Saturday, December 9, 2017

Rehabilitating The Movie Batman



It's been on my mind for a while that The Batman is in a terrible slump in the movies and needs to be fixed.  I think the original Batman movie with Michael Keaton wanted to take an entirely different direction that the children's Batman of the 1960s, and so for that reason Batman was a much more somber character, and actually they went back to Bob Kane's 1939 character who wanted to terrorize crooks.  This may not have been a good decision, because the moviegoing audience is not going to understand a scary Batman.
The movies have emphasized Batman's plan to gain an edge over criminals by frightening them by dressing up like a bat. But are crooks of the 21st century scared by a bat suit?  Doubtful.    
   In 1939, it may have been terrifying to see a person dressed as a bat. Plus, initially bad guys may not have heard of Batman and might be surprised by him as an unknown force.   But in 2017, everybody knows Batman.  He is not scary any more, if he ever was.  
    Starting with the 1989 Batman with Michael Keaton, Batman has gotten darker and darker, even to the point of being psychologically disturbed.  Frankly, I find him to be depressing, boring and generally inept.  He has become a handsome version of Wile E. Coyote, who was always getting fantastic devices to use against Road Runner, only to be beaten every time.

The stuff that the Coyote used to buy from the Acme Company worked way better than the decrepit stuff that Batman gets from Wayne Industries.


     In particular, the Batplane is a disgusting piece of junk, and the American military should definitely buy from Stark Industries instead of Wayne Industries. As an Air Force guy, I cannot accept that the Batplane can be brought down from a single shot from a clown revolver (Jack Nicholson's, plus Riddler shot it down again with a laser pistol for good measure). That is utterly pathetic and totally unrealistic. Jeepers, Steve Trevor did much more damage in his World War I jalopy in Wonder Woman than the Batplane ever did.  Similarly, Penguin sabotaged the Batmobile using a jamming kit he probably bought on E-Bay.  Even in the new Justice League movie, Batman's futuristic Spider Tank breaks down.  Somebody is going to do a monolog on late night TV to point out what a joke Batman's hi-tech machines are.    This is not entertaining, and kid's aren't going to buy a toy Batplane or Batmobile if they crash all the time.  It's pathetic. 

     Now let's talk about Batman, mano i mano. To be worth a darn, the Batman should be as good a fighter as Bruce Lee with the knockout power of Mike Tyson.  But no, Batman has to brawl with ordinary thugs these days, usually taking significant damage.  His long bulky cape gets in his way, and he really looks clumsy. When he fought against Keith Ledger's Joker, he pummeled Joker with his fists, but Joker just laughed at him.  That's not a superhero.  That's far below the level of fighter from your local kung fu studio, who would simply destroy Joker with one punch.  
     Look, if Batman is fighting a non-super-badguy, one punch should knock his opponent out, break bones or shatter joints.  Otherwise, don't bore us with his pathetic lack of skill in combat.  



Keith Ledger's Joker just laughed off Batman's puny attempts to punch him out.  Conclusion:  Batman can't punch and can't fight.  

   So, what is to be done with this aging bat? I have a few modest ideas.  Ben Afleck put Batman on the road to rehabilitation in Justice League.  In this movie, he at least thinks about organizing and working on team with difficult personalities.  That's better, but I think he should be allowed to take the role even further down the road to recovery.
    Batman needs to rediscover his role as a detective.  After all, his comic book home was Detective Comics (in fact that's what DC stands for!), and he was billed as the World's Greatest Detective. 
      Like Sherlock Holmes, Batman should be able to get in the head of an evildoer and predict his next move. He should be able to figure out where traps have been laid and outsmart them, like an urbanized Indiana Jones.  

     Batman should stop losing fights to non-entities. He needs to be a superhero, not a marginally effective brawler.  If he goes one on one with the Joker or Luthor, they should not stay awake at the end of the scene.    
    Perhaps he could also develop a sense of humor.   Like Spider-Man, he could take a special delight in humiliating bad guys when gift wrapping them for the authorities. For example, I could imagine a scene in which Batman would catch a bad guy and then attach him to a crane and leave him suspended ten stories high in the air.  Or bad guys might wind up covered in unpleasant substances (think Biff Tanner in Back to the Future, or Marv and Harry in Home Alone 2).   
    They absolutely have to stop the plot device that Wayne Industries products break down on the job.  It's not cool, just stop it.   The Batplane and Batmobile represent DC's answer to Tony Stark's armor.  The way it is now, if DC had Iron Man as a character, his tag line would be, "Oil my mouth."  Riddler would soon make him into a beer keg.  
    No, Batman's weapons should be fantastic and highly effective, rather than simply ineffective as in the past.  The Batplane should be at least as awesome as a military aircraft. In fact, I think it would a prototype built by Wayne Industry's "skunk works," modeled after the real life "skunk works" of Lockheed Martin Aircraft.  That's the only way you could plausibly have a Batplane. It was to be on the books as an exotic prototype fighter (the F-1000 or something), and it has the extra capability to turn into the Batplane, which almost no one knows about.  Batman could press a secret button and it reconfigures into the Batplane, with some special secret weapons that even the Air Force doesn't know about.    He should be able to take on a third world country's Air Force and win, though he might be a bit more concerned if the US Air Force should ever decide to contest its flight.   A bad guy (like James Bond's Dr NO or Goldfinger) should not be safe in a fortress in some Caribbean island.  The Batplane should reduce it to a pile of rocks, and then vanish using active camouflage to blend in with the background.   
    Bruce Wayne could use a facelift also, to compete with Tony Stark. I don't see him as the hard-luck bachelor we have sen so far. His love life should be at least as exciting as James Bond's or, for that matter, Adam West's!.  Adam's Bruce Wayne got to go on dates with Catwoman.   In fact, I think with his rediscovered detective ability, he might be able to deduce that Catwoman is actually Selena Kyle, and so he might decide to go undercover and have an affair with her in order to collect information from her.   Or perhaps he might even have a thing for Wonder Woman, if he can figure out a way to not be crushed by her.  
 
Amazingly, Adam West's elegant and clasy Bruce Wayne had a much more exciting social life than Ben Afleck's. Ben's Bruce mainly hangs out in a cave with his butler.   Here is Bruce on a date with a disguised Catwoman (Lee Meriwether).  Now that's a hot date! She's a killer--really!  
    Lastly, the Alfred character is brought up to date by Jeremy Irons, who is a truly great actor. This character started to make sense in the past few movies, but we're not there yet.  At least now he's a military expert.  Still, we can not imagine that a Butler is able to build fighter jets by himself as a part time job.  That makes no sense. 
  I think Alfred needs also to have a secret identity as the head of the aforementioned Wayne Industry "Skunk Works."  Very few people would realize the full plan, but there has to be an organization to support Batman, not just a butler.  


    So those are my modest prescriptions for rehabbing Batman.  He's a comics icon and will always draw an audience even if the movie is a bomb.  But maybe the next movie won't be bomb.  Hire me, DC.  I'll help out! 
  

Friday, November 24, 2017

The Justice League Scores Big

What is wrong with this picture?  With all due respect to Ben Affleck, Wonder Woman should be at the center. 

The Justice League movie was surprisingly good, despite bad initial reviews.   What kept you guys?  I've wanted to see a movie about the Justice league for, oh, the last 50 years or so, or ever since the first Batman movie came out circa 1965. Why did it take 50 years for you to figure out that a lot of people wanted to watch this film? 

I have hated, absolutely hated most DC movies, bottoming out with the deathly plodding Superman vs Batman (honestly, I was wishing that Luthor would succeed in killing both of them).  In Justice League, DC manages to lessen the somber, dark, dark, dark tone they had gotten addicted to since the initial Batman movie with Michael Keaton.  

First of all, Gal Gadot is a mega-super-star.  I promise to watch anything that has her in it.  She, not Superman or Batman, is the new star of the franchise. She is an idealist, charismatic, and has the ability to make others around her perform at a higher level.  DC, just get out of her way and let her do her thing and it is going to work out.  Trust me on this.  

Ben Affleck is a great actor and in this movie is allowed to play a more intelligent and balanced Bruce Wayne and Batman, in contrast to the wretched kooky old man Batman of the aforementioned Bats vs Supes.  Batman is still somewhat in a slump, however, as he routinely brings billion dollar weaponry to a fight, and bad guys routinely trash it.  Put it this way, the US military is better off buying from Lockheed Martin and General Electric, and should never ever buy anything from Wayne Enterprises.  But at least this Batman is likeable, personable, and a good team player.  We learn that Batman has deep regret over his encounter with Superman (and comic fans also regret that encounter, but for different reasons).  

The Justice League has an entertaining diverse cast with a cynical Aquaman, an underconfident but brilliant Flash and a brooding Cyborg, who must come together, against their normal natures, and learn to perform as a team. Athough Aquaman is a compelling character, I don't think he really fit the team, however.  His main useful power is controlling sewer water, and other than his talents didn't really contribute to this movie.  But he's an interesting personality, and might be better in his own movie.  I'll watch it for sure, but if you want it to be a certain success, put Gal Gadot in it. We also didn't see Green Lantern in this one, perhaps because of his box office struggles.  But the character of Green Lantern would have been great for a Justice Leauge movie.  I hope he finds his way out of the DC doghouse.  

DC bad guys still tend to be one dimensional and want to take over the world, or better yet, the universe.  The main bad guy in Justice League is not memorable. He's not getting anything good from Santa.  There are also some minor bad guys, sort of like the flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz, but they seem to be characters introduced simply so that they can be blown away in a future video game.  This is a shame, because they could have been very interesting, but we never learned much about them.

Special effects are fabulous, and in particular we get a feeling for what it's like to be super-fast like Flash.  

One more detail:  Academy Award winner Jeremy Irons as Alfred is the greatest supporting "bit part" character in history. I've been a fan since "The Mission" which is one of the greatest movies ever made (no it's not a superhero movie, but a story of missionaries caught in a power struggle with European politics). 


Alfred J. Pennyworth is technically savvy and far more than an ordinary house servant. 

For some reason, some of the early reviews were negative, but I can not understand why.  I've hated DC movies for years, but they have gotten much better with three in a row that I thought were very good to excellent:  Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman (one of the best ever, and by far the best from DC) and now Justice League.  This one left my 12 year old and me wanting more.  It is not a short movie, it was just that good.  


It's in the Wrist Action...




.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Tax Silly Season in Congress

  
An inside view of deliberations in the Congressional Joint Committe on Taxation.

In the movie Animal House, they used to yell "Food Fight" at random times, and everyone would throw food at each other. It made no sense, and there was no rhyme or reason to it. That is the same decision making process for having a tax cut. It's completely random and makes no sense. Our federal government operates at a large deficit that almost all economists regard as dangerous and unhealthy. There is no surplus to give away in the form of a tax cut. 
     The money has already been spent and we have to borrow to cover existing obligations. It's pathological to believe that Americans can just vote themselves additional money, without consequences to the stability of the economy and money supply.  The Congressional Budget office says that the current tax plan will increase the deficit by $1.7 TRILLION DOLLARS in the next ten years.  Is that sound fiscal policy? 
    Congress needs to cut spending and increase revenue. They don't have the stomach to do either one, and instead inculcate the belief that federal spending is free of cost to the American people.  Thus, they plan to destabilize the country by giving away tax cuts like Halloween candy, while also increasing spending on worthy projects such as wars in the Middle East.  Last time we did this, the economy almost imploded and we needed a trillion dollar bailout of the banks in 2008-2009. Here we go again.... 


Sunday, November 5, 2017

THOR SMASH! HULK SMASH! SMASH HIT!

Thor and Hulk get the opportunity to let off some steam.  

Thor rages and Hulk smashes in the latest of a series of entertaining Marvel movies.  Thor:  Ragnarok is very original and unlike any other superhero movie.   I give them an A for originality, though some of the scenes fall flat individually.  But I would rather see a new original movie rather than watch a re-hash of Batman  . 

Thor has a self deprecating sense of humor, not unlike some of Shakespeare's comedies in which the characters make snide comments to the audience.  In addition, the characters in this movie all have kind of a nerdy Monty Python sense of humor.   This gives the movie a very different feel than previous superhero movies. 

Marvel movies also do a very good job of providing three dimensional bad guys, rather than the stereotypic super-despot who wants to rule the world (see Dr Evil in Austin Power movies for the character profile of moviedom bad guys).  Ragnarok introduces us to several types of evildoers with different motives and a different blend of good and evil characteristics.  

One thing that troubles me is Superhero movies all (all!) have fight scenes like Rocky 2.  Superhero movies have more colorful special effects, but still, a lot of punches land on both sides, but the good guy usually can take one more punch than the bad guy.   Thor and Hulk are not quite as predictable as Rocky.  Still, somebody needs  to create  a different choreographic approach for the next one.  The fight scenes need to be less predictable.  

As far as acting is concerned, Chris Hemsworth is so good that Thor should have been cast to play Chris Hemsworth.  Jeff Goldblum plays Jeff Goldblum in this movie, which is a totally off-the-wall concept.  Jeff is not going to earn an Oscar for his performance in this one, but his uneven performance is outweighed by the originality of the character.  I won't tell you everyone who is in the movie because some of it will come as a surprise.  I will say that Cate Blanchett is an incredibly good actress, and very likely you will be impressed by her performance as one of Thor's Asgardian relatives.  

I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, and I just want to assure my young friend George G. that Hulk does indeed SMASH. 

Thor and Hulk reflect on their new life as cosmic gladiators. 

Monday, September 25, 2017

I am SO OLD SCHOOL on this NFL National Anthem Protest Thing

Boy, am I old school on this NFL protest thing. First I was an old school protester, some 40 plus years ago, wanting to desegregate the schools. Back in the day, we always had a purpose for a protest. For example, we wanted to desegregate a school system, or stop the war in Viet Nam, or end Jim Crow practices, or stop polluting the air, or whatever. The protest organizers were usually thoughtful people who had a specific agenda. You might not have agreed with it, but there was a rhyme and a reason for it.
Not so today. Today, it's about being on TV and getting lots of "likes" on social media. We want to "call attention" to issues, without proposing a solution. So, yeah, I'm old school. It is a crock to have a protest just to get on TV.
Now let me fast forward to the 1980s. I served in the US military during that decade, and came to respect the flag and the institutions that it stands for. One of those is the US Constitution, which guarantees you and me the Right to Assemble and the Right to Free Speech. That's the First Amendment to the US Constitution, by God. It's okay if I don't agree with you. You want to demonstrate for some stupid cause of your choosing, fine. I was committed to fight and kill those who would try to take away that right from you. That's what it meant when I wore the uniform. That's Old School. So no, I'm not aghast if kids want to have a do-nothing protest. But I'm not impressed either.
That brings me back to the NFL protest. I think these kids are well intentioned, but they have no idea what they are doing, other than getting on TV. They are getting TV attention by embarrassing the NFL and insulting the flag. To me it's really stupid to damage your employer in order to make a point. Would I protest against my employer in Ohio because police in some other town did something bad? Of course not. I might be willing to work for more police training or something like that, but I don't see how punishing my employer advances that cause. Protest against the NFL if the NFL is at fault. Don't protest against the NFL for what someone else is doing.
There are a lot of things that could be done to improve race relations, police/community relations, police training and other concrete issues. Protesting the National Anthem does not do much to advance those causes, other than getting people invitations to TV talk shows. Ho hum.
But there I go thinking Old School again. Accomplishing something via a protest movement is Old School. The New School is just about getting publicity on TV and social media, while doing absolutely nothing to affect police recruitment and training at the local community level.

Mr. Kaepernick, you want to exercise your FIrst Amendment RIghts? Knock yourself out, man.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Mitch McConnell Harder to Get Along with than Donald Trump

   
Obstruct, obstruct obstruct.  It didn't stop when a Republican was elected President, did it?  If you want to drain the swamp, here is the swampmeister. 

    The American politician who is the most difficult to get along with may not be President Trump after all.  It may be Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.  
    First of all, I called my shot.  Back in January 2016, the Village Elliot predicted both a Trump victory and a strong Sanders candidacy:




The week after Trump was elected, I also predicted  that the President would not be able to get any meaningful legislation on his desk.  My belief was that the Mitch McConnell (and let's give Paul Ryan some credit also) policy of 100% obstruction of President Obama's agenda would carry over to the new Administration.  Check it out: 



You know what?  I was right.   I don't want this article to seem like I am touting President Trump's diplomatic skills, other than in comparison with Senator McConnell's.  
     Senate Republicans could not get along with President Obama; could not get along with Senate Democrats when the Dems were in the majority (highest partisanship and frequency of straight party-line voting in history), and now they still can not get along with Democrats, and they can not get along with the Republican President either. Senator McConnell is the most ineffective personality in US politics.   

Even though President Trump is the most antagonizing and divisive personality in the White House in history, he was able to carry out a bipartisan deal, whereas Senator McConnell could not. Moreover the Senator whined like a child because  the system worked the way it is supposed to.  Is that the best the Republicans can do? 

President Trump, for all the outrageous things he has done, has nevertheless been able to work with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer.  This minor diplomacy has been far beyond the capabilities of supposed political mastermind McConnell. 

The Republican agenda is untenable.  There has to be a better health care plan besides destroying the healthcare insurance system and giving more money to the richest Americans in the form of tax breaks.   Tax reform is going to again give money to rich Americans, while deliberately destabilizing the American economy by increasing the deficit. I'm all about fiscal restraint and limited government, but that is not what this is.  Senator McConnell has led the Republican party far, far astray from its roots, or indeed any credible form of government.  

   A few Republicans have broken ranks with McConnell publicly.  My suspicion is that many more have voiced serious concerns to him in private. 

     The fact is, Mitch McConnell can not cut a deal with anyone.  Not with the Democrats.  Not with his own Republicans.  Not with a Democratic President.  Not with a Republican President.

    Can we please get someone else in his place?  


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

What Does Russian Meddling Really Mean?



     American politics and news media are going ape over Russian Meddling in the 2016 elections.  It's not just Democrats.   Senator McCain and former Vice President Cheney have called it an "act of war." Okay great, I can get behind a war with Russia that destroys the entire universe, but first I want to find out what exactly this "act of war" actually is.   "Meddling" has no strict definition. So perhaps we should turn to specific actions.  
     
    Things we know the Russians do and have done include 

    a.  Creating fake Facebook and other social media personalities, in order to spread false information.  The Russians are not as good at is the Republicans and Democrats, but that is not the point.  

      b.  Making up fake stories and disparaging information about American politicians.  Again, we do a better job of this than the Russians.  

        c.  Hacking different political sites.  The feds say that they are the ones that hacked the DNC and released emails from Hillary Clinton, leading to confusion.   The emails for the most part are legit, it's just the timing that was objectionable.  
    
    What has not happened, as far as I can tell, is Russian sponsored voter registration fraud.  Zero fake voters creating fake votes.  Zero hacked voting machines or vote counting software.  The Russians did not hand the election over to Donald Trump, as implied by Hillary Clinton.   
     I'm not even sure if any of this is a crime.  Possibly hacking is illegal, but spreading lies about political candidates is an American pastime.  My favorite was an email alleging that John McCain fathered an illegitimate child with an African American woman.  However, this was done by the Bush campaign during the 2000 primaries, not the Russians, and it was totally legal because it was done in the form of a question.  Rather than putting Republicans in jail for spreading lies about a candidate, we stand up and applaud.  
     We used to call obtaining information illegally "spying" and yet Russia does it to us and we do it to them.  We even spy on our so-called allies in Europe.  In that sense, the US "meddles" in elections of other countries, and probably even hacks computers in other countries, and Russia does that also.  But that is not new or out of the ordinary.  
    Is this really worth starting a war over?  Killing a multibillion dollar economic deal?  It would be different if it were found that the Russians committed voter fraud in America  or hacked the vote tallying process.  But that has not occured as far as anyone this side of Hillary Clinton can tell.  
    For some "meddling" is so terrible that war with Russia may be the only solution to alleviate our national humiliation. Maybe someday they will get their way.  But if by some miracle the world survives a third World War, people are still going to make fake Facebook personalities.