Saturday, August 29, 2009

INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS: Get some more.

Tarantino and Roth finally put their propensity for violence to good use. I know there are many who will decry this movie for the baseball-bat clubbings, the scalping of the SS soldiers, and the finger-in-the-bullet wound routine. But these acts of violence are acts of vengeance, against the most brutal regime ever to terrorize the earth. What's interesting is that the Holocaust is not mentioned by name, implied rather than stated. There are no pictures of concentration camps, no skeletal figures, nothing to show the mass genocide of the Jews by the Nazis. This is crucial to understanding this movie.

There are those who would say that a movie such as this is the wrong way to think about WWII, and are in favor of taking the "moral high road." There are even people who would say that we should even forgive Hitler for his atrocities.

Those people are dead wrong.

It's a weird morality that rewards evil with forgiveness. It's a weird morality that would say it's OK to depict the plight of the Jews in order to garner sympathy, but not to show the perpetrators of their suffering getting theirs. They say that justice, not vengeance, is the way to go. When we see the depiction of Jews suffering in concentration camps, or in line to the ovens, that act of pathos is used to invoke pity, sympathy, and empathy. That is the New Testament way, the Christian way of seeing things. We are asked to identify with the victims, to "feel their pain." But, then, what are we supposed to do with that feeling? Anymore, we are asked to identify with the suffering of the Nazis, as well. Because, like, you know, they are people, too...

But not here. That would not be the Tarantino way. Instead, as in his other films, the heroes, those "Inglourious Basterds", go "Old Testament" on those Nazi asses...

How can the Jews not have justice without vengeance? What a strange dichotomy...one that Inglourious Basterds recognizes. We get a few scenes of sympathetic Nazis, one with a newborn son, the other a lovestruck war hero. We are tempted to identify with them, sympathize with them, even hope that there is hope for them...go ahead...I dare you...On the other hand, we don't get the standard of today's heroism where the hero is shown in therapy over his actions, racked with guilt over the loss of his humanity. Is this simply a cartoony return to the "John Wayne" style of filmaking? Or a suggestion of the lack of introspection on the part of the Basterds? In the hands of Alan Moore, "Aldo the Apache" would be simply a psychopath, like Rorschach, Watchmen's leftist take on Steve Ditko's Randian-styled hero, The Question. But it should be noted that the backwoods, half-redneck, half-Injun Aldo, despite his poor grammatical skills, is uncorrupted by modern academic pseudo-psychological destruction of man's mind, or untainted by religious guilt, which is very important, given that he's leading a band of Jewish soldiers. This reason for this is not explained, so I will simply speculate, based on my own frustration of hearing about the Holocaust when I was younger, frustrated that the Jews didn't do MORE to fight back. I never understood passivity of that nature, but knowing what I do know about religion and philosophy and academia, I see this as saying that if your beliefs, your ideas, your religion prevent you from fighting back, from claiming your right to exist on this planet, the only thing can save you, at that point, is that "instinct" that comes from the so-called "selfish gene..."

There are those who would say that the price of vengeance is the moral corruption of the one seeking revenge. There are rules, to be sure, and without a proper philosophy and morality, there is the danger of becoming the very thing you hate. But the real danger is allowing the evil to continue. So let's just say, without giving anything away, that I was quite satisfied with the outcome of a certain necessary evil of dealing with the devil...

But back to the main point: the fact that the movie doesn't mention the Holocaust. Because we've all been made quite aware of the Holocaust, there's no need to depict it on the screen anymore, right?. Matter of fact, it would border on sadistic/masochistic to continue doing so, right? For all the complaints of violence in Tarantino's films, you have to acknowledge the hypocrisy of continue to show the suffering of the victims while crying over acts of vengeance, or decrying the mutilation of the Nazis...right? "Never again"....right?

The best part of the movie for me, in comparison to the other "heroic" movies of an otherwise dismal summer-blockbuster season, was the explosion scene. In those other movies, the setup did not justify the payoff. But here, the explosions are not simply "Michael Bay" blowups, it's an integral part of the plot. So it was revealing to hear those in the audience who cheered at the end, a few who, I'm sure, were Jewish. But the most revealing part, for me, was AFTER the movie; overhearing a couple walking away in shock, the guy commented that he was disturbed that the audience cheered at the end.

I'm guessing he wasn't Jewish. Or, maybe I'm wrong, and he has never heard of the Holocaust...

Inglourious Basterds. Get some.

INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS: Get some.









Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Heroism Gone Awry: Image Co-Founder Rob Liefeld

Image Comics was a company which started from lofty goals. Spurred on by crusaders for creator rights like Neal Adams and some of the smaller independent publishers of the time, Image Comics was to be the first major publisher with creator ownership/control as its guiding principle.


Under Image, there were to be no Steve Ditko's sitting idly by as their greatest creations became synonymous with ideas their creator despised. There were to be no Jack Kirbys or Siegals and Schusters kicking themselves for negotiating terrible contracts on properties which would later become massive money makers. And writing by editorial edict would be a relic of the unenlightened past as creators were finally set free to simply create.


Rob Liefeld was the company's official founder. He left a lucrative job at Marvel on X Force, the book he helped to revamp into a top seller, to start a company which would initially be a small imprint at a company called Malibu comics, guided by the principles listed above. But in the beginning, Image was associated with "style over substance" comics, excessive expansion and habitually missed deadlines. No one was more guilty of this than Liefeld himself.


Rob Liefeld started work in comics as a teen phenom doing art on a relaunch of Hawk and Dove at DC. The problem is that while his work was very good for one so young, he never got much better once he reached adulthood. He had a style marked by badly exaggerated anatomy, excessive crosshatching, cheesecake women, and accessories like guns, pouches and shoulder pads which overshadowed actual costume design. His writing was even worse with amoral "heroes" and a focus on action over plot and characterization.


This would be bad enough in one book, but as Liefeld later admitted, in the early days of Image each time he had a new idea for a new character or team which was a slight variation on his previous work, he would rush a new #1 into production to ensure trademarking the name/idea. The problem is in doing so he often more or less abandoned other recent #1's he had produced.


Thus there were dozens of books being published by his studio within Image "Extreme Studios." They were virtually indistinguishable: Youngblood, Bloodstrike, Brigade, Youngblood: Strikefile... the list goes on. In fact, it was Liefeld's approach that lead retailers to force Image to list their studio name on each new book. Extreme Studios became like a bio hazard symbol in reference to bad quality and missed deadlines.


Since he had become toxic to the company he had helped found, along with many other (at the time) greats from the comic industry, he was the first kicked out of the company. The problem with this was that though Image's characters and books were all creator owned, they shared a single universe like Marvel or DC. Hilarity ensued.


Though it had never been the most popular book in the real world, Youngblood was focused on the idea of a government-based superteam who lived as celebrities (which, to be honest, is one of the reasons I tend to think of Liefeld as being a good pitch man, if not necessarily a good craftsman...but I digress). This meant that, in the Image-universe, Youngblood were the most famous people in the world. Youngblood was mentioned in almost every issue of every early image title. In fact, the origin of the legitimate most popular character at Image was tied into a Youngblood member.


This leads to the lesson that you shouldn't try to build a coherent super-hero universe when someone can withdraw their contribution at any time, for any reason. But the real thing to learn from this lies in how Liefeld's attempt at creative heroism actually turned out. He basically proved that the creative types needed the "suits" that many creative types had always deemed unnecessary because the discipline to live up to the requirements of the business was something which was sorely lacking in many on the creative end.


When you make your goal an act of great heroism, you cannot forget any of the facts of reality or the requirements of existence. A hard lesson for men like Rob Liefeld.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Batman meets Harryhausen

This is pretty cool...such an unexcepted commercial...haven't been impressed with the DC video games (Lego Batman was ok.) But this does look fun. Still, I'm holding out for Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2!


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Review: Green Lantern: First Flight

Green Lantern has to be one of my favorite characters, design-wise. Unfortunately, he's not a character I care much about. It's a shame, really, because I like sci-fi and outer space, but he never grabbed me in the way of say, Spiderman. So it's no surprise that his first solo feature, Green Lantern: First Flight, left me cold.


I was hoping that the creators would have turned me into a Hal Jordan fan, making him a first-tier character instead of a supporting one. He's always been good as part of the Justice League, visually speaking. But it's not really Hal's fault, this time out; the movie as a whole suffers from a trend in recent animated superhero movies (DC and Marvel; witness the blah-fest of the Iron Man and Dr. Strange cartoons. The latter should have been Ditko-esque and...STRANGE. At least they got the Iron Man live-action movie right.), where the animation is great, the music is orchestral and sophisticated, but the acting is featureless and flat. Sure, the early cartoons may have been poorly animated and a bit campy, but they were FUN. I reject the claim that the voices were "over-acted" because of the nature of the genre; these aren't heroes, but SUPER-heroes. So the acting SHOULD be a bit over-the-top. Instead, in the attempt to make something more "sophisticated," we get under-acting. In the attempt to be "grown-up," this trend just silences the inner child, the spirit of adventure.

(This is something that I hope doesn't happen with the remake of Clash of the Titans. I am not a fan of camp per se, but for God's sakes, let's have a little fun with our adventure! It's been said that the original was outdated in its stop-motion effects, was too campy, etc. The original, to me, was perfect; and as a big mythology fan, I found the atmosphere to be fitting for such stories. As I've been saying, all the improved effects and explosions don't replace story and style. Realism has its place, but so does a stylized approach in mythology and superhero stories.)

Green Lantern: First Flight could have been a great vehicle for epic heroism. The creators DO respect the idea of heroism; witness the quote of the day: "If we have learned anything, it is that great evil can arise from the most unexpected sources...but, most thankfully, so can great heroism." The story is perfect for "space opera": intergalactic power struggles on various planets with an assorted menagerie of alien warriors and heroes. While simplistic, there was even room for a subtle suggestion of political allegory, with the Oans representing the impotence and incompetency of "democratic" committe decisions, the machinations of Sinestro providing the dangers of tyranny for the Lanterns to rise against, and Hal Jordon as the fearless individual standing against the tyrant AND the status quo of the herd. Instead, we get passionless acting posing as "sophisticated." All the explosions don't liven things up, but cover up the boredom of the acting, leaving me with the feeling that "these people couldn't POSSIBLY do these things!" There's a certain detached weariness, no sense of adventure. It's a "naturalist" approach to a "romantic" theme; magic rings, explosions, and space adventures are ok, as long as the dialogue is realistic, because "real people don't talk like that." Meh. They just didn't seem to care that much, as if to say, "eh. Space. Rings. Been there, done it." (Christopher Meloni is criminally underused as GL; his work as both Elliot Stabler on Law and Order:SVU and to his comedic work shows that he has the gravitas to pull off intensity and fun required for a good superhero character.) Now, If I found a dying alien who gave me a powerful ring and went on adventures in space, I doubt I'd be so "cool" and "sophisticated." I'd be like a kid in a candy store, slack-jawed in awe, yet rising to the challenge. So by the end of the movie, the climax fizzles out. But it's a climax that COULD have been; the Guardians in defeat, Sinestro in triumph, only to see a green glow growing on the horizon, with the re-emergence of Hal Jordon would have been a spine-tingling fuel for heroism with the right development; but the movie is so understated the rest of the time that the emotional setup doesn't justify the payoff.

That is where the flaw of Hal Jordon comes in. A "Man Without Fear" is kind of like a man without awe. He's boring because of the lack of emotional peaks and valleys, the straight man. Kyle Radner, while I hated his costume, brought a sense of fun to the comic because he wasn't fearless, which fed his imagination, and ours. An artist with a ring that can do anything and an imagination that runs away from him is more ripe for dramatic potential. At any rate, I hope the creators of the live-action version of Green Lantern learn from the mistakes of this film. (I'm not sure about Ryan Reynolds as GL; if he's Hal Jordon, well, he'd make a better flash, but if he's Kyle Radnor, I could see it. Let's find out...)

Interestingly, though, when watching the first of the features on the disc, it almost seems that DC knew this, because the documentary on the upcoming Superman/Batman: Public Enemies looks to the opposite of everything I just said. From the art by Ed McGuinness in the comics,
to the epic-ess of the story, to the roster of heroes and villains that rivals the Superfriends, this promises to be ALIVE. (It seems they even read my mind; the word "juicy" came to mind at one point in GL:FF, seeing all the green energy, and a commentator used the word "juicy" to describe the new one!). Even the acting looks promising; voice director Andrea Romano brought back Tim Daly and others from some of the better recent cartoons, and they were laughing like villains are known to laugh and such (the presence of "Dr. Cox" in the cast suggests good times, as well.)

(Unfortunately, the trailer for the Blackest Night video didn't grab me; seems like a lame attempt to rival the excellence of the guilty pleasure that was Marvel Zombies.)

With that out of the way, I'm going to watch Wonder Woman next. It's gotten good reviews; hopefully it will live up to its Amazonian heritage. If I find something good to say, I'll say it...if not, just assume that the lack of review is for the same reasons stated above.

But all this makes me realize how much I miss the Justice League Unlimited, a cartoon that got it right. It really did feel...unlimited.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Quote of the Day: Green Lantern's Power Source

"If we have learned anything, it is that great evil can arise from the most unexpected sources...but, most thankfully, so can great heroism."


-Green Lantern: First Flight

Watching the Watchmen Worthwhile?


Watchmen just came out on DVD, so here are my thoughts.


I haven't been able to actively take part in this summer movie season, since my finances have been dismal of late. Seeing movies in theaters was straight out. I'm an Objectivist, so that means no illegal downloading, but from what I've heard I haven't missed much. I've heard as one by one each new project was hyped to death only to reach a disappointing climax with its eventual release.


So I find myself in a rather unusual position. Watchmen is the first movie I've seen of the season and I already can tell it will probably be the best. Yes, the Watchmen that makes a mockery of everything Steve Ditko stood for using variations of the very characters he brought to life.


Nite Owl is still a pathetic sad sack everyman (unable to escape the fate of his long-lost blood brother Spider-Man). Rorschach is still more like Travis Bickle than John Galt. Ozymandias is still the twisted pragmatist "hero" of the story. And Dr. Manhattan is Rand's indestructible robot.


And yet, there is something that connected with me about the film, despite all that. It was an amazing adaptation, taking just as much from the source material it possibly could (some even saying I tried to take too much). All the characters are nuanced the plot puts a number of big ideas on the table and doesn't always (ever?) sort them out for the viewer. Most of what I said about The Dark Knight applies to this film as well. This fact is rather ironic since the source material of this film along with The Dark Knight Returns helped revolutionize the comics medium just as I hope these films will some day revolutionize the superhero genre in all mediums, especially film.


After seeing The Dark Knight last year I couldn't bring myself to watch Iron Man again. Iron Man was a great example of working a formula to perfection designed in such a way that an Objectivist and a hardcore altruist could both walk away from the film and feel their worldview validated. Watchmen takes chances and isn't afraid to sometimes alienate viewers, sometimes it's afraid to take a strong stand on the characters themselves within the story, but it never flinches from portraying them as they were meant to be.


The Dark Knight and Watchmen, much like their four-color predecessors, are rewriting the formula and redefining the rules of the genre. Are they always doing this in ways I am happy with? No. I could see many elements of both these works leading into a direction I'm not comfortable with, but that's just the thing they are leading. In the sense of a companion term I once tried to coin to go alongside the word hero, the makers of these works of art are champions. They are cutting new paths through the artistic wilderness some wonderful and some frightening. The question this begs is, if we are really that unhappy with the direction which these new paths lead, how much longer shall we stay on the sidelines and allow only others to be the ones doing the cutting?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Quote of the Day: "The Life Which Heroes Lead"

"He told him of the Gods, the stars,

The tides;—and then of mortal wars,

And of the life which heroes lead

Before they reach the Elysian place

And rest in the immortal mead;

And all the wisdom of his race."

-Empedocles on Etna

Monday, August 10, 2009

Summer Movie Recap: EPIC FAIL

I originally wanted to do a big end-of-summer review of all the "hero" movies to go with the debut of the spiffy site redesign...but after seeing G.I. Joe today, I realized that...I have nothing to say. At least, nothing to write home about. (Well, except for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which I actually enjoyed and found very beautiful, but that's part of a whole series, so as a film, it's incomplete. Maybe later, as a stand-alone review.)


For the most part, I was simply BORED. For me, this was set-up to be a bad movie season by my disappointment in Frank Miller's The Spirit. High expectations, low reward. Transformers 2 was a terrible mess. I thought the first one, despite so many changes in the iconography, managed to be entertaining; the sequel, however, was...just...well, I love giant robots, and I love pyramids. This should have been an epic WIN, but...it wasn't. Just stupid. Wolverine was alright, but forgettable. (Although I dug the trickster aspect of the story, a topic I plan to explore here at length later.) I've already said my piece about Star Trek, which was more idealized than the movie actually deserved.Terminator: Salvation? Skipped that one. No interest whatsoever.

And today's movie, G.I. Joe? I wanted to leave ten minutes into it. I thought I'd be disgusted, a la Superman Returns, with the producer's fear of being "pro-American" (whatever happened to "A Real American Hero?"). But instead, I was simply BORED with the lack of story, lame character motivation, desecration of Cobra Commander's outfit, and more importantly, bored with the extreme caution this movie took in not offending anyone. There are good guys and bad guys, but none of them really stand for anything (or should that be stand for anything?). They're just fighting. The Joe's will are supposed to "fight for freedom, wherever there's trouble...". Well, as Nietzsche once asked, "freedom FROM what, or Freedom FOR what?" This, well...it's more cartoony (meaning simplistic) than the cartoon, without the charm.

All the superhero movies might seem like a good thing; having them is better than sending our "heroes into exile," right? It means that there is a realization that people really do want their heroes. Well, if you can't get rid of heroes, what do you do then? You send them on pointless missions amounting to mere escapism, at best, and parody, at worst. It seems the superhero movies right now are in "hologram foil number. 1 phase," referring to those dark ages of comics where every issue was a first issue with hologram covers...all style, no substance. That's what these movies are, all shiny and explosive with no story, with nothing to care about. We'll call it the "Rob Liefeld" phase of superhero movies. Ah, well. Hopefully IRON MAN II will deliver. Here's hoping to a decent lead-up to The Avengers. And maybe Ryan Reynolds won't frag up Green Lantern too bad...

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Capitalist Heroes:Dave Ramsey

Dave Ramsey, author of Total Money Makeover, debunking the "success" of the government's "Cash for Clunkers" program on Good Day Philadelphia, while defending Capitalism at the same time:

Monday, August 3, 2009

WHY SO SERIOUS???