Monday, March 20, 2006

I have seen the future, and it is British

Friday night was the American premiere of Doctor Who. I know that this is old news for those of you not in the Colonies and that Christopher Eccleston has already been replaced by David Tennant, but I'm excited dammit! I grew up on Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker and Peter Davison reruns on PBS and this is the first new Who I've ever seen. (No, I'm not counting that crappy, crappy, crappy 1996 TV movie.)

I expected to like it regardless of how good it was, and I even expected to like it and still be a little disappointed. But I loved loved loved loved loved it. It was everything you expect from DW: a bizarre, funny Doctor, a cute, spunky sidekick, silly but menacing B-movie aliens. And it's cleverly updated for the 21st century without losing any of its original charm: cell phones, conspiracy theories, and the Doctor even has his own internet site. Even the music was fantastic. The only thing I hated was the ugly, vaguely Giger-esque new interior of the TARDIS.

Eccleston was great and manages to be charming and vaguely creeping at the same time. ("If you're an alien, why do you sound like you're from the North?" "Lots of planets have a north!") I've only seen Rose in two episodes and she's already my new favorite Companion. When I saw the Doctor and Rose running down the London street hand in hand chasing down some alien menace, I knew that Doctor Who was back.

"Did I mention it travels in time?"

woh-oh, tainted love! - spoilers ahead

The plastic people were silly, but better than a garden variety squishy alien thing. The mannequins with guns in their arms were a bit much, though. They probably could have milked the plastic men for another hour or so, but then again that might have dragged in the middle like a lot of 90-120 minute DW episodes.

The second episode was another classic DW-type scenario - a bunch of weird random aliens gathered together for some arbitrary reason. The special reason this time is the end of the world - 5 billion years in the future, the day the sun destroys the Earth. And the soundtrack to the end of time is Soft Cell's "Tainted Love", preserved on an "iPod" (actually a Wulitzer jukebox) which later plays Britney Spears' "Toxic" when the sun starts killing people. The humor had a vicious bite, but the episode was also pretty touching, with the sacrifice of the delightfully charming tree woman Jabe and Rose's 5 billion year cell phone call to her mum.

Next week - Zombies! In 1869!

end spoilers

First I was excited about V for Vendetta, then I was wary when I learned the Wachowski brothers were involved. Sure I loved The Matrix despite the presence of that mystic nonsense about "The One" ("I know you hate that mystic shit"), but the sequels (or sequel since I couldn't stomach the third after seeing the second) were straight out of a bad video game. (The Keymaster? Wtf?) And my nervousness only got worse when I learned Alan Moore got his name taken off the movie.

You can rest easy. VfV is easily the best film adaptation of Moore's work to date. From Hell was a good Jack the Ripper yarn, but the Hughes brothers, though faithful to the time period and Campbell's visuals, were unable or unwilling to deal with the most interesting aspects of Moore's work, like the time jumping and the more outrageous aspects of the Masonic rites. Not much insulting can be said about the film League of Extraordinary Gentlemen that hasn't already been said, and the ridiculous lawsuit which he was dragged into added insult to injury. I don't blame Moore for being pissed off at Hollywood, but it's a shame his name was removed since this is a very good film.

Hollywood is hard enough to deal with normally, but Moore's dealings with them have been exacerbated by his unusually strong sense of artistic integrity. It's a testament to how our culture has been debased that his sense of integrity is considered unusual. It reminds me of his creation Rorschach from the Watchmen: "Never compromise. Not even in the face of armageddon." Run of the mill Hollywood crap, like producer Joel Silver's lying about Moore being happy with the screenplay, pisses him off. It should piss everyone off, but it's the kind of thing that makes most people roll their eyes and say, "Oh, that's just the movie business." Hollywood is baffled by someone like Moore. Their instinctive reaction is to write him a bigger check, but Moore has given all his money from movie adaptations to his artists. Hollywood doesn't know how to deal with that sort of integrity. Me neither; I'd keep the money and be angry. *shakes angry fist full of cash at Hollywood*

Any revolution without dancing isn't a revolution worth having - very minor spoilers

Moore has some legitimate complaints about the adaptation. V's anarchist philosophy and the fascist and white supremacist nature of the government have been downplayed, but there's enough of it left to scare the crap out of right-wingers like Michael Medved. ("V for vile, vicious, vacuous, venal, verminous and vomitaceous.") The screenplay still relies a bit too much on the "kill the right people and everything gets better automatically" type of plot. But the subplot with Valerie and Rose is still there and seems be more important here than it is in the original story. I finally found my copy of VfV tonight, sandwiched between Harvey Kurtzman's Jungle Book and some issues of Taboo, so I may write more about the differences when I give it a careful rereading.

The casting is inspired. Natalie Portman and Stephen Rea are great. Hugo Weaving manages, with just his voice and body language, to invest V with the right amount of gravitas and theatricality. Face it, a flamboyant, Shakespeare-quoting vaudevillian in a cape and an expressionless Guy Fawkes mask is a pretty ridiculous thing, and takes some skill to make him seem serious, menacing, and sensitive all at the same time. Stephen Fry a perfect choice for his role - significantly changed from the book - and the Benny Hill like skit (complete with "Yakkety Sax"!) works amazingly well.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

I really love George Clooney, but not in that Brokeback Mountain kind of way, I swear

It snuck up on me. I wasn't a regular watcher of Roseanne or ER until he was gone from both shows. Almost every movie I saw him in back in the 90s was utter crap. (Anyone remember The Peacemaker?) One Fine Day was perhaps the most sexist movie I've ever seen, and Batman and Robin was certainly the worst film I've ever seen. (Here's my review of the latter which was on the Film Threat website back in the day.) I couldn't say that he was particularly bad in any of them (except for the Bat-tasrophe), and I liked him in the overrated From Dusk Till Dawn and the impressive Out of Sight. But I was also impressed by Jennifer Lopez in Out of Sight, and at look what she's done lately.

The crappy movies became fewer and I started noticing him in more impressive roles: The Thin Red Line, Three Kings, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Solaris. I didn't like Ocean's Eleven or The Perfect Storm, but he was good in both films. What really won me over was his putting his money and reputation behind good projects like Good Night and Good Luck and Syriana instead of just coasting by until they make Ocean's Seventy Seven and Ocean's Ninety Nine.

The Academy apparently agreed. Not that he wasn't great in Syriana, but I didn't think it was Oscar-winning work, and the Best Supporting Actor category has traditionally been a consolation prize or lifetime achievement award. Upon winning, Clooney gave what is probably the closest thing to the Platonic ideal of a perfect acceptance speech. No pointless, long list of thank yous, he makes some jokes, he praises his fellow nominees, and he gives a big middle finger to the right wing. What's not to love?

Wow. Wow. All right, so I'm not winning director.

It's the funny thing about winning an Academy Award, it will always be synonymous with your name from here on in. It will be Oscar winner, George Clooney. Sexiest Man Alive, 1997. Batman, died today in a freak accident at a -- Listen, I don't quite know how you compare art. You look at these performances this year, of these actors and unless we all did the same role, everybody put on a bat suit, and we'll all try that. Unless we all did the same role, I don't know how you compare it. They are stellar performances and wonderful work, and I'm honored, truly honored to be up here.

And finally, I would say that, you know, we are a little bit out of touch in Hollywood every once in a while. I think it's probably a good thing. We're the ones who talk about AIDS when it was just being whispered, and we talked about civil rights when it wasn't really popular. And we, you know, we bring up subjects. This Academy, this group of people, gave Hattie McDaniel an Oscar in 1939 when blacks were still sitting in the backs of theaters. I'm proud to be a part of this Academy, proud to be part of this community, and proud to be out of touch. And I thank you so much for this.

Hollywood is far from ideal, and they have a lot to answer for. (*shakes angry fist*) But they have a lot to be proud of, and being progressive is one of those things. Gentleman's Agreement, Bad Day at Black Rock, To Kill a Mockingbird... Talking about things that no one wants to talk about is a proud Hollywood tradition, and it is not something they should be ashamed of. Instead of shying away from it, they should tell America - not with shrill voices like Barbra Striesand but with polite, eloquent ones like Clooney - that you're gonna get gay cowboys fucking on a mountain in Wyoming and you are going to like it, because there is nothing wrong with gay cowboys fucking on a mountain in Wyoming, and damn isn't that some impressive scenery up in the mountains in Wyoming.

What's next? Hopefully it's George Clooney for President.

The most disturbing Marmaduke in the history of time

I'm not a reader of Marmaduke. (Seriously, smart guy.) My newspaper doesn't get it, and that's about the only decision made by my newspaper that I approve of. I saw this Marmaduke when Tom Spurgeon complained on his blog that "This Marmaduke Joke Grosses Me Out". I have to admit, I didn't understand it at first, and I even started a thread on the Straight Dope asking for an explanation. What passes for humor on the funny pages is often lacking in humor, and occasionally we're confronted with something so lacking that not only is the humor undetectable, but the very nature of the joke itself is undetectable - something B.C. treats us to on a regular basis. So I assumed this was another one of those moments.

Instead, the consensus seems to be that Marmaduke wants to be knockin' paws with the little dog. Ewwwwwwwwwwww.

Not that I object to canine sex, or comic strips tacking subjects people might fight objectionable. The weirdness comes from the juxtaposition of a normally vanilla character with a risque subject. No one would think twice about a joke about dog sex in a strip like Red Meat; in fact, it would probably not be edgy enough for the likes of Red Meat. But in a strip like Marmaduke, it takes on a different character entirely. One of the posters on the Dope compared it to "the moral equivalent of Peppermint Patty & Marcie talking about sharing a sleeping bag on a camping trip". Marmaduke is - both figuratively and literally - neutered for the family friendly comics page, and this is where the "joke" gets its, in this case unintentional, power to disturb. It's like the notorious Air Pirates or The Disneyland Memorial Orgy, both of which depicted the normally squeaky clean Disney characters using drugs and getting it on. Neither one would have been at all memorable if they had depicted regular people engaged in those activities .

The most disturbing thing about this strip is the fact that I had to think about Marmaduke having sex. God, I hate that Marmaduke.