Friday, December 18, 2009

Against my better judgment, I watched 2012.

Here's my two sentence review:

I liked the movie better when it was called Independence Day. Why Roland Emmerich felt the need to remake his own movie, I have no idea.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Zombie Apocalypse Will Not Be Televised

I've been thinking about the Zombie Apocalypse lately. See, this is not a recent cultural fad, but a literary motif that goes back as far as humans have been creating literature.

Don't believe me? Read the Epic of Gilgamesh (one of the oldest liteary works in existence, it dates to at least the 7th century before Christ). In it, an angry god threatens another god with a Zombie Apocalypse:
"Father, give me the Bull of Heaven,
so he can kill Gilgamesh in his dwelling.
If you do not give me the Bull of Heaven,
I will knock down the Gates of the Netherworld,
I will smash the door posts, and leave the doors flat down,
and will let the dead go up to eat the living!
And the dead will outnumber the living!"

Another translation:
For if you do not grant me the Bull of Heaven,
I will pull down the Gates of Hell itself,
Crush the doorposts and flatten the door,
And I will let the dead leave
And let the dead roam the earth
And they shall eat the living. The dead will overwhelm all the living!

So, there you have it. Nearly 3000 years ago, poets were talking about the Zombie Apocalypse.

{Yes, I am aware of translations that say "eat food like (or with) the living" which makes the threatened calamity more like Malthus gone wild than a zombie uprising. Zombies are cooler than Malthus, though).

Saturday, July 18, 2009

As everyone must know by now, Walter Cronkite has died.

Here's a link to an old post where I review an audiobook by and about "the most trusted man in America."

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Literary Misdirection

Review: Carter Beats the Devil

This book can be summed up in one sentence: An excellent example of using the art of misdirection in a literary setting.

There's more to it than that, of course. The book is full of rich historical detail, plenty of cameos (and starring roles) by important historical figures, and just enough action. The characters feel fully fleshed out, the historical speculations at least plausible, and the action unforced.

But the best part is the use of misdirection. While Glen David Gold is not as skilled as some other authors (say, Gene Wolfe - no relation), his writing chops are solid, and nothing in the book feels forced. However, there's no need to compare him to other authors, as Gold's purpose is different. Gene Wolfe relies on unreliable narrators who have a vested interest in focusing your attention on details that distract you from what's really going on behind the scenes. Glen David Gold has the same purpose as the stage magicians he's writing about: To entertain you.

If I have any complaints about the book, there would be only one (and its a small one). One running joke/bit of misdirection in the book deals with heavily implying Harry Houdini was gay. The book never states this right out, and it's treated so lightly and offhandedly, I can only imagine the author meant it as a throw-away gag rather than serious historical speculation. It does feel a little forced, but it's such a minor point in an otherwise excellent novel I feel guilty even giving it this much space. But I guess even a positive review needs some balance.

You'll notice I haven't even mentioned the basic plot. I don't think I could do it justice in a brief blog review, and the plot is a little beside the point. In fact, the plot itself is the best use of misdirection in the book.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

When I was a kid

I loved the movie Hawk The Slayer.
I must have watched it a dozen times over the course of two or three years.

Then I saw it as an adult.

Boy, that was a terrible movie.

Yet, supposedly someone's making a sequel.

I might just watch it for pure nostalgia's sake.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Arguments that fail to convince me (#1 in a very occasional series)

"The vast majority of scholars believe this, so it must be true."

That might be a good reason to believe something, it may even give me enough reason to seriously consider it and be humble about my own intellect. However, this phrase is often trotted out as though, in and of itself, it should be enough to convince me.

The vast majority of scholars have been wrong before. I'm more interested in WHY the vast majority believes something, rather than the mere fact of their belief (also, when this is used on me, I often find out that the majority isn't so vast after all).

[Note: this post is NOT about global warming. I suppose it might apply, but I'm thinking more about scholars of history, literature, and religion].

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Well, now that I'm officially "Dr. Wolfe" (or Ivan Wolfe, PhD if you prefer)

I might as well resume posting while I look for a job.

So, let's start off with a review!

Was Superman a Spy? by Brian Cronin.

Brian Cronin runs the excellent blog Comics Should be Good! where one of his recurring features is a column called Comic Book Legends Revealed (He does a lot more than that, but that's all we need to know for this review). A (usually) weekly look at the various urban legends that have sprung up around comic books and superheroes, it's an entertaining read, though the online column often requires uber-geek levels of comic knowledge to understand all the references and context. Cronin, however, does a fairly good job at providing enough details and history so that comic neophytes and non-followers can get the basic idea.

The online column has a fairly standard format - a "legend" is presented (say, the idea Herbie replaced the Human Torch in the old Fantastic Four cartoon because censors were afraid kids might set themselves on fire), and then Cronin presents his findings (actually, the cartoon rights to the Human Torch were unavailable and so they had to replace him for legal reasons). It's a good format, and it works well.

The book does not follow that format. Instead, he writes about the tales as though he were writing a history of comic books, with attention to urban legends. This creates, for me at least, something of a disjointed read. The narrative skips back and forth between a history of the comic book company and/or superhero in question (the book is divided into sections based on comic publisher and further subdivided by superhero categories) and a discussion of various legends surrounding the characters. Transitions between sections and ideas are not handled very well, and the entire book has a "back and forth" feeling that resembles a mild, not very frightening roller coaster ride. The subject matter is interesting (if you're interested in that type of thing), but the manner of presentation is disjointed.

However, I shouldn't complain too much. Given that the online column already contains much of the information found in this book, I can see why the author and publishers felt the need to present the information in a new way. A carbon copy of the online column would have been superfluous. Also, Many of the legends in the book have not appeared online, so there is something in this book even for those who do not follow the online column.

So, despite my slight reservation over the overall organization, I recommend this book to anyone interested in learning the real truth behind many of the silly, bizarre, and fascinating legends that have crept up around comic books and superheroes.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Review of An American Carol

An American Carol

This movie didn't do well in the the theaters, and while it was well-reviewed on conservative websites, I was hesitant to see it. I'm not fond of movies that preach to the choir, even if I belong to that choir.

But, my wife sneaked it into our NetFlix queue, and now that I've seen it, I feel I must blog about my reaction.

This was a frustrating film. Like other not so great films like Van Helsing and The Mummy 3: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. Overall, these movies aren't all that good (though they don't stink either), but there are enough moments in each movie to indicate that the filmmakers could have made an excellent movie. In Van Helsing, it's the underused Frankenstein's Monster character that shows the creators had some originality and that a good story was buried among all the overdone special effects and idiotic action.

In American Carol, there are several elements that show David Zucker still has some of that mojo that helped make Airplane and the Naked Gun movies so hilarious.

But first, if you haven't seen or heard of the movie, a brief discussion of the plot. The movie revolves around a Michael Moore-esque ("Michale Malone") filmmaker who wants to abolish the 4th of July. He is visited by the ghosts of JFK, General Patton, George Washington (and the Angel of Death). They convince him to love the 4th of July holiday and to see the good in the USA. There's also a side plot dealing with some terrorists that try to dupe Malone into giving them press passes to an "honor the troops" event.

And Zucker made a lot of excellent choices, that could have elevated it beyond a mere gross out comedy that would appeal only to die-hard conservatives. First, when Malone changes his mind about the 4th of July, he doesn't become an establishment conservative. It's made quite clear he still believes in universal health care, can't stand NASCAR, and will most likely still vote Democrat. Malone's problem isn't that he's liberal, it's that he sees only the bad in America. Early in the film, when he declares he must destroy America in order to save it, it's clear he means that he sees America as so flawed, the only real solution is to junk the whole thing and start all over again. He's not a terrorist supporter or a conspiracy theorist. He's merely misled and can't see the good in America.

Another good choice is the villain. The head terrorist plays his part completely straight, much like Ricardo Montalbon did in the first Naked Gun movie.

However, most of this is undone by all the other choices made. The frame story adds nothing to the tale, interrupts the narrative at annoying points, and isn't all that funny. Kelsey Grammar (as General Patton) spends more time lecturing Malone than doing anything funny. It's not that Grammar/Patton is the straight man in this comedy - instead, he's the humorless scold determined to let you know just why this isn't all that funny. He's out of place in a comedy film. Overall, the movie feels like a stern lecture with occasional jokes, rather than a comedy with a message.

However, there are two scenes that indicate Zucker could have made a very good movie:
1). Malone returns from film school to find his lady love dating some random Army guy, she declares "I just love a man in uniform." As Malone walks away, in the background one can see several "men in uniform" lined up outside her door (including a postal worker and a ninja). This kind of background gag was a key component in previous Zucker films, but there are far too few of them in this film.
2.) The initial scene that introduces the terrorists is hilarious in a "I can't believe he went there" way. Lines like "It's hard to find good suicide bombers. All the good ones are gone" cross lines that many in the entertainment would refuse to cross. The sheer amount of sacred cows slaughtered in that initial scene alone almost makes trudging through the rest of the movie worth it. Almost.

But paired with those two scenes are another two scenes that neatly encapsulate everything that is wrong with the movie:
1.) A bizarre musical number involving college professors comes across as a sermon rather than a funny moment, with General Patton lecturing the audience on the evils of the liberal indoctrination occurring on college campuses. The lyrics of the song are hard to make out, and while I sometimes find the liberal culture in academia stifling, it's nowhere near as bad as the movie makes it out to be.
2). Jon Voight's cameo as George Washington is genuinely moving. In fact, after this, I would pay good money to see Voight as Washington in any film or play. The entire scene is well staged and effectively portrayed. The moment when the doors open and the wreckage of the Twin Towers appears is perfectly timed for maximum emotional impact. But the scene is all wrong for the movie. It feels like someone edited in a few minutes from a serious drama about 9/11. When surrounded on either side by fart jokes, "turdhead", and innuendo about gay sex in a bathroom, an emotionally moving scene about 9/11 is not only out of place, it's just plain wrong. It is so jarring that after you spend a few minutes wondering what it was doing in the movie, you start thinking you've been manipulated.

I really can't recommend this movie (except for the first scene with the terrorists). Zucker set out to make a conservative comedy and failed. But I think his goal was his biggest mistake. He should have made a comedy that happened to be conservative, rather than a conservative movie with a few jokes.