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Saturday, April 17, 2021

BIRDS OF PREY AND THE FANTABULOUS EMANCIPATION OF ONE HARLEY QUINN (2020)

The return of Harley Quinn, and this time she's got a posse.

Four years after the cinematic debacle that was SUICIDE SQUAD (2016), finally fed up with being the Joker's physical and emotional punching bag, loony psychiatrist/gymnast/super-villain Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) breaks up with the Clown Prince of Crime and once that fact is made public and she is no longer under his homicidal protection, everyone she ever wronged in Gotham City comes out of the woodwork to exact savage vengeance. Along with staying ahead of the legion of people who want to kill her, a distraught Harley is tasked by vicious mob boss Black Mask (Ewan McGregor) with finding a young pickpocket (Ella Jay Basco) who stole a diamond encrypted with the codes to unlock a long-lost mafia fortune. With only a few hours in which to accomplish her mission, Harley must navigate a maelstrom of underworld mayhem, and along the way she gains allies in hardened veteran Gotham City detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), mob princess turned crossbow-wielding assassin the Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and nightclubs singer with a hidden superhuman attribute, the Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell). Much fighting, shooting, and out-of-control mayhem ensues.

After purposefully avoiding it for just over a year, I finally sat through BIRDS OF PREY AND THE FANTABULOUS EMANCIPATION OF ONE HARLEY QUINN and, despite being utterly oversaturated with its lead character over the past two decades, I liked it quite a lot. In fact, I'd rank it among the best of the DCEU films. (Which is admittedly not saying much, as that bar is set frustratingly low.) 

Margot Robbie, one of the very few saving graces of the incoherent and genuinely awful SUICIDE SQUAD, is once more a lot of fun as Harley, and the whole film embraces the fact that it's basically a live-action cartoon. That said, I wish it had simply been allowed to be a Harley Quinn movie and not also serve as a cheap way to launch a possible Birds of Prey franchise. BoP is one of my favorite DC properties, especially when written well, and by tying it in with the antics of Harley Quinn in the minds of the general moviegoing public, the filmmakers have squandered any hope of a straight BoP movie.

Also, while I liked Jurnee Smollett-Bell in the role, I was kind of annoyed at the filmmakers making the Black Canary a black woman. I'm beyond sick of the trope of black superheroes automatically getting slapped with "Black" as part of their name (despite having written a parody black superhero named "the Black Darkness"), and part of the fun of the comics Black Canary is that she's a brunette white chick who dons a blonde wig when kicking criminal ass. At least this version kept the status as a second-generation legacy hero, following in her deceased mother's footsteps.

Ewan McGregor was also fun as crime boss Black Mask, who was clearly coded as gay and, refreshingly, not played as a fey stereotype. In fact, McGregor appeared to be having a blast playing this quriky and psychotic baddie. And speaking of criminals, his "BFF," Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina), is a real piece of work who reveals in the torture and mutilation of his victims. The scene where he peels the faces off of a Chinese crime boss, his wife, and his daughter is truly unsettling. And though based on a family-friendly DC Comics property, I was surprised to find out that the film is rated R and quite violent, which certainly kept me interested throughout.

Fun and definitely worth sitting through at least once. 

Poster from the theatrical release.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

JUSTICE LEAGUE - The Snyder Cut (2021) or "Four Hours...For THIS???"

Because YOU demanded it: Extended dourness and turgidity.
 
Okay...

I mulled over my thoughts on the Snyder cut of JUSTICE LEAGUE for the past two days, and after sitting through its four-hour run time, I honestly have to ask myself why I even bothered. The immediate answers to that would be 1. So I could speak on it from a fully-informed POV, and 2. To see any new or extended footage involving Diana — yeah, I'm a total Wonder Woman mark — but it really was not worth the time expended. Yes, it's a more coherent piece than the theatrical version and it is very much the work of one director's vision, but an extended mess is still a mess, no matter how much you tart it up. Also, there was no way in hell that any American studio would release four hours of this to theaters and expect to turn a profit. Hell, they even balk at a feature that's just a bit longer than two hours, so four hours? Forget about it.

Yeah, it does flesh out the characters to a much greater degree, but when you have what's basically a pack of either boring non-entities or characters that the director fundamentally does not understand at all, such fleshing-out is about as effective as pissing into a hurricane. And though this version excises the jokey material that was clearly the work of Joss Whedon, what results is a dour, dark, and depressing effort that feel like a four-hour iteration of the Bataan Death March. DC and its stable of superhero characters have always been light fare, some would not unfairly describe them as "whitebread," and what Snyder gives us is an angsty emo kid's take on them. There is neither fun nor joy to be had here, and even the resurrection of Superman is accompanied by the black version of his uniform. As if the film's overall color palette were not already drab enough, we get comics culture's most iconic exemplar of raw power wielded with hope and kindness showing up like he's ready front for My Chemical Romance. At least Darkseid is actually in it (not that he does anything) and the visuals on Steppenwolf are considerably improved.

And speaking of Superman, following the events of BATMAN V SUPERMAN, the entire world knows that Superman was dead and, to a lesser/more localized degree, the same goes for noted Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent. In JUSTICE LEAGUE, when the heroes use a Mother Box to revive Supes, he returns in a confused and aggressive state — as seen in the theatrical version — and both Batman and Lois Lane call out to him as "Clark," and they do so in front of an assortment of police officers and military personnel, thus outing Clark to numerous witnesses. And once the story wraps up, Clark Kent is suddenly back from the dead at the same time as Superman and no one finds that odd?

There really are no spoilers for this version, as it's merely the theatrical excised of the Whedon material and taffy-pulled to a nigh-interminable duration. The post-apocalyptic vision of a world in which Superman has gone bad is also lengthened and it serves zero narrative purpose since a sequel to this will hopefully never happen. In that sequence Batman leads a team of Deathstroke, Mera — who's toting around a couple opf gallons of water in an otherwise arid landscape — and Jared Leto's horrendous take on the Joker, now seen with long hair, smudged lipstick, and spouting a whole lot of nonsense that will never be paid off. Oh, and we also get two brief scenes where the Martian Manhunter shows up, but he serves little or no purpose in the story other than to announce his presence and, while in the form of Martha Kent, get Lois off of her grieving ass and motivate her to return to work.

If none of this sounds compelling, it's because it isn't, and you are advised to spend four precious hours doing something, damned near anything else, other than sitting through this glacially-paced monument to the power of fandom and its ability to bully a studio into making you see the same garbage twice, only now with more garbage to pad it out. For completists only, and maybe not even then.

Sunday, March 07, 2021

POSTCARD FROM THE WELL OF LONELINESS

I hate it that people aren't taking the pandemic seriously.

I get that people want to return to things as they were in the previous norm, but get fucking real. That norm is DONE, and it will not, hell, CANNOT return. But people continue to say "Fuck it" and congregate en masse, thus creating more infection vectors, but, again, "Fuck it! I want's me comforts! I wants me social interaction! I wants ta gits me drink on! I wants to party!!!"

Do you think others don't want that? We're all going bugfuck insane from the responsibilities of maintaining social distancing and whatever other protocols go with functioning in and staving off a goddamned pandemic, and it's up to each of us to butch up and bear it until it's over, but the "over" part of all of this will be a long time in coming as the brain dead insist on congregating en masse and therefore possibly spreading the virus whenever they disperse. And it's not helping that our appointed government officials are showing their lack of a spine, or displaying their onw self-interests, by caving and rescinding mask mandates and restrictions on public gathering, dining, entertainment, what have you.

I'm a 55-year-ol single male living in New York City. I have a huge group of close friends, some of whom I've been tight with for forty years or longer, and though we all love the times we have when we all get together, we are all acting responsibly and either maintain isolation (which is presumably easier for those who are married or have domestic partners) or we limit our social interactions to infrequent get-togethers of 8-10 people, all of whom have been tested or vaccinated and who are certified as COVID-free. And some remain masked during such small gatherings, despite the certainty of the virus's absence. And in all other excursions and interactions outside of out homes, we diligently stayed masked-up.

But while it's nice to have these occasional limited interactions, it's certainly not enough for a gregarious type like me. The isolation within my small studio apartment (that is a master study in clutter) is sanity-taxing, plus to say nothing of having no choice but to be stuck in the painful and depressing perpetual cycle of dialysis until a donor kidney comes along. Am I depressed? Yes. Do I have days when I very much feel like I'm losing my grip on time and sanity? Absolutely. Am I lonely as hell and am I in need of some female lovin'? Unequivocally, YES. But there is nothing to be done about it for now, as the dread spectre of as COVID-19 still continues to blight the landscape. Hopefully vaccination will help somewhat, but who knows how long the pandemic will last while selfish and science-ignorant fucksticks continue to raise a middle finger to common sense and carry on with their cavorting? If not for my sporadic visits with Tracey, her daughter, her boyfriend, and her ginormous moosh of a dog, I sincerely think I would go utterly mad. And at all other times, I feel like the last man on Earth.

Loneliness is a bitch under the best of circumstances, but in the new normal — which, let's face it, the majority of us have unfortunately become accustomed to — it's a mental, spiritual, and emotional death sentence. The question is: When will the loneliness finally do me in? I do my best to fight it, and I will continue to wage the battle, but eventually even heavily-fortified fortresses fall, and I am just a human being of flesh and bone.

(written while sitting on the edge of my futon bed in my boxer briefs and a Blowfly t-shirt)


DIALYSIS: A LAMENT

Please allow me to vent for a moment.

I hate dialysis. I know it's saving my life but I really, REALLY fucking hate it.

Kidney failure is no picnic and neither is the ongoing treatment for it, but I must endure until whenever a kidney becomes available that is a perfect match.

Dialysis is physically painful, thanks to the needles and the occasional bloody mishaps that go with them, and aside from my own agonies I am constantly reminded of the pain involved by the moans and screams of my fellow patients. I may experience pain, but I will not give it the satisfaction of making me scream. A yelp or two here and there, but never screams.

I hate the dialysis center. It's a depressing facility straight out of a medical horror movie. Its white floors and walls that reflect the glare of the overly bright lighting, the rows of dialysis machines and the assorted noises that they make. The chairs that one sits in during the dialysis process may as well be a prison for the mind and body while one is there, as one is trapped in them and forbidden to move for close to four solid hours, during which time one learns firsthand to understand relativity, as one feels those hours stretch on for what seems to be a century.

While I fully understand that they have no control over their actions, being among elderly dementia patients for several hours three days per week is a soul-destroying affair. They are lost within their own heads as they cry out to be released every two minutes, some screaming and crying in pain as well as in confusion. Mr. Adler in particular is an especially tragic case. He's a bearded old Hasid who was once reportedly a knowledgeable scholar and teacher of his faith, but now his mind functions on a disconnect from time and space as he wonders where he is and constantly asks to be set from his seat and from the machine. I do not know him outside of treatment, but it pains me to see a once great mind reduced to being stuck in a time loop.

While I love the experienced nurse/techs, I dread times of cutbacks that lead to under-staffing. Those times find the veteran nurse/techs occupied more on specific sides of the facility, thus leaving those of us in the middle in the care of inexperienced intern nurse/techs who will hopefully gain experience on the fly. We patients fear being in the care of these well-intentioned newbs because they have no skills in practical application, so they often fumble in ways that result in pain and blood. There's no sensation quite like standing on linoleum in a puddle of blood that has spurted from an artery in your arm where a newb nurse/tech mis-applied the needles or failed to properly bandage the entry points after treatment, resulting in blood dripping all over the place like syrup at a pancake house breakfast.

Yes, I have an assortment of items to keep me distracted during the process, but I would rather be nearly anywhere else, doing anything else, but until the kidney comes through I will be stuck in the endless loop of treatment one day, rest/recovery the next day, then back to treatment and rinse and repeat.

And I must admit I am beginning to psychologically break from being stuck in all of it. One can only be so strong for so long, and I am definitely reaching my limit. When one's life is on hold thanks to forces beyond one's control, one's life becomes a purgatory.

I am not religious and I never will be, but if I were the praying type, I would implore the gods for swift arrival of a replacement organ, but it's a case of "wish in one hand and shit in the other and see which fills up first...”


Sunday, January 31, 2021

WINTER WONDERLAND OF ASSHOLISM


Ahead of the impending nor'easter, I just went around the corner to the Associated for a few items, not even stuff I couldn't wait until after the storm to obtain. At that point it was barely snowing, just a flake or two here and there.

I got there and found the place had reinstated COVID-related amounts of people in the store, so I waited on line for about ten or fifteen minutes to get in. When I made it inside I was almost shut out, but the staffer at the door, Annette, recognized me and let me in, cutting off the line once I was inside. I got the ten items I needed and got on line and commenced with the usual long wait that happens during blizzard panic. The wait allowed me to notice that the other shoppers had filled up their carts with Brobdingnagian amounts of items, as though they were going to be snowed in for the remainder of the winter. It was truly ridiculous, and the Latina heifer in front of me had a cart overflowing with 2-liter bottles of soda, multiple types of chips, other assorted junk food, and stacks of Oreos and Fig Newtons.

Anyway, the wait was interrupted when a fifty-something black chick on my line accused a white couple of cutting the line. There were three open lines and the white couple got onto an open one, but the black chick for some reason accused them of cutting. She loudly berated them, particularly the female of the pair, thinking her embarrassing display of "going all black" on them would scare them into some sort of submission over nothing. To her credit, the white chick explained to the belligerent harridan that there were three lines and that they had simply gotten on one that was open.

The black chick nonetheless continued her hostile antics, attempting to bring the staff in on it, but the staff — all Latinas — told her that she was in the wrong and the white chick had done nothing to earn her ire. That shut her up for a moment, but then she began complaining about it to herself in a loud voice. Most people would have let it go right there because she was clearly just a pointlessly angry person just looking for a fight for no reason, but the white chick overheard her and said "What's your problem?" That gave the black chick an excuse to continue her tirade, only this time she left her place on line to confront the white chick directly. She got in the white chick's face and bellowed "'What's my problem?" My problem is you!!! You're an asshole!!! I will drag you around this store!!! Do you hear me? I WILL DRAG YOU AROUND THIS STORE!!! MY SISTER IS A DETECTIVE!!!" Again, to her credit, the white chick did not back down at all, responding with "Oooooooh, I'm SO scared..." in the same manner one child would address another on the playground. The black chick, angered that the white chick was clearly not phased by her antics began to rant and rave incoherently, getting more and more wound-up while the other customers shitted and moved away because she was clearly becoming unhinged at this point — remember, this was all over nothing — so the staff opened up the seldom-used fourth checkout aisle and moved her onto it in order to appease her and shut her up. The tactic worked, though she still maintained attitude as she exited.

I tell you, impending blizzards never fail to bring out the worst in people. I have lived here for going on 24 years and every time I decide to pick up a few items as a blizzard looms, there is invariably some asshole who will get fed up with the long waits on line and take out their frustration on some innocent fellow customer. Without fail.

Sometimes I hate people.


Wednesday, January 27, 2021

GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS (2019)

Much ado about nothing.
 
Well, I finally saw GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS (2019), and my life would have been in no way diminished if I had skipped it altogether. ( refused to pay to see it in the theater.) At least it got me through most of today's dialysis session.

I know that there are a lot of people out there who will cream their jeans over anything with the Godzilla name attached to it, and that audience was more than likely satisfied by this bloated, needlessly overlong, bland studio gewgaw that amounted to the cinematic equivalent of jangling dangled keys in front of an infant, and they are welcome to it. It's a CGI orgy and pretty much nothing more. The characters, if you can even call them that, did not engage me in the slightest, and that's really saying something when you consider that Charles Dance plays the antagonist. (The film tragically squanders his talents.) And though the characters in the Japanese run can largely be described as annoying, corny, or silly, at least they had personalities that made them memorable and entertaining. Also, they were fun. (Some prefect examples: Astronauts Glenn and Fuji, Miss Namikawa, and the polar opposite of silly, boring, and unmemorable, Dr. Serizawa.)

As for the monsters, I liked what they did with Mothra, and Rodan's battle with the Mexican air force was spectacular, but I didn't give a shit about either Godzilla nor King Ghidorah.
It was like watching clones of dear old friends trying to pass themselves off as the real thing. You see, for me the Toho monsters just do not work when handled outside of their native culture and specific context. In the better films of his Japanese franchise, Godzilla was originally envisioned as the embodiment of the horror of the atomic bomb as commented upon by a people who experienced it firsthand — TWICE — and he was later retconned to be the living vengeance of those who died at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which is extremely heavy stuff that lends the character true gravitas and terror. Removed from that context, all you have is a big lizard. Also gone is any trace of the personality displayed in the homegrown Godzilla films, and that personality, be it when he's an outright walking natural disaster or when he's something of a superhero, Godzilla had an identifiable character and swagger that is utterly absent in his American iteration, an aspect that I say stems from the American studio's fundamental lack of understanding of the character at his most basic. Sure, the special effects were among the best that money can buy, but they were in service of a dull, un-involving narrative that's as hollow as an ice cream cone minus a scoop.

Anyway, I'm glad that I had the good sense to avoid this during its theatrical run, as, to me, it would have been a waste of twenty bucks. It was every bit the empty corporate product that I expected, and now I fear the same may be the case with GODZILLA VS KONG. Thanks to how much I enjoyed KONG: SKULL ISLAND, I will see GODZILLA VS KONG, but the bar of my expectations is firmly set lower that a slug's ballsack. If it's actually good, I will totally support it, but if it sucks and it's boring, I'll bail on all further American Godzilla entries.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

BATMAN:SOUL OF THE DRAGON (2021)

 (L-R) Richard Dragon, Batman, Lady Shiva, the Bronze Tiger. Sheer badassery.

A dear friend who's immersing himself into the DC animated movies strongly recommended that I check out BATMAN: SOUL OF THE DRAGON, and he was absolutely right. Its setting is the world of '70's-era kung fu and blaxploitation movies, or rather a blending of the two flavors, and it reimagines the Batman as one of several former students of a martial arts master who band together to take on an otherworldly evil. It's non-stop action from start to finish and it will all be quite familiar to those steeped in the films that it evokes.

The originally Caucasian Richard Dragon has been recast as Bruce Lee's ENTER THE DRAGON-style superspy, and it works like a charm. The Bronze Tiger is also present — voiced by Black Dynamite himself and real-life martial arts badass, Michael Jai White — and I'll be damned if his look is not meant to evoke '70's-era Luke Cage, which also works beautifully. Lady Shiva is her usual utterly deadly self (the story does not in any way shy away from her total willingness to kill), and the Batman in this story is definitely the Englehart-Rogers version, visually returning his look to that of his 1930's pre-Robin iteration (my favorite version, BTW). 
 

Batman, rockin' it old school.

BATMAN: SOUL OF THE DRAGON is a solid winner and it gets my HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION for those who are in on what it's laying down. The live-action Batman movies wish they were even 1/16 as good or as much fun as this 82-minute animated effort.
 
With these four united, the bad guys may as well dig their own graves and save the undertakers the trouble.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

CRUISIN' WITH IVAN


Yesterday's dialysis went without a hitch, though I did end up suffering from the usual foamy saliva and hiccups afterward, but I distracted myself from that with an evening over at Tracey's. That said, the one new negative hitch to yesterday was the guy I got on my car service ride home from treatment. He was a chatty Russian who has been a cabbie for 30 years, and he spoke fluent (though moose-and-squirrel-accented) English, so there was zero language barrier when for 25 minutes he filled me in on his philosophy of life, work ethics and politics.

Among other classic quotes from this guy were "I came here as a political refugee and was brought up all my life to work hard, that's why I am a conservative," and "Everything wrong with this country is because of Hilary." I was a captive audience as he cheerily went on and on about his views on America (which he loves) and the greatness of its Republican leaders, how Trump was the best thing to happen to this country and how the current treatment of him was a disgrace, and, my favorite part, the "fact" that all African-Americans amount to nothing in this country because they are "simply too damn lazy." When he let fly with that one, I lowered my mask, which obscures everything but my eyes, and told him "Well, I'm a 55-year-old African-American and I would still be working right now if not for falling victim to corporate downsizing twice and one firing for petty reasons, plus to say nothing of illnesses that rendered a full-time job out of the question for the past seven years. Without missing a beat, the guy explained that he did not find all black people lazy, just African-Americans. To explain his point, he noted that his daughter had married a hard-working Jamaican immigrant and that he had two grand-kids from that union that he loves more than anything, plus he was quick to point out that his son-in-law worked three jobs "and never slacks." He then recounted his history of having been in the U.S. Navy for some years, and how grateful he was to Trump for "channeling benefits to U.S. military, especially Navy veterans," and that African-Americans, despite being "lazy bastards and whores," constantly received endless benefits that they were unworthy of because they had not earned them due to their laziness. Oh, and he was also an advocate for the barring of immigration into the country because "illegals get all of the benefits and they did not earn any of them." He capped off that statement with full acknowledgement of his own immigrant status, but noted that he earned everything that he gets.

I endured all of this in gobsmacked disbelief, as I am used to such conversations on my car service rides to and from dialysis being automatically nipped in the bud by the language barrier. (My drivers from the insurance-provided service are invariably Russian.) But at no point was I offended, simply because the driver was so cheery and articulate while espousing his Trumpanzee leanings. He was charming , sweet, and intelligent, and his overall personality was utterly charming, despite me absolutely being in total disagreement with nearly everything that came out of his mouth. Anyway, when we finally arrived at my building and my driver wished me well, you could have heard a sonic boom from the speed with which I exited that car and made my way into my building. An evening at Tracey's was just what I needed after that, and I wrote all of this up not only to amuse all of you, but also so Tracey, Matt, and Shun could get the whole story. As previously stated, I was suffering from my usual post-treatment miseries, so my voice was mostly shot and talking was torture.


Friday, December 25, 2020

WONDER WOMAN 1984 (2020) Spoiler-Free Review

 

Gal Gadot returns.

It's Christmas Day and WONDER WOMAN 1984 has dropped in selected theaters and simultaneously in theaters. Was is as good as director Patty Jenkins's inaugural entry in the series? Here are my thoughts on the matter, speaking as a lifelong Wonder Woman boster who was raised by a first-generation reader of the comics during the Golden Age:
  • I enjoyed it but it certainly is not without flaws, chief of which is its unnecessary over-length. The same story could have been told with at least a half hour judiciously edited.
  • Diana is seen in costume and superheroic action for less than fifteen percent of the film, so don't go in expecting what you got from her in JUSTICE LEAGUE. She's still a fun character though, and Gal Gadot manages to give her charm and personality, both aspects that, despite Diana's iconic status as a comics archetype and pop culture figure, she seldom possesses in most media. She's always been a great visual and symbol, but it takes someone special at the writing helm to make her more than just a distaff Heracles.
     
  • I initially balked at the casting of Kristen Wiig as Barbara Minerva/the Cheetah, but she did a very good job with the role.
  • Pedro Pascal's Maxwell Lord is every bit the on-the-nose Donald Trump analogue I expected, but he's also quite good.
  • I could have done without the inclusion of Aristea's golden eagle armor, as it was quite nakedly included to provide a merchandising alternative to Diana's signature look. It has no charm or anything that really makes it visually interesting, but at least its screen time is short.
  • The return of Steve Trevor actually makes sense and does turn out to be a major crux in the plot, so that gets a pass. The chemistry between Gadot and Pine works well and is more believable than many romances in superhero cinema.
  • What museum keeps a stock of fully-fueled and operational aircraft? Also, ace pilot or not, there is no way Trevor would have been able to just sit down and suss out the controls on a fighter jet roughly 66 years more advanced than the prop planes of his era.   
     
    The inclusion of longtime DC Comics antagonist Simon Stagg (from the cast of Metamorpho) and mention of first generation Wonder Woman villain the Duke of Deception. The latter figures majorly into the overall plot, but he is never actually seen.
  • The film features four action set pieces and all are fun, though I found the climactic set-to with the Cheetah to be somewhat of an anti-climax. To tell the truth, when really examined, her part in the story could easily have been left out, but the Cheetah os arguably Diana's Number One "Big Bad," so she kind of had to be in this film, I guess.
  • One definite selling point is that though the story is set in 1984, the soundtrack does not take that as an excuse to bombard us with ’80’s pop music hits. In fact the only such usage I noticed was a snippet of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Welcome to the Pleasuredome” during a party scene, and it wasn’t even one of the more obvious parts of the song. 
     
    Stick around for a fun mid-end credits bit that is guaranteed to bring a smile to the face of longtime Wonder Woman boosters.
Bottom Line: WONDER WOMAN 1984 is a fun flick and a better-than-average sequel that actually sticks to the themes of its character and what she's about at her core. It's too long for its own good, but it's paced briskly enough and does not fall flat at the ending like the first film did. (That said, the ending may come off as a tad less flashy and slam-bang as some might want, but I thought it fit Diana and her themes.)
Lastly, as a film for ending this utterly miserable garbage fire of a year, this film solidly delivers a much-needed dose of sunshine, kindness, and hope. B+

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

IT WAS 40 YEARS AGO TODAY

Dear Vaulties-

here's a re-run from the past couple of years, complete with the title change and a few edits to render the accurate passage of time. Bear with it, because this has become an annual fixture.
NOTE : every word of the following story is true (or rather remembered as exactly as humanly possible given that nearly four decades have elapsed since it happened), and if you find some of it offensive at this late date, imagine being in my shoes at age fifteen!

December 9th, 1980-

It was the start of my tenth grade school day morning and I was disgruntled (as usual) at being denied sleep and instead being herded along with the rest of the cattle at Westport, CT's Staples High School into yet another inane class.

The first item of regurgitation/education of the morning was English with Mr. Dyskolos (not his real name; changed for reasons soon to be apparent), a late-forty-something red-headed guy who then resembled what Danny Bonaduce looks like today, who was also among the minute handful of teachers whose classes would keep students awake because he was genuinely interesting, did not talk down to the kids, and had not allowed the thankless teaching system to beat him down and force him to consider his job a mocking reminder of wage-slavery. (I'm the son of a veteran high school teacher, so I speak with a working knowledge of such things.)

As the students took their chairs we all noticed that Mr. Dyskolos's usual laid-back manner seemed somewhat "off" that morning and after nearly a minute of total silence while he stared into space as though contemplating some cosmic truth or inevitability, he suddenly focused himself, looked at us and said, as serious as a heart attack, "By the look of you, you haven't heard what happened this morning. I'll just get right to it. John Lennon, de facto leader of the Beatles, was shot dead by some lunatic fan." Most of the class had indeed not heard about Lennon's murder and those of us who hadn't, myself among them, were stunned. But before the horrible truth could fully set in, Mr. Dyskolos continued. "You kids probably know a lot about the Beatles from what your parents or maybe your older brothers and sisters played for you, but you can't even begin to imagine the worldwide pop culture impact those guys had at the time. Obviously I was there for the 1960's and can tell you firsthand what it was like, but I'm gonna spare you that nauseating, self-indulgent trip down memory lane. I guarantee you that all your other teachers are going to suspend actual teaching for the day and drag you along for their reminiscences of their flower-power salad days, but I'm not gonna do that to you. Instead, I'm gonna tell you a few truths that you won't hear anywhere else in this school, or damn near anywhere else, on what's gonna no doubt be a day of worldwide mourning."

He leaned forward in his chair, his face a mask of utmost solemnity, and uttered words that blew the minds of the roomful of privileged suburban white kids (and me): "The Beatles sucked. They were a bunch of marginally talented 'heads' who started out ripping off the work of their black American influences and made a hell of a lot of money for no good reason, killing real rock 'n' roll in the process and unleashing legions of even less-talented imitators in that godawful British Invasion nonsense. And then they went to India, supposedly to gain 'enlightenment' or some other George Harrison-inspired bee-ess, but if you ask me all it did was make their music more annoying." To emphasize that point of criticism, Mr. Dyskolos began making a nasal and high-pitched "neeeeeeer neeeeeer neeeeeeeeeee neeeer" sound by way of approximating the tones of a sitar.

By this point in his diatribe you could have heard an amoeba fart.

Young eyes practically bugged out of their sockets and jaws had fallen into laps. This was rock 'n' roll blasphemy in the extreme, and on the morning of the senseless slaughter of a man held by most in the room to be a hero of peace, love and great music, no less. Our worlds were shaken to the core. And then Mr. Dyskolos continued, still looking solemn, but his mouth betrayed a slight half-smile as he was very obviously enjoying his class' speechless outrage.

"Then they put out that asinine White Album that had exactly two good songs on it — 'Birthday" and 'Back in the U.S.S.R.,' and those two were good because they sound like actual rock 'n' roll! — and they had the fucking unbelievable nerve to include that 'Revolution 9' horseshit! What the hell was that? (assumes comedic Liverpudlian accent) 'Noombuh nine? Noombuh nine?' What a load of crap! I'm telling you kids right here and now, remember how 'deep' that bullshit is when you decide to give acid a try!" (NOTE: this was the first time I ever hear a teacher curse when not discussing some of the content in THE CATCHER IN THE RYE.)

Before he could say another word, Mr. Dyskolos was cut off and drowned out by an aural assault of irate dissenting opinion, his every word being tarred as the rantings of an anti-peace & love curmudgeon who "just didn't get it." "Who do you think you are???" shrieked several of my classmates. "The Beatles were the most important band in history! John Lennon and Paul McCartney were two of the greatest songwriters who ever lived! Are you crazy?" Dyskolos responded with a sneer that would have done Vincent Price proud and uttered my favorite comeback heard in all of my teenage years, whether I agreed with him or not: "What the hell did they ever write that was worth a goddamn? 'We all live in a yellow submarine?' Puh-leeeeze. The only reason you kids enshrine those hacks is because of nostalgia filtered down from parents who were barely your age when the Beatles showed up and absorbed by the general public and your older brothers and sisters who used that garbage as a soundtrack for when they'd sneak off to smoke weed in the back of a 'bitchin' van. Which also explains how anybody could ever find the stomach to listen to those Doors assholes! Face it, kids. For some of what are supposed to be this country's brightest young minds, you sure are a bunch of programmed parrots!" And when one of the students blurted out that John Lennon was a symbol of "give peace a chance," our sage teacher batted that one aside with "You've obviously never heard about the time when Mr. Give Peace A Chance went to some club and hung out with a Kotex stuck to his forehead," a then-shocking truth that only elicited more teenage keening.

That was the real meat of it but the back and forth ranting went on for the class's full hour, with order barely being restored with the ringing of the bell marking the rotation to the next class. Each of my classmates and I zombied off to the next class and swiftly discovered that Mr. Dyskolos had been correct in his auguring. Indeed, each and every teacher I had to endure for the rest of the day derailed the planned curriculum in favor of rose-colored reminiscences of "a more innocent time" full of free love, "the people getting together, man!"and how the Beatles were the troubadours that saw them through all of it and changed to reflect the time. That was all well and good in theory, but not for hours on end as heard from speakers of wildly varying levels of eloquence (to say nothing of interest), with lunch being the day's only respite from what was essentially the same story only with the most minor of variations. When the day finally ended I headed downtown to do my volunteer teaching of a cartooning class at the local YMCA and the journey allowed me some time to process the events of the day and the "truths" imparted.

I'd grown up liking the Beatles quite a lot but didn't own any of their albums on vinyl thanks to their many hits being available in endless rotation on some of the nascent stations that played what would come to be known as "classic rock," and as the seventies ended I avoided the agonizing repetition of disco and such by listening to the excellent oldies station WBLI out of Long Island, a radio entity that served to plant the seeds of my passion for pre-1970's rock that was either primitive and raw or bizarre and very much off the beaten path. WBLI played some of the standard Beatles hits, but they also threw stuff like "Devil in Her Heart," "Dig A Pony" and "Rain" (nowadays my favorite Beatles tune of all) into the mix and showed me just how much the classic rock stations played the same Fab Four songs over and over and over and over and over again, ad nauseum, and taking into account the espoused theory — voiced with absolute certainty of its veracity — that myself and my fellow students may have been a bunch of programmed drones, I began to wonder if Mr. Dyskolos had in fact done his young charges a favor by showing none of the rote reverence extended to the favorite sons of Liverpool by all who drew breath. He had effectively "killed our idol" on the day when one would expect nothing but 100% adherence to the party line, and that greatly intrigued my punk rock-influenced sensibilities.

As I pondered these thoughts, I wandered past Westport Record and Tape, one of the town's most accessible record stores, and greeted Jean, the sweet southern proprietor. I asked her if the shooting of John Lennon had affected her sales that day and she said, "Honey, look over at the Beatles and John Lennon sections. Whadda you see? Tumbleweeds 'n' cattle skulls, that's what! Folks came in and cleaned the place out like they were a bunch of vinyl-eatin' locusts! On sales of Beatles and Lennon records alone, I could close early today." And it was true. Every single Beatles/Lennon platter had vanished into the Westport ether, bought up by fools who believed those perennial best-sellers (okay, maybe not SOMETIME IN NEW YORK CITY) would become instant collector's items.

Later that night as I lay there in my bed staring up at the white stucco ceiling, I listened to my cassette tape of SERGEANT PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND (the only Beatles album I owned at the time) and experienced it in a way that I never had before. I'd listened to it about two dozen times since acquiring it a couple of years previous, but now it served as a poignant grave marker for my favorite member of the Beatles and its words took on a whole new timbre. No one would be "fixing a hole" in Lennon and ensuring he would live to see sixty-four and beyond. He would not be getting better and there would be no more good mornings for him. Yet tragic though it was, this was just another day in the collective life, and that life would go on without John Lennon (though obviously not "within").

I remember the hue and cry when Elvis Presley, the so-called King of Rock 'n' Roll, gave up the ghost and people acted as though the world had come to an end, and I frankly didn't get it. I liked some of Elvis's music, but it didn't really speak to me in the way that the Beatles had and I now chalk that up to the Beatles happening during what could arguably be considered the most pivotal period of the twentieth century, a time that redefined much of American culture and into which my generation was born. We didn't grow up with Elvis, whose music helped set the template of rock 'n' roll, but we did come along during the rise of the Beatles and reached early sentience while under the influence of their sound. We couldn't know at the time just what their contribution meant, but we did know that we liked it. Obsessive poring over the minutia of the whys and wherefores of their lives, art and careers would come later. At that point in our young lives love was indeed all we needed, and in the wake of the plastic disco era and what small impact punk had in the U.S. at the time, that wasn't a bad thing.

So today marks the fortieth anniversary of John Lennon's senseless slaughter and for me the day that it happened becomes ever more remote, so I figured I'd jot down my experience of it before age robs it of what clarity remains. If any of you have tales of that day, please write in and share.