A Tale Of Two Fucks

In the trailer for Titansthe upcoming superhero show on the streaming DC Universe service, a frankly murderous 20something Robin, when asked where Batman is, growls “Fuck Batman.”

If you’ve ever wanted to hear the Boy Wonder drop the f-bomb, promises Titans, we got you covered. The moment has already stirred up some controversy and some fun on Twitter, which is saying something since the trailer also includes Dove – a character who represents peace and non-violence – inflicting gruesome violence on someone. And, as mentioned above, Robin the Boy Wonder going all Punisher on some street thugs.

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Why I’m Sitting Out The DC Universe Service

Today DC announced the main details for its new streaming movies/TV/comic service, DC Universe.  The anchor of the service will be four new TV series, and they’ll also have all your favorite old DC shows, movies and cartoons. The new shows are Titansan incongruously R-rated version of Teen TitansDoom PatrolSwamp Thing and a fourth, to be announced this week, show.

I won’t be getting the service, despite its reasonable price ($7.99 a month, $75 paid yearly). It’s not because the trailer for Titans is a try-hard grim n’ gritty embarrassment (“Fuck Batman,” Robin intones into the camera before SHOOTING a bunch of alleyway thugs to death). It’s not because I don’t actually need a service that has Legends of the Super Friends on demand 24/7. It isn’t even because I’m unemployed and shouldn’t be spending my limited dollars on something like this.

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In honor of the 10th anniversary of the release of The Dark Knighthere’s my original review, unedited. This review was seen as so negative at the time that I received death threats serious enough to report them to the police.

Someone get the Batman a lozenge.

Of all the improvements that Christopher Nolan has made from Batman Begins
(and there are many), Batman himself (and his stupid, stupid raspy voice) seems to have gone unfixed. If anything, Batman has taken a step back from his center stage role in
the first film and allowed much more interesting characters like The Joker, Harvey Dent and Jim Gordon to claim the spotlight. And in many ways, that’s an improvement in itself.

Nolan’s second Batfilm almost doesn’t even feel like a sequel – it feels like a reboot. Gotham City, presented in Begins as the only major American city ever founded on a soundstage, now has an outdoors. It feels like… a real city, which makes sense, since it was all filmed in Chicago. And that realness extends beyond the exteriors; for the first time in a Batman movie I felt like I understood what being a Gothamite was like, and I felt that the city was a once glorious place in a bad time, as opposed to the almost Boschian depiction in previous films, including Nolan’s first. This is Gotham City by way of The Wire.

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Call Me By Muad’Dib

I’m a huge fan of DuneI think Frank Herbert’s book is the greatest scifi novel ever written, and every time I dive back in I am transported to a wholly alien yet wholly understandable world. It has a depth of emotion and politics and spirituality that is unmatched in any other work of the fantastic. Even though it has been adapted into a bad movie and a mediocre TV series, even though there are a zillion bad sequels written by Herbert’s son, even though Dune was strip-mined for Star Warseach reading of the book opens new avenues of understanding for me. This story never gets old.

Hell, I have a Dune tattoo, a huge one, featuring the Litany Against Fear (that’s a little hack, but the design is really extraordinary, incorporating a hand doing the karana mudra (a Hindu and Buddhist hand gesture intended to dispel negative emotions), surrounded by Tibetan-style flames, representing the trial of the Gom Jabbar.

So for me any Dune news is so exciting that I will break my usual ‘this isn’t a news blog’ rule to write about it. Maybe you’re gonna see a bunch of Dune shit on this blog going forward.

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THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS: Nature, Nurture, Neither, Both

What makes you you? What are the things that create the person you are? Are you created by the sum of your genes? Is there a genetic destiny that exists beyond our control, that will send you down a path no matter the circumstance?

Or are you created by your circumstances? Does the environment in which you were raised have a greater impact? The question, when boiled down, is the familiar head-to-head battle: nature vs. nurture.

A trio of triplets offer a unique look at this question, as each of them was adopted out at six months, and they spent the first 19 years of their lives not knowing they had a sibling, let alone two who were identical at the DNA level. In 1980 two of these three met through strange coincidence; when they appeared in the newspapers their third brother had the shock of seeing himself – twice! – on the front page. Then they were three, and there was an automatic bond. These three identical strangers took to each other, filling gaps in one another they didn’t even realize had been there. You might think that discovering there are two other yous in the world would make you feel less unique, less special, crowded in. But for these three it seemed to be the moment that set them free, that allowed them to be who they should have always been. They soon discovered remarkable similarities about their lives – they were all wrestlers! They all smoked Marlboros! They all liked older women! – and basked in the glow of pre-internet viral fame.

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ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: Come On, Get Happy

We used to have record albums (the old man yelled at the cloud). LPs, they were called, for long play. When bands made LPs they did something called sequencing, which was putting their songs in a specific order intended to bring the listener for a journey. You weren’t supposed to skip around the LP, and there was no way to shuffle the songs, so you would drop the needle at the beginning and listen through until the end. It feels archaic today, the idea of sitting down and listening to an album in full (and getting up to flip it over in the middle!), so archaic that it has become retrohip, and even Hot Topic sells vinyl LPs. But I think that with the heyday of the LP and the heyday of albums behind us, we have also lost the heyday of sequencing.

Good sequencing would build over the course of an album side, getting up to a crescendo of intensity and pace, and then perhaps pulling it back for a sonic palate cleanser. Think about Rubber Soul, by The Beatles (UK version) – side one ends with Michelle, with its French cabaret feel, and side two opens with a blast of zany country as Ringo sings What Goes On. That creates the space needed for the band to go in a totally different direction with Girl, which has a Greek folk sound. By putting the Ringo country song in between these two European love songs The Beatles create an experience for us that transcends the individual songs.

In 2018 Marvel Studios has accomplished a major feat of cinematic sequencing. Opening the year with Black Panther they got us revved up, excited, triumphant. Then came Avengers: Infinity War, which ends on one of the all-time down notes (for post-Beneath the Planet of the Apes blockbusters, anyway). But that isn’t the finale – the album isn’t over – and so they’ve wisely programmed Ant-Man and the Wasp right afterwards, giving us a small breather, a little bit of space before leaping back into the fray next year.

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WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR: Did Mr. Rogers Fail?

Did Mr. Rogers fail?

This question hangs heavy over Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, a movie that is thankfully less of the hagiography I expected and more an examination of one man’s attempt to make a difference. But did he? I’m not just pulling that out of thin air – very early in the movie one of his friends asks that very same question.

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THE FIRST PURGE: A Searing Howl Of Exploitation Anger

The First Purge is a searingly angry film, a scifi movie whose subtextual messaging is so barely subtextual that the film plays less like an alternate future than a prescient look at the day after tomorrow. The film is a howl of rage not at an imaginary Purge but at the slow and deliberate genocide being visited upon black and brown families in our country today, right now, a genocide carried out by cops and ICE and broken social service systems that not only devalue black and brown suffering, but possibly sees it as a perk.

If that’s a big statement to make about the fourth Purge movie, the fourth Purge movie is a big statement. As the blazingly political fourth film in a series, The First Purge is filled with the DNA of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, a movie that modeled its ape uprising scenes on footage of the Watts Riots. As a die-hard Apes fan this is not a comparison I make lightly; I don’t think The First Purge is as good as Conquest (screenwriter James DeMonaco is definitely no Paul Dehn), but it’s a descendant of that movie, and like Conquest I think The First Purge will play stunningly to future audiences who won’t quite be able to believe a movie this nakedly political and angry was also an exploitation quickie.

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Now on Patreon: GLOW Season Two Review

As you may know, I have a Patreon running to support this site. Patreon is a platform that allows you to personally and directly support creators and artists, and I’ll tell you that Patreon has been a game changer for me.

The way it works is that you become a subscriber of a creator, and in return you get exclusive content/goodies. The folks who subscribe to my Patreon at certain levels get exclusive content every week.

At $5 a month (that’s just $1.25 a week) you get a weekly recommendation from me. I try to keep it eclectic, so some weeks I’ll write about a book, some weeks about a game, some weeks about a TV show, some weeks about a podcast.

At $10 a month (only $2.50 a week! Less than coffee!) you get not only that weekly recommendation, you get a biweekly long review. All of my writing is longer, but I try to make the biweekly reviews meatier. Today I published 3000 words on GLOW season two for instance. This is how it begins:

Let us praise Netflix shows that don’t bulge with unwanted wasteful minutes, get lost with wheel-spinning wandering, or sag beneath wretchedly wooden and wearisome plots. Let us praise Netflix shows that come in at 30 or so minutes, that zip through stories and that leave us wanting more. Let us praise GLOW.

GLOW, loosely based on the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling TV show, comes into its second season with its characters and situations established, and that allows it to move forward at a pace that would baffle the likes of leadfooted Matt Murdock or Luke Cage. The first season of GLOW had an infectious “Hey kids, let’s put on a show” vibe that propelled it forward through complication after complication; this year the show’s focus is more on the actual creative act. If season one was about getting into place to make a thing, season two is about artists finding their space to create and express themselves, and experiencing the consequences of that.

The biggest difference between this season and the last is that GLOW season two is much, much lighter; the first season included and abortion and a character unknowingly trying to sleep with his own daughter. Season two softens the character of Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron), while also removing much of the darkness from Ruth (Alison Brie). The softening of Sam is perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the season (along with limited screentime for the secondary characters, but more on that later) – season one proved that a show could take the traditional Bad Man trope and do something interesting with it when the Bad Man is not just free to be an endless asshole. Sam Sylvia was a piece of shit in season one, but characters we liked saw things in him that allowed us to like him; he was both a heavy and a hero (or a babyface and a heel, to use wrestling terminology), which made him unpredictable and interesting.

But in season two he’s mostly cuddly. He’s a dick at the beginning of the season (firing Marianne Palka’s Vicky the Viking (likely to free the actress to direct her latest film, EGG), but he quickly lets up. The in-story reasoning is that his daughter is now living with him, forcing Sam to reconsider his attitude, but it feels more like a retcon than anything else. The fact that he only found out Justine (Britt Baron) was his daughter after making a serious and gross pass at her is never once mentioned this season; the aftermath of that icky moment is unexamined. There’s no room for something that heavy in Sam’s story this season.

The full review is waaay more positive than that opening makes it sound. Maybe I should have pulled a section from the body of the piece. OH WELL.

Anyway, I’ll always publish stuff here on the site, but I currently have no plans to ever republish Patreon-only posts. So if you wanted to read “The Surprising Moral Complexity of Pumpkinhead” then a) you’re my kind of people and b) you gotta be a patron. It’s also where you’ll get reviews of new movies like RBG and A Quiet Place, as well as a deep dive into Paterson‘s spiritual underpinnings.

Of course you don’t have to do $10 a month. Your support at even $1 a month means the world to me. As my means become more limited this Patreon gives me the space to continue writing, which is what I think I was put on this Earth to do. Your $1 a month is not only a buck in my pocket, it’s a reassurance that you’re interested in hearing what I have to say as I continue this strange, confusing and sometimes very difficult journey.

If you want to become a patron, click here. If you don’t, this site will remain freely accessible to you!


What To Do With Such Times

Today I went downtown to the huge – 70,000 strong, early reports say – protest against Trump’s concentration camps for kids. It was my second protest this month related to this topic; I went to a small but energetic emergency march the day after those initial reports came through.

I return from the protest energized and hopeful. I have been cynical of late, thinking that Twitter and the internet give people the dopamine rush of being activists without actually engaging in any activism (love David Simon, but yelling curse words at trolls isn’t making any real difference in the world, except as entertainment. Which, hey, we also need). I have seen so many people tweeting variations on “Why aren’t people in the streets?” and I always think: “Aren’t you people? Get in the streets.”

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