Look Everybody, I Did A Batman!

Whaddaya know?

I co-authored a 3-part story for the Legends Of The Dark Knight series with my good friend and longtime writer/inker,  Derek Fridolfs. He’s done a bunch of stuff for DC, Dark Horse, Marvel, Image, Boom, and Wildstorm among others.

The Beautiful Ugly is a dark, psychological tale that delves into themes of redemption and the somewhat Boolean divide separating justice from vengeance.  It also gives readers a glimpse of life in Gotham City for regular people and how thin the line can be between them and the costumed lunatics that terrorize the city. (C’mon, is that juicy or what? :))

BTW, I also did a 3-part interview with Derek on his blog (which you can read here).  The art is fantastic and done by Jason Shawn Alexander, a phenomenal and accomplished painter who for some reason likes to draw comic books, too. I love his work and it’s easy to see why.

Anyway, all 3 issues are available now on:

Comixology:

Itunes:

Amazon Kindle:

It’s only 99 cents per issue!

The ‘Murican Dream (A Long Trayvon Martin Rant)

“Apparently, we are now at the point when a seventeen year old boy, unarmed, must make all the correct judgments during a confrontation with a grown man in order not to be shot to death.”

-David Simon, co-creator of HBO’s The Wire

I’ve been called a nigger, to my face, somewhere in the neighborhood of a dozen times in my life.  Clerks have followed me around stores countless times.  I’ve been automatically put in remedial English classes on 3 occasions and told by an English teacher that I have problems writing (it salted my opinion of my ability for years).  I’ve been stopped by police dozens of times, asked what I was doing, occasionally searched, yet never given a citation or a warning.  Once a cop pulled up when I was sitting in a car outside my house talking to a friend.  He checked my driver’s license three times (never hers, of course, she was white) on the grounds that there had been a robbery at a nearby convenience store.  He admitted when he first saw me that I didn’t fit the description except that I was black.  (Couldn’t she have been the getaway driver?)  The worst was the time the police pulled me over when I was driving home from work and drew guns on me.  The 1st cop asked for my registration, when I reached for it (it was in the glove-box) he blurted Whoa!Whoa!Whoa! at me while his partner aimed his gun at my head through the passenger window.  His intent was clear: Don’t move your hand another inch or you’re gonna get shot in the face. They kept me there for two hours, repeatedly checking my driver’s license and registration.  They said, once again, that my vehicle ‘matched a description,” but considering I was driving a grey Nissan pick up with blue side panels, you can count me  skeptical.

But I digress.  My point is, most black men have stories like these.  It’s just the reality of life in America.  I typically don’t give it much thought.

But I can’t treat this stuff so lightly anymore.  I mean, I live in a world where, as a black man, if being harassed and followed around is all you get, you’re actually doing okay.  Think about it; in any of the above instances, if I had been belligerent or, God-forbid physical, I might have been killed with impunity.

I mean, what the hell is that?  This is America, right?

We’re at the point now where a 12-year-old black kid needs a completely different set of instructions from a 12-year-old white kid.  If anything happens they won’t trust you if you’re black.  If you’re black and anything less than an absolute angel, you’re guilty.  And always run, because if you defend yourself successfully, the odds are you’re going to jail; if you defend yourself and lose, you could be dead.  And it will be your fault.

Yeah, yeah, I’m just being reactionary.  It’s got nothing at all to do with race.  It’s just happenstance.  Again.

The truth is, that while many of the details in the Trayvon Martin case have nothing to do with race, at its core, it’s all about race.  Race is what made George Zimmerman suspicious of Trayvon in the 1st place.  Race is why people are so quick to believe that Trayvon is a thug or must have initiated the physical confrontation that lead Zimmerman to shoot him.  Of course this is all based on Zimmerman’s account, which he had a month and a half to work on before being seriously questioned about it.

But I cannot possibly believe that if Zimmerman was black and Trayvon was white that Zimmerman’s story is the one law enforcement would go with any more than I believe that Sean Hannity and Fox News would help raise money for a black Zimmerman’s defense. Or that the police would give black  Zimmerman 44 days to get his story straight before arresting him. Or that a jury of six white women from a small southern town would sympathize with an armed black man patrolling the neighborhood and shooting an unarmed white teenager. Or that a 17-year-old white teenager would get racial profiled in his father’s gated community.

Don’t get me wrong, the judge’s instructions were horrendous; Zimmerman actually rejected Stand Your Ground in favor of a standard self defense claim. Yet the judge instructed the jury that Zimmerman had the right to stand his ground and Juror B37 has since admitted that Stand Your Ground factored into the acquittal.  Simultaneously, the judged failed to instruct them  that in a standard self-defense claim Zimmerman needs to prove that he didn’t initiate the confrontation.

Thus, I believe the evidence, or lack thereof, leaves room for reasonable doubt, particularly with how self-defense laws currently stand.  Moreover, I think the Dept. of Justice going after Zimmerman is de facto double jeopardy, a violation of Zimmerman’s Constitutional rights.  And I don’t think two wrongs make a right.

The fact is, this whole thing stinks.  And it hurts.  If Trayvon’s death was a punch to the gut, the verdict is a kick in the balls.

I honestly can’t help feeling…unwelcome these days. It’s somewhat familiar feeling,  unfortunately.

I know.  Everyone has to deal with racism.  But let’s be honest here.  America has one of the great atrocities of human history on its books. 400 years of the most brutal, oppressive, and dehumanizing slavery ever known followed by another 100 years of legislative, systematic, and violent oppression.

Trayvon Martin’s death is just an echo of this legacy.

Consider that at no point in American history have blacks enjoyed equal standing with whites in terms of income, wealth, education quality or access, job opportunities, corporate leadership, or representation in government.  This on top of being historically red-lined by banks denying us access to home and business loans, subjected to gentrification, stopped, frisked, arrested and charged by law enforcement with much greater frequency, and punished more severely for similar crimes.  So let’s stop pretending that there’s an equivalency, it’s ignorant if not downright duplicitous.

The problem is that we’ve allowed cowards, liars, and bigots–bullies essentially–to set the terms of the discussion.  And bullies hate a fair fight.  They have instead created an environment in which there can be no discourse on the subject of race, save for the occasional rant by Chris Rock.

When we’re not hitting each other over the head with the race card, we’re denying it outright (don’t be fooled, this is just a means of deflecting the entire argument back), focusing on minutia completely out of context as evidence of egality (a.k.a. the “see, when viewed in a vacuum, this detail isn’t racist”), or simply burying our heads in the sand and proclaiming that we’ve arrived at a post-racial America.

It’s bullshit.  And shame on all of us for accepting it as anything else.

The fact is, Trayvon Martin’s death and Zimmerman’s acquittal are about race.  A lot of things are about race, and will continue to be, because we refuse to face the issue.

I think about Germany, another nation with a Great Atrocity on its books.  They study the Holocaust as ugly and humiliating as it is.  They look at it and seek not only answers but solutions.  And soon after World War II they came to the conclusion that their government no longer has the right to take a person’s life.  Their current constitution, ratified in 1949, abolishes capital punishment.

That’s the kind of approach we need here in the United States.  Instead of meekly slapping injustice and discrimination away whenever it pops up, we should be actively hunting it down, rooting it out, and crushing it utterly.

More importantly, we can’t keep letting the people who are indifferent, weak-minded, self-interested, or hateful keep controlling the argument. There aren’t two equal sides to the issue.  There’s right and there’s wrong. We have to be determined to be on the right side of this issue forever more.  Not to make up for slavery, which at this point is impossible, but to ensure that inequality and discrimination are completely eliminated and bigotry of every stripe is banished to the shadows where it may wallow only in tremulous fear of the light.

Of course, this is only my dream.

We don’t actually live in a post-racialist America.  Toes are going to get stepped on, nerves will be frayed.  There are blatant racists and more significantly, oblivious ones.  Having your worldview shattered is an unnerving, occasionally violent thing.  It’s unpleasant.  But we can’t let that deter us.

We can no longer afford to be tolerant of intolerance.

Free.  Thought.

And boycott Florida.

Regarding Sandy Hook…

Man, this last day has been a vacillation between being heartbroken and enraged.  I keep thinking about those families in Newtown, Connecticut, this being the silly season and all.  I think about how many of those murdered children had gifts at home waiting for them.   I think about the parents anticipating the looks on the children’s faces Christmas morning.  I think about all the plans that were made to travel and visit family.

I think of how utterly trivial all this holiday consumer crap is in comparison to losing a child. Hell, pretty much everything else in life is trivial.  Those parents would have stepped right in front of those bullets for their kids without a second’s hesitation.

Then I think about the person who killed those innocent kids and I can’t find words to describe him, or words I would utter publicly to describe what I feel about him.  I won’t say his name, though.  Ever.  And that’s that.

What else can I say about an event so tragic, I keep forgeting that 6 innocent adults were killed as well?

The other reason I’m so worked up is because I’m so tired, as many of us are, of seeing these tragedies result in no effort whatsoever to prevent, or at least reduce the risk, of another tragedy.  The next bloodbath comes, and I wonder how many more of them will it take before we realize that we bear the responsibility of preventing this?  I mean we can’t keep our kindergarteners safe.

So in my furor, I took to the twitter-verse looking for a fight with every lobotomized ideologue dumb enough to defend gun rights.  I was surprised and encouraged to see that a lot of like-minded people were doing the same.

The mainstream media was doing the same as well (well, some of it).  To my more encouraged surprise, no one on my side of the argument appeared to be biting on the typical right wing talking points and fallacies (now is not the time; it’s an attack on the 2nd Amendment, etc.).  People were pissed.  The situation was too grave.  And when the sane people pushed, the loons quickly found that the ice beneath their feat was not only thin but cracking.

Maybe America is finally ready to to do something about gun control.

That’s not fair, a majority of us have been ready for years.  But maybe now there are enough of us, sufficiently motivated, to spur the politicians to act.  I wrote every representative I have, Democrat and Republican.

Because our current system is not just untenable, it’s illogical, immoral, and unjust. It’s easily demonstrable.  Instead of scoffing at the gun nuts clamoring for even more firearms, play those scenarios out.  What would really happen if you were working or out running some random errand, and all of sudden shots start firing?  You pull out your gun and you see someone with their gun out firing shots.  Are they the shooter?  Is that just another well-armed citizen like you?  What if they turn their gun on you?  Do you shoot first?  Do you hesitate and put yourself at risk?  It’s goofy.  The fact is the status quo is failing, miserably and absolutely.  We cannot continue to let the defenders of that status quo control–or better, stifle–the conversation.

The first step is to not fall for the rhetoric, which is working so far (though it’s only the 1st day).  The second is to maintain a sense of context.  This specific case may not have been preventable with simple gun control laws, but that doesn’t mean at least some of the 10,000 gun deaths we have every year in this country weren’t preventable.  Gun control is about the epidemic not the one event.

There are sensible measure we can take right away that the overwhelming majority of Americans agree with, such as closing loopholes and doing background checks on everyone looking to buy a gun.  Even a majority of NRA members support that.  Then there are things we need to investigate and discuss further; like ways to better identify potentially dangerous people who shouldn’t have access to guns.  Additionally, we should consider that peripheral issues such as improved mental healthcare might do considerable good.

We live in an “ocean of guns”  in the U.S (89 guns for every 100 people, highest in the world).  It’s too easy for just anyone to get a gun legally.  The NRA is hellbent on putting as many guns into as many hands as possible, while simultaneously giving us greater legislative freedom to use them against one another.  They are behind crazy laws like  stand your ground, which has led to a substantially increased number of penalty-free murders by moving the goalpost on what’s considered self-defense.  They pushed for legislation allowing people on the Terror Watch-list to purchase guns and for loopholes that have created an environment where 40% of  firearms are purchased without any background check (mostly over the interwebs).  And they oppose, with bookoo lobbying dollars, basic, common sense gun control laws that even the NRA membership supports.

This is because the NRA is really just a lobbying organization for the gun manufacturers.  That’s who gives the NRA most of its funding.  The NRA works for arms dealers who sell guns to our military and to the people our military fights.  Those arms manufacturers have sold–directly–some of the very guns that have killed our troops.  So they’re not morally above creating an environment where everyone feels they have to have a gun.

You’ll hear the gun nuts arguing for this like it’s a good thing.  We should’ve armed teachers (the same ones they think are overpaid by the way) After that it’s waitresses, I suppose…then cashiers, office managers, doctors, and finally the clergy.  They won’t be happy until they see every pastor and priest standing before their congregation wearing a Kevlar vest.

We also need to study the 2nd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, what the Founding Fathers wrote and said about it ( here’s a hint; they meant militia literally), and what the subsequent court decisions have interpreted the Amendment to mean.  Because that’s the actual process of determining Constitutionality.  We do this for the 1st Amendment, which is why you can’t yell “fire!” in a crowded theater or accuse someone of rape without proof.  The 2nd Amendment is a fundamental right but we need to have an understanding of what that right is and what it’s meant to be.

Finally, we’ve got to have the resolve to see this through.  Once the sting of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary wears off, it will be easy to fall back into old habits until the next tragedy rekindles the outrage.  At that point, we will have no one to blame but ourselves.  And a lot of bloody hands to wash clean.

Free. Thought.

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Stopping The Insanity

Maria Santos Gorrostieta

I should begin by noting that I have never, ever taken an illicit drug in my life. Nor do I plan to.

I’ve been reading about the death of Maria Santos Gorrostieta, the 26 year-old former mayor of Tiquicheo, Mexico (smack dab in the middle of cartel country).  I remembered hearing about her taking over as mayor a few years ago.  She was only 21 years old at the time and a staunch opponent of the cartels.  I worried for

Gorrostieta was assailed and abducted on Novermber 17th as she was driving through town with her daughter.   Three days later, her burned and mutilated body was found in a field by farm workers.  It’s tragic.  There’s no debating that these cartels are motherfuckers; as evil as evil gets in this world.

It made reading about how she told her abductors she’d go willingly if they let her daughter go as heartbreaking as it was moving.

Gorrostieta showing the injuries she sustained in an assassination attempt in 2011.

Granted, Gorrostieta wasn’t your average cookie.  I mean, the cartels’ power is based entirely on butchery (and the constant threat of it).  Their severity and vindictiveness are all they have in lieu of legitimacy.  Their imperative is slaughter; to torture and kill any would-be heroes that dare to stand up to them.  Their survival depends on it.  In that light, along with  some of her statements and actions, it’s fair to say Mrs. Gorrostieta had a bit of a martyr complex. She played a role in creating a sort of inevitability to her death and likely would have done the same for another cause if the drug war didn’t exist.  So even though standing up to the cartels seems kinda suicidal to me, I don’t know that there is a better word than courage to describe it.

But no matter how premeditated or deliberate her heroism might have been, she is inarguably one of the good guys–a bonafide hero.

https://i0.wp.com/wac.450f.edgecastcdn.net/80450F/nj1015.com/files/2012/05/BILLBOARD.jpgThe problem here–the only problem here–the cause of her death and many, many more is this stupid, violent, exploitative, wasteful, obtuse, impossible, unwinnable, unjustifiable, mind-numbingly counter-productive War on Drugs.  It boils my blood.  50, 000 people have been killed by the cartels in the last 6 years alone.   The last 6 years.   At the cost of $15 billion per year–roughly  $500 per second, millions of people have been  jailed for drug-related crimes, losing their lives and their futures–the very same activities our last 3 presidents engaged in.  They were just lucky enough to not get caught.   Thousands of people are killed in street violence over territories and transportation.  Dozens of countries are have had their economies and citizenries decimated fighting murderous cartels.

All of this just to prevent people from getting high.  (Sure, there’s a downside to illegal drugs; there’s a downside to legal drugs, whether it’s alcohol, over-the-counter, or prescription.)

And drugs remain as easy to buy as candy bars.

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It’s goofy.  And comically inconsistent. We don’t see anything so wrong with getting drunk.  We allow people the right to give themselves cancer from smoking cigarettes, and diabetes from eating junk food. But for some reason getting high is an intolerable evil.

It doesn’t make sense.

There are myriad secondary factors:  Private military contractors like Blackwater (er…the Academi, or whatever they’re calling themselves these days to cover up the shame of slaughtering innocent people), profit enormously from “advising” Latin American countries on how to fight America’s War on Drugs. Private prisons lobby state legislatures with barrels of cash for stricter drug enforcement laws to boost their bottom line.  The cost of recovery and treatment places additionall burden on our already overburdened healthcare system.

These things  are awful and true, but they’re resultant rather than causative of the war on drugs.  They go away when the war on drugs goes away.

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“Advisors.”

For whatever reasons, we’ve decided that getting high is somehow immoral or unholy and the peripheral crimes associated with drugs are an unforgivable  blight on our society.  It’s pure nonsense; outmoded and outdated thinking based on the very faulty assumption that the drug war is  WORTH all this death.  ALL this pain.  ALL this cost.

We have never revisited this conclusion.

For a modernized country, America is notoriously susceptible to group-think and ideology.  We follow our political affiliations the same way we follow our sports teams; thick or thin, good or bad.  Even against our own best interests.  We’re loathe to let go of our beliefs, regardless of the evidence.

Case in point: the absolute epitome of failure known as America’s War on Drugs.

Can anything s lead us to question the validity of this war?  Is there a death toll that’s too high?  Enough sacrificial Maria Santos Gorrostietas to spur us to action?  A number prisons built and filled to bursting that would make us take note?  Or will we keep accepting our current, blood-drenched policies no matter the cost?  What will it take before we begin asking ourselves if it’s worth it?

Because it’s not worth it.  Not even close.  It’s all unimaginable cost with no reward whatsoever for the simple fact that after everything is said and done, illegal drugs are readily available for whoever wants them.

At their worst, drugs can be pretty bad–some much worse than alcohol and tobacco.  But even then, drugs are but a mild annoyance in comparison to the hell-spawned inferno of this war of insanity.

The argument against the war on drugs can be won, decisively, if only we’d pull our heads out of the sands of convention and make the case (it’s a policy for crooks and idiots) and challenge those defending it.  It only requires the will to do so.

Maria Gorrostieta showed me that.

Free. Thought.

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Trampling The Hunger Games Underfoot

I finally saw The Hunger Games.  I feel duped.

All the political controversy, hype (bolstered by some opinions I trust), and box office success–along with one of the better trailers for a mainstream movie this year–led me to believe that the blockbuster film adaptation would be worth the time.

Hell, I was looking forward to it.

The previews focused, to my pleasant surprise, on story elements rather than special effects and explosions.  Little did I know, those same story elements would play out in the movie without any further development than the trailer.  The characters are all contrived and manifest as either generic or ridiculous with nothing in-between.  The world lacks detail and credulity.  The dangers feel manufactured.  Nothing is genuine.  It’s a representational telling of an unoriginal idea.

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Based on  Suzanne Collins’ ‘tweener novel of the same name, The Hunger Games explores a dystopian future in the fictional nation of Panem whose rich and powerful leadership caste requires that the poor, starving masses submit 2 children from each of the 12 districts  to compete in a fight to the death.  Only 1 child can emerge victorious.  The winner is bestowed with riches and notoriety.  It is the only upward mobility available to the lower classes.

There is nothing in The Hunger Games that we haven’t seen or read in Lord of the Flies, The Running Man, the Mad Max series, The Truman Show, Gladiator, The Most Dangerous Game, or a dozen other books, t.v. shows, and movies–or that Kinji Fukusaku’s  Battle Royale didn’t do better in every conceivable way.

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Still, I don’t actually fault Hunger Games for its lack of originality; the idea has been explored so often because it’s a good one.  It has inherent themes of self-reliance, hope, perseverance, and self-sacrifice.  The Hunger Games is simply one of the more unremarkable examinations of the concept.

The film assumes that the audience will accept its premise…even though the premise is outlandish.  Don’t get me wrong, I was ready to buy in, but I  still needed at least some effort toward the suspension of my disbelief.  Call me nit-picky, but I have to be convinced that a society would revel in the murder of children.    Moreover, I have to be convinced that parents would allow this to happen.  Every parent I know would have to be stone dead before their child could be subjected to such a ghastly fate.  In the movie, the only parental outburst occurs after a father’s 12-year old daughter is killed.  It’s just not believable.

The “bad” kids.

Additionally, this is supposedly the 74th hunger games, yet there seems to be no active  cultural impact.  No one is secretly training their kids or openly embracing the games as the only viable way to escape poverty.  The rich celebrate it; the poor bear it stoically.  In fact, the “bad kids” are the ones honestly trying to win the games rather than just running and hiding.  The nihilism that would inevitably firestorm out of such oppressive circumstances is ignored–apparently in the interest of convenience.  I mean, you don’t have to show kids killing themselves or going postal on the rich (that would obviously be far too compelling), but at least show how these potential dangers are quelled.  Conversely, a kind of cultural Stockholm Syndrome is not implausible either.  Honestly, I’d have accepted anything demonstrating that someone wondered what a world like this might actually be like.

We are also introduced to a Twilight-style love triangle that will indefensibly be explored in the upcoming sequels.  It makes me angry just thinking about it.

Jennifer Lawrence’s potential is lost playing the vapid Katniss Everdeen.

As for the cast, Jennifer Lawrence is given just enough material to mold a type, but clearly not enough to craft a 3-dimensional character out of our heroine, Katniss Everdeen.  However, Lawrence’s portrayal of Ree Dolly–who comes from almost identical circumstances as Katniss–in the indie noir film Winter’s Bone proves the actress is fully capable both nuance and gravitas.  So I will give her the benefit of the doubt that neither the script nor the book gave her what she needed to breathe life into Katniss.  The character is dull and incomplete.  She inexplicably sees the world from today’s perspective, with today’s values of life and death.  Her only redeeming quality is that she volunteered to go  to the games in her sister’s stead.  It’s surely no small sacrifice, but that only makes her nominally more sympathetic than the other children being forced to murder each other on t.v.

Elizabeth Banks (left) as Effie Trinket and Woody Harrelson (Center) as Haymitch Abernathy along with Lenny Kravitz as Cinna.

Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks (both actors I find to be consistently good, even when their projects aren’t) play patently absurd characters that undermine the gravity of the story while simultaneously providing no levity to it.

Donald Sutherland as Coriolanus Snow

Donald Sutherland, who is always either heavy-handed or brilliant, here finds himself in the former playing laughably asinine Panem president Coriolanus Snow, who gilds his  trees while pontificating villainously about oppression via “a little hope.” Pure and utter tripe.  He’d be satire if he wasn’t such a joke.  Why not have him twirling his mustache and laughing maniacally?  That would have been equally devastating to my evening’s enjoyment.

Stanley Tucci actually managed to not piss me off despite his character’s valiant and constant efforts.  Tucci is known for his ability to grace a featured role and he works his mojo to the hilt here only to draw even–at best–with his wholly unlikeable Caesar Flickerman.

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“I don’t know where I got the idea. I just felt like doing something different.” Adam Levine, 2014.

Wes Bentley, who has struggled to find challenging roles since American Beauty, neither is given nor offers anything whatsoever as Seneca Crane…except maybe to provide Adam Levine with grooming ideas for the next Maroon 5 outing.

I forgot Lenny Kravitz was in the movie until I saw his name on Wikipedia just now.  He wears gold eyeliner in the film and gives out multiple hugs.

My biggest disappointment with this hot mess was that it was helmed/enabled by Gary Ross, writer and director of such dramedy classics as Big, Dave, Pleasantville, and Seabiscuit (he jokes that his entire career can be summed up in four words).  Ross is one of my personal favorites.  It’s doubly odd because where The Hunger Games is weakest is where Gary Ross is typically strongest.  Of course, in those other films he’s resurrecting the spirit of Americana rather than trying to create a dystopian mood.  I guess I just assumed that sci-fi world-building was within his wheelhouse.  The Hunger Games is yet another reminder of what happens when we do that.

Adam Levine to Seneca Crane in 1 easy step.

Watch Your Back, Yankovic!

This is by far the best political song parody I’ve seen in quite some time.  The song (and video) was made by a group called JustNew Productions (?) based on Gotye’s Somebody That I Used To Know.  It’s a pretty well written parody and I think it’s accurate about how a lot–a LOT–of people feel about Barack Obama.

Probably why the video is going viral.

Well, maybe that and the creative body painting.

(BTW, does Weird Al Yankovic still do parodies?  I don’t know.  Anyhow…)

Money out of politics.

Free. Thought.

Happy Independence Day!

From John Adams’ letter to Abigail Adams on July 3, 1776 (how amazing is that?!) predicting that July 2 will be forever remembered as Independence Day.

Time has been given for the whole People, maturely to consider the great Question of Independence and to ripen their judgments, dissipate their Fears, and allure their Hopes, by discussing it in News Papers and Pamphletts, by debating it, in Assemblies, Conventions, Committees of Safety and Inspection, in Town and County Meetings, as well as in private Conversations, so that the whole People in every Colony of the 13, have now adopted it, as their own Act. — This will cement the Union, and avoid those Heats and perhaps Convulsions which might have been occasioned, by such a Declaration Six Months ago.

But the Day is past. The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.

–John Adams, July 3, 1776

We have been observing Independence Day as a federal holiday since 1870 (it was an unpaid holiday back then).

I was surprised–somewhat–to learn that there is a dispute as to whether the 4th of July should be the U.S. Independence Day.  This is not a dispute started among modern day egghead scholars.  John Adams felt that July 2nd should be Independence Day because that’s the day the 2nd Continental Congress voted for independence from British rule.  We celebrate July 4th as the day the Declaration of Independence was officially adopted, but most historians believe that the Declaration of Independence was actually  signed on  August 2, 1776.  This actually makes sense as it would take some time to write the Declaration.

Wacky, innit?

However it happened, I’m thankful that it did.

Today we celebrate our freedom and our independence.  So forget about all the day-to-day government nonsense and the ridiculous politics.  This is when we remember what it’s all for in the first place–the sacrifice and the potential.  And the hope of living up to it.

Free thought.

And go red, white, and blue.  😀

I don’t need eagles or guns or jets flying overhead. Just give me Ol’ Glory waving in the breeze.

‘The Amazing Spider-man’ is not ‘Spider-man’ it’s just Spider-man

I don’t know why anyone would read  a review for a Spider-man movie unless the first words were “Free money” or something.  You’re gonna go see it no matter what anyone says.

Alright.  Alright.  I’ll give it a try.

All signs point unsurprisingly to another hit for the Spidey franchise.

The special effects are fantastic.  It might be the best-looking movie I’ve seen this year and absolutely embarrasses the rubber-looking play-dough CGI of the Sam Raimi directed Spider-man movies.  The Amazing Spider-man has…well…amazing cinematography, POV shots of Spider-man swinging through the city, jumping off of buildings and so on.  There’s a lot of action and it’s all fun to look at.

Peter Parker demonstrates his new-found spider-skills on a subway rapscallion.

Fortunately, that’s all it takes for a hit movie these days.

However, for the more discerning viewer there’s the story…

Helmed by (500) Days of Summer director Marc Webb, The Amazing Spider-man is a relaunch of a movie franchise that is literally only 10 years old.  Despite that, they felt the need to “revamp” Spider-man’s origin. But don’t be fooled, it’s like 85% the same story–from the 2002 Spider-man.  2002.

Photo: Haha!
A buddy of mine posted this on his facebook page. No comment. It’s just funny.

And that’s the main problem I had with this movie.  It’s so approximate to the Sam Raimi Spider-man films that I can’t help but compare.

It’s kind of like ABC deciding they didn’t like the way Lost turned out and relaunching the show a year after it ended–with the exact same premise, most of the same characters, and many of the same events, just told a little differently (in some cases simply filmed a little differently). How could you not compare the two?

Amazing rehashes the story of pasty nerd and teenage photography enthusiast Peter Parker who is hopelessly in love with a beautiful girl.  The girl, however, is only peripherally aware of his existence.  Parker is at some point bitten by a nuclear spider whence he acquires superhuman powers and proportionate swagger, a superhuman villain emerges, and yadda, yadda, yadda.

Actor portrayal of The Real Ken Jones @ The Amazing Spider-man

To tell the truth, I was bored during the first hour or so.  In fact, I almost fell asleep, not because the movie was horrible, but because I was basically re-watching the first hour of  Spider-man from 2002…only not as good marginally different.

I think the movie would have been better served to drop the origin story altogether.  We know who Spider-man is and how he got his powers.  Why force the audience to go through all that again?  I felt like I was waiting to get to the 2nd half of the movie (the actual new movie).

By the way, most of the revamped stuff  is about Parker’s past.  It’s different I guess, but I just don’t see a net benefit from changing things up.

The film also suffers from the modern movie plague of story via stuff just happening.  Characters go from happy to sad as the plot requires, driven by nothing intrinsic.  There’s no organic development much less collateral development out of causative events.  Again, a lot of stuff just happens to move the plot.

This is not aided by the mixed bag of a cast.

Andrew Garfield (wait, who?!) is serviceable in the titular role.  However, this Peter Parker/Spider-man is inconsistent and the performance suffers for it.  (He goes from awkward introvert–with a noble heart–to valiant hero with one-liners for everyone and no fear of heights, danger, or death…almost instantly. He also seems a little dim on the concept of wearing a mask.)

Andrew Garfield not quite hip to the idea of hiding one’s identity. The key is not having the mask, it’s wearing the mask.
Emma Stone plays Spider-man’s love interest, Gwen Stacy.

We have Emma Stone playing Gwen Stacy (supplanting Mary Jane in name and hair color only).  Emma Stone is good in pretty much everything she does and this case is no exception.  Gwen Stacy is a bit too perfect, but I think that’s from the character being written a little thin. Stacy fits a little too neatly into the story.  There should be more bucking against expectations for such a head strong, independent character.

Dennis Leary is also in the film which you will forget whenever he’s not on-screen.

Flash Thompson, the school bully, is absurdly inconsistent (He hates Parker, they’re buds???) and looks like an ever-so-slightly juiced-up Calvin Klein model. Preposterous.

The Villain–in a pathetic, uninteresting moment.

The antagonist–dubbed The Lizard and portrayed by Rhys Ifans–is hot and cold.  In his monstrous form he is fairly impressive.  The Lizard rarely speaks (when he does speak it’s comical) yet his intelligence, intentions, and actions are easy to understand and follow.  It’s well-executed visual storytelling.  In human form, however, he is unoriginal and painfully dull.

Ben and May Parker are played by Martin Sheen and Sally Field in perhaps the most blatant case of lazy casting in Hollywood history.  The characters are built on the reputations of the actors and do not exist outside of the story.  They are plot devices.  It’s a waste of two very good, if rather miscast, talents.  It’s like Jack Nicholson playing a hotel doorman who tries to convince Shia Labeouf to ask the cute girl at the front desk out on a date.

Ben and May Parker

Maybe I’m just eating a bitter burger exalting 10 year-old movies and 60 year-old actors.  For younger audiences  this may all be new to them.  Old people are old people; you see one, you’ve seen them all.  That seems to be the studio’s position.

And the studio knows what they’ve got: great effects, a pretty cool-looking villain, kids in high school, cute girls, skateboarding, lots of action, and Real 3-D.   If the greatest sins The Amazing Spider-man commits are that none of the characters jump off the screen and the plot is about as predictable as a Rocky sequel, I guess there are worse transgressions.

The audience I saw it with gave The Amazing Spider-man  thunderous applause at the end credits (of course several adults in the audience had to be told by theater staff not to climb around on the rails while waiting for the movie to start, so take from it what you will).

Objectively, The Amazing Spider-man exceeds the average comic book movie.  It just has the strange misfortune of being half-a-remake of a well done movie that came out 10 years ago.

Besides, this is all an exercise in hypotheticals anyway.  Anyone reading a review of The Amazing Spider-man has either seen or will see the movie.  What I say here means nothing…kind of like the plot.

A well-coiffed Peter Parker remains defiant in his refusal to wear a mask to protect his identity.

For God’s Sake, Get That Kid Out Of There!

I don’t know if you’ve heard of Iggy Azalea.  I hadn’t until a few months ago.  For those that don’t know (out living a life and whatnot), she’s an Australian rapper.  I think that says it all.

I came across this video earlier this year and wrote it off as the mildly amusing drek that it is.  By happenstance I came across it again this morning and a thought struck me: “WTF is that kid doing in the video?!”

Please understand, the video is called Pussy–and it’s not a euphemism.  It is a song about Iggy’s genitalia and the enjoyment she derives from receiving oral pleasure–while strolling through her neighborhood dressed like a prostitute, of course.  Anyone who’s followed my blog knows how big a fan I am of trashy hip hop, especially when performed by white female rappers.  Music of the gods as far as I’m concerned.

My only point of contention is that while extolling the virtues of cunnilingus (oh–and drugs), she’s giving a 7 year-old boy a piggy back ride.

Inappropriate.

First of all, it destroys whatever fantasy she’s trying to sell.

Second, who’s effing kid is that?! Get him off the goddamn set!

Imagine 50 Cent performing Magic Stick while holding hands with a 10 year-old girl.  He’d be jailed immediately.  No trial.  And rightfully so.  This isn’t quite that bad, but it’s like 90% of the way there.

Or maybe it’s just me (it’s not).  What do ya’ll think? (P.S. there’s swears galore in this song.)

Prometheus: Fine Summer Fun and More!

Prometheus drips with cool sci-fi stuff.
Prometheus drips with cool Sci-Fi stuff.

I am not a fan of 3-D.  Unfortunately, I lost the argument so 3-D it was  (maybe that’s why I blog; I can’t win in real life).  Fortunately, the 3-D was effectively executed.  Scott uses the technology to create a sense of immersion rather than simply spurt blood or flash laser lights at you.

As for the movie itself, Prometheus was one of the movies I was really looking forward to seeing this year.  With the exception of the new Batman, I’d say it tops the list.  I was expecting some mythical combination of Contact and Event Horizon through the brilliant lens of Ridley Scott.

In hindsight, I realize I was setting the bar a little too high.

It was good.  Entertaining.  Fine summer fun.  Maybe those with short attention spans will be bored in the early going because it takes a while to get to the good stuff (if, like with me, the good stuff means monsters and explosions).

However, I liked the early going.  There was a lot to set up.  There were several characters to get to know and as we follow them around we find out what the whole to do is about.

It’s some pretty epic stuff.

Idris Elba and Charlize Theron help round out a pretty strong cast.

Unfortunately, the movie let me down a bit here.  The scale is momentous.  Their mission has the possibility of being, by a landslide, the single biggest moment in human history.  The cosmic secrets might possibly be revealed and the characters are forced to  grapple with issues surrounding faith, science, life, death, love, and family.  That’s to say nothing of the commitment they’ve made to see this mission through.

I just felt they were a little too blase about what they find initially.  It may have been a storytelling choice allowing Ridley to ramp up tension, but  I think it would have been equally effective to go from incredible wonder to equivalent terror.

I guess I just wanted a nice Jurassic Park scene–when they first see the dinosaurs–a hearty Spielberg moment where the camera pulls away slowly as the character’s eyes widen with awe.  Instead, the epochal moment is lost on all but a couple of characters.  If the movie got right down to the fangs and the ooze in the first 15 minutes, I probably wouldn’t have noticed, but they spend a good amount of time building up the mystery and the characters.

There are a couple of old school bone-head horror movie moments.  “Hey, I heard a snarl down the hallway of this alien ghost ship.  I’ll go check it out alone.” There’s also a coochie-coo moment with strange alien life that resolves itself predictably.

Prometheus shares its universe with another storied sci-fi movie franchise, but the connections between the two are superficial and forced.

Oh, and there’s an apparently inexplicable miscasting of Guy Pearce.

Michael Fassbender does his best to steal the movie.

Fortunately, these cinematic faux pas are peripheral.  I found Prometheus entertaining overall.  And I won’t ruin it with telling.

But I will say that Michael Fassbender and Idris Elba go neck and neck to steal this movie.  And considering what each actor had to work with, I might give it to Elba.

Ridley Scott remains a master of disturbing imagery (I heard a few squeals here and there from the audience) and lush, fully-realized, science fiction reality.  He’s also retained his knack for sticking an assortment of oddball characters on a ship in the middle of space and pick-pick-picking at them until you’re not sure what the real threat is.

So if you like guts and spaceships and alien monsters, by all means see Prometheus, likewise if you’re a fan of real science fiction.  My only caveat is that it’s a little too balanced with both to fully satiate the hardcore fans of either.