Saturday, August 21, 2004 The League Witnesses (and comments upon) Aliens vs Predator
Do you know when the last time was you checked your watch during a movie? I do.
It was about forty-five minutes ago when I was wondering how much more of Aliens vs. Predator I was going to have to sit through.
That was a seriously dumb movie.
Of course, I KNEW AvP was going to be dumb, which is why I waited until Jamie was safely out of the state before I went to go see it.
I've seen some seriously stupid movies in the theater. Here is a short list.
American Cyborg: Steel Warrior Man's Best Friend Street Fighter (not the Jackie Chan version, the Raul Julia version) Out for Justice The Relic Event Horizon Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers: The Movie Deep Blue Sea Halloween 6 Batman and Robin Dracula 2000 Godzilla (TWICE!!!)
But even in these movies I never spent the duration of the movie saying to myself, "You know what would have created a more palpable sense of tension..? If X, Y and Z had happened."
I am not that smart. I shouldn't be able to out-screen-write the screenwriters while the film is going on.
Nor should I be able to say, "I'm no archaeologist, but their MO for exploring this site seems a little unorthodox. If even one of these clowns is a scientist, they would have put the kaibosh on this whole operation," or "Why are J, K and L even happening? That directly contradicts what we learned in the first six movies tied to these characters..."
Hey AvP screenwriters: Want to know a good way to build tension in a movie? I'll give you this tip for free... Don't use a huge, glowing, neon arrow to point to your "Ripley" at the beginning of the movie. Don't do it. The magic of movies where people get picked off one by one until only one remains is that you're not supposed to know who's gonna make it... Not so in Aliens vs Predator.
This was one lazy, sloppy movie. It was the kind of movie where you never actually catch anybody's real name, because it doesn't f**kin' matter. And stuff happens not because it's interesting or good, but because the movie has a sort of clumsy, tumbling momentum going, and if they look to the sides or back, the whole thing will just burn up the gears.
AvP was the kind of movie where rich-eccentric scientists bribe struggling scientists to join them, and then make silly, dramatic entrances. It's the sort of flick in which actors translate a roomful of runes in almost pitch black in about 5 minutes (no, seriously... 5 minutes). And actors are forced to spout well-worn cliches like "The enemy of my enemy... Is my friend!", only because the screenwriter and director can't trust their own audience enough to actually do some simple math.
I will say this: The Aliens effects looked okay, and the Predator guys looked pretty neat and had cool toys.
I will also say there's a shot at the end of the flick of some of the Predators in which the movie would have benefited from showing less of the Predators. Sadly, the shot makes it pretty clearly the "Predators" are just some dudes in (enormous) rubber masks.
If the rumor that this version I endured was a studio cut is true, and that the director really had some other footage up his sleeve is also true, I would be game to see the movie again to see the new footage. The League just has a hard time believing AvP was intentional.
It did occur to me we're sort of in the same boat folks were in back in the 1950's. Back then, the Universal monsters were tussling with each other regularly as the new creations filling the screen became progressively... sillier. There hadn't been any good horror franchises to come out in twenty years, so the money guys were green lighting Frankenstein meets Dracula , etc... Actually, I guess they literally did FvD with Van Helsing this year, but you get the idea.
I think we're going through that all over again. Which is good news, because it might mean some new, better movies will be coming along.
Anyway, that was $8.00 and 90 minutes of my life I'll never get back.
What makes him a superhero: Alan Scott wears a magical green ring he forged from part of a green, mystical meteor. The rest of the meteor he forged into a lantern. The ring is powered by the lantern every 24 hours.
The ring is able to create tangible, 3-dimensional objects from a mystical green flame. These objects can be used as tools, weapons or defenses. The ring also allows Alan to fly, and has kept him in his physical prime since the 1930’s.
The weakness? For some bizarre-o reason, the ring doesn’t work on wood. So if you want to kill him, hit him with a baseball bat.
What he's about: These days, Alan is a sort of father figure to the other Green lanterns running around Sector 2814. While Alan is not officially part of the Green Lantern Corps, he does okay.
He’s also one of the founding members of the JSA, and is a key-player and heavy-hitter for America’s most publicly adored team.
These days, Alan is all about legacy, and serves the purpose of tying Golden Age comics to the current age of comics.
Why The League digs him:
I think he looks like my old pal, Trevor Dutton.
The League digs the crazy costume design and wild ideas which originally spawned the Green Lantern. His vulnerability to wood is a suspect plot point at best, but is still a nice tie to the past.
Alongside Jay Garrick and Carter Hall, I love the fact that these B-list characters are still kicking around the comics world, and have been since 1940.
So, the League and I had our second 'Fit Test' at our rediculously large gym last night. This was to see how far we had come in training since joining Fort Fitness back in May.
How far indeed.
This test seemed to indicate that I had less flexibility, was worse on cardio, and had improved only an eensy bit in strength. They do this strange analysis where the computer determines 'how old' your body actually is. I believe this calculation to be a load of shit. Back in May, after 11 years of poor health and virtually no exercise, I was told my body was '29' (which is my actual age). Rediculous, mainly because the only factor contributing to this young age seemed to be the fact that I was a reasonable weight. That's it. My other scores blew.
Last night, after 4 months of reasonably consistant training, the computer informed me that I was now '30'. I had aged a year. I don't usually say this since I am in software development and generally get along with my development machine, but...."Ohhhh---kayyy, Mr. Compooter! Whatever you say....."
In case you are tired of me blogging and miss the League (he's been slammed at work) - I will be out of town this weekend in beautiful Berkeley, CA, so you'll not have to listen to my insane rambling. Bug the League to entertain you with stories of being home alone with Swell Mel and Def Jeff.
An exerpt: "Say, want to know how my morning went? Well, I'll tell you: I just spent 20 minutes (that's an hour and a half in dog minutes) watching Lady Einstein here try to stuff a $100 bill into a vending machine. "I never have anything smaller than a hundred," she actually yelled at it, before calling it "a complete retread." I think she meant "retard," but who the Christ knows. She's in the other room sulking and drinking from the tap. I spent the rest of the morning trying to lick a power socket."
Monday, August 16, 2004 From: The League To: Shoemaker RE: Narrative Strategies
Man, I have been hacking away at telling the story of (Name withheld to avoid lawsuit) without telling her name, which is kind of key to the whole operation.
And I must admit, I'm basically finding it really hard to write the story without sounding like a big 'ol racist. I still think most of my complaints were probably well founded about the pedantic nature of the course. But when you write it out, it makes it sound like I was either a big know-it-all (which I was) or that I was a big ol racist (which i'd of liked to of thought I was not).
I'm struggling on this one.
From: Shoemaker To: The League RE: You are a complete sissy
If it makes you feel any better, that class was key in my political transformation from slightly-informed liberal asswipe to slightly-more-informed conservative asswipe. I cannot deny the negative effect that a Marxist-Feminist reading of the Weather Channel had on me. I cannot buy when that's what you're trying to sell me.
again, i'll back you up.
So, Loyal Leaguers... Let me see if I can remember...
Well, it helps to know I was not an "A" student in college. It wasn't for lack of trying, but most likely for lack of intellectual capacity. This is not to mention a strong disinterest in anything which was not EXACTLY what I wanted to be doing at that specific moment. My utter failure in academia would only partially foreshadow my inability to progress in my professional life later.
It also helps to know that in order to take "production" classes in the UT Radio-Television-Film department, students first were required to take pre-requisite courses, one of which was "Narrative Strategies." The class was supposed to be an examination of the principles that go into storytelling, and how all of the elements of a film work together to tell a story. Pretty simple.
In order to justify RTF as anything other than a trade-school type program, an infusion of academia has to be allocated into the mix. So, anyone with an RTF degree should know that faculty are never going to just let it go at "how to tell a good story". RTF faculty also fancy themselves armchair sociologists. So, armed with some cribbed English-major techniques and whichever political leanings they bring to the classroom, Narrative Strategies became a course in which we dissected Arnie movies in order to condemn every facet of them from the proto-Marxist-Feminist POV. And then we watched many, many dumb movies which, we were told, were awesome if you were a smart Marxist like the instructors.
editor's note: For those of you who think RTF majors just sit and watch movies in class, rest assured... Our screenings were during a separate "lab" time. We had three hours of lecture and usually three hours of screenings. Between all of that and the endless readings and other studying, the class was a time sink like none I'd yet seen, and there was almost zero pay-off... Just the far-off hope of getting into a production class one day...
The instructors weren't interesting or creative. They weren't interested in teaching any content on how to make a movie. They there to spout off assertions they'd read elsewhere and pass it off as their own.
Because, see... This class wasn't designed to actually be interesting or show how to do things well. Forget learning how to tell a story... At times, it seemed the course was designed to show us how shitty everything is and send us careening on guilt trips, rather than, you know, show us effective use of three-act structure.
The point is: the instructors were not filmmakers. These were people who liked to watch movies and had somehow found a way to make a career out of watching movies without ever actually producing anything of interest. And because they held degrees and we did not(and Randy will like this), our opinions were tiny and stupid, and their opinions were enlightened and wise.
"Do you," I asked early on, "Really believe that anybody working on these movies really, intentionally does any of this stuff you're dwelling on?" "That's not the point," I was told. "These are issues which are societal, and the art reflects the society." "Then why don't you blame society instead of Arnie?" "Because he's perpetuating the stereotypes." "Are you saying that no people from the Middle-East are terrorists?" (pre 9-11, post viewing of True Lies.) "He's saying they're terrorists." "No, he said these people were terrorists. He didn't say all Middle-Eastern people are terrorists." "Well, Ryan, look at how they're portrayed. They're bumbling and incompetent." "So they have to be competent terrorists." "They don't have to be terrorists. Why didn't he pick a white militant group?" And at this point, we were getting way out of the scope of what I was willing to argue in front of a class at age 19. "I don't know," I admitted, and I let it drop.
It's not that I necessarily even really disagreed with the instructors, but this was new to me. And the fact that we couldn't really discuss without risking our grade... And I wanted to be a good little lefty, but my brain was frying trying to go along with the little logical loops my instructor was tying.
After two class sessions of endless discussion on the plain-as-day racism of John Ford's The Searchers, (being presented as if the instructor had uncovered the Ark of the Covenant rather than just regurgitating what was in last night's reading...), and then having to sit through general cowboy bashing, and the general emasculation of, say, wanting to ride a horse... I tossed out a point I wanted to discuss.
"In the movie, they wore really big hats." "Yes, they did." "I mean, those are big hats." "And what do you think it says?" "Well, you know... John Wayne's hat-" "Ethan's hat..." "Ethan's hat was very, very large." "And I think we can see that John Ford is trying to make these characters bigger than life." "Yup." "And was there anything else about the hats that you noticed? Color?" "No. I was watching the movie and I just said to myself, 'Wow. Those are some big hats.'" She paused, looking down at me in my front row seat, then turned to the class. "Does anyone else have anything to add about the hats?" The room sat in silence. "John Wayne had to take off his hat when he came through the door," I offered up. "Yes," she nodded, trying to decide if I had just dropped one letter grade or two. "He did."
Even as I write this, I am so embarrassed my parents paid for my schooling.
But I am oft fascinated with hats, and my instructor wore this one dumb, sort of S&M biker hat. I remember that. It was her totem to indicate she was some sort of free-spirit thinker-type. And maybe she was. It was also sort of a bleak look into what happened to college-hipsters who hadn't yet given up the ghost. She was still young enough to pull it off, but it was just now crossing this side of dorky...
We watched other movies. The worst of which was King Lear, by Jean-Luc Godard. I don't remember much about it, but I recall it had Molly Ringwald and Burgess Meredith... and I am not making this up... I've had more fun getting teeth pulled. It was the worst movie I have, to this day, ever seen. And I watched most of From Justin to Kelly. But Godard's Lear was the sort of masturbatory nonsense we were supposed to be deriving a lesson from, I guess.
What lesson, you ask? Ho ho ho! You don't get it?
Well, if you don't know, the instructor said, I can't explain it to you.
This was more or less the MO following our screenings.
I do recall being unable to just fall asleep at screenings due to the uncomfortable seats provided. And, man, I tried.
We had to write a paper on a 30-second ad spot we'd recorded. And unsure or what to really do, I figured with the tone of the class it'd be like shooting fish in a brrel if I recorded a "Diamonds are Forever" spot and then talked about how dumb people are for believing diamonds are going to make them happy. I rambled on about the false promise of the commerical for pages on end. And, having no money myself, I figured people who could afford diamonds were jerks, anyway, so it wasn't that hard to write.
I got a B- and everyone else got A's. I was kind of pissed. I'm still not really sure if I picked the wrong commercial, or if my shot-by-shot analysis didn't match up with my instructor's, but she didn't like my paper.
I went and talked to her about it, because, frankly, my grades already sucked.
She looked a bit dazed as I entered her office.
"What's up?" "Sometimes," and suddenly she was confiding in me, I guess, " I don't think the students like me very much." "Really?" Because, I wanted to say, we don't, but we were really hoping you hadn't noticed. We all need A's. "Do you get that?" she asked, wide-eyed, looking for an in... "Well... It's like this," I had this chance! This shining opportunity to crush her little post-grad heart! To dance about and point out what a lame waste-of-time the class was, and how her inane blatherings always made me late for Danish 502 day after day. "I'm not sure this material is for everybody," I lied. "It's a prerequisite class." "Maybe." "Well, yeah. You're fine," I was crumbling. "A lot of people just don't get what you're going for." She nodded that slow, accepting nod. Yes, I had confirmed that we didn't really like her, but it wasn't HER we didn't like. It was this material she presented, we weren't ready for her profound wisdom yet...
I felt bad for her for maybe two weeks. She knew we hated her. Or at least that i hated her. And she never did change my grade, nor was I ever satisfied with her lack of answer as to why my grade sucked.
When we watched "Dead Poets Society", which, at that point, I was sick of anyway... My patience began to dwindle as the instructor spent ten minutes talking about how the movie was full of false promises of hope and rebellion. Keep in mind, the movie ends with a bunch of rich kids standing on their desks shouting "Oh Captain, my captain..." Not exactly the Bastille.
"Well," I asked. "What did you want for them to do?" "As a form of rebellion?" "Yeah. I mean, you spent ten minutes telling us these guys are suckers for reading poetry. What do you want them to do?" "That's not really the point..." "Yeah it is. You said they weren't rebelling. It sounds to me like you know what you wanted to see." "I'm not sure." "I don't understand," I was doing that thing where I can hear myself talking, but my brain is only able to listen as my mouth runs off on its own, "How you can say it isn't the right answer if you don't know what the answer is. You're saying they aren't rebelling. What did you want to see them do?" "What do you think they should have done?" "I don't know," I shrugged. "I have no idea. But you sound like you know what the official answer should be." Her patience was wilting. "It's up to the film maker to say what they thought they should do, and, in this case, they didn't give a sufficient answer." "Okay. If YOU were the filmmaker, what would YOU have them do?" "But, Ryan... I'm not the filmmaker. We're talking about what's actually in the movie-" "Were they supposed to put the evil dean's head on a pike? I don't understand-" "That's not really pertinent," I was cut off. "And we can talk about it after class." We never talked about it after class.
The single most bizarre lecture came about when we got to watch The Weather Channel for an hour one day. The bent was: The Weather Channel is racist. Because, you know, it doesn't do enough to appeal to minorities.
At one point we watched "Cops", and were told it was "keeping minorities down." When pointed out how many shirtless white dudes actually appeared on the show, we were instructed that it was really trying to keep down the poor, and race didn't matter. Then the instructor pointed out that all of the people on Cops have to sign waivers in order to appear on the show, and I wasn't really sure how that was keeping people down if they didn't HAVE to appear on the show. Never did get a solid answer on that one.
It went on and on like that. Shoemaker seemed to be in class less and less often.
I studied for the exam with Blake and Johnny (who was actually a really good director, I later found out). We'd spent the last few weeks dwelling on "post-modernism" as a hot topic (this is 1994, I think). And finally we took the exam.
And I did really shitty. I mean, not too shitty, but not great. I got a B in the class.
But by then, I didn't care. This was the dumbest class I ever had, and, even after taking a victory lap and collecting 180 hours worth of credits, is still the dumbest college-level class I ever took.
I recall being handed the evaluation for the instructor and carefully bubbling in the sheet to indicate my displeasure. But then I was facing off against the giant blank space left for comments, which, I understood, the instructors actually read. The risk always being that the instructor would know your handwriting, and you'd see that instructor again at some point, and then WHAM-O!!!
But I knew, sitting there with #2 pencil clutched in hand... I never wanted to take another class from this person. Never. Not even if it meant I'd never graduate. And so, as everyone else's pencils flitted back and forth, scrawling out our shared vitriol, I carefully diagramed how the instructor's last name could be an anagram for "ANGER". And that was it.
This was a far cry from the heart and flowers I had drawn around my "Image and Sound" instructor's name.
"Anger" was going to get the form back, and, I had no doubt, would figure out it was the boy who done it... But I didn't care anymore. She sucked. She sucked bad. She had no place in a classroom bugging the hell out of impressionable young minds.
And that was it.
I did see her in the hallway the next semester, carting around a big box full of stuff from her office.
"Hi Ryan." "Hi." She knew. I knew she knew it was me. At least my paranoid delusions led me to believe she knew. "How's school?" she asked. "Okay. Busy. You teaching?" And she launched into some dumb, boring story I can't even recall, nor can I recall whether she was or was not teaching. I don't think so, though.
I looked her up before writing this. She's now teaching somewhere in the UK, where I am sure, she feels she is perfectly understood.
Sunday, August 15, 2004
Here is a picture of Arden. Arden is the child of Jill and Jess Hermann-Wilmarth. Arden showed up on Thursday morning to the great delight of Jill and Jess, as well as that of quite a bit of Georgia and the greater North American region.
Please note that Arden is, in no way, named Ryan 2. For which we shall petition Jill. If you think this little bundle of joy should be named Ryan 2 instead of Arden, fill in the comments below.
In the meantime, congratulations to Jill and Jess and Arden. Arden is now prepared to rock the house.
Arden contemplates a life outside of a bubble of amniotic fluid...
Editor's note: Jim D. recently purchased a copy of Marvel Comics' "Ultimates". He asked me for a few words of explanation, and then suggested I copy the e-mail I wrote him on Marvel's Ultimates line and post it here, so post it here I shall.
To explain Ultimates is to understand Marvel's past few years as a company.
A few years ago Marvel got a new President, Bill Jemas, and a new Editor-in-Chief, Joe Quesada. Marvel had been really struggling during the late 90's, and was trying to figure out how to resolve what they perceived as the problems with their current titles. They brought in fresh blood in the higher offices (with Quesada brought in from his mature reader line of Marvel Knights to helm the ship. I don't recall where Jemas came from).
Both X-Men and Spider-Man were (as you will constantly hear about) mired in 40 years of continuity. This made it difficult for new readers to jump in. And even if they did go back and buy old issues, often those stories were dated and didn't make sense if you wanted to say a character was only, say, 30 years old.
For example, the Fantastic Four's origin is tied directly to the Space Race. Sue Storm states "we need to beat the commies!" And then they jump in a space capsule.
So, rather than jettison the ongoing series, Marvel launched Ultimate Spider-Man (pre-movie) to retell the origin of Spider-Man and reintroduce the villains with more updated origins and costumes, etc...
For example, Venom in the original series is tied to Secret Wars, a mini-series from 1982 or so. Secret Wars isn't coming back, and it's kind of lame to point to a series that's 20 years old and outside of the actual Spider-Man titles for reference. Ultimate Spider-Man gave Venom a new origin and tied it more closely to Spider-Man.
Sounds lame, but they assigned a top writer and artist to the project. The rest is history.
I've also wondered if Ultimate Spider-Man wasn't a safety valve for Spider-Man in the "post Clone Saga era" in order to bring back readers who swore off Spider-Man forever.
After Ultimate Spider-Man became a #1 seller, they tried Ultimate Team-Up to introduce "Ultimate" versions of classic characters. Ultimate X-Men followed, then Ultimates.
I pick up the trades of Ultimate Spider-Man. I pick up the trades of Ultimates (mostly because the actual issues have come out very erratically. 13 issues in 2.4 years?). I don't care for Ultimate X-men all that much, and only read the first trade before abandoning it. It seemed almost like a Mountain Dew commerical to me. But I'm generally off X-Men altogether these days. Ultimate FF is definitely the greatest departure from the source material. It's interesting, but it's very different in a lot of ways.
These comics sell very, very well. However, I'm not sure they've expanded sales to "new readers" as intended, and they stand the chance of dropping the value of the source material instead of enhancing it.
On the whole, I don't think this has been either good or bad. The Ultimate line was the success story of the short reign of Bill Jemas before the board fired him for continually insulting readers, retailers and pretty much everybody who came in his path. Not to mention Jemas went out of his way to turn the friendly rivalry between Marvel and DC into Marvel tossing direct insults at DC staff, comics, etc... ruining forty years of cordial relations. Plus, he launched multiple lines which nose-dived, re-wrote whole scripts himself, and was doing other s**t which was kind of insane. Further, Ultimates drove content into a PG-13 direction which the board considered not good if they wanted to expand the market out of retail stores once again and draw in kids. (editor's note: Jemas also began making moves to jettison the old titles and would only sell Ultimate line versions of the characters for various projects. You can still see Ultimate Wolverine turn up in some odd places. You can see how the PG-13 thing, plus putting Wolverine on a towel for 5 years olds might not fly.)
If you can't tell, I couldn't stand Jemas, and I find Quesada (still at Marvel) to be immature and obnoxious. (editor's note: for clarification, Quesada routinely takes credit for the success of all things Marvel whether or not he had anything to do with them. Ie, the success of the Spider-Man movies... He also keeps up the middle-school taunt of calling the Time Warner owened DC Comics "AOL Comics")
I suspect Quesada's days are numbered as well. The success of Marvel has almost occured in spite of these two rather than because of them.
Really, they can thank Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar for pulling their fat out of the fire.
I feel like I can read both Ultimate Spider-Man and Amazing Spider-Man without too many worries. I've never liked Avengers, but I find Ultimates interesting when I read, so that's a success in my book.
Anyway, none of the series are more than a few years old, so you can probably find all of their trades at the local comic shop without too much effort, and you'd then have the complete series.