Stephen W. Browne Rants and Raves

July 31, 2012

Review: The Dark Knight Rises

Filed under: Movies — Stephen W. Browne @ 8:16 am

Note: This appeared in the print-only TV Guide of The Marshall Independent.

“The Dark Knight Rises” is the final installment of the Batman trilogy, preceded by “Batman Begins” (2005) and “The Dark Knight” (2008) by the family team of Director Christopher Nolan, his brother Jonathan Nolan co-writer, and wife Emma Thomas producer.

They make a great team. The trilogy is tightly plotted with a coherent vision and it ends on a win.

Comic books like movies are the creation of many different specialists working under one man’s creative vision. The Batman was among the few surviving characters of the Golden Age (conceived in 1939) whose creator Bob Kane continued to have some input up to quite recently. Kane (1915 -1998) had some role, if only a symbolic laying on of hands, in the original TV series (1966-1968) cartoons, and previous movies.

Kane out of the picture might have been a Good Thing. The TV series was done as cartoonish high camp, and typecast Adam West forever after. Michael Keaton tried to play The Batman more-or-less straight, but by his third outing the series had reverted to camp. Later Batmen Val Kilmer and George Clooney couldn’t break out of the stereotype.

Nolan’s Batman (Christian Bale) is rationalized myth. His original motivation, the murder of his parents, is expanded to saving a civilization represented by a city. Impossible super heroes and villains are left out. The Batman’s advantage is brutal training (Bale trained in the unorthodox Keysi Fighting Method) backed up by a modern weapons lab.

The explanation why police aren’t given these tools is plausible, they’re expensive. Same reason soldiers still wear kevlar rather than the much more effective Dragonscale.

And why would a masked vigilante chose to use only non-lethal weaponry and renounce killing entirely?

Author Rose Wilder Lane (Laura Ingalls Wilder’s daughter) pointed out that while vigilantes arise in response to lawlessness, in the long run they always become murderers. The Batman must renounce killing or face the corruption that befell crusading D.A. Harvey Dent, “Two Face.”

Eight years after “The Dark Knight.” Bruce Wayne is a recluse in Wayne Manor, broken in body and spirit by the physical toll of being The Batman, and the death of his love Rachel Dawes at the hands of The Joker. His reputation is in the sewer after taking the blame for murders committed by Dent.

Gotham City itself is relatively crime-free, though Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) is himself burdened with guilt for allowing The Batman to assume the blame for Dent’s crimes, and his family has left him.

But the hour of danger for civilization comes when long periods of peace and prosperity make people complacent and discontents breed. Then the weary and broken guardians must arise once more, and recruit new guardians to be their successors. One of whom is young and still-idealistic cop John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt.)

A new villain has arisen, led by the offspring of R’as al Ghul of the League of Shadows. Like R’as, they are determined it is time for a corrupt and decadent society to fall. This time they are encouraging society to destroy itself, and this is where the concept gets bold and controversial.

Villain Bane (Tom Hardy ) takes Gotham by brute force, then uses considerable rhetorical gifts to foment a Jacobite reign of terror by the mobs against “the rich,” very much in the spirit of the French Revolution, with show trials judged by The Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy.) To underscore the point, there is a reading from Dicken’s “A Tale of Two Cities” at the end.

Think the Occupy Movement – with guns and tanks.

Against them The Batman rises once more, aided by Gordon, Blake, master of armaments Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman,) and sometimes helped, sometimes betrayed by a beautiful cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) in a crucial role.

Kyle has capabilities much like The Batman, but uses them for personal gain. She justifies this with rhetoric like Bane’s, to whom she’s in thrall. She’s seeking a new start via a device that erases one’s entire criminal history from all the world’s databases.

As sometimes allies, sometimes adversaries, Selina and Bruce Wayne learn together that a new start has to be earned, sometimes at a terrible cost. Gordon, Wayne, and Wayne’s all-but-father Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine) discover even well-meant lies corrupt.

And when the chips are down, civilization has to be defended by men who are fallible, corruptible, often broken, but who find it in them to rise one more time. And if they do, no guarantees but just maybe there’s a way out of the cold and dark to the other side.

Go see it. Kids 10 and over I’d say.

July 16, 2012

Review: Ted

Filed under: Movies — Stephen W. Browne @ 8:46 am

Let me say this right up front, “Ted” is very, very, funny, BUT DON’T TAKE YOUR KIDS!

Some of the theater staff told me some people had taken their kids. Don’t.

“Ted” is raw and raunchy humor for adults. Of course kids would like it, the same way they like “Family Guy” if you can’t get them to bed at night. It’s full of cuss words, fart jokes, casual drug use, and some pretty gross stuff. And no wonder, “Ted” was scripted, directed, and voiced by FG creator Seth MacFarlane.

It’s also got deadpan absurd narration in Patrick Stewart’s stentorian tones, and pretty spot-on observations about overgrown boys who refuse to grow up.

It begins in an idyllic New England suburb at Chirstmastime as the local boys are celebrating the simple joys of the season: building snowmen, having snowball fights, and beating up the Jewish kid. Little John Bennett (Bretton Manley/Mark Wahlberg) is so unpopular not even the Jewish kid getting the snot beat out of him will give him the time of day.

Johnny gets a teddy bear for Christmas. That night he wishes on a falling star, and the bear comes to life.

Ted is a nine day wonder, goes on Carson, and becomes a has-been when his 15 minutes are up.

Twenty-seven years later Johnny and Ted are slacker stoners. Johnny has an adequate if unexciting job at a car rental office and is slated to replace the manager when he moves up.

He’s also got an incredibly hot live-in girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis) of four years, who’d kind of like a ring by now. She’d also like Ted to move out and give them some space. Especially after they come home to find Ted partying with four hookers, one of whom has defecated on the floor in a game of truth-or-dare. (I said gross.)

So Ted gets a place of his own, and a job clerking at a grocery store, and a hot but not-to-bright girlfriend Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth,) and keeps getting promoted precisely because of the outrageous behavior he hopes will get himself fired.

Ted tries to lure Johnny back into his slacker life, and succeeds when he throws a party and Sam Jones (playing himself) shows up.


Sam J. Jones was the star of the 1980 box office bomb/cult classic “Flash Gordon” which was a formative influence in the lives of Ted and Johnny.

Sam invites Ted and Johnny to drink shots and snort cocaine with predictable results. Boy loses girl.

Johnny gets another chance when Ted convinces an old lover Nora Jones (playing herself) to let Johnny have the mike at her concert to sing a love song to Lori, who has come with her obnoxious boss Rex (Joel McHale) who has designs on her.

Further plot complications ensue, with action, adventure, and one more touch of magic before all is resolved.

Hoo boy this movie is hard to classify! It’s not magical realism, it’s more like realistic magicalism. Bringing Ted to life is the only intrusion of magic into the real world, the rest is played absolutely, hilariously straight.

It’s an original twist on an old plot, the kid with an imaginary playmate who has to say goodby to become a man. Except in this case the imaginary playmate is obnoxiously real.

Wahlberg and Kunis have real chemistry that transcends genres, for those who saw “Max Payne.” MacFarlane is his usual gross/funny self, only edgier. Nora
Jones is hilarious in her cameo, and Tom Skerritt playing himself has precisely one line – which is also hilarious.

Go see it. You’ll hate yourself in the morning but you’ll laugh all through it.

But of course, in this day and age the killjoys have to have their say.

At one point Johnny tells Rex, “From one man to another, I hope you get Lou Gehrig’s disease!”

Traci Bisson, a spokesperson for the ALS Therapy Alliance, said, “We want to make it clear that ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, is not a laughing matter for people and families suffering from this life-threatening illness. The punch line in the movie Ted comes at the expense of people afflicted with ALS.”

No it doesn’t. And if you know anyone with ALS, get them to see it too because they could certainly use some laughs.

July 4, 2012

Happy Fourth of July, 2012

Filed under: Eleagic mode,Social Science & History — Stephen W. Browne @ 8:28 am

During the American bicentennial year, MAD Magazine of beloved memory printed a special July issue, “Madde.”

Back then MAD magazine was actually funny, sometimes a little risque but never vulgar, and never partisan – they cheerfully satirized everybody.

Since “the usual gang of idiots” died or retired and it was possessed by The Devil, a.k.a. AOL/Time-Warner (and who knows who owns its rotting corpse now?) it’s become partisan, vulgar, accepts advertising , and I believe has gone from a monthly to a quarterly. Meaning it is on life support and nobody has had the decency and respect for a once-great American institution to pull the plug.

The 1776 Issue of Madde was a characteristic loving roast of our country and the ideals of its founding.

“What’s Tom Paine doing out there sitting under a tree in a thunderstorm getting soaking wet?” -“He’s writing ‘Common Sense.'”

(Jefferson reading.) “When in the course of human events,”

-“Great lead!”

“it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them,”

-“Clear and incisive!”

“and a certain king is a doody-head!”

-“Somehow Tom that just doesn’t quite…”

(Orator on the podium.) “And I wish to nominate George Washington for his humanity, his justice, his love of mankind, and… say where is George?”

-“He’s back at Mt. Vernon, one of his slaves ran away.”

“Taxation without representation is tyranny!”

-“Wait till you see taxation WITH representation!”

This to me sums up a lot of what makes this country truly exceptional. And if you think that’s my provincial Americanism talking, take it from me, I lived abroad for 14 continuous years. Whatever their opinion of us, the peoples of the world are very aware that America is a unique country.

We know we’re not perfect – just ask us! The criticism of America you hear from other parts of the world is often tame compared to the criticism we subject ourselves to.

And that’s one of the most important, maybe the most important thing about America. We can take it. We can stand to hear what’s wrong with us and do something about it.

When Thomas Jefferson penned those words of the Declaration of Independence (after that doody-head remark was struck) he knew America had flaws, the most obvious being slavery. And he knew there could be a terrible price to pay in store.

But the words are true, and will endure through the ages.

Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and just hours before john Adams, his old friend, old enemy, and at the last, friend again.

Jefferson’s last words were, “Is it the Fourth yet?”

Adams’ last words were, “Thomas Jefferson survives.”

I think he was right. Time will tell.

“All eyes are opened, or opening to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born ,with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of god. These are grounds of hope for others. For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them. … ” Jefferson’s last letter, written 10 days before his death.

Cross-posted on my blog at The Marshall Independent.

July 2, 2012

Review: Brave

Filed under: Movies — Stephen W. Browne @ 8:11 am

Note: This appeared in the print-only TV Guide of The Marshall Independent.

“Brave” is the computer animation film studio Pixar’s 13th film, the latest in an almost unbroken series of critical and commercial successes. (“Cars 2” was the exception.)

As early as 1967, visionary SF author Vernor Vinge published a short story, “The Accomplice” in which a corporate employee steals millions of dollars of computer time to develop a method of computer animation that would enable individuals to create animated works on the scale of the classic Disney cartoon films.

Pixar developed the techniques of Computer Generated Imagery throughout the 1980s and was acquired by Disney in 2006. But while the technology is getting cheaper and more accessible, “Brave” shows that for now animated megahits are still largely the product of big studios with big budgets. A reported $185 million in this case, some of which went to rewriting the animation software.

It appears to have been money well spent. “Brave” is a bit darker and feels different from previous Pixar films. It’s also funny, original, heart-warming, and visually breathtaking.

In medieval Scotland Princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald,) is the red headed tomboy darling of her father Fergus (Billy Connolly) who gave her the bow she shoots like a champ, and the despair of her mother Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson,) who tries in vain to get her rebellious daughter to master the graces of a proper princess.

In due course, the royal couple announce their daughter is ready to be courted by a suitable suitor or three. Of course in that day and age this meant arranging a marriage which would cement alliances and insure peace and the continuity of two noble lineages.
Of course Merida rebels, of course she has a falling out with her mother, and of course she finds a way to sabotage her parent’s plans. You saw that coming of course.

You didn’t see anything after that coming though, and you’re not going to because various people connected with the production have begged on their hands and knees that we don’t reveal any spoilers.

OK, I can tell you this because I saw it on a trailer on TV last night. She asks a witch (Julie Walters) for a spell to change her mother.

It does. Into a bear.

This is where things get both scary and hilarious. Scary because it really looks like Fergus is going to unwittingly kill the woman he genuinely and touchingly loves. Hilarious because they’ve made the bear body language so convincing, it really looks like a refined lady discovering that she’s a bear!

Not to mention what they do with the comic situation of how you sneak a bear across the back of a room and up the stairs of a banquet hall full of people.

This is a story of adolescent rebellion, coming of age, courage, duty, and love.

What’s refreshing is, though mom and daughter are at loggerheads, it’s plain Mom has a case. There is a lot more riding on the outcome than Merida’s happiness. Things like the peace and security of the kingdom and its inhabitants.

It’s also refreshing that though Merida is an active girl who likes rock climbing, horse riding, and archery, she isn’t Xena Warrior Princess, she isn’t shown beating larger and stronger men, and only barely escapes with her life after a confrontation with a real bear.

The archery skills are believable if you assume she has a bow with a rather light draw, suitable for target shooting and small game.

Much has been made of the fact this is Pixar’s first film made around a heroine, and there was some question of how this would appeal to boys. My experience with my children was, my son liked it but “Once is enough.” My daughter is clamoring to see it again and I’m more than happy to take her.

Do see it and take your kids. Merida, Fergus, and Elinor are delightful. Julie Walters’ witch is a scream and her answering machine will leave you in stiches. The accents are real from an almost all-Scottish cast, and there is a funny bit of self-mockery about this I’ll let you find for yourself.

July 1, 2012

Something occured to me about the European demographic argument

Filed under: Immigration,Social Science & History — Stephen W. Browne @ 11:46 am

Longtime readers know I’m in basic agreement with Mark Steyn about the demographic situation in Europe.

Simply summarized, much of Western Europe is in serious danger of ceasing to be “European” in any meaningful sense, due to, 1) disastrous population decline of the indigenous European populations, combined with 2) in-migration of mostly Muslim non-Europeans who have a birthrate from three to five times higher than the native Europeans.

I’ve read criticism of Steyn’s argument. Some run something like: the Muslim birthrate in Europe is already slowing down and will level off well before they achieve even parity of numbers with the local population.

Steyn counters that it isn’t necessary for the incomers to outnumber the locals. At some point in time the dominant socio-political concern of the country will be relations between indigenous and immigrant populations, possessing different and antithetical cultural and ethical values.

To put it even more bluntly, the two cultures cannot share a nation in peace, one or the other must prevail.

We think people have a right to say whatever they like no matter how offensive, young people have a right to choose who they will marry, and women have the right to express their opinions.

The Muslim communities of Britain, the Netherlands, etc… think differently. And what was once a smug assumption by European intellectuals that they’d come to see things our way, has yielded to calls to “compromise” with what cannot be compromised with and maintain a free society.

So here’s what struck me recently. Genetic research on the population of England has revealed something rather startling. The “English” who we Celts have called “Sassanach” or “Saxon” for ages now, are in fact still overwhelmingly Celtic by genetic heritage.

For a long time the received wisdom has been that the Saxon invaders swept into England, displacing the native Celtic populations, destroying the Romano-British civilization mythologized in the tales of King Arthur, and drove the British Celts across the mountains into Wales. After yet another Nordic invasion, a firmly established Norman-Saxon kingdom established dominance over the “Celtic fringe” of the British Isles, but did not replace the local populations.

Well as it turns out, the Saxon contribution to the gene pool of England is actually quite small.

But this is the point: their culture, their language, their law, and customs almost totally displaced that of their Celtic subjects. Christianity almost disappeared from England, and had to be reintroduced at a later date.

Now although I am a proud Anglo-Celt, I have to say Saxon law and culture is not so bad. So sue me. And the synergy between the Norman-Saxon culture and the Celtic fringe produced something that came to marvelous fruition in America.

Now I ask, even centuries down the road, can you see the same happening in Europe, if Europe falls? Or do you see a new Dark Ages that might never produce another renaissance?

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