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A few more things comic book movies don't have the balls to do

Posted on October 3, 2017 at 5:10 PM Comments comments (0)

It took until Age of Ultron for the MCU to even begin acknowledging any kind of collateral damage. And Scarlet Witch's sad tale of destruction and pain (brought to you by Stark Industries!) didn't really break any new ground in shaming Tony for his company's past and his own cavalier actions while he "successfully privatized world peace" 

It would be at least honest to see a character who isn't hero, villain, or minion bleeding and in pain. Apparently, supporting characters and extras can only be worried, never in danger or, you know, agony. But why keep to this dishonest PG-13 standard when everyone watching knows that when a city is attacked or when a gunman opens fire people tend to fucking die. I've heard 2008 described (by Cracked, who else) as 'the year the geeks took over' but I don't think I'd hear too strong an argument against 2000, with Bryan Singer's X-Men, as the year we started the clock on legitimizing the comic book movie. So take into account the following two decades: an era of terrorist attacks (foreign and DOMESTIC) compounding racial, nationalistic hatred and on-going war with, clearly, no end in sight.


Maybe the Hollywood powers that be thinking the market won't support a comic book movie that briefly presents a fictional watered down version of these real world horrors is just them buying and reselling the conventional wisdom that people go to the movies for escape. But I'd contend that Snow White and Shirley Temple weren't the only things that sold tickets during the Great Depression, and the studios probably wouldn't have to look very hard for the numbers that proved that. Gone With the Wind premiered at, yes, the end of the 30s, but it was still the biggest hit of the decade and can only be considered escapist in a couple of ways. 


On the other, contradictory, hand; it’s equally annoying when they avoid the silly. FOX is comfortable with X-Men and Fantastic Four because 'mutation' sounds more scientific than 'super powers' They can excuse things like “I'm the Juggernaut, Bitch!” by pointing to the ‘real’ human darkness of the epic PTSD suffered by an immortal who’s nightmares feature “All of [the wars],” or the catastrophic rage of the world's most pissed off Holocaust survivor. Warner Bros. and DC can eternally cite Heath Ledger's Joker as what we want to see, and nothing but that. But the thing is we also paid to watch a bratty, Nordic demigod spinning a hammer around and then, a few years later, a lot more of us paid to watch a wisecracking raccoon, a verbally-challenged tree that sounded an awful lot like Dom Torretto, and a self-described Star Lord who liked to dance to the smooth seventies soul of an improbably sturdy Walkman. We can handle the silly as long as it’s written well.






Can we talk about Harvey Girls for a second?!

Posted on October 4, 2016 at 12:50 AM Comments comments (0)

Because I've been haphazardly cooking my way through the Vincent and Mary Price cookbook, I recently whipped up some Harvey Girl Special LIttle Orange Pancakes.

Absoulutely delicious and super easy to make, the recipe is literally: grate and juice 4 oranges, add 1 c. pancake mix, fry in butter. I sprinkled brown sugar on top with the melting butter because that's how I do.

I noticed them in the American section of the book. Yeah, seperated by country. Or rather, by the best restaurants in all they countries they ate in because he was a world class gourmand/goddamn movie star and that's how THEY do. It's listed with several other Sante Fe Super Chief Dining Car breakfast recipes which the Prices said made the best breakfasts they'd ever had. Ah, Vacation Food, clearly the best eats in the world...even when you can afford the literal best in the world.

Makes me feel a little better about my affection for hotel room coffee.

Usually drunk the morning of checkout, sweetened with Equal (which I hate) because there was only one sugar packet. 

But what caught my eye in the Table of Contents was the "Harvey Girls," because...can we talk about that movie for a second?! That time MGM made an inexplicable Judy Garland hit about a restaurant chain?! Costarring hot, young Angela Lansbury, resident MGM Bad Girl, as a whorehouse madam who goes all Heisenberg on Judy and the rest of the goody two shoes waitresses trying to steal her customers?!

'Stay out of my territory'---the woman you probably picture when someone says the word 'grandmother,' instead of your own grandmother* 

Also starring a love interest I cannot remember to save my life and Ray Bolger, working with his Dorothy less than ten years after they made The Wizard of Oz and no doubt thinking 'Oh Sweetie, what the hell did this place do to you?' 

And all that seemed to add up into great How Did This Get Made brand cinema for me until I learned how iconic those Harvey Girls were, and how big their impact was on the untold herstory of how the west was really won. http://time.com/3662361/women-american-west/ In Price's description The Harvey House station restaurants are rememberred as a civilizing influence on the towns built around the new railroads and, "The Harvey Girls...are part of the folklore of the West, many of them marrying miners and prospectors who struck it rich and made grand ladies of the erstwhile hashslingers."

Now, Price's nostalgic description is still basically about women finding husbands in the Wild West. But the movie itself is as much more about the adventurous spirit of hordes of young, single women traveling west in search of the open air missing from packed eastern cities or the opportunities the barely civilized midwest was already denying them, finding both in the towns that women like Lansbury's madam character built around their booming illicit businesses. (Adam Ruins Everything; How Prostitutes Settled the Wild West https://youtu.be/fMycRBIXTWk" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://https://youtu.be/fMycRBIXTWk ;)

And the more I think of it, the more I realize MGM told that herstory several times, told it well, and made money doing it. Are you listening, modern studio heads?!

How the West Was Won would appear to be your basic Old Hollywood depiction of the Wild West: cowboys, indians, buffalo, war, and wagon trains all rendered in fantastic CinemaScope. But in setting out to tell the tale of one fictional Everyfamily's part in conquering the frontier, from about 1835 to 1900** the epic actually told the tale of two sisters winning the west, alone. One, played by Caroll Baker, just keeps on heading further west after her father dies, eventually joining the majority of homesteaders who were single mothers or women living alone. 

The story of the sister who goes Bad (by 50s MGM standards, aka: sings in burlesque, wears red petticoats, falls for the wrong man and gets abandoned) and resorts to joining a wagon train over the initial objections of the leader of the expedition who assumes that a single woman "like her" (coded slut shaming) would cause trouble was actually a subject MGM had devoted a whole movie to with "Westward the Women" 

Robert Taylor's character needs wives and families for his lonely workers, and sets up a train full of their prospective mail order brides. Two of them are pretty show girls wanting a fresh start, freed of their eastern reputations.    

*Yeah, I just stole a Cracked writers joke originally about Wilford Brimley: secret badass, actual real life cowboy, not really your grampa. 

**aka, the same movie/TV miniseries that gets made every 20 years or so, somehow...at least TNT's Into the West '05 told the tale of two families, one Virginian, one Lakota)


The unmaking of Don Draper in the end of Mad Men

Posted on May 18, 2015 at 8:10 PM Comments comments (0)

The way I saw it, one “Mad Men’s main agendas has been to establish the myth of Don Draper, then systematically break it down. Up until this last season it’s been the people closest to him who have been making cracks in that slick, sexy armor for glimpses of the quivering mass of self-loathing underneath. But with these very last episodes its Don himself who is painfully peeling back those layers.

First he has to walk away from his status as the enigmatic genius of the ad world, leaving behind him McCann-Erickson and its promised opportunity to work on no less than Coca-Cola. He flees to Racine in a futile search for Sad Brunette #11* finding only her bitter ex-husband. So Don heads west with the promise of redemption via the latest brown-haired sad-eyed girl fading in his rear view mirror.

Don is invited to an American Legion fundraiser. Encouraged by someone’s statement that “You do what you have to do to come home” he tentatively confesses part of his story, admitting that he accidentally killed his commanding officer. It seems like a safe place for Don to settle for a bit and continue to heal until he gets blamed for stealing. He convinces the young, budding con-artist who actually took the cash that this crime was a first step towards a life on the run, “…and that’s not what you think it is” But dispensing wisdom to his younger self doesn’t correct his own course so, still in fleeing mode, he gives the kid his Cadillac and moves on.

I had been thinking that the show’s deconstruction of his mythos wouldn’t be complete until Don didn’t have his sex appeal to coast on. While the first half of Season 7 did bring some fairly awkward encounters with an increasingly disinterested Megan; the last bedroom scenario we see in the series does indicate that his sex god image has taken some hits. The blonde he’s with tries to rob him, proving that some, if not all of her motivation for sleeping with the irresistible Don Draper is just his conspicuous wealth. 

Meanwhile, Betty is dying. We knew someone was gonna get lung cancer.

Sally is the bearer of this bad news and provider of a reason to come back to his old life. She wants her brothers to keep part of their stable homelife by staying with Henry. All set to charge in and save the day, Don calls Betty who shuts down Don’s protests of “But I’m their father!” with a simple and brutally honest plea for normalcy in her last few months with her children. “And you not being here is part of that” she gently tells him. Don can’t go home, there is no place for him there.

At this point he is a lonely, broken man in plaid flannel with messy hair who can only think of Anna Draper’s home in California as a place where he might feel safe and loved. But Anna, “the only person who really knew [him]” is dead. In his desperation Don thinks he'll find might find that same calm, loving acceptance with her niece. But his relationship with Stephanie doesn’t actually have much to it other than memories of Anna. She did call him for help when she was pregnant and broke but that was probably based more on his money and the knowledge that he wouldn’t judge than on any deep familial bond they shared. Plus there’s the lingering ickyness of that time when he hit on her. Whatever he hoped to find with Stephanie fades at the reality of her situation. His guilt over abandoning his family rushes to the surface at her revelation that she has done the same, and she’s nonplussed when he gives her Anna’s ring. He follows her to a retreat and faces how she really feels about him after they both storm out of a meeting. Another woman in the group said she knew from personal experience how much harm Stephanie was doing by abandoning her baby. Don runs to Stephanie’s side and essentially gives her the “it will shock you how much this never happened” speech that he hampered Peggy with back in season two but his frantic delivery and the wild look on his face just doesn’t sell the gospel of continually starting over as easily as it once did. Stephanie can see that Dick Whitman’s flight not fight reflex hasn’t actually fixed anything. Nor does she appreciate him hanging his latest escape plan on her. She exits his life with one parting shot “you come back here and give me this family heirloom, but you’re not my family!”

It’s really been difficult to decide what true rock bottom looks like for Don. Was it using Allison for sex and pretending it never happened while giving her $100? Throwing up at Roger’s mother’s funeral? Laying out his whole sad childhood in the whorehouse to the Hershey people? Seeing his daughter’s face as she walked in on him having sex with the neighbor? Those all felt pretty brutal at the time but the evidence is strong for this last moment of Don on his hands and knees calling Peggy collect just to tell the one person on earth who still looks up to him that he doesn’t deserve it, “I am not the man you think I am” “What did you ever do that is so terrible,” she asks and he doesn’t spare himself, telling her “I’ve broken all my vows, I’ve scandalized my child, I took another man’s name and did….nothing with it.” His degradation has to be complete but with it is the glimmer of hope that Peggy provides. She does want him to come back, and knows better than anyone what he made with the life he took for himself.

Curled up next to the phone and stripped of all his protective shells, Don allows himself to be dragged to a meeting. And here at the end it’s actually not the sound of his own voice that ends up changing the game. In fact, we don’t hear Don speak again. What saves him is empathizing with the emotions of another person, quite possibly for the very first time. The man is a non-descript corporate drone who self identifies as uninteresting; he’s unnoticed at work and ignored by his family. But the more he talks about why he’s unhappy, despite having everything you ‘should’ have, the more Don hears another person give voice to how he has always felt. He says it’s like he was on a shelf in the fridge, with his wife and his children occasionally opening the door and smiling, but not at him, watching them enjoy life and never being able to join them in the world, knowing that they should love him and he should be able to feel that they do. When he breaks down crying Don wraps his arms around the man and finally lets go, sobbing on his shoulder and giving the man the comfort of doing the same.

When we see Don next he’s one of many meditating on a cliff by the ocean and his final “Oooommmmm” fades to a contented smile…which fades to that classic “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” ad. I’m really not sure how to feel about the implication that after all that he just goes back into advertising, and uses this new enlightenment as the basis for a famously cheesy Coke commercial. Maybe returning to his old profession doesn’t have to mean he’ll keeping making the same mistakes, but Mad Men has always been a bit too cynical for that reading. 

*By my count: the woman who raised him, the dyed blonde hooker who raped him when he was maybe 14, Midge, Rachel, Miss Farrell, that hooker in season 4 who slapped him around a lot, poor Allison, Megan, Sylvia, the Neve Campbell red herring guest spot, and Diana the diner waitress. So reads the final lineup of Draper-approved Tragically Beautiful, Slightly Broken, almost Norm Defying, Mommy-Issue-Surrogate Brunettes©