Saturday, October 11, 2014

Thomas Friedman is an idiot

I normally pay very little attention to Thomas Friedman, mainly because he so rarely takes a break from openly pining for Chinese-style autocracy to say anything even remotely useful.  Now Friedman is trying to compare ISIL to the Joker from The Dark Knight.  I should probably ignore this drivel too, but I just can't stand seeing someone use such a great movie to make such a shitty analogy.

If you insist on comparing ISIL to a Batman villain, then they are clearly Bane, not the Joker.  ISIL doesn't "just want to watch the world burn", they want to run it; they want to be the ones who get to decide which cities are spared and which cities are burned to the ground.  ISIL doesn't see itself as an agent of chaos, it sees itself as a check against the decadence of the West, much as The League of Shadows sees itself as a check against the decadence of Gotham.

( And of course, Friedman being Friedman, his ultimate diagnosis is that Iraq and Syria just weren't enough like China to keep ISIL from spreading.  Sigh. )

By the way, if anyone is like the Joker here, it's Obama.  The Joker wanted to upset the order of things; he wanted to turn the heroes of Gotham City into villains by repeatedly forcing them into making impossible decisions.  Obama seems pretty intent on upsetting the order of things too.  ( Hey, remember his promise to fundamentally transform the country? How did that work out for everyone? )  The Joker detests what he calls planners and schemers.  Obama doesn't seem to much care for people who have plans either; he told us about eleventy billion times that if we liked our plans we could keep our plans, but of course that was always a pernicious lie.  Speaking of lies, the Joker tells so many conflicting stories about himself in The Dark Knight that you can't tell if there is any truth at all there buried under all the fabrications; he might as well have been Obama's ghostwriter.  And how can anyone watch that scene where the Joker sets a great big pile of money on fire just to piss people off without thinking of Obama?

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Tweets of the Week (9/28/14 - 10/4/14)

The Obama Protocol

One of the few things I can actually remember from President Obama's inaugural address was his trollish promise to "restore science to its rightful place."  The nerve of that guy.  When has Obama ever not put politics ahead of science?

Obama used his deliberate misunderstanding of the term "greatest geopolitical foe" as an excuse to have a hissy fit in his foreign policy debate with Romney, and now he spends much of his time trying tell us that "climate change" is the greatest threat of the century.  Give me a break.

When Bush was president, Obama tried to make political hay out of panic over the bird flu; and in 2010 he scrapped the very same quarantine rules that he pressured Bush into adopting.  Funny how the science always seems to be settled in favor of whatever position is most politically expedient for Obama at any given time.

And now for the very first time we have a confirmed case of Ebola right here in the United States.  You'd think the first thing we would do is restrict all travel from the West African countries affected by the epidemic, but the White House has flatly dismissed the idea of any sort of travel ban.  Why?  It's not our fault that Ebola comes from predominantly black third-world hellholes, so can we please stop agonizing so much over whether a travel ban might be seen as racist somehow?

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Tweets of the Week (9/21/14 - 9/27/14)

The many faces of stately Wayne Manor

Despite hearing mixed things about Gotham, I decided to give the premiere episode a try.  It's a far cry from Chritopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy, which I consider to be the gold standard for all things Batman, but I do like seeing Donal Logue as Harvey Bullock enough to maybe stick it out a while longer.  One thing I noticed while watching the show was that the building used to portray Wayne Manor looked very familiar:


That building is the Webb Institute's Stevenson Taylor Hall, the same building that Joel Schumacher used for the exterior shots of Wayne Manor in both of his unspeakably awful Batman films.  Gotham is being filmed mainly in Manhattan, so reusing Stevenson Taylor Hall right there in Glen Cove probably made the most sense.

My favorite version of Wayne Manor is the one that appears in Batman Begins; Christopher Nolan used Mentmore Towers for both the interior and exterior shots:


Oddly enough, the design of Mentmore Towers is based very closely on the design of Wollaton Hall, which was used to portray the completely rebuilt Wayne Manor in The Dark Knight Rises:


( I'm not sure whether or not any interior shots were taken from Wollaton Hall; at least one scene was filmed in the entrance hall of Osterley Park. )

Tim Burton used Knebworth House for the exterior shots in Batman.  As much as I liked the movie, Knebworth House has to be my absolute least favorite out of all the different versions of Wayne Manor:


Tim Burton wisely used Hatfield House for all the interior shots in the first Batman film; I believe Hatfield House was also used in Batman Returns, though for some reason Burton decided to use a custom-built scale model for all the exterior shots in that film instead of using a real house.

The first time I ever saw Wayne Manor was the one shown in the campy Batman television series starring Adam West.  It has no fancy name, but you can call it 380 San Rafael Avenue:


That house is in Pasadena, California.  Sets were used for all the interior shots on the show, so I have no idea what the inside of that place really looks like, but I bet it's fantastic.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Tweets of the Week (9/14/14 - 9/20/14)

My take on the Marvel Cinematic Universe (so far)

Marvel Studios has done a pretty fantastic job of putting together a film franchise that they call the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  When I first heard about The Avengers, I wasn't very excited about it, mainly because I never read any of the Avengers comics in the first place; also, I assumed it would just turn out to be a jumbled Schumacheresque mess of a movie that did none of the characters any justice anyway.  Boy, was I wrong.

Thankfully, Joss Whedon turned out to be the one who directed The Avengers, and it ended up being one of the best superhero movies ever made.  Even people who don't normally enjoy superhero movies will find lots of things to love about this movie.  ( By the way, if you're boycotting everything Joss Whedon does because he said something stupid on Twitter, please do yourself a favor and get over it.  Dollhouse is probably the only thing I've ever seen him inject politics into, and even that was still watchable. )

You can still enjoy The Avengers for what it is without necessarily seeing all of the other films in Phase One of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but you will probably enjoy it much more if you at least watch Iron Man and Thor first--both are solid films with terrific casts that have directors who actually give a shit about what they're doing.  I can't think of anyone better to play Tony Stark than Robert Downey Jr., and I've seen Jon Favreau direct good movies before, so I wasn't really surprised by how much I enjoyed Iron Man.  What did surprise me was how much I ended up liking Thor;  Kenneth Branagh did a superb job of blending what is basically a fish-out-of-water romantic comedy with just the right amount of sci-fi-ish Shakespearean tragedy.  ( Some have tried to accuse Branagh of political correctness for casting Idris Elba as Heimdall, but Elba somehow fits in the role so perfectly that it actually makes it hard for me to imagine anyone else as Heimdall. All of the casting was spot-on, really, even the small parts. Tom Hiddleston was especially great as Loki, which is probably why they decided to bring him back again later as a villain in The Avengers. )

The Incredible Hulk is definitely one of the films you can do without.  I'll go even further and say that you should actively avoid it, even if you're a completist.  As I mentioned before in another post, Louis Leterrier made such a mess of this movie that it makes Ang Lee's deeply flawed Hulk seem like a cinematic masterpiece by comparison.  I still don't understand why they made this awful remake instead of just making a better sequel to Ang Lee's movie that ties things into The Avengers.  And Edward Norton just ends up being replaced by Mark Ruffalo for The Avengers anyway, which only makes the whole exercise seem that much more pointless.

Iron Man 2 isn't really necessary in order to understand The Avengers, but it's still worth seeing if you enjoyed the first Iron Man movie.  A lot of what worked in the first film is still there in the second, but it still felt to me like something was missing.  ( Jeff Bridges, maybe? I dunno. )  Mickey Rourke seemed either miscast or misused, and I got tired of seeing his weird face and stupid hair after a while.  My favorite part of the movie was watching Sam Rockwell chew the scenery as a minor villain who doesn't know that he's a minor villain, but your miles may vary.  Oh, we also get treated to a preview of Scarlett Johansson in her Avengers catsuit, so there's that.

Captain America: The First Avenger was a decent movie, but most of it was pretty forgettable.  I have nothing against Captain America, but I liked him as a character much better in The Avengers than I did in his own origin movie.  Well, there was one scene at the end of Captain America: The First Avenger that I really liked, but that scene was only added to give Samuel L. Jackson a place to make a cameo appearance.  If the best part of your movie is just a setup for another movie, you've done something very wrong.  Too many characters felt like throwaways.  Even the villain didn't feel like a fully formed character to me.  How can you not make the Red Skull, a super-evil Nazi with a giant red skull for a face, more interesting than this?  ( And why did he have to spend so much time looking like Hugo Weaving? I like Hugo Weaving, but come on. We already knew from the ads what he was going to look like, so why hide it? )

Just as Phase One ended with The Avengers, Phase Two will end with Avengers: Age of Ultron, also directed by Joss Whedon.  ( I assume that Phase Three will lead up to a third Avengers movie, hopefully also directed by Whedon, but I can't say for sure just yet. )  The only Phase Two movies that I have seen so far are Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World, both of which are worth seeing, but without knowing more about the second Avengers movie, I can't really say whether they are necessary or not.  If I had to rank the Iron Man movies, I would place the third somewhere above the second but still below the first.  I'm convinced that The Dark World would have been a much better and much more coherent movie if only Kenneth Branagh had been kept on to direct, but if you enjoyed the first Thor movie you can still enjoy the second for what it is.  ( I haven't seen Guardians of the Galaxy or Captain America: The Winter Soldier yet. I've heard nothing but good things about them, so I'll be sure to catch them both on DVD when I get a chance. )

Amazingly, Clark Gregg has appeared as Agent Coulson in Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Thor, and The Avengers, and now he even has his own show based around the character despite Joss Whedon's attempt to kill him off.  Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was pretty uneven for most of its first season, but it had a surprisingly strong finish thanks in part to a terrific guest appearance by Samuel L. Jackson.  I look forward to seeing what they can do with season two.  One thing I really like about Clark Gregg is that he seems just as comfortable with drama as he does with comedy; one minute he's in a David Mamet film, the next he's on a goofy sitcom, and then he's playing Leonato in Joss Whedon's version of Much Ado About Nothing.