Friday, May 02, 2008

I am (a guy who saw) IRON MAN

I caught Iron Man today, and I have to give it the League of Melbotis rating of: 4.5 thumbs.

My expectations for the movie were somewhat tempered by a review or two from sources such as Variety and, so I wasn't too surprised by the fact that I enjoyed the movie a great deal. That's sort of been the consensus.

Iron Man is a movie with one foot in fantasy, from the science-fiction of the armor and Tony Stark's household futuristic technology to the idealistic method in which Stark is able to redress his moral failings. The other (much smaller) foot is placed in the reality of the sort of combat our soldiers are facing overseas, and the responsibilities of folks buying yachts off the proceeds from the sale of scud missles.

The effects in Iron Man benefit from the fact that the armor is non-organic and there's no fear of the Uncanny Valley. Seeing the trailer for The Incredible Hulk, just minutes before Iron Man rolled, reminded me that despite the fact that I have no idea what an 8-foot green giant looks like, I can still look at CG-Ferrigno and know that I'm watching a nicely animated cartoon. Not so much here.

There's a lot of good stuff in Iron Man, and more than being a movie about two mad scientists duking it out, or a mad scientist and Afghani boogey-men, its much more about discovery of self and super-science development. And, kids, those scenes are a lot of fun to watch.

The talent in Iron Man is actually very impressive. Paltrow's Pepper Potts refuses to be another Mary Jane in distress. Jeff Bridges is more than a cackling villain, though the script does point him in some mad-sciencey, hand-wringing directions. Terrence Howard is a good James Rhodes, but you sort of hope he gets to suit up in Iron Man II.

And Robert Downey Jr.? For all the cliches of the movie, Downey makes you forget you've seen this movie before in bits and pieces. His Stark is not the boring guy with the mustache who kept me from reading Iron Man in middle school (alcohol problems or no). He's a guy who has already found his place in the world, he's succeeded in the ways of the American Dream, through hard work and brilliance, and he's enjoying the hell out of it. Unlike movies like Spider-Man, which show us a character in the transition of youth, we get a fully formed character with whom we get to see the exact why's and how's of their change of heart. And, maybe, being a few years out of high school, I'm relating a bit better to Tony Stark these days than Spidey. Although, you know, without the billions and genius.

Many will find Stark's moral awakening to be a contrivance, and somewhat childish. After all, blowing people up should be considered patriotic. But I found the reasons for the awakening to be plausible beyond just the confines of the story, and possibly asking some questions that Americans assume are usually taken care of, but... you know...

Anyhow, this is seriously one of the most fun superhero movies Marvel has managed to put out in a long time. Where Spidey 3 disappointed last summer, Ghost Rider utterly failed, and Fantastic Four went to the negative zone, Iron Man was a great ride.

I'm finding I'm enjoying superhero movies MORE when I don't know too much about the characters (or, like Superman Returns, its such a departure, I have nothing to compare it to). So I get the cool superhero action (and the action in this movie is pretty good), but I also don't spend the movie figuring out how this is different from the comic.

I'm looking forward to any potential sequels. And I may give this one another round before it leaves the theaters. Kids will want their Iron Man suit this Halloween. Adults will wish they could find a way to test drive the suit and have Stark's home management system.

Oh, and nerds will want to wait through the credits for the final scene of the movie. Oh, yes. You will want to stay.

Everyone in their right place

Yesterday, Jamie and I went to see the new Tina Fey/ Amy Poehler movie: Baby Mama

I'm a fan of 30 Rock, and I've liked Poehler on SNL. Plus it was better than cleaning my office, which is what I was doing.

When your criteria for seeing a movie includes: zombies, robots, gorillas, superheroes, spaceships or no small amount of kung-foolery, you don't always get a peek at what else is out there. And as the trailer for "The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants 2" rolled up onto the screen, I came to the conclusion that "Baby Mama" was not aimed at the sci-fi/ kung-fu audience, and I might have a very long two hours ahead of me.

The good I can report: Baby Mama was, at least, a bit funny. It's a renter, or maybe something to watch on cable. Maybe a matinee, if you're really dead-set against Iron Man.

But one of the trailers they showed was the trailer for American Teen.

This documentary is about four white, suburban kids in middle-America who are in high school. So I'm trying to figure out what the movie is actually about.

The trailer uses the Breakfast Club stereotypes for each of the subjects, and, I would assume, is going to break down those stereotypes over the course of a year/ two hours as we learn about what makes these kids tic.

Perhaps fifteen year ago, this might have been a bit novel. The trailer suggests its about the heartache and romance of being young and just beginning your life, but after TV expanded to 200 channels of reality-based programming and the WB's five nights a week of teen-angst soap operas, and MTV went all-high-schooler inc ontent as well as audience... Add in teh fact that every single person over the age of 18 went through high school, so been there, done that... I'm trying to figure out what's there to draw me in.

Two things I find peculiar:

1) The trailer's insistence on framing this in a "Breakfast Club" sort of manner. Really, the only time "Breakfast Club" seemed like an accurate depiction of high school was when I saw it in middle school and had not yet been to high school (but was trying to figure out what it was going to be like). Somehow, we didn't all wind up in Saturday suspension, all surprising ourselves by learning a little more about ourselves and a lot about each other.

I don't recall people in high school actually believing in much in the way of the classic high school breakdowns of nerds, jocks, what-have-you. And its not just because I was completely unobservant.

2) Why do these kids in the trailer speak in seemingly scripted language? Has 10 years of reality TV really blurred the line so much that kids know how to alter their language into concise statements to accurately describe their yearnings and inner monologue? I have a lot of hours of of footage of high school on VHS. It's mostly people smiling politely and asking me to turn off the camera.

At best, I'd watch this movie if it showed up on cable pretty late and nothing else was on. Having already done high school, I'm not in a rush to relive the experience. It wasn't that great when I was there the first time around. And I assume that's the point.

We've all been to high school. We all experienced the awkwardness, the unrequited crush, had hopes and dreams and no idea what it means to show up in the same cube every day with a soul-crushing mortgage hanging over your head. Its the last time in your life when the whole world is before you as a blank slate. But its also the time when you're too dumb to appreciate where you're at in life. Youth is wasted on the young.

The interstitial text in the trailer makes it pretty clear that they're counting on the nostalgia of the viewer to get them in the theater. And I assume the marketing is inline with the intention of the movie, so... I guess they're counting on the audience really missing those halcyon days.

Do the kids see themselves as the jock? The rebel? Aren't those tags a little embarrassing, even as a starting point? Or have decades of teen movies, TV shows and whatnot just placed an artificial expectation and self-fulfilling prophecy for kids before they ever hit the high school. Moreover, what are we really getting when we're getting the kids who volunteered to have a camera follow them around for a year. I know I'd have been mortified. I assume most of the kids I knew wouldn't have leaped at a chance to have a camera there at prom, running around town, etc...

Moreover, how well do these roles translate to non-whitebread students in areas and schools that aren't just a bunch of middle-class kids filling their seemingly pre-destined roles? I have no idea. But that's a movie I might find a bit more interesting.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Voting in Austin

I'm getting geared up to vote for 3 city council seats here in Austin. As skeptical as I might feel about my ability to influence the November elections for President (the Republicans could put up a pelican for Prez, and Texas would still vote GOP), I DO think my vote counts when it comes to local politics.

But local politics are just as complicated as national, in some ways. I have some things I firmly believe will and will not work for Austin today and looking 10, 20, 30, 100 years in the future. So I'm looking for candidates who share my ideals.

And given the nature of the issues, there's a lot of splitting hairs. We all agree that Austin's traffic is a mess, but how do you solve that? We all know Austin will continue to grow, so how do you manage that? We need to protect the environment in Austin, but how do you enforce that or get industry and individuals to play along because they feel its the right thing to do?

Here's one of my challenges: Jennifer Kim made a pretty big PR flub trying to bypass airport security last year, flashing her City Council credentials, and I haven't always loved interviews I've seen on News 8. But I also think, from reading her site, that she's learned a lot. But I also think Randi Shade seems like a right-on kind of candidate. But I'm not sure, exactly how she'll vote, partly because her website seems a bit unclear other than "I think Austin should have a great future".

And then there's a third candidate for place 3, Ken Weiss. And, seriously, I have no idea what this fellow is up to.

For a bit of compare and contrast.

Jennifer Kim's informative, well-managed site. Here.

Randi Shade's well-designed, but somewhat ambiguous site. Here.

Ken Weiss's website based around begging for money. Here.

He sort of makes me wonder how far I could get raising money for a campaign I couldn't possibly win. What are the rules for how you spend that money once the campaign is over with? Can you keep it? Because if you get to keep it...

I'm just sayin'...

Anyhow, I'm not going to run for city council this year. Maybe one day. It seems better than working.

But, really, if any of them would agree to refuse to allow anymore damn skyscraper condos from going up, they'd get my vote. I don't really how crazy the rest of their policies are.

Now, off to read up on the candidates for the other two seats.

Oh, if you have a good reason why I should vote for Jennifer Kim or Randi Shade, let me know.

Saturday = Free Comic Book Day

Hey, Leaguers.

I don't think anyone has ever actually followed my suggestion to go to Free Comic Book Day, so I'm not going to dink around with trying to talk you into going and, you know, enjoying yourself at no cost, supporting the comic industry, learning more about the medium... blah, blah, blah.

But I thought I'd let you know it was occurring, anyway.

Not free, but costing you a low, low $0.50 will be DC Universe #0. From what I hear, its supposed to be pretty good. But, you know, I don't know. Because when I showed up at Ye Olde Comick Shoppe today, they hadn't received the weekly shipment. Which sort of freaked me out. And means I have to go back to the comic shop again this weekend.

Anyhow, DC Universe #0 is supposed to be a good starting point for anyone wanting to find out not just who Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman actually are as comic characters, but what sort of world they live in (bonus: that world contains AQUAMAN). And even if you don't know and don't care, its about the price of a pack fo gum, so you aren't going to lose much, and you'll get a bit more of a clue as to what the @#$% I'm talking about when I go on one of those rants.

Here's some information on FCBD.

Here are some comics who I think you might be interested in grabbing:

All-Star Superman #1
Tiny Titans #1
Project Superpowers
Graphic Classics - Special Edition
Disney's Gyro Gearloose
EC Comics Sampler
Marvel Adventures - Iron Man
The Moth - Greatest Hits
Kids Love Comics! Comic Book Diner

The Billy Letters

To try to explain this does it an injustice, but I know that you won't click over unless I give it a sentence or two.

Ap[parently this guy from Radar magazine has been sending letters to notorious criminals and political figures, posing as a 10 year old boy seeking advice.

Asde from Charles Manson, people seem mostly helpful.

To read the letters, go here.

Willie Nelson at 75

What can one write or say about Texas legend, Willie Nelson, that hasn't been written or said before? As much as folks down our way like to listen to Willie, it seems like the man graces the cover of Texas Monthly once every 18 months or so, with article attached.

On the radio this weekend, they were focusing on an all-day Willie retrospective. Tomorrow night, KGSR is dedicating the evening to a Willie celebration. And News 8 Austin is dedicating a good chunk of their day tomorrow to celebrating Willie.

Willie crosses all lines around here. Everyone from the hippies to the old, tarnished Texans loves the guy. Few self-respecting Texans do not know the words to, at least, "On the Road Again".

And if you don't own a copy of something along the lines of Willie Nelson: Super Hits, well, hang your head in shame, sir/ ma'am. But, mostly, pick it up and give it a listen.

I regret that I've never seen the man perform. Perhaps one day.

So, today and tomorrow I salute you, Willie. And I promise to listen to an album or two of your tomorrow in your honor.

Willie's very nice website.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Iron Man?

Anyone up for going to see Iron Man this weekend at the Alamo South? Maybe 2:45 on Saturday? Or maybe in the evening?

It'll be fun. Like seeing Steven in a jet-powered rocket suit.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Heppy Annuhversri to us

Hey. So, today was, apparently, our 8th wedding anniversary.

Congrats to us, I guess.

Our wedding day, 8 years ago, was a lovely spring day. We were married about five or six miles from where we live today (still safely south of the river, here in Austin), and we were surrounded by friends and family. It was quite a day.

A lot of what you hear about weddings is true: you're not going to remember much, despite all the planning, so hope you have a good photographer. In fact, have a great photographer who will make it looks even better than it probably really was. You're going to supposedly meet some people, but you will not remember meeting them.

Anyhow, the wedding and the whole weekend were really pretty amazing. Honestly, I have no recollection of what we did the day or two after the wedding. I do remember that the In-Laws snuck into our apartment and cleaned it before we got home the day after the wedding (we'd stayed the night at the famed Driskill Hotel). I walked in and immediately believed we'd been robbed. Also, we'd had a driver to the hotel, and so woke up, with no money on us, trying to figure out how to get home. We had to wake Doug and have him come downtown to fetch us. God bless 'im.

There was also a dinner at the OG. Which must have been Saturday night (we ended up getting married on a Friday). I recall it was some of the only time I had to talk to my uncle and aunt all weekend.

Anyhow, 8 years is a lot of time and a lot of water under the bridge. Were we to get married today, why think of the Leaguers who would be asked to show. And I would make JimD do a lyrical dance with a long piece of pink ribbon.

The wedding anniversary is, indeed, very special to Jamie and myself. We'd been dating for a while before we got married, and co-habitated for a while before getting married. So while our wedding wasn't a shock to anyone, including us, it was significant to stand up there before God, the peacocks and a whole bunch of people who'd bought us ring-dings and whatnot off our Dillard's registry and say "Yup, only way out of this deal is feet first and in a bag."

I don't think it's a big secret how I feel about Jamie. But today, that's going to be between me and she.

So, Happy Anniversary to us.

I know who I'm voting for...

The League announces which candidate we're supporting.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

What's Up

Hey all.

Friday Jamie went to a fashion show of some sort at UT. Jason and I went and grabbed dinner, and then saw "The Forbidden Kingdom", the Jet Li/ Jackie Chan team-up. It's basically a kids' movie, and as such, it doesn't do much to bring anything new to the "quest" movie (which in this case, the quest is to bring a magical staff to the Monkey King). There's hints of "NeverEnding Story" to the thing, but its not necessarily for very small kids. But if I had a 9 year-old at my disposal, this would be a good entry-point for Kung-Fu movies.

Saturday I hit the Barton Springs spill-over with Lucy, Cassidy and Jason. It was a great Austin springtime sort of Saturday, and I got a little sun. Last night we went to dinner with Matt and Nicole at Hyde Park.

This morning and Friday night, typically horrendous spring weather blew through. This morning, in particular, looked pretty nasty out the window when all three pets came to the bedroom around 6:50 looking for moral support. So we finally got some rain. And, these fronts tend to leave the sky clear and blue, with the the swimming holes pretty well filled. So... maybe another day of unemployment tomorrow would be welcome... Many a day I've stepped outside for lunch into beautiful weather and bemoaned the fact I was working on such a day. Hopefully I can make something of the lovely weather.

Today we headed to the far north of Austin to see a screening of Superman: The Movie at the Lake Creek Alamo Drafthouse. Jason came along, and we met up with Tania and JAL. Before the screening, they had a trivia contest, and the League is embarrassed to report that he was asked to refrain from answering questions when, after two questions, it became clear I was ready to sweep (I had correctly identified Clark Kent's middle name as "Joseph" when the hammer came down, and the guy who played Darth Vader as Reeve's trainer during filming of Superman).

Look, I have one skill. I should be able to flex it occasionally.

I did win passes.

They also had a costume contest, and there were several elementary-aged Supermans, Batmans and some guy (not a kid) in a phenomenal Spider-Man costume (and he looked pretty buff under the suit, too). The kids were darn excited about Spidey, as were we.

It was actually really cool to see so many kids come out for the movie with their parents, and not to a cartoon full of fart jokes, which is where I usually see the wee ones. The Admiral and KareBear used to take us to adventure movies all the time when Jason and I were kids. The Admiral was always much more into the movies than KareBear (as evidenced by KareBear's tendency to fall asleep), but we all dug a good family adventure movie back in the day. I am aware that I'm not going to the movies targeted at that demographic (the Spiderwick Chronicles, etc...), so I don't know what parents take their kids to see these days, but its a thrill to see Superman still drawing folks in 30 years on.

Good-bye to Headline News

Has anyone been watching Headline News lately? They seem to have handed the keys over to talking head Mike Galanos, who has decided that every minute of the Headline News broadcast day would be better served if he behaved like an abrasive ass.

Let me back up a moment. What they appear to be doing is suggesting that every story has at least two sides (correct) with the following formula:
1) Report very briefly on the story, fitting "who, what, where, when, why" into about, literally, twenty seconds.
2) Have anchor Galanos ask some loaded question about the story
3) Have one or two "experts" discuss the topic while Galanos tells them why they are wrong, usually because he's scripted out the knee jerk reaction one would have using emotional arguments and a complete lack of knowledge about the subtleties and nuances of the topic.

What the @$%#?

I am aware that when Turner sold CNN to Time-Warner, Time-Warner began to muck with the formula, leading to shows like "Nancy Grace" and "Glenn Beck", both of whom seem to be making money by acting like braying donkeys. Apparently a lot of people are watching this stuff, so a lot of people find this form of news a lot more palatable. I find it grating and unwatchable. And apparently, if what I just watched for the last thirty minutes is any indication, the other Headline News reporters are finding the new format a little hard to work in. They all sort of look like they just want their segments over with.

A lot of hay is made over how many ways there are now to get your news, but I guess this is the downside. In competing for marketshare, the people who seem to be winning are (as is so often in life) the one willing to make the most noise.

I've mostly already given up on Headline News, but this is the last nail in the coffin. For the last several years I've screened various news sources to look at the news, and I find it sort of amazing that I'm moving further and further away from TV news and back to print (if that's what you want to call the internet). As per the web: Unfortunately, the CNN internet brand hasn't really been an option for a while thanks to their insistence on "video" for every story (I can read fine, thanks). And then forcing me to watch some 30 second ad, a house ad, and throw in a good twenty seconds for buffering before seeing the actual story. Thanks, CNN, but I was good with the text story.

This is the fate of the news, I suppose. The day of journalistic objectivity will be talked about in classrooms as a quaint and provincial notion that missed the bigger picture of using the news as a sounding board for hacks and carnival barkers to get airtime. All of this, of course, to drive up ad revenue. Mentions of objectivity will be met with the kind of derision one saves for the over-idealistic, when the smart and cynical know how to make a buck.

I'm mostly disappointed that Headline News' insistence on the format change means it must be working. What can it mean but that people want to digest their news in an all-debate, all-jack-ass formula? Is this the spirit of true discourse? One step ahead of a Geraldo Rivera chair toss? Somehow, people MUST feel like Glenn Beck has something to offer. But what I find really creepy is when I hear "Oh, well, he's funny".

The news isn't really supposed to be funny, per se. Debate and discussion over the fate of the Middle East shouldn't really be there to amuse the viewer because Glenn beck just called someone a pink-o as part of his argument. This line of thinking and wanting your news pre-processed to match your pre-defined political/ emotional spectrum is the narrow-casting of the world. Join the Glenn Beck/ Mike Galanos team and feel superior to those the news is actually happening to.

Now, that's not to say that there's not room for comedians. But the comedians are not journalists. The role of the comedian has often been to point out the absurdity of any situation. But that doesn't mean that the comedian has the same place in the media matrix as the politician, the journalist of the partisan hack with airtime.

As mentioned by Jon Stewart: