even entertainingly bad, like, oh…let’s say The A-Team.  It’s just a flat, boring, numbing kind of bad.  The script feels like it was culled together from the best,or perhaps I should say the most functional, scenes from a number of writers’ drafts (the film credits four), with expositional dialogue by Geoffrey Rush (who voices one of the ancilliary Lanterns) filling in the gaps in the story.  Hal Jordan as a character just feels like a hodge podge of types ‘n tropes – he’s a womanizer, he lacks confidence, he’s sarcastic, he’s good to his nephew, he has issues with his father’s death – more than a defined character taking a journey we actually care about, and his relationship with his love interest Ferris is just a non-starter.  The villain Hector Hammond, seems here like a refugee from another super-hero movie, since he has almost no real thematic or narrative conflict with Jordan or his girlfriend, and again, though the movie takes great pains to emphasize that Hammond is “driven by fear,” he’s never actually afraid of anything.  He’s still better than Parallax, though, who is basically little more than a talking cloud of golden smog.

This is either the planet consuming entity Parallax or, if you live in Los Angeles, a clear spring day. (Warner Bros.)

Perhaps worst of all, as mentioned, is that this film just feels small.  The CGI often looks painfully bad and woefully inartistic, as if it was more concerned with looking expensive than looking believable, and as such the movie never conveys any of the sense of wonder that Jordan (and by proxy, the audience) should be feeling from his situation.  It’s jokey, though never funny, dialogue also serves to suck whatever urgency there should be in the story, especially from a story that needs to take itself seriously since so many of its elements are borderline ridiculous (I personally also think that any movie that shows skyscrapers being knocked over and people being killed en masse should take itself seriously to a point).  What remains is movie that should have been epic, but never even feels intimate – it’s just one scene or set piece happening after another, without momentum, excitement, and scarcely a quantum of fun.

As has been made clear in much of its publicity, Warner Bros. had pinned a lot of hopes on Green Lantern to supposedly be the beginning of a new franchise that will produce future blockbusters now that the Harry Potter series is about to end, and with Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy apparently having its denouement next summer.   It seems though, that in being given custodianship of the Green Lantern franchise, that Warner Bros has done nearly everything wrong in trying to build excitement for a character that, paradoxically, has an ardent (pun not intended) following among comic book fans but almost no mainstream recognition (as this spot-on bit by the Onion News Network makes quite clear).  While I was in New York City last week, I couldn’t walk a block without seeing an advertisement for Green Lantern, none of which would have been moderately appealing to someone who did not know the character. In comparison, the Harry Potter novels were already a cultural phenomenon before its first movie was released, and Batman has been one of the best known characters in popular culture for decades.  Faced with an already uphill battle, Warners did nothing to account for that familiarity gap, and the comparatively low opening weekend numbers reflect that.

Mock-ups of Green Lantern movie posters satirizing the character's complete obscurity to the mainstream. (The Onion News Network)

I should state, before continuing, that  I am, and really have been since I was 12, a fan of Green Lantern comics, and especially of the Hal Jordan character – the most famous, but certainly not the only character to wear the mantle (nor was he was even the first).  Certainly, Green Lantern  has always been one of those demarcating lines between true comic book fans and casual comic book fans: if you read Green Lantern, you were a genuine comic book nerd…if you didn’t, enjoy your Spider-man and X-Men, poser!  It’s an exaggeration, but only a mild one…Green Lantern was a fan’s hero because he often felt like the standard bearer of an isoteric secret society.  In recent years, DC comics, who publishes the character, has found great success in making Hal Jordan more of a central character in their overall continuity, especially as the audience has hewn closer to the older collector’s market and less toward a juvenile audience, and it’s only natural that they, as well as the fans, would be enthusiastic to build upon that increased stature by seeing him as the subject of a major movie franchise.  I suppose that would include myself, but  I can honestly say that my expectations about the quality of this movie were already so dimmed that this movie did little to offend me as a fan when I actually saw it.  But I do think it gives me some perspective as to what the appeal of Green Lantern is, and where Warners went completely wrong in their approach to adpating it.

Hal Jordan, the Green Lantern...a super hero only a comic book fan could love? (art by Alex Ross, DC Comics))

Now why has Green Lantern had such a die hard fan following in the first place?  There are two primary reasons.  The first, is that he plays well with others, in that he is at his best playing off of other superheroes. While this works extremely well in the “crossovers” that are commonplace in comic book literature, it  naturally doesn’t translate well to the realm of motion pictures.  Secondly, though,  unlike Batman, Superman, or Wonder Woman, all of whom are god-like in their own particular ways, Hal Jordan is, at his best, an excellent audience surrogate.  Jordan is not and has never been a wisecracking, one-liner spewing alpha male with deep-ceded angst and anxiety.  He is actually more subtle and nuanced than the relatively straight arrowed, lantern-jawed do-gooder he initially appears to be.   Jordan is usually portrayed as a genuinely a good person, and authentically fearless; he’s also compassionate and thoughtful, but not always completely knowledgable, and capable of making mistakes and learning from them.   His traditional arch-nemesis, the rogue Lantern Sinestro, is his opposite: equally fearless but also distant, cold, unyielding, and ruthless.  But what his character’s greatest strength, and in some ways it is also his greatest flaw, is that he is judgmental.  It’s not the world Hal Jordan lives in that is the appeal to his character, it’s how that character reacts to that world.  Hal Jordan is always quick to point out hypocrisy and injustice – in say, how the Guardians of the Galaxy react to a crisis effecting a less developed civilization – and that’s why he appeals to the comic book reader:  in worlds wacky, weird, and wild, he is not a cartoonish byproduct of those worlds – he is the reader’s voice of reason who is capable of articulating their response and acting on it.

A case of the authoritarian Green Lantern playing off of the anti-authority Green Arrow on one of the more famous comic book covers in history. (DC Comics)

Now, realisitcally, film and comics are completely different mediums and certain sacrifices have to be made when transferring a character and his universe to the screen.  I’m not saying Warners needed to show a slavish devotion to cannon nor should they not have had reasonable latitude in adapting the character as they see fit.   In fact, I often prefer it when a character or mythology is adapted significantly from its base material – one of the unique traits of comics mythologies are their relative malleability, which only enhances the strengths and timelessness of their character’s myths.  Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight series has been much and justifiably praised, but in truth it is not a very strict adaptation of Batman’s comic origins. But Nolan and company still captured the core dynamic of Batman’s mythos that made it so interesting for decades, and it carried through despite its many adaptive alterations.  Where Green Lantern goes wrong, at its very core, is that director Martin Campbell and the executives at Warner’s clearly did not understand what they had with the Green Lantern myth, and it shows every step of the way.  Looking at the marketing of this movie and listening to a number of the things that were said by its creators publicly, its clear they thought the appeal of Green Lantern was in the more sci-fi/outer space/alien aspects of the character’s universe, and otherwise assumed that the otherwise vocal minority of Green Lantern fans’ entusiasm would compensate for the mainstream’s lack of familiarity.

Rumor has it this teaser poster was highly criticized by theater owners when it was first sent out, because most of those who saw it had no idea what it was advertising.

Posters and advertisements showing a glowing Ryan Reynolds flanked by other alien Lantern Corps members does not engender interest or excitement – it makes one think of Star Trek and Star Wars, and makes it either pale in comparison or just overly nerdy.   Indeed, the main problem with Green Lantern as a property is that to sell it you have to find a way to overcome the (for lack of a better term) geekier elements of the mythology, and instead emphasize what ultimately works about the character and clarify why someone would want to see it.

Green Lantern Corps...or Star Trek convention? Yeesh... (Warner Bros. through MTV News)

Its clear, from marketing through to the finished product, that the people behind the film just did not know what that was, and ultimatley tried to define their movie by taking from what worked elsewhere.  Certainly, watching Green Lantern, I honestly kept being reminded of 2008’s Iron Man.   Iron Man shines as one of the best examples of blockbuster moviemaking over the last decade, for the simple fact that it managed to create a successful superhero film and franchise seemingly out of almost whole cloth.  Given a B-level superhero with a marginal following, a faded but well known and undeniably talented Hollywood burnout as a star (Robert Downey Jr.), a fledgling LLC movie studio (Marvel Studios), and a comedy actor/writer/director as a helmer (Jon Favreau), the film could have been a catastrophe.  Instead, from its first, much-lauded trailer through to its ultimate finished product, Iron Man was a complete success because it understood its character and the appeal that character ultimatly had – a high-living, saracastic capitalist learns the meaning of responsibility and redeems himself by becoming a superhero, who happened to be played by a formerly high-living movie star who learned the meaning of responsibility and was redeeming himself by making a blockbuster.   It struck a chord at the outset, and then when it came time to play the song, knew all the words and music.

Green Lantern exists as a marked contrast, where the filmmakers clearly didn’t know what they had with Hal Jordan and his universe, nor had they any idea what they should do with it or what it should be about. They thus went with what was most superficial about the character, his iconography and his acoutrements, as well as imitated what they had seen work before.  Indeed, like Iron Man, they cast a mostly comedic actor and gave him a great deal of sarcastic dialogue, because that’s what worked for that hero, so why shouldn’t it work for this one?  But just like no one saw Iron Man just to see someone walking around in a red and gold CGI suit, no one was going to see this movie for some guy in green day-glo hanging out with phony looking aliens.  There needed to be something more, and in the end, it was clear there was nothing at the core because the filmmakers didn’t know what that something should be.  In the end, why Green Lantern failed was because someone committed nearly a third of billion dollars toward something they did not understand nor tried to make into something understandable.  Without that, all the issues I listed above simply fell over like dominoes, one problem after another after another compounding themselves until all that was left was a multimillion dollar green turkey.

As a fan of the Green Lantern, I’d like to think some day a Christopher Nolan or Jon Favreau will come along and create an interpretation that works,  and maybe even get a successful movie out of it to boot.  If so, in the long run, this blip on the pop culture radar ultimately may mean nothing.  But on its own, the movie Green Lantern is just another lesson that Hollywood never seems to learn, that it’s not what you spend, but what you earn; it’s the thought and care and consideration that ultimately yields the best results; even, and perhaps especially, for a movie based on a comic book. If Green Lantern‘s publicity, marketing, and rationale have yielded any triumph, its as a lesson of the power, and danger, of Hollywood’s self-equivocation.

If you are actually interested in reading/watching suitable adaptations of Green Lantern’s origin I would wholeheartedly recommend Darwyn Cooke’s graphic novel DC: The New Frontier, which casts Hal Jordan as a pacifist and Korean war veteran whose fearlessness against the scorn of others earns him his power ring (it was adapted into a decent animted movie entitled Justice League: The New Frontier).  Current DC Comics chief creative guru Geoff Johns also wrote Green Lantern: Secret Origins, which is available as a trade paperback and would have been perfectly suited for being the basis of the film verison, as it captures the character of Hal Jordan and his psychological underpinnings rather well.  Finally, I would also recommend the animated Green Lantern: First Flight, which does a pretty good job with establishing for the uninitiated the Green Lantern Corps mythology and the Hal Jordan/Sinestro arch-rivalry.

(Wow, those are lousy trailers…)

Comments on Time’s Top Ten Superhero Movies…

http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2075455_2075373_2075286,00.html?xid=fbshare

A few people have sent this to me, so I thought I would post some brief comments here about it.  Overall, it’s an interesting list.  I don’t particularly agree with all of it, but I think they did a good job including a more varied listing of films than one would probably expect from such a narrow classification.  I’m listing them here in reverse order, with my thoughts next to each.

10.  Iron Man (2008) – This probably would have been on my list, too, and maybe a little higher.  Actually a terrific mix of humor, gravitas, and allegorical content, with perhaps the best casting of a lead role in the history of super hero films.  It also proves that you could produce a blockbuster film using a secondary superhero, provided that it was done right.

9.  Watchmen (2009) – Hmmm…I’m reminded of what Mario Puzo once said about The Godfather as a novel versus a film – in essence, the movie may have been one of the twenty greatest films of all time, while the novel wasn’t even one of the best books of its year.  The inverse is somewhat true about Watchmen – the original graphic novel is still perhaps the best ever written, but what worked on the page did not always click on screen, much of which had to do with historical context and conformity to mainstream filmmaking.  It’s still a very good movie, and maybe top ten worthy, but I’m not positive of that.

8.  Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993) – Inspired choice, though the actual animated series (still holds up as one of the best of all time) had many episodes that were actually far, far better.  Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker was also probably just as good.

7. The Rocketeer (1991) – It’s been probably close to two decades since I’ve seen this so it’s not exactly fresh in my mind, but I remember it being more likable than good.  I might want to give it a second look.

6. Blade II (2002) – Guillermo del Toro did a very good job with it, but the first film was better overall.  Wouldn’t have included.

5.  Superman II (1980) – A good effort that didn’t quite follow through on its potential, no doubt in large part due its script problems and the creative upheaval that came from Richard Donner’s firing during production.  Might have made the cut, but not over the first film.

4.  Unbreakable (2000) – Another very good idea that didn’t live up to its potential.  I had actually read the script long before the film was made, so it’s twists weren’t actually surprising to me at the time.  This is a case where I think Shyamalan’s script would have been better served in the hands of another director.

3. Spider-man 2 (2004) – If they had selected this for number 1, I wouldn’t have argued with it.  A thoroughly human story interwoven in a superhero adventure, with perfectly realized casting.

2. The Dark Knight (2008) – Would have been my number 1 – arguably the American film of the first decade of the 21st century – a trenchant allegory of the War on Terror and Post-9/11 consciousness, disguised as a superhero film, but treated with the reverence of an epic urban crime drama.

1. The Incredibles (2004) – Another choice I wouldn’t argue with, and certainly would have been in my top five.  Another of the true gems of the Pixar dynasty.

Notable (Questionable) Exclusions –

Superman (1978) – Still the progenitor of superhero movies, not without its flaws, but unmatched for its sense of grandeur and wonderment.

Batman (1989) – one of the most significant films in Hollywood history for the impact it had on blockbuster filmmaking beyond simply superhero films, and it still holds up fairly well.

X2: X-Men United (2003) – One of the better sequels you’ll ever see, with an exceptional third act.  Certainly the best superhero “team” film yet made.

Batman Begins (2005) – Perhaps the best origin film, that perfectly captures the psychological underpinnings of perhaps the most famous of superheroes.

Rewatching Lord of the Rings in a Game of Thrones World

This entry contains spoilers, specifically for those who have not yet watched Game of Thrones.

Sean Bean as Eddard "Ned" Stark in Game of Thrones (HBO)

This week was a somewhat interesting one for me, as I was able to screen two pieces that essentially epitomize two polar ends of a particular genre – the fantasy epic (or “high fantasy.”)  On Sunday, I watched what will likely go down a benchmark installment of the series Game of Thrones, entitled “Baelor,” in which the series’ closest approximation to a main character, Eddard “Ned” Stark (played by Sean Bean, also the series’ “star”) was killed off in what was only the ninth episode.   Two days later, I began what will be three straight weeks of rewatching, in theatres, each installment of Peter Jackson’s blockbuster adaptation of JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy with The Fellowship of the Ring (these will be remastered versions of the Extended Editions – which have  rarely been shown in theaters, having been produced mainly for the home DVD market).  This coming Tuesday, I’ll be attending the screening of the next installment, The Two Towers, and the week after that will be a viewing The Return of the King.  In viewing each film, I was struck by their obvious similarities and dissimilarities, and the ways in which each succeed on their own terms and in their own way.   They also put into perspective how each of the works, and their source material, broaden the view one can take of a film and literary genre that most would perceive rather narrowly – myself included.

Original theatrical teaser poster for "Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring"

I’m sure The Lord of the Rings (or LOTR) really needs very little introduction for those who are reading this now – based on the fantasy epic first published in the 1950s and which represented a major literary milestone in the true maturation of the “epic fantasy” –  the films are among the most financially successful and best remembered movies from the last decade.  Made simultaneously by Jackson and a massive cast and crew, the three films generated billions in box office and merchandising, as well as substantial critical acclaim and awards recognition (the last film Return of the King, was awarded the Best Picture Academy Award and ties the record for most Oscars won by a film in a single year).  It tells concurrent stories, the main of which focuses on Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood), a young hobbit (or halfling) from the pastoral Shire who must make an epic journey, against all odds, into the heart of the land of Mordor to destroy the magical ring of the Dark Lord Sauron and vanquish him forever. (Why any Dark Lord in good standing undertake the seemingly self-defeating strategy of putting all of his evil power into a ring still has been never been explained to my satisfaction, but in tales within which orcs play a significant role, sometimes logic must abide).  With the distant support of his friends, including the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellan), the exiled king Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), and the elf-turned-teen heartthrob Legolas (Orlando Bloom) , and the immediate support of his fellow hobbit Samwise (Sean Astin), Frodo ultimately completes his mission and saves Middle Earth from the forces of evil.

Fellowship's eponymous fellowship.

Game of Thrones, which began airing earlier this year on the premium cable channel HBO, is based on another epic fantasy series, begun in the 1990s and still progressing, A Song of Ice and Fire, by New Jersey’s own George RR Martin (the television show takes its name from the series’ first novel).  The series relates the political and familial intrigues of the royal houses of the very tenuously aligned Seven Kingdoms of Westeros – a massive continent-sized nation in an alternate fantasy world where seasons are known to last years – as each family tries to impose their will over the future of the kingdom.  Predominantly, the series thus far has told the story of the Starks (headed by patriarch Ned), a good-hearted and honorable noble family from the Northernmost Kingdom of Winterfell, who are drawn into the machinations of the wealthy, powerful, but also highly dysfunctional Lannister family, who are in-laws of the reigning king, Robert Baratheon.  Having read and recently re-read Martin’s original novel, I can attest to the fact that the Game of Thrones or GOT, thus far, has hewn very close to its source, right up to the shocking and heartbreaking execution of Ned.

Ned Stark, moments before death. The young woman screaming in the background is his daughter, Sansa (Sophie Turner).

Though each represent the genre of high fantasy (so defined by the fact that the action is set in an alternate fantasy world), LOTR and GOT are thematically, stylistically, tonally, and aesthetically incredibly different (despite the fact that characters played by Sean Bean die relatively early in each).  LOTR is an all-ages, epic story of very well defined good characters battling obviously evil characters, set against a backdrop where magic and monsters are commonplace, and war is righteous and noble part of tradition.  Characters from various races (such as hobbit, elf, dwarf, and man) fight side-by-side with or against each other, and good ultimately conquers evil with almost all the noble characters seeing their way through in the end (LOTR is also a phallocentric world centered on the exploits of men, with the only women present being those who ultimately choose to define themselves in masculine terms).

Arwen Evenstar (Liv Tyler), one of the few major female characters in the LOTR, dressed in masculine attire.

Alternatively, the very R-rated GOT exists in world that is unsparingly gritty, brutal, uncompromising,  and, perhaps shockingly, highly realistic.  Magic exists in the universe of the show, but its occurrences are fairly rare, and its existence, as well as the existence of mythical monsters, regarded as superstitions by the majority of the show’s characters.  In GOT, concepts of good and evil really do not apply, as the very political nature of the stories dictate that the best characters are those that are able to balance their ability to be cruel and kind in the face of extremely realistic dilemmas.  Nothing emphasizes this better than the fate of Ned Stark.  Though noble at heart and committed to honor, Ned is ultimately destroyed by the fact that he is unwilling to place the good of all over his own personal honor, leading him to fall prey to the much more devious Lannisters and the series’ closest thing to a true villain, the scheming Littlefinger (Aiden Gillan).

The villainous Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish - in the midst of scheming, no doubt.

Yet even the villains themselves also often have motivations that are empathetic, and even sympathetic.  And again, it must be emphasized, this series earns its R-rating – sex, incest, prostitution, rape, molestation, gore, and violence are all fairly par the course in Westeros.  One important character is even graphically executed by having molten metal poured on his head.

In many respects, GOT represents a similar step forward in fantasy filmmaking, just as Jackson’s LOTR had ten years ago.  But whereas Jackson’s trilogy brought the fantasy genre up from its strictly B-movie sword-and-sorcery antecedents, GOT strives to elevate to the level of the adult prestige drama, using extremely well drawn characters, intense, adult situations, sex, violence, and moral ambiguity to present the fantasy genre in a way many have never see before (and, gratefully for me, does it without the self-reflexive and obnoxiously smug irony that seems to permeate so much genre material these days).  The series is not unworthy of criticism, however.  Being an HBO series, the sexual content is often ratched well into overdrive, to a degree that is sometimes rather uncomfortable to watch.  Another scene from the series that has also garnered some degree of infamy, featured the villainous character Littlefinger describing his motivations while “auditioning” two female prostitutes for his high class whorehouse, leading to a fairly explicit and prolonged lesbian sex scene.  Another of the major story threads, involving the exiled teenage princess Daenarys (Emilia Clarke), involves her being married off to a barbarian king who rapes her on her wedding night, which is filmed in extremely voyeuristic fashion, leaving little of Daenarys’ body to the imagination.  Simultaneously, as Jace Lacob pointed out in an article on The Daily Beast, the horrors of rape, an aspect that the novels emphasize as a way of illustrating the unpleasantness and brutality of medieval life and sexual politics, is largely downplayed for overly-titilating softcore.  However, I would largely lay most of the blame for this on HBO itself, as the overabundance of nudity and sex is a staple for the network’s original series, occassionally to their detriment (see the award-winning The Pacific for some notable examples of this).  With that said, I don’t think it has compromised the series’ overall quality and drama, though it has certainly diminished its prestige and mitigated my enjoyment at times.

Daenarys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke, center) and two handmaidens. In the narrative of Game of Thrones, two of the women pictured here appear naked and their characters raped.

This past Sunday’s episode, one of the best of the series thus far, took the series’ ambitions to yet another level when it chose to follow through on the death of its star character (just as it had occurred in the novel).  When I went on the internet on Monday, while checking up on how well Super 8 did at the box office (in relation to my previous blog post), I found myself drawn into reading much of the certainly vitriolic response that was formulated in response to Ned’s execution.  Fans and previous readers of the book like myself of course knew it was coming, but for most everyone else the event seemed to be quite the shock.   Many appeared to be up in arms, and called it an abomination to have actually killed off the main character just as the first season was about to come to a close (the season finale is this weekend).  Some even claimed to have sworn off the series, and stated their intention to essentially badmouth to everyone they know.  On the other end of the spectrum, many are in awe of the raw audacity of it all, and applaud the program’s willingness to break the rules of normal televisual series narrative.  As someone making his way through the rest of the books in the still-incomplete series, I find both sides to be somewhat wrong.

Certainly, I think the first group is overreacting and being overly dogmatic to the rules and comfortable expectations of series television.  And I love Sean Bean, too (Sharpe rules!), but I don’t see how anyone can doubt that Peter Dinklage, as dwarf and black sheep of the Lannisters, “The Imp” Tyrion, hasn’t completely stolen the show at this point.

The AntiFrodo - "The Imp" Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage)

Perhaps surprisingly, I also disagree with those admiring the, for lack of a better term, “balsiness” of this move – it would be one thing if a newly original series had decided to go off and kill the main character a few episodes in, but Martin has laid a lot of groundwork that the showrunners are now following, and I can tell you, it’ll only get better from here.

But as I sat down and waited for Fellowship to begin two days later, I couldn’t help but feel concerned that perhaps I would now look back at this film I loved when I first saw it ten years ago (when it really rekindled my love of movies after September 11 had made them all feel so insignificant) with some feeling of triviality.  I wanted to leave that theater still holding the movie in my heart, and I was worried, that in a post-GOT, that it might not be possible.

Thankfully, it was.  Granted, certain parts of Fellowship don’t completely hold up.  Peter Jackson, to his credit, sought to wring every drop of drama and impact out of Tolkien’s narrative, but as a result, there were more than a few moments that felt extremely overwrought (like Samwise’s needless near-drowning at the film’s end).  And frankly, the multiple teases of Frodo’s demise get pretty tiresome.

But the magic was still there – the effects held up brilliantly, the characterizations hold up perfectly, and, like I have many times before, I found myself wilfully getting lost in this world of elves, orcs, and magic rings of ridiculous power (I mean, really, if I have God-like power, why on Middle Earth would I put it all in a RING?!?  Why don’t I…I don’t know… JUST KEEP IT? I’m digressing…).

"Yeah...this can't possibly go wrong." - Sauron, the Dark Lord of Mordor

So fortunately, I find that looking forward to both the end of this season of GOT (not to mention future seasons, as it’s already been renewed) and two more weeks of LOTR (and two installments of The Hobbit) to not be mutually exclusive concepts.  More than that, though, watching two such radically different exemplars of the fantasy genre in this fashion makes me realize that we all may be looking at something that only has room to grow and mature in the meta sense, just as the western, the space epic, and the superhero movie have done before.  As LOTR showed then and GOT shows now, worlds of magic need not be looked down on as escapist subject matter for young children, nerds, or stereotypical maladjusted adults.  They can also be art.

(I’ll be posting my thoughts of the next two installments of LOTR when I see them, and Game of Thrones, as warranted.)

When intrigue isn’t intriguing, and nostaligia doesn’t feel particularly nostalgic…

I haven't seen this yet...and I'm not in any great hurry.

So I was asked last night if I wanted to go see the new movie Super 8 today…and my answer, surprising as it may seem to someone who knows me and knows what I like…was “nah.”  It’s not that I don’t want to see it – I actually do, and I’m sure when I do see it I’ll at least like it, and for all I know I might even love it.  But with all of the movies that have come out the past few weeks and due to come out during the next few, I’m just not excited enough to go out and see it right away.  Now there are a few minor reasons that contribute to my comparative lethargy: J.J. Abrams has never blown my mind as much as he has others, and though I love movies I have no desire to live in a theater like I have been lately.   But the fairly glowing reviews would normally be enough to offset that hesitancy…there had to be more.

Really, the reason for me is actually kind of simple:  I really just don’t get this movie’s marketing.  And let’s be honest, marketing is as important as anything when it comes to why we see a movie.  A bad trailer can kill excitement for a movie that’s actually really good, and a good trailer can make us excited to see absolute junk.  So my relative lack of excitement about Super 8 made me think about what can personally drive someone to want to see a movie, and the nexus that exists between expectation and desire in film marketing.

The marketing (which, to specify, I see as including actual movie marketing and overall publicity – I haven’t watched anything viral or sought out spoilers) for Super 8 seems to want to work on two levels, as intrigue and as nostalgia.   I’m going to start with the intrigue.  What is Super 8 about?  I honestly have no idea.  I have suspicions, but very little in actual knowledge…and I assume that’s precisely how the marketers want me to feel.   Now, I get that, and part of me understands why that happens and part of me approves of it.  Movies can often be too predictable…on the one hand, it’s why we find them to be be entertaining, because in the end, that’s part of the comfort of going to movies.  For a moment, they make us feel okay; they give us a false sense that no matter how out of control things get, most everything will turn out all right in the end (provided another sequel isn’t coming along in the next 12-18 months).  But on the other, it obviously can make things overly repetitive and over time, fairly bland and boring.   So, certainly, part of me is happy when a movie wants to deny people’s expectations too much, and leave us with a large question mark lingering over us that prevents us from describing a movie in 25 words or less.

But this time?  I’m not really intrigued, and it makes me curious to see how well Super 8 will do in its opening weekend.  I’m suspecting fairly well, and at $45 million or so, even with marketing costs, this film doesn’t likely have to set major records to be insanely profitable.  But among an extremely crowded summer marketplace and in an economy where entertainment is more budgeted than ever before, I question the wisdom of denying people the comfort of expectations.  I know, for me personally, lacking that frame of reference makes me less intrigued to actually see it – if I’m going to spend money on something these days (especially when I’m spending money on so many other movies at this time of year), I prefer it not to be on an enigma, and I doubt I’m alone.  And even if the film manages to deliver on the intrigue that it creates, in the modern internet era, where one could probably type two words into google and find out what the film is actually about (which I won’t be doing, but the point remains), is that going to sustain a film like this?   If I’m not encouraged to see it this weekend, sadly, I’ll probably already have learned by the time I get around to it, which in and of itself won’t discourage me, but might discourage others.

Then there’s the issue of nostalgia, which the publicity surrounding the film has especially endorsed, most clearly in evoking the early work of Steven Spielberg (the film’s advertised producer and a central figure, along with Abrams, in its marketing).  From what I’ve seen, this is certainly what has struck the loudest chord I know with people who want to see the movie.   Now again, personally, I don’t get it.   Now don’t misunderstand me…I’m not a Spielberg hater that some others are these days are (though only a complete fanboy wouldn’t admit his work hasn’t fallen off in recent years), and as a movie buff who grew up in the eighties and into the nineties, Spielberg was a huge part of my childhood.  The first movie I ever saw in a theater was a Spielberg movie (“saw” being relative to the fact I spent half the movie hiding from the little alien who thought was going to eat me). When I see the trailers for Super 8, I can pick out the obvious references to ET, Jaws, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind fairly easily.  But, in the end…so what?

Honestly, Spielberg’s work, with obvious exceptions of films like Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, and Raiders of the Ark, just feels so archaic these days…like relics of a bygone era we really just can’t go back to, nor should we want to. They evoke a more naive period in history, at least for me.  And at the risk of sounding almost snobbish (sorry…), Spielberg movies are just something we eventually outgrow and only rarely look back, and when we do, it’s rarely with the sense of wonderment we had as children during that era.  Instead, we see the obvious schmaltz and ceaseless optimism, and feel the manipulation going on.  And that leads back to the idea of intrigue…knowing what to expect from a Spielberg movie, or, in this case, a postmodern recreation of one, you kind of ultimately know where it’s going to go.  I remember years ago, when War of the Worlds was released in 2005,  the director made all sorts of comments about how his attitude changed  in the wake of September 11. But as the movie ended, it was just the same ludicrously upbeat ending that has undermined much of his work.  So something tells me that whatever Super 8 is about, it’s going to have that same Spielbergian happy ending.

And you know, it will probably be fine.  I’m fairly certain that it will be a good movie, given all the impressions.  But in the end, the promise of quality isn’t always as important as the promise of something more.  Or at least something else.

A MAPACA I go (hopefully)…

So, trying something less ambitious…

I’ve just finished the next-to-final draft of my abstract for my mostly  still unwritten paper “It’s Not Funny Until It Hurts: The Great Recession and Modern R-Rated Comedy,” which I’ll be submitting for acceptance to the Mid-Atlantic Popular and American Culture Association (or MAPACA, not to be confused with the Alpaca-breeding organization) Conference being held in Philadelphia this fall.  I’ve had very strong showings the past two years so I’m strongly optimistic about my chances at attending again.  Since my aspirations of going any farther in academic circles has been completely blunted due to the apparently very poor standing I had with my former professors, I see this really as little more than an opportunity to flex my intellectual muscles somewhat and hopefully just have some fun with other down to Earth intellectuals.

Last year’s conference weekend was really one of the lone highlights of what may have, overall, been the worst year of my life, and though it would be impossible for this year’s to top last year’s (since I’m guessing Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert will NOT be hosting another “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear,” let alone holding it in Philly), I’m going to try to go three in a row for well-received papers.

Below is the my present Abstract, which had to be limited to 150 words.

“This paper’s purpose is to analyze how the Great Recession has influenced two of the more significant and successful film comedies of recent years, The Hangover (2009) and Bridesmaids (2011).   Each film demonstrates a marked trend in mainstream comedy toward darker, deglamorized humor derived from humiliation, abjection, failure, and sufferings both emotional and physical.  Subverting the phrase ‘laugh until it hurts,’ the films reflect in their content the disillusionment, frustration, and cynicism currently prevalent in society at large in the wake of a stagnant economy.  The Hangover, about amnesiac groomsmen taking stock after showing atrociously bad judgment, and Bridesmaids, detailing a woman ‘running out of rope’ while her more successful friend is getting married, embody a certain comedic tone generated by this particular moment in history – one based on an empathetic variation on jouissance: where the audience’s pleasure derives from their own perceived pain being reflected back at them. ”

The good news is, this means I get to read up on my  Žižek.  The bad news is…it also means I have to read up on my Lacan.  C’est la vie…

Clearly, I Need to Rethink This Endeavor

What a colossal waste of time this is turning into.  So I tried to undertake what I hoped would be a pretty insightful look at the new X-Men movie, and no two ways about it, it goes terribly, terribly wrong.  I don’t know if it’s the knock on the head I took the other day or if I frankly just suck at writing now, but it came out disastrously.  My organization was messed up, I was slipping far too often into academic doublespeak (really hard to untrain yourself from that, apparently), and I just kept writing and writing under the assumption that if I wrote more it would somehow come out all right.  Well, it didn’t.  But I figured I’d put it up anyway, so I wouldn’t feel as if my efforts were completely in vain.  But, of course, WordPress makes nothing easy, so my formatting is screwed up, it’s not letting me add pictures like I want to, and the end result is just an ocean of pretty underwhelming text.  But I throw it up anyway, thinking, “What the hell, it’s a maiden effort.  I know what’s wrong with it, but maybe someone might find it’d good ideas (of which I do feel the are some) insightful.”

You’d think I kicked the Pope or something.

I started this blog for two very simple reasons: practice and discipline.  You know, if nothing else, writing what I did, disastrous though it was, I still managed to force myself into bringing something to completion, and nowadays that’s important to me.  It was also a way for me to say the things that I want to say, because there’s few places for me to say them.  That’s why it’s antiscribe – it’s antithetical by nature.  I’m not honestly not even looking for an audience.  I’m just looking to speak, because I’ve felt voiceless for far too long.

But just getting slapped around and flamed so thoroughly within just twenty mintutes of posting, with one person even accusing me – erroneously I certainly feel – of plagiarism – the worst thing a writer can be accused of – I wasn’t looking for this, especially not right now. I can’t find a job, any job, let alone a worthwhile one that will let me make anything approaching a living so I can finally get my own place again.  I’m still living with the crushing disappointment of having spent years  and what essentially was my inheritance going for a Masters degree that’s not worth the frame I put it in.  Thanks to how I was treated in my last relationship, I don’t even much enjoy talking to people anymore, let alone dating anyone.  I have no desire to put myself out there so others could step on me just to make themselves feel all sorts of pedantic.  I’ve always made it a point to never criticize someone’s writing unless they’ve asked me too.  I personally feel it’s violating. I have a novel I’m working on, and it’s sometimes just difficult finding the will to write it based on how nothing in my life ever seems to be worth the journey in the end. Nevertheless, I could have and should have spent the last two days working on that, instead of the monstrosity I wrote for this blog, and I  frankly hate myself now for having done this instead.

Which leaves me wondering precisely what the point of this is going forward.  Clearly, I need to rethink this endeavor.  And I’m not sure I’m just talking about the blog.

Greetings!

Welcome to my Blog…often requested, never completed…until now.  Just to explain the name in case people don’t understand it: I’m not anti-writers, since I consider myself one.  An antiscribe is like an antihero, someone whose desires, aims, strategies, and methods run contrarion to what is expected and even encouraged.  The nomenclature stems from my long history of being unable to conform to the standards of others in my own writing, in ways both professional and personal.  Therefore, I never consider myself a scribe…but an antiscribe.  And this is my blog, which will likely contain reviews, rants, and various asundry of deep and not so deep thoughs on the many things that interest me, which run the gamut from high art to comic books and from international politics to personal observations about things in my daily life.  So enjoy, share if you feel so compelled, and comment freely.

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