Monday 22 April 2019

Your pain is a gift. My pain is just painful.

Being struck down with the flu, I was bed-bound for much of the last ten days and so of course I watched a bunch of films for children, I mean, I am a grown man - what else would I watch?
ISLE OF DOGS is an adult's idea of what a film for children might be like, but just comes off as less adventurous or inventive than actual animation for children like World of Gumball or Stephen Universe, resulting in something that really just comes off as Wes Anderson self-consciously working Wes Anderson The Brand.  It's not without charm, but Anderson has been here before, and done it better.
INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE is a reminder that Spider-Man never used to be this big.  I mean, sure I knew who he was because I'm a big nerd, and he was certainly there in the background of popular culture in movies or US tv shows or whatever when kids would be wearing Spidey pajamas or reading a Spidey comic, but that was a constant reminder that he was never going to be Superman big, or Batman big no matter how many crappy but eventful cartoons or crappy and slow live-action tv shows and tv movies got churned out - in fact, these were more sort of barometers of his level.  Spidey was never destined to be a big thing in popular culture because Superman was a simple and iconic concept, the very definition of a superhero, while Spidey was... well, he had the primary-coloured costume and the colourful villains, but Spidey was kind of complex, especially compared to DC heroes.  Spidey's whole origin is basically an explanation of how he isn't a selfless person by inclination, and had to be taught social responsibility, and when he discarded that lesson he paid for it dreadfully and would be driven by guilt for the rest of his days - by contrast, Superman's origin is that he just does the right thing.
But then the Raimi movies happened, and DC fumbled the ball with Superman and Batman for a few years and now Spidey is so huge he is probably what most kids think of when they think of superheroes as a concept, and just to really rub it in how DC fumbled the ball, Into The Spider-Verse even takes those many years Spidey was just so much pop-cultural landfill and makes them a part of the mythos.  Where Batman had to wait six decades to get to a point where the character could sustain multiple reinventions within the same generation and the Nolan Bat-movies could coexist alongside the Brave and the Bold cartoon show comfortably, Spidey did it in half that time, and without the head start of a big pop-cultural splash in decades past that both Batman and Superman enjoyed.
Spidey is a meta-franchise, and that is what Into the Spider-Verse is about: "I'm Spider-Man, and I'm not the only one." "Anyone can wear the mask." and so on, and so on...  I'm sure purists will point out the flaw in this take is that Peter Parker's moral complexity is what makes Spider-Man a compelling character, though this would miss that the point isn't that Parker is a replaceable element in the Spider-Man franchise but that social responsibility is not a lesson only Peter Parker can learn.  Miles Morales' mother is a nurse, his father is a police officer - this is a character that doesn't need to learn the same lesson Peter Parker did (although after a fashion, he does), and instead he simply needs to find the direction to implement the lessons he's already learning from his family.
Anyway, I liked this.  It was very entertaining.
NANCY DREW AND THE HIDDEN STAIRCASE is not much of a Nancy Drew movie, the lead character not having anything to do with Nancy Drew, but I do like the lead character of the movie all the same as she's got sass, so I'm not sure what my point is.  Maybe something to do with reinventions like what Spider-Verse does?  Mmmm, I am certainly enough of a hipster wanker to try that one, but Nancy Drew has never done particularly well in her periodic reinventions for a variety of reasons, and this one seems to be an inversion of the fish-out-of-water comedy movie starring Emma Roberts from the early 2000s in which Nancy Drew was a teen sleuth in a perpetually 1950s setting who suddenly found herself in the big modern city and yeah if you didn't see it you missed absolutely nothing of note, as quite why a character who was invented in the 1930s would live in a town that looks like the 1950s is never explained, nor does it even have any bearing on the character or her interactions with a modern American city.  The Hidden Staircase inverts this premise, however, having Nancy be a big city teen sleuth who comes to a small town, and it also has little bearing on the way she interacts with her new environment.  There's this bizarre bit where Nancy says "maybe I'll do some Instagram and talk about boys" and then she laughs because it's a psych-out about what a clumsy reinvention/update would do and yet she does these exact things in the course of the movie anyway - there's a 17 minute sequence right at the start about cyber-bullying that has zero bearing on the rest of the movie, and then she meets a boy.
Nancy Drew reinvented in the novels as she went along - and I don't just mean the constant rewrites of earlier novels to remove outdated (racist) content or risque (bondage) scenes, I mean she's been in publication for 80 years, the books just kept catching up with the periods in which new writers were dropping them, so updating or reinventing the character doesn't require anything drastic, it just needs the usual tweaks for adaptation, and anything beyond that just seems desperate or wrong-headed - like the tv pilot where Nancy was a middle-aged Muslim homocide detective in New York City and you're just like "whoa who asked for this?"  (SPOILER literally nobody asked for this, the pilot has never seen the light of day and even the actor who played Nancy has expressed relief that it never went to series)
Anyway, I am grumping on this an awful lot when it isn't really that bad, just lacking in a solid central theme to tie all the disparate stuff together into a coherent whole, as it's just a jumble of cliches shot and performed capably but unexceptionally, as one might expect of a children's television movie, I guess, but I can't help but think if someone came along with a clear idea of what made Nancy Drew appeal to audiences and then transferred that to the screen, it would probably be good.  And yes, I realise I am describing Veronica Mars there.
THE KID WHO WOULD BE KING is also a movie about reinventions and cheese and crackers there is a lot of it going about it's almost like there is not a lot of demand for original things these days.  That's maybe unfair, as Joe Cornish's kiddie adventure romp about the reborn King Arthur does try and do things differently here and there, but there is a really confusing through line about the role of women in the Christianity-appropriated post-pagan mythology of Britain that I'm not sure what to make of.  A common trope I noticed in superhero comics when I started going up my own arse a bit was male characters taking on the role of their absent fathers while never acknowledging strength or resolve as being things that they learned from their mothers, almost as if women could not be acknowledged within male power fantasies as a source of strength or wisdom, only compassion or love, and I think The Kid Who Would Be King falls into this trap, too.  Like I say - right up my own arse.
I liked it and it was entertaining, if slightly overlong.

Sunday 14 April 2019

Do I look worried? I'm wearing ladies' make-up right now.

"I know, I'll retreat into the past in order to escape this hell future we have made!" says me, and no, I don't mean I've snapped and sought to build a time machine, I mean I decided to watch older films and tv shows for a bit so that I might avoid the constant harping on about division that seems to occupy every tv show now in what I am slowly coming around to thinking is a paradigm shift in our culture that is likely coming two decades too late.  Sorry, next generation - maybe you'll like being born with asthma and paying through the nose for dirty water, I dunno.
So into the past I go with The Intruder, a William Shatner joint where he plays a hate preacher spreading racial tension under the pretense of being on the side of local working class townsfolk.

You know, sometimes I wish history had given us some warning how the future would turn out.  Just any kind of heads up about what to be wary of.
Anyway, this is an actual sequence from the film:
(William Shatner as Adam Carver addresses a town rally)
"And you know what they're saying that means?  They're saying... that you all don't give a darn whether the whites mix with the blacks because you didn't fight against it.  Well I say, how can somebody fight what he doesn't see?  They kept the facts away from you - they cheated and deceived every one of you!  They filled your heads with filthy lies and kept you in the dark so that when you finally do wake up..?
"Why, we're sorry - but it's just too late!"
Now... I'm associated with the Patrick Henry Society, which is an organisation dedicated to giving the people the truth.  What I'm gonna tell you... is gonna make your blood boil.  Because I'm gonna show you that the way this country is gonna go depends entirely and wholly and completely on you!
Now you all know that there was peace and quiet in the South... before the NAACP started stirring up trouble.  But what you don't know is that his so-called advancement of coloured people is now and has always been a communist front headed by a Jew who hates America and doesn't make any bones about it, either.   Well the commies didn't waste a second - they knew only too well, friends, that the quickest way to cripple a country is to mongrolise it, so they poured all the millions of dollars the jews could get for them into this one thing: desegregation!
They went to the Judge Silver - who is a jew and is known to have leftist leanings --
(man in crowd)  Who says so?
THE RECORD SAYS SO.  Look it up - Abraham Silver for one thing belongs to the Quill And Pen Society which receives its funds indirectly  from Moscow!"

So yeah, this whole "retreating into the past" thing is not going well so far for your old pal Brigonos.
I'll explain the Seven Degrees Of Kevin Bacon that got me to this film: I was doing one of my periodical dips into The Twilight Zone and the short but prolific life of writer Charles Beaumont popped up and I came by mention of the films made from his screenplays or novels and once I clocked the name "William Shatner" in the credits for this, that was pretty much 90 minutes of my future accounted for.  I suppose it's fascinating to see how little populist rabble rousing has changed in the 60 years since Beaumont's story was published, Carver's speech being a hodge-podge of rhetoric ranging from white supremacism to liberal conspiracy theories about interference from Russia in Brexit.  I normally scorn Horseshoe Theory as lazy thinking, but how such familiar talking points slip so comfortably into the trappings of wildly different political agendas is just so maddening when you know full well that 60 years after Charles Beaumont sniffed this stuff out as bullshit it's still being peddled uncritically by all sorts of actors.  I suppose now I have to read the novel.

Friday 5 April 2019

The speed of technological advancement isn't nearly as important as short term quarterly gains

Quite why I still watch the centrist and often overtly racist trash show Madam Secretary is beyond me.  Best described as The West Wing For People Who Hit The Wine 90 Minutes Ago, Madame Secretary follows the ex-head of the CIA as she fulfills her new role as Secretary Of State, and most stories revolve around the problems caused by her simply being too good a person for her role despite the fact she used to run the CIA and Jeez, I don't know what to tell you if you think running the CIA is a morally neutral occupation.  Along the way, she creates fictional solutions to real world problems and at some point Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright show up as themselves to talk about the importance of representing the entirety of the American political spectrum and this is a thing that really happened in the show it's actually quite amazing.
The Enemy Within is also trash, but it is a handsome production with a handsome cast often terribly under-served by the material they have to work with - Morris Chestnut played the smug private coroner (sure, why not?) at the heart of Rosewood, aka Capitalist Quincy, and he's a charismatic guy, he can absolutely pull off better material than this.  Ditto Jennifer Carpenter, aka Dexter's sister, but also a pretty good co-lead in the Limitless tv spin-off.  TEW is rote stuff that some salaried scriptwriters clearly knocked out in their sleep, but it fulfills the role of animated wallpaper most capably for those of us watching at work.
I also watched Rise: Blood Hunter, which is a movie about vampires starring Lucy Liu and Michael Chiklis.  That's it, that's the entirety of my review - whatever conclusions you have drawn from my description, trust me: you're right.