Monday, March 2, 2015

Week of 03/02/2015

In Defense of Superhero Movies
So apparently there are those in the bowels of Hollywood that have a problem with superhero movies.  The stench of which wafted up like a foul fart during this year’s Academy Awards ceremony.
Jack Black, best known for playing rather large and obnoxious characters, decided to let this little gem rip like a bad burrito during the opening song: "Opening with lots of zeroes, all we get are superheroes: Superman, Spider-man, Batman, Jediman, Sequelman, Prequelman -- formulaic scripts!"  Shallow, “Hal”, really shallow.
Of course, I could possibly excuse his ribbing as simply him being an actor playing a role of a douchebag performer.  I used to be a stage actor myself in college, so I know that sometimes you just have to sing the song as it was written.  Then again, Mister Black is also one half of the comedic folk group Tenacious D, so there is a chance that he wrote the lyric himself, which would make him an actor playing the role of a douchebag performer singing a song written by a douchebag lyrist.
This comes a day after director Dan Gilroy dissed superhero movies during the Independent Spirt Awards. “Independent film, the foundation and everybody here today, I think are holdouts against a tsunami of superhero movies that have swept over this industry,” he said.
Gilroy, it should be noted, is married to Rene Russo, who co-starred in two superhero movies, “Thor” and “Thor: The Dark World”.
It should also be noted that just hours after Black slammed superhero movies, the Academy Award for Best Picture went to “Birdman”, a movie about an actor that was best known for playing a superhero.  And the award for Best Animated Feature went to “Big Hero 6”, a computer-animated superhero movie.
Now before we go any further, I should point out that I am not only a huge fan of superhero movies, I’m also a creator and self-publisher of fan-made superhero comics.  So not only am I biased in my support of superhero movies, I create content that could be turned into the next big blockbuster movie for the Hollywood elite to pooh-pooh all the way to the bank.
Having said that, I have to ask Misters Black and Gilroy and all of the other Hollywood elitists that don’t care for this genre of money-making movies… what the hell is your malfunction?  What’s with all the hate, haters?
A “tsunami of superhero movies”?  There are maybe one or two superhero movies coming out in any given year from Warner Brothers, Sony, Fox, and Marvel Studios, not counting the direct-to-video animated releases.  Compare that to the orgy of so-called “horror” movies that come out every other month that could all be summed up by simply saying the word “jump-scare” a hundred times.  There are more movies made in any given year about teen angst than there are superhero movies, Mister Gilroy, so I have to seriously question your reasoning in singling out superhero movies.
“Opening with lots of zeros”?  I’m sorry, Mister Black, but which movie did you perform in that brought in over one billion dollars at the box office?  Yes, “billion” with a “B”.  That’s how much money “Marvel’s The Avengers” brought in.  One-point-five billion US dollars worldwide as of February 13th of this year.  That’s a lot of “zeros”.  And it’s still bringing in money for Marvel Studios!  How much money did you bring in, Mister “Nacho Libre”?
Of course this ongoing bias against superhero movies is nothing new.  Back in 2009, Hugh Jackman – best known for playing Wolverine in several “X-Men” movies – wondered why superhero movies get snubbed in the Academy Awards.  After all, Heath Ledger had to die to get his Best Supporting Actor award for “The Dark Knight”.  And “Superman – The Movie” had to get a special award for best visual effects because the Academy felt bad about snubbing it in 1979.
But let’s get brutally honest here… I strongly suspect the reason behind this elitist snubbing and bashing of superhero movies has less to do with some intellectual disdain of the subgenre and more to do with what these kinds of movies bring to the studios, namely money.
Superhero movies have a build-in loyal fan base.  Thousands, even millions of loyal fans that spend money every month on their regular comic book publications, that look forward to spending that money seeing their favorite heroes and villains fight it out on the big screen.  That’s money that the studios use to then cushion the losses from the more “hoity” movies made by people like Mister Gilroy and performed by actors like Mister Black.  So, really, the Hollywood elite are pooh-poohing the very hands that feed them.
And that brings me to the dirty not-so-little secret about these awards show, specifically the Academy Awards.  While the Hollywood elite pretend that these kinds of awards are meant to celebrate the best of the best, in truth they have always been designed to recognize the movies that they themselves think “should” have gotten the box office money.  In other words, movies like “Thor” and “The Avengers” and “The Dark Knight” already got all of the rewards and recognition they deserved.  They got the fans and the box office money.
James Gunn, director of the highly-successful “Guardians of the Galaxy”, penned his own response to the elitist bashing and snubbing of superhero movies, which I agree with for the most part.  Except for this: “If you think people who make superhero movies are dumb, come out and say we're dumb.”  You’re not “dumb”, Mister Gunn.  Nor is the audience.  People that make superhero movies have a pretty high bar they have to meet from their audience.  Jack Black can give a mediocre performance in a grade-Z movie and nobody will really notice.  But Chris Pratt playing Star-Lord or Christian Bale playing Batman have to live up to their comic book characters, and if they fail, the fan base is merciless.  Just look at the ongoing online arguments about “Man of Steel” if you don’t believe me.
Superhero movies are really no different than the legendary tales of old.  Our ancestors used to be enthralled by tales of Hercules, Perseus, Thor, Samson, Ali Baba, the Knights of the Round Table, Robin Hood, the Scarlett Pimpernel, and Sherlock Holmes.  Yesterday’s stories told in the round are today’s big and small screens, and the people that mock them or minimize their importance in inspiring generations past, present, and future, are really the “dumb” ones.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Week of 02/23/2015

Enough With The Food Pimping!
Okay, I have a beef with the food pimps.
Oh you know who I’m talking about, don’t you?  I’m talking about the people that make it their mission in life to drop in all sorts of “special” foods into our heads.
Remember the diner scene in “When Harry Met Sally” when Meg Ryan’s character would come up with a really specific order for her food?  Now imagine if she specified which kinds of ingredients would be in her chef’s salad, and how that pie should be, and what specific brand of apples should be in the pie.  And now imagine if that were on the menu instead of her specifying it.
That is “food pimping”.
Fast Food giant Wendy’s is probably the most notorious of these food pimps, since they seem to love new “special” food.  Subway does it too sometimes.  Your franchise restaurants are guilty of it as well.  They decide that you “need” to consume what special food is “hip” and “happening”.
I’m not talking about what Taco Bell did when they teamed up with Frito Lay’s Doritos to come up with the Doritos Locos Tacos.  It’s a creative idea, but it’s really just limited to that one menu item.   Now if Taco Bell and Frito Lay put Doritos in pretty much every menu item, and other eateries followed suit, then that would be food pimping.
Food pimping pretty much started with Angus beef.  You see, it wasn’t enough to have just a regular hamburger or a regular steak.  No, you had to have an Angus burger and Angus steak and anything that came from Angus cows.  No other beef would do in the minds of these food pimps.
Then it was chipotle.  Everything had to have chipotle in it.  Every meal needed to be chipotle. Do you know what “chipotle” is?  It’s smoked and dried jalapeno pepper.  It’s a seasoning.  That’s it.  It’s like garlic, only garlic didn’t have food pimps shoving it down our throats like they did with chipotle.
Then it was Applewood bacon.  Not just bacon, which is already an internet sensation.  No, it has to specifically be “Applewood” bacon.  Bacon smoked by fire using wood from apple trees.  Not maple-smoked.  Not hickory-smoked. “Applewood”-smoked bacon!
And then you had to have a pretzel bun or a pretzel crust.  In other words, you had to cover the top of dough with an egg-wash and cook it until there was a hardened brown crust.  And if you were lucky, they took the additional step of adding salt to the egg wash before cooking it.  This was something the local Wendy’s forgot to do with their pretzel buns during one of my rare visits.  But if you don’t add the salt, then it really isn’t a pretzel.  It’s just browned egg-wash.
Then it was Asiago cheese.  Wendy’s got on a kick about Asiago cheese, or cheese that comes from Italian cows.
And then there’s Sriracha.  Subway started adding Sriracha to their sandwiches.  Do you know what Sriracha is?  It’s hot sauce.  That’s all that it is.  It is the name of a brand of hot sauce.
Oh, and let’s not forget Avocados.  Because avocado growers and Subway think you haven’t had enough avocados in your life.  And portabella mushrooms!  Have to have portabella mushrooms!  We need a fungus among us, don’t we?
Enough!  Enough of it all!
Let’s get brutally honest here… these food pimps need to go, and take their specialty foods with them.
None of these pimped foods are guaranteed to make your life better in any conceivable way.  They certainly won’t freshen your breath or lengthen your life.  They won’t make you any smarter, because if you were then you would know better than to waste your money on them.  They absolutely won’t make you wealthier… unless you’re a food pimp, of course.  All these things do is justify paying more for food that you could otherwise get at a local grocery store and cook up yourself without the hype.
You know what would be better?  If fast food places like Wendy’s got rid of the food pimping and concentrate on the things that bring people into the stores to begin with.  Like good food served hot and relatively fast at a good price and with generous portions.  We don’t care how the bacon is smoked or what kinds of cows provide the milk and the beef.  Make it hot – and I don’t mean through peppers – make it good, and make it relatively fast.  And make it look like the food we see on the menu; not something that was sloppily put together by someone trying to race a stopwatch.
Oh hell, all of this talk about food is making me hungry.  I think I’ll just make myself a peanut-butter sandwich on plain white bread using generic store-bought peanut butter and pour myself a glass of plain water to wash it down.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Week of 02/16/2015

#CrusaderWager Is A Sucker’s Bet
So Atlanta’s newer overpaid talking head has a challenge for people who don’t follow in lock-step with the conservative/neo-conservative script about Islam and violence.
Michael Graham is supposedly “sick and tired” about hearing people say that extremism itself is wrong and that it’s not just limited to Islamic extremism.  He doesn’t want to hear that retort anymore.  He doesn’t want to hear the truth.  He only wants to regurgitate the same fascistic script about how “only Islam” has a problem with violence and how “only Islam” has radical extremists that want to do harm to America.  Never mind the Christian extremists that have done harm in the recent past.  Never mind the Coptic Christians in Egypt that give as good as they get in terms of extremist outrage.  Never mind the conflicts between Hindus and Muslims in the border areas between Pakistan and India.  Never mind any of that… it’s “only Islam” that matters in his mind.  “Only Islam”.
Of course, Mister Graham is slick.  He’s quick to quantify his “only Islam” assertion to events after 9/11.  “Only Islam” in the Twenty-first Century.  “Only Islam” in recent years.  “Only Islam” in 2015.  Never mind anything that happened before 9/11 that would stain any other religious beliefs, especially Christianity.  “Only Islam” matters in his mind, and “only Islam” is what he pompously believes should be the only thing up for discussion.  “Only Islam”.
Or as the late-great George Orwell would put it “We’ve always been at war with Middle Eastasia.”
So Mister Graham has this challenge called “#CrusaderWager”.  Yes, it’s a “hashtag”… because, you know, propaganda has to be hip and current for it to be effective.  It’s not just about regurgitation.  Why do you think it’s called “TWIT-ter”?
Here’s the deal, should you agree to the mission: you agree to put aside $1 for every instance of Islamic violence in 2015.  Meanwhile, Mister Graham would put aside $100 for every instance of violence carried out by any other religion in 2015.  The “winner” is the person who has to set aside less money in 2015.  If you win, Mister Graham donates his pot to the charity of your choice.  If he wins, you have to give your pot to the Salvation Army.  (After all, where do you think the “Crusader” part of the “wager” comes from?)
Mister Graham thinks that this will shut his critics up.  And, believe me, there is a part of me that would love to take him up on that challenge simply on the thought that if I would win, he’d have to give his hundreds to the Freedom from Religion Foundation.
There’s just one problem with this “masterpiece” of a “wager”.
There’s no chance in hell that you could ever prevail. 
And it’s not because he’s “right”.  It’s because he knows something that the vast majority doesn’t.
Have you ever heard the media describe someone as a “Christian Terrorist”?
Go ahead and think about it.  Go back to all of the acts of terror in the 90’s here in the US done by non-Muslims.  All of the shootings and bombings, including the Olympic Park bombing of 1996.  Have any of those been declared acts of “Christian terrorism”?
Think about the Anthrax threats of 2001 committed by people like Clayton Lee Waggoner.  Even though President George W. Bush himself said that “anyone who sends Anthrax is a terrorist, and anyone who sends an Anthrax threat in the mail is a terrorist”, has anyone in the media or the federal government consider Waggoner to be a “Christian Terrorist”?  No, of course not! 
Shoot up a women’s clinic, and you’re considered an “Anti-Abortion Protestor” or a “Pro-Life Extremist”, not a “Christian Terrorist”.  Even if you got your “marching orders” from a self-appointed Christian minister with a degree from “Ordained-dot-God” and said “Praise Jesus” as you pulled the trigger and then quoted scripture as you left, the media will never, ever, ever, ever declare you to be a “Christian Terrorist”.
Consider this: two men walk into two separate workplaces and commit the same horrific acts.  One man says “Praise Jesus” as he does his bloody deeds, while the other says “Allah Akbar”.  Would these both count as acts of terrorism?
No, they wouldn’t.  Because while the “Allah Akbar” murderer would be instantly branded a terrorist, the “Praise Jesus” murderer would be written off as a “lone nut-case”.
How about the parent that quotes Scripture to justify killing their child versus one that quotes the Quran?  Again, the Quran-quoting “honor killing” parent would count as part of that religious violence, while the Bible-quoting parent would again be declared a “lone nut-case”.
That doesn’t really help out in the “wager”, does it?
And that, I believe, is the point.
Let’s get brutally honest here… I firmly believe that the so-called “#CrusaderWager” is a sucker’s bet.  Despite having a seemingly huge radio of 100-to-1 in your favor, there is no real way that you can prevail against Mister Graham’s assertion simply because there is this ongoing double-standard that negates violence committed by Christians and other religions and highlights those committed by Muslims.
Imagine what would happen if one of the TV stations – never mind a network news program or cable news channel – dared called acts of Christian terrorism for what they are like they do for acts of Muslim terrorism.  That station would be besieged by angry phone calls and letters from every church group out there, from every old lady with a crucifix and rosary clutched in their hands, from every C-Street office and political action committee from the Catholic League to the American Family Association, and from every politician owned by C-Street.  They would be told in no uncertain terms that the acts of Christian terrorists are “not those of true Christians”, and that “no true Christian would ever support or condone actions of violence”… even when there are biblical passages from both the Old and New Testament that say otherwise.  They would be badgered into supporting the lie that “no true Christian” can do what Muslim extremists have done.
This ongoing double-standard is what fuels the continual diatribe by people like Mister Graham in their fallacious assertion that “only Islam” has a problem with violence.  It not only conceals the past sins of those of other faiths, it also encourages even more Islamic extremism.  We come off as pompous and hypocritical, which only inflame those that know our actual history.  “Do as we say, not as we have done,” is the message we give.  To borrow from the New Testament, we try to remove the plank from the eyes of our neighbors, while ignoring the whole woodshed that has been long nestled in our own eyes.
Oh there is a chance that Mister Graham could lose, but it’s extremely slight.  If the Coptic Christians in Egypt are riled up enough, or if the tift between India and Pakistan heats up again, or if some religious group here in America decides to go nuclear over the film release of “Fifty Shades of Grey”, maybe then they will do enough damage to make Mister Graham lose.  But it would take a lot.  And it would also take the media identifying these incidents for what they are, which I doubt would happen.
Of course if there are no takers in Mister Graham’s “wager” – and I do hope that is the case – he will use that as his assertion that he is somehow “right”, and his associates and myrmidons will follow suit.  “Take the challenge,” they will demand.  “Prove him wrong.  Put up or shut up.”
They can go to hell and take their rigged games with them.  Their terms are not acceptable and they will not prevail in shutting people up who will remind them of the actual truth and of reality.  They will only result in having two separate enemies against them instead of “only Islam”.