Let’s just start this right off with spoilers.
continue reading "What I Found Interesting About the 50th Anniversary Special"
Let’s just start this right off with spoilers.
continue reading "What I Found Interesting About the 50th Anniversary Special"
I recently spent a weekend playing with Netflix, catching up on some of the movies that I’ve been meaning to watch for ages and just hadn’t gotten around to for one reason or another. It’s actually kind of nice to be too busy to watch something right away, in some ways; sure, you miss out on a bit of the cultural experience that comes from being part of the zeitgeist, and there’s a much bigger risk of spoilers. But on the other hand, it means that you don’t wind up watching something that makes a huge pop-culture impact, but turns out to actually suck hard when you finally experience it for yourself. (See ‘Blair Witch Project, The’.) Some of these movies are a few years old…but if I’m still hearing about a movie two or three years later, that means it’s probably worth a watch. And so I’m providing my somewhat belated impressions of movies that you’ve either already seen years ago…or, like me, you keep wondering whether it’s worth watching. I’ll start with ‘V/H/S’, a horror movie from last year that got some people talking.
This one is a conceptually clever mashup of the “found footage” horror movie and older horror anthology films like ‘Tales From the Crypt’ and ‘Vault of Horror’. The framing sequences involve a group of petty crooks who sell clips of vandalism and sexual assault online; they make a pittance from the videos, but they’re clearly in it for the thrill of demonstrating their ability to violate people and get away with it. But one of them has a more lucrative gig in mind; he’s been promised a large sum of money to steal a videotape from an old man’s house. The crooks arrive to find a vast collection of VHS cassettes; their efforts to find the right one (they were simply told “you’ll know it when you see it”) form the bulk of the movie.
Anthologies are always going to be uneven. It’s a hazard of the form; no matter how hard you work at selecting the material, it’s still going to be a thing of parts and the average audience is going to like some bits more than others. So when I say, “V/H/S is a bit uneven,” I hope you understand that this isn’t so much a criticism as a general caveat. Even so, there’s nothing in the film that’s totally worthless; even the weakest segments do some interesting things with their narrative style. If there is a single overarching complaint, it’s that a lot of the segments (especially the framing sequence) seem hauntingly inconclusive. We’re getting little snippets of a story, and while it’s kind of interesting to fill in the blanks yourself, there are times when you’re frustrated by a lack of knowledge of what happened after the camera stopped rolling.
In order, the sequences are: ‘Amateur Night’, which is a vignette about a group of dudebros whose plan to covertly film themselves having sex with women goes somewhat awry when one of the women they pick up isn’t…normal. It introduces a major theme of the anthology, the way that we instinctively recognize a power dynamic in the act of recording someone; the men in this segment get off on the fact that they’re going to be filming women without their knowledge, and the secret gives them power right up until things go pear-shaped for them. The best thing about this one (apart from the excellent, underplayed special effects) is Hannah Fierman as Lily, the woman who they pick up. She does an excellent job of conveying someone who’s dangerous and vulnerable at the same time.
The second sequence, ‘Second Honeymoon’, contains one of the few moments I’ve ever seen of perfect horror. Unfortunately, the director doesn’t realize he filmed it and keeps going. The ending you actually get is maddeningly vague and inconclusive, especially as you realize pretty early on that the story should have stopped several minutes ago. (At one point, the wife shuts down the video camera to go to bed. The video camera turns back on, panning over the husband again…then panning over to the sleeping wife. It’s that moment, when you imagine husband and wife back at home watching the “happy memories” of their trip and seeing this unexpected bonus footage, that you understand how perfect this could have been. And not incidentally, how much power the person holding the camera really has.)
The third sequence, ‘Tuesday the 17th’, tries for a ‘Cabin in the Woods’ knowing mockery of slasher genre tropes, but doesn’t quite manage to pull it off. It’s about a group of friends going to the woods to draw out a mysterious killer in order to gain evidence of his activities; there are some mildly funny moments as the instigator of the plan behaves with knowing matter-of-factness about their chances of survival, but it can’t quite manage the shifts between horror and comedy and so the scary bits fall flat. That’s despite a really interesting and creepy visual trick; the killer doesn’t show up on video at all, appearing as a series of blocky, pixilated “glitches” in the footage. (Which, if nothing else, has certainly made watching digital cable a creepier experience.) Again, this fits in nicely with the theme of the film–the killer avoids the power exchange inherent in recording by being unfilmable–but it doesn’t work as well as the director probably hoped.
The fourth sequence, ‘The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger’, is probably the one that suffers most from being found footage, but in some ways its tantalizing hints at a larger and more complicated world are the best thing about it. It features the titular Emily as a lonely college student having Skype sessions with her long-distance boyfriend, talking about her haunted apartment and the strange lump in her arm. All of these things have explanations, but they’re not the ones you would expect and finding out the truth only leads you to more questions that never get answered. This one could probably be expanded out into a feature if the director wanted. Or maybe it works better as a short. Maybe the answers I’m imagining are more interesting than anything the director could have come up with.
The last sequence, ’10/31/98′, functions more as a traditional horror story, albeit one that makes good use of its found footage conceit. A group of dudebros go to what they think is a “haunted house” party, and realize a little too late that they’re in an actual haunted house. The ending, in which they realize that there’s a further twist, is elegantly done, even if the audience figured out what was going on about five minutes before the characters did.
On the whole, it’s probably worth watching. It’s certainly worth watching for free; even if the whole is less than the sum of its parts, many of the parts are really quite excellent.
Back in 2007, when I was writing about the death of the original Green Goblin, I described how shocking it was to see him die in the classic “Death of Gwen Stacy” storyline. I pointed out that he was impaled on-panel, just to make it clear that he was really dead and there wasn’t going to be a last-minute cheat to allow the character to survive. “Except that there was,” I then said, “some twenty years later, but we’ll save that for another long, angry day.”
That day has arrived, but I’m not really angry anymore. Marvel’s doing its thing and I’m doing mine. But I did want to explain why it was a mistake to bring back Norman Osborn, and along the way give my answer to why Norman isn’t Spider-Man’s arch-nemesis (although I should note clearly here that this is entirely separate from any answer MGK might give, and that he reserves the right to give his own answer at some future point. He’s nice enough to give me a guest spot here, but I don’t speak for him.) But let’s start with the resurrection of Norman Osborn. (After the cut, because this is kind of a long one.)
This Toronto Sun article by Julia Alexander is simply bad comedy: a Sun reporter – and for those of you not aware, the Sun is the most conservative paper in the city, a right-wing tabloid rag that makes a point of showing off nearly-naked girls on page five every day – starts out by declaring how she hates cyclists, and then in a spontaneous fit of journalism actually decides to try out cycling downtown. At this point she learns that, whoops, cyclists have it way worse than drivers, and spends two hours scared out of her mind. But, because she is a Sun reporter, Ms. Alexander’s final conclusion is this:
I used to hate cyclists, but I don’t anymore. I understand them, but for things to get better, they need to start understanding drivers, like myself, have needs too.
At which point you just have to throw up your hands and say “no, what actually needs to happen is that you need to fuck off.” Because cyclists understand drivers perfectly well. Most of us do drive cars on occasion, you know; most cyclists are not rabid environmentalists to the point of refusing to drive. We know what it is like to drive a car, and we also know that the majority of drivers simply do not give a shit about cyclists. We know this via statistics and we know it via experience.
This is generally the point where some well-meaning driver just exclaims in frustration that no, they really do care, they just wish cyclists would obey traffic laws. But any experienced cyclist knows this is bullshit, because it is a tossup at any given time whether drivers get pissed at you for disobeying traffic laws or pissed at you for obeying traffic laws. I have literally had drivers get out of their car and shout at me when I was waiting for them to advance at a stop sign. Cyclists know that it is simply a tossup as to whether a driver gets pissed at you for trying to execute a proper and legal left turn or if they get pissed at you because you choose to cross with the pedestrian crossing because you’ve been nearly killed too many times trying to execute proper and legal left turns. It is up to each driver’s individual whimsy! What fun!
Of course, all of this assumes that the driver deigns to acknowledge your existence in the first place, and that itself is a hit-or-miss proposition to say the least. Ms. Alexander confesses that she often opens her door into traffic without checking first, and since the two times I have come closest to getting killed while on my bike were because of drivers dooring me in my goddamn neck and causing me to collapse over towards the middle of the road, I will at least note that she is being honest about something that I think causes more cyclists to think murderous thoughts than any other, but that is all the credit she gets because, you know, there were those near-death experiences and I’m still a little put out about them. Ms. Alexander explains them away in this manner:
Ironically, drivers and cyclists share a similar concern — survival. Cyclists don’t want to be hit by an oncoming vehicle and drivers don’t want to hit them.
Which: no, we don’t share a similar concern. Cyclists are concerned about their own survival. Drivers, when they are concerned about cyclists at all – and again, this is very much a hit or miss proposition – are concerned about somebody else’s survival, and I shouldn’t have to explain that worrying about somebody else’s safety is not the same thing as worrying about your own. If those two things were equivalent then Ms. Alexander wouldn’t be opening her goddamned car door into traffic without looking, or doing all of the other stupid, negligent things drivers do every day when they operate their vehicles, which in case we have forgotten are large and dangerous enough to be able to kill somebody when they are only moving fifteen kilometers per hour.
And this is the thing: I drive as well, and I get it. Driving has become more and more stressful over the years; I would not be surprised to find that the incidence of road rage has increased at basically the same rate that the real median wage has decreased, because the more costly any accident becomes for an individual, the more they personalize their driving experience – where an accident in decades past might have been unfortunate but livable, now an accident means an often-unaffordable increase in insurance premiums and the loss of something vital to many people’s jobs.
More to the point: driving is very, very easy to fuck up! Forgetting to check your blind spot, not signalling a turn, sudden dangerous stops, not obeying traffic signs properly – every driver alive does something wrong at least once per day, because there are simply so many things you can get wrong. On my bike ride home from work each day, I see at least three or four “rolling stops” at stop signs – hey, they’re only stop signs! Really, if I had a nickel for every basic driver error I see each day, I could go buy my own private island, pave it and cycle around on that instead.
But just because I understand that driving is stressful and much more difficult than people assume doesn’t mean I’m sympathetic to this article’s position that this is a teachable moment for all concerned. Because it isn’t. The problem is not cyclists. Yeah, there are a few asshole cyclists out there, but there’s a few assholes everywhere: most cyclists are generally law-abiding. The problem is drivers, because the root of the problem is that every driver wishes that they had the road to themselves, and unlike their relationship with other drivers, the relationship a driver has with a cyclist is inherently an imbalanced one.
So don’t come to me, as a cyclist, and tell me I need to “understand drivers.” Because I understand what drivers want from cyclists. They want them not to be there.
I originally wasn’t sure if I wanted to write about the Steubenville rape trial; I imagined that everything I want to say on the subject would be pretty obvious, and it’s not exactly a fun topic of conversation. But my wife pointed out that the people who need to hear most about the subject are the ones who are least likely to listen to the people currently talking about it. She specifically asked me to write about it, and I trust her judgment.
The first thing that stands out about this whole event is how bizarre the media reaction has been. For those of you unfamiliar with the trial, or the events leading up to it, a group of teenage football players at a party repeatedly raped a teenage girl who had passed out. (They may also have drugged her drink, which would suggest premeditation, but that was not proven.) They took photos and videos of themselves in the act, posted them to their Twitter and Facebook feeds, and shared photos and recordings of the act. They were confident at the time that their coach (who was something of a legend in the local sports scene) would be able to make the issue “go away”. Instead, two of them were charged with, and convicted of, rape. (There is currently a grand jury deciding whether further indictments need to be handed down, as well as possible civil suits that are yet to play out.)
Many people, particularly news reporters, have attempted to portray the two young men as remorseful. They point to the way that both broke down in tears at their sentencing, their apologies to the girl after sentence was passed, and to the consequences to their futures (both were tried as juveniles, and will be doing a remarkably modest amount of jail time given the severity of their crime. But they are now registered sex offenders, which will follow them for the rest of their lives.) The victim, and the effects of being raped on her life, have not come up much in the national conversation as conducted by the 24-hour news networks. (Except for the accidental reveal of her real name by Fox News.)
I can’t see any of the remorse that CNN saw in these boys. They didn’t break down in tears at what they’d done; they broke down in tears when it became obvious that they weren’t going to be able to get away scot-free with the horrific crime that they joked and bragged about. They aren’t foolish young boys who made a mistake; they are cruel, arrogant, callous, self-entitled brutes who assaulted a young woman and assumed that their connections within the community rendered them immune to the consequences of their actions. I don’t believe them to be irredeemable, but I think the first step in making them decent human beings is confronting them with the truth of their actions and their attitudes and not letting them justify themselves. This is not a time to give them sympathy. This is a time to hold their ugliness up to a mirror and let them see it.
The victim, on the other hand, deserves all our sympathy. Some of the worst elements of this case have involved the treatment of the victim, not just at the hands of the media but at the hands of the public. Much of the commentary on the Internet has revolved around what the victim “should” have done to avoid the rape–she “should” have avoided underage drinking, she “should” have dressed more modestly, she “should” have acted in a way that didn’t “incite the boys’ hormones”–all of which colossally misses the point. The point is that every human being has the right to an expectation that being vulnerable, whether due to circumstances or decisions, should not be taken as an excuse for predation. One blogger stated that the boys were “helpless” (his post has apparently been taken down) to avoid having sex with the victim when she was in that state, and that she should be ashamed of herself for putting temptation in their way. Rape is the only crime to invite this kind of spurious asshole logic. Nobody says to a stockbroker, “You got mugged? Well, you were walking through this neighborhood dressed all rich, and you even paid cash for your drinks at that bar! Frankly, someone as poor as your attacker had no choice but to steal your wallet.” Nobody insists that Richard Ramirez was the real victim, because those women should never have let themselves be alone with a man knowing that some of them are serial killers who are pathologically unable to avoid killing when they can get away with it.
This is rape culture, the idea that women are responsible for policing their sexuality because men are incapable of doing so. It’s dehumanizing, misogynistic and misanthropic; it demands an impossible standard of perfection from women, blaming them for the actions of others by suggesting that rapists only assault women who violate the unspoken rules of conduct that govern our society. Likewise, it infantilizes and dehumanizes men, suggesting that they’re incapable of acting with any kind of good judgment or ethical behavior and there’s no point in expecting it of them. It argues that men are nothing more than mindless animals, driven by their lusts, and it’s up to women to avoid anything that might be construed as “leading them on”. It’s a standard no woman can possibly meet, and it allows the worst of men to get away with their crimes secure in the belief that a silent crowd exonerates their every action.
It stops one person at a time. It is up to men everywhere to stand up and say, “Hey, guess what? I don’t think with my dick. If I can do it, you can do it. If you can’t do it, then maybe it’s not so much that ‘men are helpless against their hormones’ and more that you’re just an asshole.’” It’s up to all of us to say, “No, sorry. If your friend passed out drunk, then it’s your duty as a human being to keep her safe, get her medical attention if necessary, and get her home. ‘Not raping her’ is actually below the minimums of human decency, and ‘raping her’ is below even that.” It is up to all of us to find a better standard for the treatment of women, and hold each other to it.
That’s what I think about the Steubenville rape trial. Hopefully, it came across as really obvious to you. If you said, “Geez, does this really even need to be said, let alone talked about at this much length?” I’d be thrilled.
‘Damage Control’ is one of those little, everyday Voight-Kampf tests that you come across in popular culture sometimes. If you sit someone down with a copy of the ‘Damage Control’ mini-series, written by the late, great Dwayne McDuffie with art by the wonderfully talented Ernie Colón, and they do not finish it smiling, then you should slowly and quietly get out of the room and call for the blade runners, because the person you just met has no soul. It is pure fun, plain and simple.
The series starts from that weird dichotomy between the two views of “realism” in comics, especially Marvel comics. Some people who read Marvel for its “realism” like it because it’s a world they recognize; New York is a real city, and most of the writers and artists at Marvel either live there or know the place well enough that they can depict it accurately. The world of Marvel feels just like the world outside your window, and it’s easy to imagine that you could visit New York and just happen to see Spidey swinging by. It catches people’s imaginations. The other group, though, see “realism” and think of it as the logical exploration of the consequences of a world with superhuman beings; to them, Marvel is being “realistic” when it has things like Congressional hearings on superhumans, or when we see the futuristic technology of Reed Richards being used in logical ways. This makes them feel immersed in the world, because there aren’t any big and awkward gaps of logic that they have to ignore in order to enjoy the series.
The problem is, these views are pretty much mutually incompatible. Any world that deals with the realistic consequences of power armor, otherdimensional incursions, mutants and superhero battles isn’t going to look like our world for long. (I always wondered how long real-world persecution of mutants would last. “We had ourselves a lynching party last night for that mutant SOB!” “How’d it go?” “Well, we lost about seven people, and the mutant survived. But we think it’ll go better next time!”) The idea of Marvel being the world right outside your window, only with superheroes requires a tremendous amount of mental gymnastics to make work if you assume genuinely realistic consequences. In fact, if you think about it, the whole thing is kind of silly.
Dwayne McDuffie clearly thought about it. The logical answer, he realized, is also completely absurd; you’d need a superhumanly competent construction company, working round-the-clock at insane speed and efficiency, just to repair all the damage to New York caused by all these fights between the Hulk and the Thing. And so he invented one. Damage Control is a group of people that fix the post-battle devastation, collecting their bills from Doctor Doom and raising Avengers Mansion from the bottom of New York harbor. Naturally, this requires a certain amount of finesse…when you’re constantly cleaning up after supervillains, they stop becoming enemies of society and start becoming a source of income. Dealing with the Kingpin, Thunderball, the Punisher, and a cheesed-off Captain America who doesn’t like the way they’re handling the repairs is everyday (or at least every issue) business to them…to say nothing of handling the various construction workers who accidentally get superpowers while cleaning up the messes.
It is a transcendently goofy, yet wholly logical exploration of the consequences of life in the Marvel Universe, and the creators did a wonderful job with every issue of the three mini-series that featured them. (Including tie-ins to ‘Acts of Vengeance’, which was yet another reason why that crossover rocked so hard.) Of course, comics being what they are, we got a “grim and gritty” Damage Control showing up in ‘Civil War’, but let’s not focus on that. Let’s focus instead on the good, the fun, and the joyous, like Doom showing mercy to an embezzler in his embassy by simply firing him. (Why does Doom pay for the repairs when he causes mayhem in New York? Because a monarch always settles his debts.) The series has sadly never been collected, but back issues aren’t hard to come by. Go, read, and have a little fun with the “realism” of the Marvel Universe.
And now it’s time for another one of those posts where I eschew cynicism and snark to just talk about the things I love about comics. Because if you’re here reading this, you probably love them too. Today, I’m going to talk about a single-issue story that always brings a goofy grin to my face every time I think about it: Tales of Suspense #83, “Enter…the Tumbler!”
Technically speaking, it’s not a totally self-contained story, so let me set the stage. In #82, Captain America has returned to the Avengers Mansion after a long day of trouncing the hordes of HYDRA, only to find himself hallucinating and flashing back to World War II. At first, he assumes that he’s finally succumbed to some sort of PTSD after years of combat, but in reality, Jarvis has drugged his tea! (Insert dramatic sting.) He finally collapses, and Jarvis reveals himself to be not Jarvis, but a robot designed by HYDRA to destroy Cap and SHIELD. The Adaptoid (this was before he was Super) impersonated the Avengers’ butler to get close to the perfect physical specimen, Steve Rogers, and now duplicates him precisely in order to become the ultimate living weapon against SHIELD. He ties up the unconscious Cap in a closet and prepares to attack SHIELD HQ, using his enemy’s face…
And then, as the title of this story suggests, the Tumbler enters. He’s a small-time crook who read about Captain America’s exploits and realized that any man can do amazing things if only he trains hard and perserveres. With this inspirational message in his heart, he goes off to become the best darned criminal he can be! And after years of intensive training in acrobatics, weight-lifting, and unarmed combat, he’s ready to show that he’s no small-time crook anymore. He’s going to defeat Captain America, and then take over New York’s mobs!
The Adaptoid assumes, at first, that he’ll be able to handle this enemy easily. After all, he’s duplicated Captain America, the perfect physical specimen. But he quickly finds out that while Cap is stronger and faster than any other human, the difference between him and an Olympic-level athlete is minor, at best. The Tumbler quickly overwhelms him, using his aggressive acrobatics to confuse and disorient the android, and proceeds to beat six kinds of hell out of him. Capdaptoid tries to take him out with a shield throw, but the Tumbler adroitly dodges out of the way and starts beating him with his own shield. The Adaptoid actually tries to adapt to the Tumbler, assuming that he must be superior to Cap because after all, he’s beating the living shit out of someone in Cap’s body, but he’s being hammered too hard to make the switch. Finally, the Tumbler throws his defeated foe clear through the wooden doors leading deeper into the mansion, and prepares to strut off with his trophy–Captain America’s shield–while saying, “I’m a dozen times the fighter Captain America ever was!”
And then Cap walks right back out of those same doors, because he’s been recovering from the drugs and untying himself while the Tumbler and the Adaptoid fought. The Tumbler doesn’t even have time to get cocky before Cap pastes one on him for the crime of being mouthy, and then asks, “Who are you? And what are you doing here?” Because Cap doesn’t have time to ask questions of people before starting the beating. He’s on a schedule, people.
The Tumbler tries to fight back, throwing Cap’s own shield at him. Cap catches it “like it was nothing more than a toss from shortstop to first”, and proceeds to wing it right past the Tumbler’s head at slapshot speed. He could have hit him with it, of course, but why knock a man out when you can show off by ricocheting a piece of metal past his head three or four times in less than a second? The Tumbler tries some of his acrobatics…so Cap hits him with a table. Then the beat-down starts in earnest. The best part is that this is 60s Cap, before he became all “Eat your Wheaties, kids!” He’s openly smack-talking the guy while he fights. (The Tumbler at one point says, “I was set to be the kingpin of the whole underworld after I’d beaten you!” To which Cap responds, “But it would have put you in the higher brackets! Think of the taxes you’d have to pay!” I think this is an argument still being used on Fox News.)
After a few pages, Cap literally knocks the man into comics obscurity (literally–this is the Tumbler’s first and only appearance) and rounds up the unconscious Adaptoid for later study. If you want to find out what happens next, you can find the story in ‘Essential Captain America, Volume One’…or, if you just want to see one of the most hilariously inept supervillains ever and his one, shining moment of thinking he’d just trounced the greatest hero of World War II.
Earlier this week, I posted my thoughts for where to go with another Batman movie, now that Christopher Nolan seems to have wrapped up his “Dark Knight” trilogy. Little did I know that Newsarama and io9 were both planning to rip me off, albeit with more actual speculation about where to go next and fewer brainwashed killer orphans. But that’s okay. I can play that game too. And after the cut, I’ll talk about what I seriously think the next Batman movie should be like. (Hint: brainwashed killer orphans…from space!
continue reading "Let’s Try This Again: The Next Batman Movie"
One of the things I lament most about the slow transformation of ‘Star Wars’ from a great movie into a multi-billion dollar industry is the way that George Lucas has mythologized the process of creating the films. I’m not upset about it; I understand that most people don’t really want to hear about the slow, messy, frequently accidental way that an idea is transformed into a finished film. They want to imagine a singular vision bringing a staggering work of art forth over years, even decades of painstaking effort; saying things like, “No, I really don’t know what the Clone Wars are. But I’ve got time to figure that out before we start shooting the prequels,” does not go over well. Lucas felt a lot of pressure to tell everyone that he Had It All Figured Out From the Beginning, not just financially but in every sense imaginable.
But it is sad, because it encourages people to think of the Star Wars saga not as a story that takes different paths, but as a monolithic universe to be elaborated on. The idea of “other directions” that the series could have gone is one that gets less exploration, I think, than in any other sci-fi franchise, simply because there’s the assumption that this was the way it was all along. But that’s simply not true; and in honor of yesterday’s Father’s Day, I’m going to poke at some other ways the story could have gone at a key juncture, if different creative decisions had been made somewhere along the line. And speaking of lines, here’s a famous one: “No, Luke…”
1) “…Obi-Wan killed your father.” Fan myth has it that this is what David Prowse actually said to Mark Hamill on the set, little knowing that it would be overdubbed in post-production with James Earl Jones’ famous line. (Fan myth also has it that after seeing ‘Star Wars’ and finding out that none of his dialogue was kept, Prowse had a tendency to wander off-script in the later movies. I’d love to spend an hour listening to David Prowse’s stories about the role.) But imagine how different the third movie would be if it were true. Instead of fighting to redeem Vader, Luke would be fighting against his own self-doubt. Both his mentors lied to him. The man who showed him a wider universe turns out to have deprived him of his first connection to it. (Guinness would have been amazing here; if you think he did a great job of confessing his deception and self-justification in ‘Jedi’, just imagine how he would have been weaseling around to the idea that while he was the one who killed Anakin, it’s Vader who’s really responsible.) Of course, you’d need to come up with the backstory…perhaps Vader had turned Anakin the same way he was trying to turn Luke, and Obi-Wan killed his disciple to save his soul. There’s no question, though, that it would radically transform the third film (and remove the need for the Emperor to be a powerful Jedi, if the emotional climax is Luke rejecting Vader’s temptations and destroying him. Palpatine becomes a much less important figure in this envisioning of the trilogy.)
2) “…Obi-Wan is your father.” After all, the decision to kill off Obi-Wan was made fairly late in the shooting of the original film, when it became obvious that the character didn’t have a whole lot to do after the Death Star escape except for offer Luke a key bit of advice at the final juncture, something he could just as easily do as a blue Force ghost. It’d be very easy to imagine a movie where he escaped along with the others, perhaps using some of that Force telekinesis that everyone displays everywhere else in all the movies, books, comics, breakfast cereal boxes… And then, in the second movie, it’s Ben who trains Luke instead of (or possibly alongside) Yoda. Ben is the one who talks about the irredeemable Sith, Ben is the one who tries to prevent Luke from confronting Vader…and Ben, it turns out, was the one who wanted Luke seething with revenge for the loss of an imagined parent, filled with anger and ready to strike down his opponent. Was Ben willing to throw away his own son to get rid of the Sith? If not–if Luke could kill a man for revenge and come out the other side with his soul unscathed–what does that say about the Jedi beliefs about the Dark Side? It’d be a very different emotional tone for the remainder of the series, because there’s really no way Obi-Wan could come out of this one seeming sympathetic.
3) “…you have no father.” Yes, we all saw how that turned out in the prequels, but I’m not talking about the half-assed “created by the living Force” bullshit that Lucas pulled out in the prequels to no apparent purpose. Keep in mind, at the time ‘Empire’ was being filmed, they really did have no idea what the Clone Wars were to have been about. (There were drafts of the script that had Lando as a surviving clone, with Leia’s distrust borne of the long-standing divide between clones and humans after the Clone Wars.) It would have been a very interesting twist to find out that Luke was made, not born, as a weapon to be turned against the Sith Lords. ‘Return of the Jedi’ would feature a conflicted Luke having to decide if he had a place with his friends (who would all be pretty anti-clone, given the hints that Clone War survivors made up the bulk of the veteran troops) or if he should just give up and embrace his monstrosity, and join the Empire.
4) “…Tarkin was your father.” Sure, it’s way the hell out of left field. But you have to admit, that’s one hell of a third-act conflict. Finding out that your father was a monster, not a martyr…and that oh, by the way, you killed him and you didn’t even know it…that’s a lot of burden to bear. This would make for a much more introspective final movie, with Luke uncertain as to how to proceed after losing his moral compass. In this version, Ben’s decision not to tell Luke becomes an act of mercy as much as anything else; who’d want to know that their dad destroyed an entire planet purely as an object lesson?
5) “…your father is alive.” This would be a pretty major cliffhanger: Luke finds out that his father isn’t dead after all, but instead rots in an Imperial secret prison for the last of the Jedi. (Perhaps for those that the Emperor feels some potential for evil in?) Vader makes it clear; for Anakin to continue to enjoy his health and long life, Luke must join the Empire and turn on his friends. Brokenly, he agrees to do so. And in the next movie, with Luke’s growing Force power turned against the Rebellion, Leia and Han (and Lando and Chewie and R2 and C-3P0 and Wedge and…) have to engineer a breakout from the most secure prison in all of the Empire. And when they do break out Anakin Skywalker, Leia would find out the truth of her own parentage as well…
6) “…Chewbacca is your father.” Nah. Too silly.
Back in 2005 or so, when I actually cared enough about DC to pay attention to them, it occurred to me that there was an interesting vacancy created by the departure of Wally West as the Flash and the arrival of Bart Allen. Specifically, it meant that the identity of Impulse was just floating around loose, looking for a legacy hero to step into the role. So I came up with some ideas that I thought would make for a good ‘Impulse’ series, one I hoped to someday submit, should I get the time, energy and confidence to do so. Obviously, that was back in 2005, and at this point there’ve been so many cast changes in the Flash family’s story, including one complete reboot, that the idea is pretty much moot. Nonetheless, I still have some fondness for the idea, so I thought I’d share it here: My plans for the all-new, all-different Impulse!
In this case, “all-different” definitely describes the character. Her name is Hannah Hunter (I’m sticking with “is” here, because “would have been” is such an awkward bit of sentence construction), and she’s a teenage high school student; both her parents are devoted to their careers, leaving her as pretty much a latchkey kid. There are pretty much two ways you can go when your parents barely pay any attention to you, and Hannah went the second direction; she’s hyper-responsible, almost an adult in miniature. She cooks her own meals, does her own laundry, and basically has a house to herself with parents she only occasionally sees. (The fact that she doesn’t use this house for wild, frequent parties tells you what the other direction was, the one she didn’t go.)
As can happen with children like this, she gets along much better with adults than other teenagers her own age; it doesn’t help that she’s somewhat bookish and has never had much luck trying out for sports teams. She almost made it onto the varsity softball team due to her pitching skills, but they had no designated hitter rule and she was too slow on the base paths. She tried out for the basketball team, but despite being a great shooter, she’s too slow on the fast-break. In short, she’s not unathletic, she just has lousy foot-speed. She idolizes the Flashes because they can do the one thing she desperately wants to: Run.
As a result of the above, she spends the after-school hours at the Flash Museum, doing her homework and chatting with the staff (who, as with many adults, admire precocious and mature teenagers.) She knows every exhibit inside and out (at one point in the development of the idea, she idolized Barry best of all because he was also a police scientist. When they reconcealed his identity, she idolized him as a person without even knowing he’s the Flash because she wants to get into forensics someday and admires his work. Yes, she is a teenager geeky enough and focused enough to know about prominent forensics experts. Unfortunately, she doesn’t know who Justin Bieber is.)
She gets her powers when the Flash Museum gets attacked by Rogues’ Gallery members who want to make a statement about their feelings towards their arch-nemesis…the Flash shows up to foil them, there’s a fight, innocent bystanders get endangered, and Hannah winds up taking an inadvertent spin on the Flash’s Time Treadmill. She winds up back in the 30s, with all the powers of the Silver Age Flash…
…except one. She can’t think at superhuman speeds. Without the ability to process information and perceive time the way the Flashes do, her super-speed is utterly useless to her; the second she tries to run, she’s impacting into a solid object before she knows it’s even there. (Luckily, she has Wally’s super-fast healing. Even so, she spends time in the hospital in the 30s, as well.) As a result, she’s forced to use her speed-powers creatively, adding and subtracting speed from objects around her instead of using it just to speed herself up. (That’s why she calls herself Impulse–because momentum is mass times velocity and impulse is the physics term for an object’s change in momentum. Have I mentioned geeky?)
Her first story arc, where she learns to use her powers, involves her “bouncing” through time on her way back to the Flash Museum in the present. She meets the Golden Age Flash, the Legion of Super-Heroes, and comes back to the present day with a reasonable amount of skill at fighting and so forth (so as to gloss over some of the learning curve of being a superhero. Karate Kid teaches her judo, because using someone’s own leverage against them is a good fighting style for a scrawny teenager, and because throws and flips become extra-nasty when you can pump an extra 500 miles per hour of velocity into someone on their way out.) She helps the Flash defeat the Rogues’ Gallery, and becomes a crime-fighter in Central City when not attending classes.
I thought it had some potential; since she doesn’t have “run really fast” to fall back on, the character has to use her super-powers creatively to defeat bad guys. The high school setting is always fun for a comic book hero, and let’s face it, comics fans dig geeky teenage girls with weird senses of humor. But of course, at this point I’m not even sure whether there ever was an Impulse, let alone whether another one would be welcomed by comics fans. But I’m sure the current direction of DC makes perfect sense to someone.
Yesterday on Twitter, Tim O’Neill wrote that the best Twitter bot name he had seen yet was “Charsky Troublefield.” This is, no question, a great name.
However, I pointed out that in real life, about a decade ago when Columbia House was still a thing, my roommates and I received more than a few pieces of direct-mail marketing directed at “Goat Slywinkle,” which I staunchly maintain to be the best fake name created for illicit commercial gain of all time. (Fake Columbia House identities were the Neanderthal equivalent of spambot names.) Indeed, for a time one of my roommates registered slywinkle.com, until he got bored with it.) I keep meaning to use ol’ Goat in a story somewhere, but his name is so outrageous that it requires the proper character and he hasn’t shown up yet.
Tim then attempted to counter Goat with his personal favorite spam name, which was “Rbassus Obassman.” I think this does not come close to “Goat Slywinkle.” Your mileage may vary.
So, I throw it open to the floor: the best spam name (or fake record club name, or what have you) that you have ever seen?
Ta-Nehisi Coates is, as usual, completely right. So was Chris Rock when he made Good Hair (which you should make an effort to see, if you have not seen it):
That’s crazy, and white cultural norms should not necessarily be aspired to. I mean, come on. We invented coonskin caps. That is fucked up.
And, speaking as an admittedly white dude: I think black women look vastly more attractive with natural hair. Although I never really saw why “kinky” and “nappy” became the adjectives of choice. When I was little and saw black women with natural hair, I just thought of it as “curly,” and even today whenever I see a black woman with natural hair I just think “she has curly hair.”
I suspect that very few of you know what ‘The Shining’ is really about. You might think you know; you might talk about themes of isolation, claustrophobia, and the darkness in the human spirit made manifest as a “haunted” hotel. But you’d be wrong. You probably aren’t aware of the hidden messages about the dangers of going off the gold standard. You didn’t even know that it was a hidden confession from Stanley Kubrick explaining that he faked the moon landing footage. You hadn’t the slightest clue of its hidden warnings about the Mayan apocalypse in 2012. And you…okay, you probably knew about the secret subtext relating to America’s treatment of Native Americans. That one’s so well-known that even Cracked.com covered it. But you probably didn’t know about all of the hidden meanings, because you simply can’t. There’s so many hidden meanings that there’s a whole other movie coming out just about all the meanings in the first movie.
In all seriousness, what does make ‘The Shining’ such a popular subject for such a diverse range of “cryptic meaning” essays? Surely if Kubrick really had a message he was trying to convey, no matter how cleverly he concealed it, you’d expect to get some kind of consensus as to what it might be. But (for those of you who really don’t feel like sitting through a 40-minute YouTube video, or spend an hour or so looking at screenshots) Kubrick’s film almost seems to become a sort of Rorshach test, continually revealing cryptic messages that just happen to exactly coincide with the researcher’s personal perspective. Why? What is it about ‘The Shining’ that makes it more confusing than ‘The Prisoner’? What makes this film the one that people fixate on, while ‘Donnie Darko’ (to name another cult film that plays its cards close to the vest) seems to avoid these kinds of questions? I don’t know that we can ever know for sure, but here are my suggestions.
1) Kubrick isn’t talking. Well, I mean…of course he’s not talking now, but even when he was alive, he wasn’t talking about his movies. Kubrick had a reputation as a notorious recluse, but it would be more accurate to describe him as someone who just didn’t give interviews. He was perfectly content to be social, but he also hated the way that filmmakers who loved to talk about their work had reduced watching a movie to a sterile exercise in spotting the things the director had talked about in a magazine. He didn’t want you to be thinking about the technical reasons that the hedge maze had replaced the hedge animals (budget constraints, for the record–moving hedge animals weren’t technically feasible in 1980.) He wanted you to be watching the movie, and to let you come to your own conclusions about it. Seen from a certain point of view though, a reclusive movie-maker who doesn’t want to talk about his movies because he wants you to “work it out for yourself” can sound like someone who’s embedded a secret meaning. The more mystery invested in the process, the more people expect from the ultimate solution. “Some people are just crazy” is not going to satisfy them.
2) Kubrick had a reputation as a perfectionist. Time and time again, as you read these analyses, you’ll come across a phrase that’s almost word-for-word identical every single time: “A legendary perfectionist like Kubrick certainly wouldn’t allow such an obvious continuity error.” It is a prima facie assumption made in all of these analyses that any apparent mistake in the film must be placed there deliberately, as Kubrick was known for being a perfectionist. These must be hidden messages, because Kubrick doesn’t make mistakes.
This is, of course, an assumption so wrong that it almost has to be unpicked word-for-word. Kubrick was a notorious perfectionist, true, but “perfectionist” in this case doesn’t mean “meticulous about set continuity.” Kubrick’s reputation came from his habit of shooting far more film than was necessary, sometimes doing 80-100 takes of a single scene, in order to get the widest possible ranges of performance from his actors and to force them to genuinely inhabit their characters. ‘The Shining’ was no exception; Kubrick spent 200 days in principal photography for a 144-minute film. (This means that on average, Kubrick shot about 45 seconds of usable footage per day. Almost certainly, there must have been whole months worth of days where he shot nothing at all that he used in the final film.) Kubrick was a perfectionist in that he wanted the perfect take, and was willing to shoot as long as was needed until he got it; and once he was armed with all those perfect takes, he would go into the editing room and spend months assembling them into a finished film.
But there’s a big difference between that and being precise about continuity. In fact, Kubrick’s approach works against tight set continuity; when you’re shooting 30, 40, 50 takes of one shot, even going back the next day for more, then of course tiny details aren’t going to be the same from shot to shot. Kubrick wanted the perfect emotional resonance, not the perfect amount of sandwich eaten from moment to moment. Even if he did notice the continuity problems (and he almost certainly did) what was he going to do once he was in the editing booth? Throw out the best performance because the scrapbook was on the wrong page? Kubrick had to be aware that only obsessive viewers notice continuity mistakes to begin with, and he almost certainly had more important things to concern himself. But to the ‘Shining’ enthusiast, each of these tiny mistakes has to be a deliberate message, because they assume Kubrick is a genius who doesn’t do anything by accident.
3) The movie is different from the book. This is true of just about all adaptations, of course, but there’s a little more to it here. One, Kubrick didn’t discuss why he made the changes he made when adapting the novel. (See above.) Two, it’s assumed that a legendary perfectionist like Kubrick wouldn’t make arbitrary changes unless he had a grand vision to them. (See above.) And three, King and Kubrick were legendarily at odds over the adaptation, with King going so far as to write and direct his own adaptation that was more to his liking. With the theme of “changes from the book” highlighted, everyone’s attention is drawn to them. And again, we’re back to the “hidden messages” territory, with every tiny alteration assumed to have cryptic meaning, from the hotel’s origin to its final fate and everything in between.
Again, though, this assumes that Kubrick was able to work in the realm of pure art, with no concessions needing to be made to practicality. Subplots like the simmering conflict between Ullman the hotel manager and Jack, or backstory like his assault on a student at Stovington Prep? Dropped for time, perhaps, because the movie is already over two hours long and there’s not even a mention of them. Wendy and Danny seem different because the characters wound up being interpreted by actors, and because certain elements had to be emphasized and dropped to get the film down to a manageable running time. Logistically difficult effects, such as the destruction of the Overlook Hotel or the moving hedge animals, had to be dropped completely. Nobody ever gets to do everything the way they want to entirely…except maybe George Lucas, which may explain why it’s not such a good thing…and Kubrick is certainly no exception. But if you’re not willing to believe that, then each change takes on a special significance.
4) The ending is ambiguous. Sure, we know that Jack died. But then we get that last cryptic scene, of the photograph in the empty hotel filled with mysterious people and Jack at the center. The caption, “July 4th Ball, 1921.” It has to mean something. It’s the final shot of the film, the one that Kubrick wants us to leave on, the one he wants to resonate in our heads as we’re leaving the theater. He actually went so far as to cut an epilogue out of the film after it reached theaters, so that all we see is the cut from Jack’s body to the mysterious photo. A cryptic ending like that is one that demands endless analysis, deeper investigation, because we want things to make sense. And that ending really, really doesn’t, at least not in a logical and linear sense. (It says a lot that even after “notorious recluse” Kubrick came out and blatantly explained the ending to everyone, people still don’t believe it.) Whatever conclusions you come to about the final shot, you bring something of your own ideas and experiences to it…which leads us to…
5) People really, really like to create patterns. It’s human nature, and the final element that brings the first four together. Once you’ve decided that there is a hidden meaning to ‘The Shining’, once you’ve started looking at it not as a film but as a series of cryptic messages encoded into tiny details, then there’s a sufficiently large mass of data present that you can draw any number of connections between data points based on your own personal viewpoint as a lens. Think that Kubrick was a numerologist? Examine the time codes, you’re bound to find a pattern of significant shots at significant times. (Because Kubrick didn’t really put in any scenes that he didn’t think were important.) Want to find messages about your own personal political, mystical, or historical views? They’re bound to be there if you think symbolically enough and are willing to put in some work massaging the data. (Remember, numbers are infinitely transformable. Add, subtract, multiply and divide and 7/4/1921 can become any set of numbers you care to name.) And ultimately, you will come away convinced that Kubrick’s message was about exactly what you want it to be about. It’s a comforting thought, really. Kubrick must be a genius for hiding such an intricate message in the film, and you must be a genius for being able to find it. The two of you no doubt think alike, and wouldn’t we all want to think of ourselves as being in the company of geniuses?
For myself, I don’t think there is a hidden message in ‘The Shining’. I think that Kubrick, like all great artists, loved ambiguity, and loved to insert it in the work instead of forcing his own conclusions onto you. You are required, by design, to think about what’s going on in front of you because the answers are not provided, and Kubrick isn’t telling because your answer is probably better than his anyway. I think he’d probably be impressed at some of the creativity people have brought to finding meanings in his film…even if I can easily picture Wendy looking at Jack’s manuscript and reading, “It can be ruled out that Stanley Kubrick didn’t notice this obvious mistake as he precisely edited the shot that way for a reason and we all saw it happen…”
Recently, the whole “Nice Guy” topic came up again, well after the initial post had become a thing of legend. Many people jumped in on the new discussion, but it always seems like the same people respond in the same way. The phrase, “Yes, they’re being jerks, but they’ve got a point…” keeps getting bandied about in these conversations, with one user posting an old joke about the supposed underlying truth behind the complaints that Nice Guys have. As I am not yet an accomplished disembowler of bad ideas, I thought I might take a practice run at this one…anyone else want to join me behind the cut?