all patrons: a delightful video of Louie playing with a string
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What’s especially maddening is that nothing actually happens in this episode. We get some mysteries—who is Daniels, really? why did Silik save the ship when he’s the bad guy?—none of which are solved, or even hinted at. It’s a whole lot of “oooooh, there’s something mysterious and weird going on, and we’re going to tease you with tiny bits of it in the hopes that you’ll keep coming back to find out more.” It’s tiresome, it’s not very effective, and it does a poor job of masking the fact that there’s no actual story here.
My parents, even though they really couldn’t afford it, sent me to private Montessori schools throughout my grammar-school years. From first through fifth grades, I went to New Rochelle Academy, but when they fired two of their best teachers (both of whom were huge influences on me as a child, Tina Roach and Marie Captain), my parents protested by switching me to another school, Halstead in Yonkers, for sixth through eighth grades.
(Neither school exists anymore. NRA closed when one half of the married couple who ran it died, and Halstead closed for reasons I never found out about less than a decade after I graduated eighth grade from there.)
Anyhow, the reason why I’m telling you all this is that Halstead let the kids out early on Fridays — probably because most of the enrollment were upper-class kids whose parents would weekend in the Hamptons or some such, and they needed to get home early. At the time, my mother was working at NYU, running a project at the Bobst Library. I had recently started collecting comic books, and right near NYU was one of the largest comic stores in the city at the time, the Forbidden Planet at Broadway and E. 12th Street.
So on Friday afternoons, after I got home early from school, I would hop on the subway and take it down to 14th Street, go to the Planet and get that week’s stash, and maybe go downstairs and troll through the back issues to see if there was anything I wanted, and then meet up with my mother at NYU and we’d go to Swenson’s on the corner of Mercer and W. 4th Street to have ice cream before taking the subway back home.
That was a truly glorious time. I was just getting into Marvel comics then, and every month I would eagerly await the new adventures of the X-Men by Chris Claremont & Dave Cockrum, the Fantastic Four by John Byrne, the Avengers by Jim Shooter & Bob Hall, Daredevil by Frank Miller & Klaus Janson, Power Man & Iron Fist by Jo Duffy & Kerry Gammill, Thor by Walt Simonson, Iron Man by Denny O’Neill & Luke McDonnell, Captain America by J.M. DeMatteis & Mike Zeck, the Hulk by Bill Mantlo & Sal Buscema, Conan by Bruce Jones & John Buscema, and Spider-Man in three different titles by Roger Stern & John Romita Jr., Bill Mantlo & Ed Hannigan, and J.M. DeMatteis & Kerry Gammill, and lots more. After I bought them at the Planet, I’d sort them into reading order, and start them at Swenson’s, then finish them on the subway ride home.
Best of all, though, was that I got to have ice cream with my Mommy.
Forty years on, both my grammar schools and Swenson’s are long gone. (Swenson’s old location is now Spring Cafe Aspen, which has “juices & smoothies, plus health-conscious breakfasts and light lunches.”) The Planet is still there, albeit across the street in a smaller space. And my mother only worked for that one year at NYU, going from there to work as an editor in library publishing for fifteen years, and then being a freelance writer and teacher until she retired. I actually grew up to write some of those characters, albeit in prose, having written short stories and novels featuring Spider-Man, Thor, the Hulk, the X-Men, and the Silver Surfer.
This, by the way, was just prompted by Elyse Reyes on Facebook mentioning that she’d worked at the Bobst Library for a time, and just the mention of the place prompted a cascade of memories of those magnificent Friday afternoons with The Mom. And the rather devastating realization that this was all forty years ago. How time do fly……
But what this episode does extremely well is show the boomer lifestyle that we’ve heard Mayweather talk about here and there. It’s a story as old as the hills, but that just makes it more resonant: the march of technology making certain jobs obsolete, or at least changing them to something unrecognizable. Industry put many people who did hand-crafting out of work. There was an entire business centered on rescuing ships that got damaged by the reefs off the Florida Keys, a business that died out once shipbuilding advanced to the point where the reefs were no longer a significant concern. Phones became so advanced that operators are no longer needed to connect people via telephone wire. Transponder scanners in cars got ubiquitous enough to not require humans to collect tolls on roads. For that matter, the interstate highway system changed the way people drove around the country, resulting in the diminishment of roads like Route 66 that enabled you to see every small town you had to pass to get where you were going. Indeed, Ryan’s comment that there was no need for their ship to go faster than warp 1.8 because any faster and you can’t enjoy the trip is very similar to one made by John Steinbeck about the interstates, that you could “drive from New York to California without seeing a single thing.”
I was really hoping that Farpoint would be my first convention of 2022, especially since I’d already backed out of going to Albuquerque Comic-Con and Pensacon due to their insufficient COVID precautions (neither of those cons are requiring masks or checking vaccinations).
Farpoint, unfortunately, is sticking by their COVID policy, which is not to require proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID test. They are requiring masks, at least, but given the contagiousness of the Omicron variant and how much more severe it is for unvaccinated, I don’t feel safe being around an indeterminate number of unvaccinated folks. (They’re also permitting guests to unmask while on panels, which strikes me as unnecessarily risky.)
After the really good experiences at Dragon Con and DisCon III (both much larger than Farpoint), who required proof of vaccination and all-masking all the time, I can’t understand why any convention wouldn’t require this much. Farpoint’s web site claims privacy concerns, but those don’t remotely apply here, especially since the convention isn’t collecting vaccination records or recording them in any way, merely confirming that they exist. It’s no more or less a privacy violation than checking a photo ID. And both DisCon and Dragon had very low infection rates at the events despite their size.
Fellow authors Peter David, Kathleen David, David Mack, and Howard Weinstein have also pulled out, as have actor guests Brent Spiner, Sean Gunn, and Wilson Cruz (though those three have backed out due to scheduling issues, not COVID concerns), and music guests the Chromatics, and the Boogie Knights are currently on the fence (three of our band, including me, are definitely not attending).
My apologies to those folks I was intending to see at the con. That was supposed to be the launch for Phenomenons: Every Human Creature and The Fans are Buried Tales, as well as a big con for the Devilish and Divine anthology, but Wrenn and I just don’t feel safe going.
I’ve been connected to Whedon’s worlds both as a fan and as a pro since the late 1990s. I was a huge fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly, and I wrote four Buffy books (a novelization, two novels, and I worked on one of the official reference books) and novelized Serenity and wrote a Firefly role-playing game adventure. As a result, I was always heavily plugged into the intense fandom that grew up around his creations.
And I found myself concerned about the near-deification that went on surrounding him. The “Joss Whedon is My Master Now” T-shirts and the “trust in Joss” mantras — and just generally, referring to him as “Joss” as if he was their friend.
This always twigged me a bit. For starters, he was still a Hollywood producer, for all that he proved himself to have a certain geek cred. Also, this level of hagiography regarding him is the sort of thing that can go to a person’s head. Plus, his flaws as a writer tended to get overlooked or explained away, whether his laziness in world-building or the severe lack of presence of people of color in his productions (brought into sharp relief when he took over Justice League and practically wrote Cyborg out of it) or his creating an Asian-centric science fiction setting but neglecting to cast a single Asian.
And then there was his inaction with regard to Serenity novels. While there are now Firefly novels from Titan, which is great, the original deal back in 2005 that Simon & Schuster made was for three books: my novelization of the movie and two original novels. Several authors pitched to S&S (including me), and those pitches were met with resounding silence from Whedon’s office, to the point where S&S had to cancel the other two planned books due to Whedon never approving any of the pitches.
My concerns proved to be, if anything, underestimating the case. Revelations from Whedon’s ex and from Ray Fisher showed that the hero had feet of clay.
The interview is the first time Whedon has spoken publicly since he was all but hung in effigy by the entire universe, and he didn’t waste any time inserting his foot once he opened his mouth. At no point does he take responsibility, and he spends lots of time making excuses. He unconvincingly denies many of the allegations, or tries to downplay them.
The worst is how he responded to Shapiro’s questions about the affairs he had with people working under him on his TV shows.
“I feel fucking terrible about them,” he said. When I pressed him on why, he noted “it messes up the power dynamic,” but he didn’t expand on that thought. Instead, he quickly added that he had felt he “had” to sleep with them, that he was “powerless” to resist. I laughed. “I’m not actually joking,” he said. He had been surrounded by beautiful young women — the sort of women who had ignored him when he was younger — and he feared if he didn’t have sex with them, he would “always regret it.” Looking back, he feels shame and “horror,” he said. I thought of something he had told me earlier. A vampire, he’d said, is the “exalted outsider,” a creature that feels like “less than everybody else and also kind of more than everybody else. There’s this insecurity and arrogance. They do a little dance.”
What a spectacular load of tripe.
Almost as bad is his response to Gal Gadot’s description of the harassment she received on the set of Justice League: “English is not her first language, and I tend to be annoyingly flowery in my speech.” So it’s her fault for misunderstanding him, because her foreign self can’t understand how beautifully he expresses himself. Gak.
Whedon’s horrendous behavior doesn’t change the good work he’s done, any more than JK Rowling’s toxic transphobia changes the good work she’s done. But it’s why it’s often important to separate the art from the artist. Because the artist can be a total piece of garbage and still create great art.
Just don’t assume that the artist is great because the art is. This sort of thing is why I tend to be self-deprecating and modest about my own work. I’ve seen what fulsome praise does to some creative folks, and I don’t want that to happen to me.
And then there’s T’Pol telling Mayweather to prepare to leave orbit, with Tucker responding mutinously. What’s worse is that Tucker’s mutiny has absolutely no consequences, except to create artificial tension between T’Pol and the humans, even though she’s the one acting sensibly. Plus, of course, I kept thinking of a great line from Major Marks on Stargate SG-1 when told by Dr. Daniel Jackson that he should prepare to fire weapons: “Just for the record, I’m always prepared. I just push this button.” Pretty sure that Mayweather, with the ship under fire and all, had an evasive course laid in already…
Once “4-Color to 35-Millimeter: The Great Superhero Movie Rewatch” caught up to real time in January 2020, it went on hiatus, to be revived every six months or so to look back on the new live-action movies based on superhero comics. Here’s some highlights from the June 2020, December 2020, June 2021, and December 2021 revivals of the feature:
One reason why the revelation that Garrison’s entire background is a lie concocted by Eric is such a dud is because said revelation changes absolutely nothing. Diesel’s one-note Garrison is the same guy throughout the entire movie. It’s hard to get too arsed about a character’s crisis of identity when it does nothing to change anything about that identity in the least.
I love every element of Christina Hodson’s superlative script (Quinn giving Lance a hair-tie in the midst of the fight! The sandwich! Cain having a cast, not because her arm is broken, but so she can be a better pickpocket! The sandwich! Bertinelli hating being called the crossbow killer! The sandwich! Quinn firing bean-bag rounds full of glitter! The fucking sandwich, which is so perfect!), but the thing I love best is that she leans into Quinn’s psychotherapy background. She’s constantly psychoanalyzing the people around her just kind of randomly. I particularly love when Sionis has her tied up and she tries to get him not to do the clichéd detailing of his master plan and she sums up his psychoses in about two seconds.
At least the rest of the cast is trying. They’re still terrible, because they have to speak the words this script gives them, but you can tell they’re at least putting in the effort. Jeffrey Combs and Andrew Divoff are always eminently watchable, and have both made careers out of taking badly written roles and making them compelling, as both are extremely skilled with facial expressions and both have fantastic voices. Isabel Brook and Mónica van Campen have even worse roles, but they also do their best, with Brook in particular being at least vaguely convincing in all the many modes De Camp is required to be in (compassionate shrink, rape victim, person desperately in lust with Jaspers for no obvious reason, and M’s mind slave), and van Campen is obviously having a grand ol’ time as the slinky seductress/sadist. Kudos also to Fermí Reixach as the police commissioner, who does a wonderful job in his epic rant at M right before he dies.
Director Gina Prince-Blythewood deserves a ton of credit here, as the movie manages that perfect balance between strong character work and powerful action sequences that superhero movies rely on if they want to be any good. The fight choreography is also stellar. The four immortals fight like a well-oiled machine, and Freeman—a combat Marine—mixes in well with them. I particularly like how easy they all make it, and I particularly like how the immortals all fight with more aggression than their opponents, simply because they know they can’t be hurt permanently. (I also like that the filmmakers are aware that guns don’t have an infinite supply of ammunition and need to be regularly reloaded.)
The exception is Theron’s Andy, but not just because she becomes mortal partway through the movie—rather it’s because she’s really so much better than anyone else. It’s so effortless for her, she almost seems bored. I used to do karate with a high-ranking black belt—he’s since left our dojo to open his own dojo in a different discipline—and he is an amazing fighter. What blew me away watching him in sparring tournaments is that he barely moved and just made everything look so easy and effortless as he knocked people repeatedly to the ground and kicked them repeatedly in the head. Theron has that same style about her in her fight scenes.
Occasionally, Boone remembers that he’s doing a movie about teens, like when Illyana spikes Reyes’s tea so they can play, or when they sneak up to the attic. But mostly it’s a horror piece, and to drive it home, Boone and Lee have changed every character’s origin just enough to add murder to it. Sam didn’t just blast out of a coal mine, he killed his father and several other miners while doing it. Roberto didn’t just manifest his powers (which now include extreme heat, unlike his comics counterpart) in front of a bunch of people, he killed his girlfriend while doing so. Rahne wasn’t just condemned by her priest, but she killed the priest, too. And the demon bear is apparently a manifestation of Dani’s fear, and it destroyed her home.
But then we have the fact that Steve Trevor’s ghost takes over some random dude’s body and life and nobody ever comments on it! Diana’s wish has, for all intents and purposes ended this guy—who never even gets a name—and she never once expresses a micron of concern for him. This is, frankly, despicable behavior, especially given that Diana and Trevor sleep together, so she’s now also raped this person. The actions are appalling enough on their own terms, but to have it be this character in particular is a disastrous misreading of who Diana/Wonder Woman is not just in her previous movie, but in the rest of this one.
First off, there is absolutely no reason, none, why this movie had to be four hours. Every scene took about twice as long as it needed to, several scenes were utterly pointless and/or repetitive, and the movie is chock-full of unnecessary slow-motion scenes, usually accompanied by some dirge-y rock song or other. Mind you, there are also necessary slow-motion scenes, those being when the Flash is moving very fast, so the rest of the world is in slo-mo to show his perceptions. But the effect of that is severely diluted because half the fucking movie has been in slo-mo up to the point that Barry Allen first shows up.
In many ways, this is the perfect Black Widow movie. Most of the MCU movies have been superheroic twists on existing movie subgenres, and the only way to go with the Widow would be to do a spy thriller, à la James Bond or Jason Bourne.
And we very much get that in Black Widow, from the globe-hopping to the car chase in Budapest to the multiple scenes of hand-to-hand combat to the fancy-ass gadgets to the ridiculous bad-guy headquarters. We get a Black Widow Greatest Hits, with her feigning helplessness to get information (Avengers), kicking ass during a car chase (Age of Ultron), disguising herself with a face mask (Winter Soldier), and coming up with clever strategies to solve problems (Endgame). Oh, and her mad computer skillz (Iron Man 2).
Plus, we get a full accounting of her background, after all the hints dropped in Avengers, Age of Ultron, and Winter Soldier.
As with the last movie, the performances are superb. Margot Robbie is perfection itself as Quinn, and her every scene is gold. The high point of the film is her post-coital murder of Presidente Luna, especially with her lengthy monologue on the subject of her complicated love life while Luna is bleeding out on the floor. Just an epic moment, the perfect Harley Quinn scene. Her escape from captivity, complete with explosions of rose petals behind her, is a close second.
Viola Davis remains great casting as Waller, even though she’s once again written as a psychopath and an incompetent, neither of which she should be portrayed as. This is a woman who got one over on Batman, for crying out loud (in Suicide Squad #10, one of my favorite Batman moments). One of the few women of color in comics, and one of the most complex and interesting characters as originally conceived and written by John Ostrander in the 1980s is reduced to a cardboard villain once again. It’s more misreading of the source material, as is killing off Captain Boomerang. While Jai Courtney is pretty nowhere in the role (Nick Taraby was so much better as Digger Harkness in Arrow), Boomerbutt has been one of the mainstays of this version of the Squad snice 1987, and to kill him off in the first fifteen minutes of the film is like doing an X-Men movie and killing off Wolverine, or a Fantastic Four movie and killing off the Thing.
I haven’t even mentioned the title character, and it’s kind of too bad that Simu Liu stands out so little from his own movie, but that’s mostly because they surrounded him with so many great actors in Awkwafina, Leung, Zhang, Yeoh, and Kingsley. But Liu provides Shang-Chi with a very straightforward heroism that fits with the character he’s based on perfectly. The original comics character was trying to redeem the sins of his father, as well as those he committed himself in his service, and I like the way Liu plays a person who’s trying very hard to run away from a life he doesn’t want. He’s in a boring job that nonetheless pays the bills, he has a good, fun life. But when he’s attacked on the bus, his first thoughts are to keep the other people on the bus safe, and when it’s over, his next thought is of his sister’s safety. When it matters, he antes up and kicks in, which is what heroes are supposed to do.
Kelly Marcel’s script is full of some great lines, most of them Venom’s (Kasady’s are mostly pretty bog-standard oh-look-how-cool-I-am serial killer nonsense, but Harrelson delivers them well). And there are so many great bits, from Venom making a disastrous breakfast while singing, “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” to Venom at a rave, to Brock mentioning ice cream and Venom complaining that he gets brain-freeze, to Kasady’s plaintive, “That’s bad journalism!” while bitching about how Brock didn’t tell his side of the story.
It’s funny, there are a lot of ways that this movie reminds me of Watchmen. The death of one of the main characters drives the plot, we get multiple flashbacks, one of the main characters turns out to be a bad guy, and there are way too may characters to fit in one movie.
Indeed, one of my issues with the Zack Snyder adaptation of Watchmen was that the story was badly served by whittling it down to a feature film’s running time, and the same holds true for this. For this to truly achieve the scope it needs to succeed, for the characters to actually have the space to be characters instead of plot movers, for the breadth and depth of the storyline to really get a chance to shine, this needed to be a six-episode series on Disney+.