Friday, May 22, 2009

can you believe it?

Again, Charlie's Angels is on TV and, again, the kids are watching it!


I should get on Twitter so I can just tweet about this already.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

How Fast a Love Affair Can Change.... or Why I'm No Longer Excited to See Terminator Salvation

Just a mere two days ago I was so excited and jazzed to see the new Terminator movie this weekend but then reality (being the bitch it sometimes is) hit me when this review came pouring in.

Usually I stay away from reading reviews when it involves a movie I've already set my mind to see. If I hear any negative buzz then I'll just store it in the back of my mind and watch it anyway and come to my own conclusions but the thing that's been nagging me since I first heard about the film was its director, McG. Looking over the work of this guy all I remember seeing were the Charlie's Angels movies (once for each) and not being that impressed with either of them; not that they were bad movies they just seemed to.... exist.

And since those movies pushed its way into theaters and into homes (my girlfriend's kids always seem to turn on one of the Charlie's Angels when its on TV... God Damn You HBO!) all I've ever heard was how that master of self-promotion (McG, I'm still talking about) would be attached to this project (Superman before Bryan Singer) or that project (Wonder Woman after the studio let Joss Whedon go) and every time I came across those bits of news I would let out a silent groan. It's that same feeling I get when I hear that fatso hack Brett Ratner is attached to a cool project, although I am happy to hear he is finally off the Conan project. Here is another self-promoting asshole that I wish would stick to lame buddy action movies or music videos but, anyway, this blog has devolved into something very angry and heartbreaking and I'm still shocked that I've found the energy to blog about it.

p.s. at least my girlfriend Gail was happy to hear the news that we won't be seeing Terminator Salvation this weekend. After refusing to see Star Trek with me, which I remind her everyday how great it was, I guess she felt bad and figured she owed it to me to at least sit through this one. When I called her today about the bad news - she sounded relieved.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Remakes, Reboots, and Retcons: Looking at the Superhero Narrative in Relation to Non-Comic Book Movies

Looking over all the summer movie previews I couldn't help but notice how relatively scarce films based on comic books were this season. Coming from last summer where it seemed as though every other week featured a new "comic book" movie, I must admit I am a bit surprised (although that alleged piece-of-mediocrity officially titled X-Men Origins: Wolverine counts but I'm just not excited enough to drive out and see it). However, taking in a few movies released this year I couldn't help but see certain literary devices traditionally used in comic books popping up in a few non-comic book movies.

In general terms, a comic book movie is seen as either a.) based on characters originally and/or predominately featured in comic books or b.) a movie where one or more characters are not based on any published character but exhibit traits and superhuman powers generally found in a superhero comic. Films borrowing from all different genres like Mystery Men, Unbreakable, Dark City, My Super Ex-Girlfriend, and even both Kill Bill (Vols. 1 & 2) and The Matrix trilogy can be included in this category (among others of course). These films all play a major part in creating the film language of the superhero/comic book genre and sub-genre. However, is it possible for a film based on previously established characters not associated with comic books (or any of the above categories, for that matter) be qualified as a comic book movie by using continuity devices typically found in traditional superhero narratives?

In this blog post, I will attempt to make the argument that the recently released Star Trek (2009) along with the last two James Bond films (Casino Royale & Quantum of Solace) can be certified as self-conscious examples where modern comic book narratives can inform another medium on pure textual level. To begin: in J.J. Abrams' Star Trek, a film originally conceived on television and later carried on in movies, spin-offs and books; the main plot is triggered when a gang of newly-extinct Romulans along with the elderly Admiral Spock accidentally create a black hole sending each other back in time. The viewer learns that moments before the initial time travel the planet Romulus was destroyed when plans to disengage a supernova went awry (thereby creating the said “black hole”). The few Romulans who survive become good and pissed and decide to take action by waging war on Admiral Spock and the entire Federation of Planets but inadvertently change key moments in our heroes past. Without rehashing any more of the plot the film wisely uses the time-travel angle as a way to “retcon” which allows Abrams and other future Trek filmmakers a sense of artistic freedom to deviate from its long established canon.

The term retcon is a fusion of two words "retroactive" and "continuity" and is used by adding new information to either explain or to deliberately change established facts in a work of serial fiction. It's argued when the term "retcon" first came into use but it really took off during the mid-80's superhero upheaval in DC Comics. In 1985 a 12 part story called Crisis on Infinite Earths was published in an effort to clean up 50 years of convoluted storylines by killing off any unnecessary multiple Batmans and parallel-Earth Supermans. Today, this story is considered a classic and it sparked a full-scale wave of retconning that's still being felt and debated today.

Off topic, slightly, here is an example of one of my favorite retconned moments.

Since many of the popular superheroes were established generations ago, the superhero comic thrives as a medium conscious of its own history. One unique advantage of the superhero comic is its ability to engage in a level of narrative play that a less staunchly followed medium might not be able to maintain thanks to its devoted readership. In superhero comic books, revisions of superheroes traverse time and space to engage in dialogue with their previous iterations and if that doesn’t work or fails to make sense then comic book writers are afforded the luxury to clean up and retcon any discrepancies away.

In the Abrams film, new dynamics and relationships are established when the timeline is changed causing all kinds Oedipal conflicts and budding romances never fully explored in the original series. The appearance of the elderly Spock (or as the Internet insists on calling him: Spock Prime) reminds me of the 2006 comic series Infinite Crisis where the elderly Earth-2 Superman (DC's re-offering of the Superman of the 1930's and 40's) fights the current Earth-1 Superman over grief and conflicting values (they eventually make nice and realize their battle was merely a distraction orchestrated by the story's true villain: Earth-3's Alexander Luthor (trust me this story actually makes sense)). Luckily, both Spocks never exchange fists, or Vulcan pinches, but with their divergent memories and shifting attitudes one can't help but look at them as the same yet (tragically?) different.

In 2005 producers of the James Bond franchise made the announcement they were going to restart the series despite the fact the previous film Die Another Day was the most financially successfully Bond film to date. To be fair, the Bond formula was successful in deviating away from the serial structure of the original Ian Fleming novels and instead focusing on the fashion and sexual mores of the times while also being keen to possible technological advancements. In all Bond films, events (for the most part) seemed to occur independently and had no connection from one film to the next. Most major villains and Bond girls/allies operating outside of Mi6 had no further purpose once the film was over and usually played no part in shaping the subsequent film (the exception being the villainous Ernst Stavro Blofeld who appeared in five films and served as the inspiration for Mike Myer's Doctor Evil character).

With the release of Casino Royale in 2006, I believe the filmmakers made the conscious choice to streamline the narrative by giving Bond a true centralized villain (Mr. White) and making him part of a large organized criminal empire that’s still early for both Bond and the viewers to fully understand. With the recent release of its sequel Quantum of Solace, the Bond franchise seems committed to follow a serialized structure where characters both alive and dead seems to inform subsequent narratives. Of course there are no parallel-Bonds and Earth-3 Vesper Lynds but the filmmakers do effectively retcon aspects of the Bond character to make him more vulnerable and modern (one effective touch, which probably sent Ian Fleming into a coffin tailspin, was the moment where Vesper Lynd literally constructs the image of Bond by putting him in the tuxedo and upgrading his beverage from rum and sodas to high-end vodka martinis).

The retcons used in the recent Bond films have a more necessary feel than the imaginative angle Abrams takes but like all works of continuous fiction - the comic book genre has always stretched, ruptured, and often exploded its boundaries in order to reshape its identity to meet the demands of similarly shifting and transforming audiences and cultures. And it is this rampant revisionism and convergence that the superhero genre continually reinvents itself and it would serve other genres and mediums, especially stories with a long canonical history and multiple authorship, to follow suit.

Monday, May 11, 2009

When Bad Things Happen to Bad People: Reflections on Jacqui Smith and the Blacklist

A little late but sometime last week, British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith published a list designed to “name and shame” 16 individuals that have been deemed to harbor and/or practice extreme views. Those named are part of a larger list of people barred from entering the United Kingdom. According to press releases, 101 names have been compiled since August of 2005 but this is the first time select names have been made public. Home Secretary Smith’s decision to release these 16 names is a curious one and even though the British government has been careful not use the word: blacklist. The objective is clear.

To the Home Secretary, entering the UK is a “privilege” and those advocating hate and committing violence against a certain ethnic group are being told that privilege will be revoked. Looking over the 16 names a banishment seems reasonable; however, a government sanctioned blacklist (both public and private) tends to negate any positive efforts made while giving those named, especially to a slimy demagogue named Michael Savage, the opportunity to play the victim. Forget for a moment, Savage’s long documented rants some of which he believes are meant to “inspire thought” forget his hostility towards non-Christians or Hispanic landscapers or homosexuals in all their shapes and sizes or, even, autistic children (I dare you to read or hear his thoughts on that and not laugh from shock) and ask yourself if his inclusion on a list with known murderers and their rabble-rousers is warranted?

I could make the argument that other “name and shamees” haven’t committed violence either. Look at Eric Gliebe, for years he has been holed up in West Virginia recruiting angry runaways and leading the neo-fascist National Alliance. Another name is Yunis Al Astal a militant preacher and member of Hamas who provokes and glorifies terrorism in the Middle East. Others include the “Jewish extremist” otherwise known as Mike Guzovsky. He’s famous for being the leader of Kahane Chai, an organization labeled as a terrorist group in many countries including Israel. Another demagogue on the list is famous homosexual-hater Fred Phelps. Of course like Savage and a few others on this list, Phelps isn’t violent per se he just likes talking about violence and instigating violent behavior against those he considers irredeemable.

I could go on but you get the gist of it. Savage has publically stated that he is looking into legal action against the Home Secretary but does he really have a case? Historically, those who have formed blacklists haven’t been too successful in staying on the right side of things. If you google the word: blacklist you’ll see beyond all the links explaining IP addresses and spam blockers passages about how unfair the HUAC hearings were and that whole Alger Hiss mess, the Hollywood blacklist as well as cases documenting those who supported the American Revolution and the measures they had to take to keep their feelings private. All of these examples are seen today, by most, as being incredibly wrong-sided and oppressive. But what if we turn the language around and replace blacklist with the word: excluded?

In the official report written by Jacqui Smith to members of Parliament, the Home Office was careful in not dropping the B-word and, instead, included “on to existing policy" the "exclusion from the UK of those individuals who encourage violence or hatred in support of their ideology.” Much of this language and policies fall under the Prevention of Terrorism Act of 2005. Created after the July 2005 terror attacks in London where three London Underground trains and a city bus exploded killing 52 people and injuring over 700. In these provisions a control order was placed where the Home Secretary has the power to "restrict an individuals liberty" who has been deemed as an extremist and thereby use their ideology to instigate terrorism. And most notably, these measures apply not only to citizens but foreigners as well.

For Michael Savage to make his case he'll have to prove his words were never meant to incite violence. Savage is no stranger to filing lawsuits and even having them dismissed and since British law doesn't recognize 1st Amendment rights (instead it uses a form of self-regulation that can change according to editors and communication officers, etc.), Savage will have to stand by his words and accusations. Face it, Savage is a demagogue plain and simple. He likes to present his rants as a fresh and honest approach to his listeners who are fearful and suspicious of liberal humanist ideology (at best) and hateful to those of different races and creed (at worst). However, Savage will get some face time and threaten legal action since a government official across the pond has put the kibosh on his reputation as a "free-thinking and thoughtful, independent voice" thereby painting him, again, as a victim of political correctness and stifling liberal elitism. When, unfortunately, the real victim(s) could be on this list. Of course I seriously doubt they are among the 16 named (H.S. Jacqui Smith can be a clumsy legislator but not that clumsy), but what about those who do sit on the side of Muslim rights and could present their views in a qualified and thoughtful way. I'm sure it's achievable and may require those in power to listen to everything that's good, bad, and ridiculous.


Author's note: I know this blog has danced its way into the realm of flippant law study. Of course I may read like a qualified scholar of the law but I assure you.... I am not. I am a man like any man curious about the role of humanity and in fostering the one unique trait that keeps us separate from our gorilla and chimpanzee relatives - for which trait is that you may ask?

Well, isn't it obvious?

That trait is the pursuit of JUSTICE!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Handicapping the U.S. Supreme Court pt.1...

To properly christen my new “serious” blog I’ve decided a serious topic would be in order… and since nothing’s more serious than the United States Supreme Court - then to that I say: “Let the seriousness begin!!!”

With that said, let me tell where I’m coming from – I’m a registered Democrat that has a vested interest in whom President Obama will choose to fill Justice Souter’s seat come October. The President, who previously taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago before embarking on his more famous political career, has recently laid out his criteria in terms of evaluating prospective judges. Of course the GOP is promising a contentious battle, many insiders are wondering how fierce it will be since Justice Souter’s announced retirement will trigger the first Democrat Supreme Court selection since May 13th, 1994 (when President Clinton named Stephen Breyer to the bench). Of course many media outlets seem to pass around the same list of potential nominees, most agree that President Obama will lean towards picking a female Justice; and in the grand tradition of journalistic incest I’ve decided to use my wit and street smarts and gather all the preliminary names being tossed around and handicap the chances each one has in both being nominated and confirmed.

Sonia Sotomayer of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Sotomayer is a Clinton appointee to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals and seems to be the odds on favorite to pass. Many believe she meets President Obama’s empathy criteria, having grown up poor in the South Bronx, as well as Obama's preference for sterling credentials (graduated from Yale Law School as well as serving as the editor of the Yale Law Journal). Sotomayer began as an Assistant District Attorney in New York before entering private practice and specializing in intellectual property litigation. Viewed as a centrist and respected on both sides, Sotomayer should face an easy confirmation process. 1 to 3.

Harold Koh, Dean of Yale University Law School. Currently Obama’s nominee to be the chief legal adviser at the State Department, but his nomination has encountered heavy opposition from Republicans due to his interpretation of international law which consisted of condemning the Iraq war and publicly opposing torture. He is considered a liberal pick. 55 to 1.

Elena Kagan, U.S. Solicitor General. Former dean of Harvard Law School, Kagan served as deputy domestic policy adviser in President Clinton’s White House. Clinton nominated her to the D.C. Circuit in 1999 but she never got a hearing. Kagan is considered liberal but has a record of reaching out to conservatives while at Harvard. 3 to 1.

Kim McLane Wardlaw of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The first Hispanic American woman appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals, Wardlaw was a respected California litigator and Democratic supporter before being named by President Clinton as a District Judge in 1995 and then, later, an appellate judge in 1998. Both nominations enjoyed strong bipartisan support. Some legal insiders find her to be less progressive than Sotomayer thus making her a favorite among Republicans. Even.

Sandra Lea Lynch, chief judge of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Longtime litigator and President Clinton appointee in 1995, recently caused controversy among the religious right for authoring a court’s decision regarding parental rights in public schools. 15 to 1.

Diane Pamela Wood of the 7th U.S. Court of Appeals. A longtime academic, Wood still teaches as a senior lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School. She has written countless essays and decisions and holds memberships. She also serves counseling positions on numerous boards and organizations. Recently, reported this piece detailing an opinion Wood shared with potential nominee Judge Ann Williams that may be brought up if either one is nominated for the high court. The case in question is entitled Doe v. City of Lafayette and it concerns a convicted child molester and his rights to dispute a public park ban placed by the city. The initial three panel hearing (comprised of Wood and Williams along with Judge Kenneth Ripple) settled on a 2-1 split where Judges Wood and Williams voted to reverse the city’s ban based on it violating the plaintiff’s 1st and 14th Amendment Rights. The case proved to be complicated and further reading of the Slate piece is essential but the controversial stand made by Judges Wood and Williams could be detrimental if either is nominated. 8 to 1.

Leah Ward Sears, chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court. Sears became the first African-American female Chief Justice in the United States as well as the first woman and youngest person to sit in the Supreme Court of Georgia. Sears announced her retirement from the Georgia Supreme Court when her term as Chief Justice ends in June of 2009. Considered to be a liberal member of the court, Sears has hinted that her retirement will allow her to focus on both academic and pro bono social justice pursuits. 6 to 1.

Deval Patrick, Governor of Massachusetts. Only the second elected African American Governor in the U.S. Worked under President Clinton as Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Rights Division where he was labeled by GOPer’s as an Affirmative Action hawk and soft on crime. Seen by the Left as pro-labor but will be grilled for his position on the Board of Directors for Ameriquest for which he resigned after 2 years in 2006. Considered a liberal pick. 30 to 1.

Cass Sunstein an Obama friend from the University of Chicago Law School and Obama’s nominee to run the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. He once clerked for Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. Considered a moderate. 18 to 1.

Ruben Castillo of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. Easily confirmed in 1994 following President Clinton’s nomination his legal career has been committed to advocating on behalf of many Mexican-American issues. No major controversies have followed his career and may be considered moderate. 12 to1.

Johnnie B. Rawlinson of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In 2000 Rawlinson became the first African American woman to sit on the ninth circuit. Her credentials lack punch and many find her intellect and legal curiosity to be comparable to Justice Clarence Thomas. It’s pretty much accepted that her nomination would disappoint many who view the court with high regard (regardless of political preference). 100 to 1.

Merrick B. Garland of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Having a long and distinguished career in the Attorney General office – began as a special assistant to deputy with the U.S. Department of Justice, Garland was named to the D.C. Circuit and is considered a judicial moderate. He is considered a male front-runner. 8 to 1.

M. Margaret McKeown of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. An expert in intellectual property law, McKeown made enemies with the religious right by authoring a three panel decision regarding the unconstitutional display of Government supported religion. 18 to 1.
Pamela S. Karlan, law professor at Stanford University. An experienced advocate before the Supreme Court, Karlan is a committed legal scholar and is a respected expert on matters of anti discrimination and constitutional law and has written extensively on many legal matters. Considered liberal. 10 to 1.

Jennifer Granholm, Governor of Michigan. Serving her final term as Michigan Governor, Granholm has seen her approval ratings slip due to budget and financial crisis. Before elected Governor, Granholm served as Attorney General for Michigan and supported regulations to protect consumers. Publicly supports pro-choice policies and civil unions and same-sex marriage. She has been seen by the media as a major front-runner although many legal experts wonder what qualifies her as a constitutional scholar. 20 to 1.

Kathleen Sullivan, Dean of Stanford Law School. A leading scholar on constitutional law, Sullivan will face scrutiny for being openly lesbian and for her aggressive advocacy in promoting and arguing for gay rights. 18 to 1.

Ken Salazar, Interior Secretary. Since becoming Senator of Colorado in 2004, Salazar has made friends on both sides of the aisle. His confirmation as Interior Secretary was unanimous, has a track record of being environmentally friendly although his confirmation of Gale Norton (G.W. Bush’s pick for his previous position) caught the wrath of many environmentalists and his favoring of industry over the environment. Served as Attorney General of Colorado from 1998 to 2004. Salazar is considered a moderate. 15 to 1.

Janet Napolitano, Chief of Homeland Security. Has a contentious connection to the current Supreme Court by serving as attorney to Anita Hill in 1991 against current Justice Clarence Thomas. Her time as a private attorney focused on consumer protection and improving law enforcement, she served as both Attorney General and as Governor for Arizona before joining Obama’s administration. Napolitano is currently caught in a controversy for releasing threat memos warning about possible far-right extremist groups working to recruit returning veterans upset about Democratic policies. 45 to 1.

Ann Williams of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. An African-American woman, she could be tough for Republicans to oppose because she was first appointed as a federal district court judge in 1985 by Reagan. Clinton elevated her to the appeals court. She is considered a moderate but her involvement in the Doe v. City of Lafayette decision (previously posted under Judge Diane Wood) could derail her. 4 to 1.

Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State. Considered an influential lawyer during the 1970’s, Clinton was raised as a conservative until joining a number of Democratic causes in college. After law school, she would go on to crusade for a number of organizations dealing with child law and family policy. Seen as a polarizing figure in politics, Clinton would surely face a contentious nomination process if selected. 35 to 1.