Life in the Dreamhouse
May 11th, 2016


I’ve been busy at the conservative Dunkirk for the last few weeks but now that Trump is upon us and there’s nothing to be done, I’ll (hopefully) be freed up to do more normal writing.

In the meantime, I went on the Federalist Radio Hour this afternoon to talk about politics, Captain America vs. Iron Man, and Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse. I mean, if you’re into that sort of thing.

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Disney Princesses: Ranked
April 15th, 2016


Honestly, this is my favorite bit of ephemera in a long while.

Spoiler: Ariel is an effing monster. She is absolutely the villain of The Little Mermaid.

The Good Princesses: Belle, Mulan, Anna/Elsa, and Cinderella.

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Are you missing the Newsletter?
April 11th, 2016


If you used to get my newsletter up until a couple weeks ago and aren’t getting it anymore, drop me a line or leave a comment? Thanks.

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The ‘Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice’ FAQ
April 5th, 2016


Wait–you liked this piece of hot garb?

I kind of did. This may have to do with my expectations having been lowered through the floor. It may have to do with me being a pathetic fanboy. It may have to do with my theater now having a bar–allowing you to have a beer with your popcorn for less than the price of a medium soda. I don’t know.

What I do know is that I kind of liked it I’m Ron Burgundy?

I agree with just about every criticism of the film I’ve read. BvS is deeply flawed and in a final accounting probably isn’t even a very good film. But to my mind it was an interesting failure and one worth seeing.

What makes a failure interesting?

Often, people’s complaints about a movie are really complaints that the director/writer didn’t make the movie the audience member wanted to see. For instance, Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor is not at all the Luthor I wanted. I wanted the Brian Azzarello Luthor, who sees himself as the hero, standing up for humanity against a dangerous, unaccountable godhead.

Instead, BvS gives us a character who isn’t Lex Luthor at all–he’s actually the Joker in a Luthor suit. The Luthor of BvS is a psychotic genius murderer with all sorts of serial-killer like ticks: He forces people to eat out of his hand; he leaves little objects for people to find immediately before he kills them; he gleefully tosses around photos of Martha Kent being bound up and (by implication) tortured. And his motivation, by the end of the film, is something like a madman bent on destabilizing the world and brining about chaos.

Now, I don’t really like this read on Luthor’s character. I think it’s wrong-headed and it misses much more dramatically interesting territory. But it’s pretty interesting. No one has ever tried viewing Luthor this way and while it doesn’t work for me, I didn’t dislike the journey with the character.

So Luthor isn’t Luthor. Did they screw up any other characters?

Well, Batman isn’t Batman, either. In BvS Batman is a world-weary badass who not only brands certain criminals (so as to get them killed in prison), but casually kills a whole bunch of bad guys, too. In maybe my favorite moment of the movie, Alfred questions him on his excessive use of force and Batman replies, “We’ve always been criminals Alfred. This changes nothing.”

Whoa. That’s not the Batman any of us know from the comics. The one who forces himself to never use the backdoor (meaning: killing the bad guys) because he’s afraid that if he goes through it once, he’ll never be able to close it. The one who believes that he isn’t on the wrong side of the law, but that he’s above the law.

So the Batman of BvS is also a totally different version of the character. Like the BvS Luthor, I don’t know that I like it. But again, it’s an interesting choice.

You could say the same, to a lesser degree about Superman. The Superman of BvS is kind of emo. He’s quiet and sad. He feels the weight of the world and feels torn between different courses of action. Most depictions of Superman have the character as a giant Boy Scout, who is irrepressible–almost maddeningly so–and who can always see the right path because his view of good and evil is so Manichean. But the BvS Supes isn’t as radical a departure as Luthor and Batman. And I don’t think it’s as interesting, either.

Huh. Any non-interesting failures in there?

To my eyes: Wonder Woman. They give the character very little do, which means that the actress playing WW needed to have a lot going on behind the eyes. She needed to be superior, or have a quiet contempt for the world of man, or to be the kind of warrior who relishes combat even when she’s forced to be civilized by circumstance. Think of the WW from Darwayne Cooke’s New Frontier. Or Greg Rucka’s Hiketeai. But a Wonder Woman with this little to do can’t be a cipher because otherwise she just gets lost. Which is exactly what happens to Gal Gadot.

Also, the final sequence with Doomsday is the only part of the movie where I checked my watch. Snyder is very good at directing coherent action sequences, but this felt like the sort of wrote, paint-by-numbers, CGI action finale that we see at the end of nearly every comic book movie. Was that Supes vs. Doomsday? Or Hulk vs. Abomination? Or Iron Man vs. Giant Jeff Bridges? I don’t know.

What makes these action finales is simple: In trying to amp up the spectacle, the director loses track of the logistics and geography of the fight. Audiences know there’s a Giant Final Battle going on, and that people are punching each other super hard. But beyond that, no one could explain exactly what they were seeing.

As always I’ll point to the conclusion of Fellowship of the Ring as the example of how every filmmaker should approach a climactic battle: Peter Jackson lays out the exact geography of the area, shows you which characters are where, and then follows the fight closely, and without the use of extensive jump-cuts.

Oh, I forgot. Doomsday is in this movie. Yay.

If I have one serious, foundational complaint about BvS–that is, aside from all of the stupid movie-logic holes, and forced use of “Martha,” and waste of Amy Adams, and everything else people have complained about–it’s this:

So Warner Bros. decides they’re going to reboot Superman. The first movie they do is another origin story. And then the very next movie is the death of Superman? Are you freaking kidding me?

This is tantamount to an admission that WB/DC has no Superman stories to tell. They know how to do his origin. They know how to do his death. They’ll figure out some rebirth BS. But an actual story–which has a central conflict, a narrative arc, maybe even a big idea to unpack?–sorry, boss. They’ve only been mining this character for 78 years. How could you expect them to have any good stories to tell.

Anyway, deciding to shove Doomsday and the death of Superman into a movie that features the meeting of and conflict between Batman and Superman seems, at best, a waste. And at worst a sign of creative bankruptcy within the WB/DC brain trust.

 

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JVL Elsewhere
March 31st, 2016


On The Grinder, which earned me a retweet from Rob Lowe. So I’ve got that going for me.

On the history of pairing Batman and Superman. Because World’s Finest was garbage.

On Brad DeLong and Hillary Clinton.

 

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Trump in the General Election
March 15th, 2016


Of all the arguments against Donald Trump, the one I find least valuable is “he’ll get pasted by Hillary Clinton in November.” A couple of thoughts:

*Certainly Trump performs worse than the other three Republicans against Clinton in prospective polling.

*But I would still rate his chances of victory reasonably as reasonably high. Say, 2-in-5. Why? Because Clinton is a terrible candidate–this cannot be overstated. Because Trump would be waging asymmetric war against her. Because everybody’s turnout models would be scrambled beyond recognition. Because he would make the race wildly unpredictable. Probably he loses 40 states. But maybe he wins 40 states. We can make educated guesses, but no one really knows. If he’s the nominee, it means we’re living in a new world.

*Truth is, I’d be much more sublime about the prospect of Trump winning the nomination if I had a high degree of confidence that he could be beaten in the fall. The correct argument against Trump isn’t that “he’ll lose in November.” It’s that he is not fit to president; full stop. If you’re anti-Trump now, then you should be anti-Trump even in a world where he leads Clinton by +10.

*The alt-view of this, however, is that the CW is correct and that Clinton really will crush Trump. As I said, I have no real confidence in her as a candidate. But in a general election, it’s not just the candidate and her machine may be more formidable. For a road-test on what the campaign could look like, here’s an ad about all the ugly things Trump has said about women. It doesn’t strike me as terribly effective. But then, I’m not the target demo.

As a very smart friend pointed out:

The Clinton campaign just needs to deter women from voting for Trump. They can vote for Hillary, or for the independent conservative candidate, or they can just stay home. It’s going to be the millstone they hang around Trump’s neck, like they did to Romney with some of his own tone-deaf comments.

By the end, Trump will be bleeding out of his nose, bleeding out of his whatever.

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Trump as Comic Book Villain
March 10th, 2016


Writing over at the Washington Post’s culture blog the other day, Santino asked which Batman villain is most analogous to Donald Trump. There are more reasonable choices than you might imagine. And it’s striking how often Joker and Bane lines fit in Trump analysis. For instance, in surveying the RNC’s ludicrous plan to “control” Trump: “Do you feel . . . in charge?”

But as much as I like the Bane/Joker comparisons, I think Loki might be the better fit. He’s the prince of lies; he’s insecure; he wants to rule the world; he has a dim view of the sheeple. Doesn’t this fit the basic Trumpian worldview:

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A Taxonomy of Modern Children’s Cartoons
March 7th, 2016


This is about as clear a look behind the curtain as you’ll ever get. It’s one step away from me Instagramming pictures of my dog.

That said, Galley Friend Brad Jackson has been telling me how great Clone Wars is for two years. And it turns out he’s right. If you’re ranking filmed Star Wars product, the list goes:

Empire > New Hope > Clone Wars > Force Awakens > everything else

And Barbie: Life in the Dream House is oddly compelling. It’s almost Lynchian in the way it plays with the idea that the characters aren’t people, but toy dolls. One of the great running gags is that things on the walls of flat surfaces–say, a picture hanging, or a TV mounted on a wall–are really just stickers. Except that the stickers become functional items. Seriously: The producers of this show are awfully creative/subversive.

Speaking of which: Ken is totally gay. How gay? He’s an inventor. His prize invention is a robot named “Closet.”

Schöfferhofer.

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