Lifetime Theater: The Craigslist Killer

Late in my critically acknowledged novel Mr Blank, our hero is asked how he got his job of working for every conspiracy, secret society, and cult on the planet. His answer? Craigslist.

If you know an easier way to contact Satanists, tell me.

Craigslist has become shorthand for sleazy rendezvous between desperate people for the same reason I can no longer dress up like a clown and play on any swingsets: because perverts ruin everything. This week’s entry into Lifetime Theater, The Craigslist Killer, is about one such pervert, whose exploits are presented as a big reason why you can no longer use Craigslist to book those massage appointments where you explain how you carry all your tension in your penis. The titular Craigslist Killer showed up to the party, and just like that, it’s over. He’s sort of the Andy Dick of Craigslist, which is weird to say, in that I had always assumed Andy Dick was the Andy Dick of Craigslist.

The film opens in another ‘90s teen movie, appropriate since it’s helmed by Stephen Kay, who gave us the transcendently bizarre Blue-Eyed Butcher. Once again, it begins with a photogenic couple ready to jump into an ill-advised relationship that will only end in murder. This time, it’s straight-A medical student, outgoing party guy, and Young Republican (he mentions this when coming onto our heroine) Philip Markoff, and naive nursing school student Megan McAllister (Agnes Bruckner, who would later play Anna Nicole Smith). Both Philip and Megan work at a teaching hospital in New England, but the set is the very Californian one used in Scrubs, down to the very prominent palm trees visible on the horizon. Philip isn’t just the perfect doctor, he’s damn near the messiah. His Dr. Cox figure (played by the great Sam McMurray), waxes rhapsodical about Philip whenever he can. Philip is basically Jeff Wright, although instead of a penchant for visiting loud nightclubs where women dance in colorful and concealing lingerie, Phil likes to prowl the darker corners of Craigslist. And instead of being in the nebulous world of “business,” he’s got medical training. You’d think that would be mined for creepiness, but no.

The romance is a whirlwind, going from their first date to living together in six months. Philip wins over Megan’s parents with a charm offensive, but remains closed-mouthed about his own folks. This would seem to set up a third act reveal where we see the brackish Freudian muck from which his murderous desires were born, but nope. His mom pops up at the engagement party, and it’s pretty clear he doesn’t want here there, but that’s it. Nothing else. She never appears again.

While Megan plans the wedding, a clearly stressed out Philip decides to work off some steam by booking massages and attacking the women who show up. Like you do. Now, I don’t want to second guess the guy, but when a movie is called The Craigslist Killer, I’m expecting some Craigslist Killings. Philip is the most incompetent moron ever to stumble his way into serial murder, and despite what TV tells you, most killers are not brain surgeons. This chucklehead mostly robs his victims, threatens them a little, and steals their panties (which he keeps under the mattress tied up in socks because… actually I have no fucking clue.) His first victim is played by Banshee’s Trieste Dunn, so while he’s threatening her, I couldn’t figure out why Deputy Siobhan Kelly wasn’t beating his ass like Batman touring a mental hospital. She later tells the cops, one of whom is played by William Baldwin who has apparently learned the secrets of Bowl of Chili acting from his brother, that it’s clear that her attacker has done this before.

And there’s the problem right there. Of the three attacks shown, one is more of a robbery (with a panty-theft thrown in), one is a robbery gone wrong in which a desperate Philip shoots the masseuse, and the last has the woman’s boyfriend/pimp come in and get in a knockdown drag-out brawl. In these three scenarios, Philip manages to kill exactly one person. Jesus Christ, I hope Megan bought safety scissors for the house, or this fucking idiot is going to put out his own eyes. This isn’t even Philip’s job. Craigslist Killing is his hobby. There’s no excuse for not doing it well. So it’s no small wonder that Billy Baldwin, even though he’s clearly suffering after having eaten all that chili before every scene, catches Philip without too much trouble.

Initially, Megan doesn’t want to believe that her perfect man could be murdering women he solicited on Craigslist. It’s worth noting that at this point in the movie, I turned to my wife and asked her if she would believe I was a killer. She responded, without missing a beat, “If there was a crawlspace involved, definitely.” Anyway, Megan continues to deny, deny, deny, even as Billy Baldwin (and his roiling gutful of chili) bring Philip’s online presence to her attention. He posts on a sex addict site, there’s a naked selfie on some profile, and earlier in the movie he appears to take a dick pic. We don’t see it, because, you know, Lifetime. This is the same reason it abruptly gets homo- and transphobic. Apparently, despite the audience never seeing it, Philip was also posting about hooking up with men and specifically transmen. This is the final straw for Meg. Murdering women is one thing, I mean, that’s practically a national pastime! But being bisexual? She confronts him about it while he’s cooling his heels in jail, and when he refuses to deny it, she takes off the ring. This prompts Philips second (and this one successful) suicide attempt.

If there’s one thing I learned from The Craigslist Killer it’s that maybe, just maybe, you should know someone for more than six months before agreeing to marry them. And on the other side of the coin, if you’re going to be a Craigslist Killer, show some respect for yourself. Have a plan. Practice. Really scout your victims. Don’t just jump in and hope for the best. You’re going to end up as a laughingstock.

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Everything You Wanted to Know About Sulfites But Still Won’t Believe Anyway

Hey kids! In light of the ongoing misinformation regarding the issue of sulfites in wine, I thought I’d repost this classic bit of TSS/HuffPost wisdom.

You’re not allergic to sulfites.

Well, probably not.

For some reason the sulfite question has popped up in the wine world a lot recently. I think it’s a combination of an increased interest in organic products in general coupled with an insurgent popularity of so-called “natural wine” amongst the vino cognoscenti. Despite copious writings (including by me) on the virtually non-existent health risks of sulfites, a large chunk of the population either: still doesn’t know about it; doesn’t believe it; or chooses to remain willfully ignorant out of some misguided organic fervor.

Here are the facts:

  1. Various forms of sulfur have been used as a preservative and stabilizer in wine making, as well as in other foods, including most dried fruits, for a very long time. It’s also sometimes used in the vineyard, orchard and garden as a natural pest deterrent and fungicide.
  2. Sulfites have been deliberately used as a preservative in wine making for something like 1000 years and were inadvertently used at least as far back as Ancient Rome. Romans noticed that wine stored in amphorae that had been dried with lamps or fires between uses spoiled less often.
  3. Generally speaking, an entire bottle of wine has fewer sulfites than a two ounce serving of dried apricots.
  4. Although a sulfite allergy exists, it is a very rare and specific anaphylactic allergy resulting in breathing difficulty, swelling and hives–not headaches or nausea.
  5. Generally speaking, white wine has more sulfites than red wine since red wine has additional natural preservatives–such as tannins from the grape skins–so less sulfur needs to be added.
  6. Sulfites are a natural part of the wine making process. Even if you add no additional sulfites, they will still be present in measurable quantities in wine. During fermentation, yeasts convert the natural sulfur in wine (in the form of sulfates) into sulfites. This is also why it is virtually impossible to have a USDA Organic wine even without adding a single drop of sulfites to a wine. Except by random fluke, all wines will have more than 10 parts per million (ppm) sulfites, which is the upper threshold allowed for organic wines.
  7. The human body produces ten times more sulfites in a day than are found in one liter of a typical wine.

In my past experiences as a waiter and wine retailer and in my current career as a wholesaler I’ve encountered exactly one person with a legitimate sulfite allergy. White wines and lighter red wines gave him hives. He still drank more tannic red wines. I have, however, encountered numerous people who claimed to have a sulfite allergy but failed the basic Lemon test, because:

  1. Headache was the primary or sole symptom they mentioned.
  2. Invariably, symptoms were worse with red wine than with white wine.
  3. They were uncompromisingly certain that sulfites were the issue and would not consider any other sources.

There are innumerable things in wine that cause headache including, of course, alcohol. Red wine contains numerous histamines and there is a general consensus that there is something in many red wines that causes headache in certain individuals, but there is no clear idea what that is yet or even if it is native to red wine or to human DNA. Oak barrels also impart histamines and other compounds that add to the cocktail of chemicals in wine that produces adverse reactions.

Cheap, factory-farmed wine has a lot more stuff in it than small production “farm” wine or “natural” wine. It could have citric acid, oak chips, concentrated grape juice and chemical preservatives above and beyond sulfur. There are nights where I consume an entire bottle (or more) of responsibly-produced wine and feel fine in the morning and other instances where I’ll have a glass or two of factory-farmed wine and get a splitting headache.

Unfortunately, there were exaggerated assertions from anti-sulfur activists published on the Huffington Post in the past, and that doesn’t help. If most wines had naturally occurring sulfites of 0-5 ppm, there would be a lot more organic wine out there and more responsible grape growers could trade on the organic name. But the no sulfite-added wines that I’ve worked with generally have around 15-30 ppm and it is inconsistent year to year since small growers don’t have the resources to control and combat free floating sulfur that could blow in from neighboring vineyards.

I believe there is a definitive advantage, in terms of feeling crappy post-drinking, to sipping sustainably farmed, small-production wine that is as natural as it needs to be. But that advantage has nothing to do with the presence or absence of sulfites. Good attentive wine makers use only as much sulfur as necessary to achieve consistency and prevent spoilage, that’s it. And again, except for those with an allergy, sulfites are completely safe by every scientific measure I’ve read.

As a commenter on a past post of mine astutely pointed out, with all this pointed discussion about a simple, natural and safe preservative like sulfur it’s funny that we seem to forget that, of all the chemicals in wine to be wary of, the most dangerous by far is that potent poison, alcohol.

(Please note, I’m not a scientist but merely a curious individual. I did, however, consult a scientist: Dr. Tom Mansell, PhD candidate in chemistry at Cornell University and publisher of the wine and science journal Ithacork. I also consulted the excellent article “Sulfites in Wine” by UC Davis Professor Andrew Waterhouse.)

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New Satellite Show Episode 16: Not About Judy

As the Panel does their best to not talk about Judy, they encounter more trouble at Warner Bros. Justin offers a few sage words about publishing and then learns about his extra hour in the DashCon ballpit. Rob attempts to get confirmation about Jaxxon’s return to the Star Wars Galaxy and Erik reveals a new hatred of Orcs. This month’s Yakmala film is “Quigley,” featuring Gary Busey as a Pomeranian. Yes, you read that right. Host: Erik. Panel: Dante, Rob, Clint, Justin.

Click here or subscribe on iTunes.

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Now Fear This: Drop Dead Gorgeous

It’s like, a pun or whatever.

Any gathering with old friends inevitably includes this moment: I make a joke about something horrifying and everyone laughs even though you can tell by the pained looks on their faces they kind of hate the part of them that finds it funny. Then one of them says some variation of, “That’s why we keep Justin around.” Like a lot of people who deal in humor, I see the ins and outs of jokes before they happen, and since laughter is fundamentally based on surprise, I laugh at odd things. Consequently, my humor can get a little… dark. I’m not trying to shock anything, I’m just saying something that makes me laugh and maybe it will for someone else. Besides, I’ve learned that the way to deal with darkness is either to laugh or cry, and laughing is way more fun. I guess what I’m trying to say is don’t invite me to funerals.

Back in 1999, my mother told me I had to see this movie, Drop Dead Gorgeous, for one specific scene. That scene is the talent portion of a local beauty pageant in which Stepford Sexbot Becky Leeman (Denise Richards) breathily talk-sings the Frankie Valli classic “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” while dancing with a giant crucified Jesus doll. It’s a brilliant scene that pretty much hits every corner of my sense of humor. It’s the perfect display of that kind of tawdry piety that would become increasingly popular in the following decade, so in addition to being absolutely hilarious, it’s possibly the work of a sorcerer. The film had already won me over by the time that scene rolled around with its odd combination of Midwest grotesquerie, earnest charm, and offbeat humor.

The movie itself is a shaggy dog, concerning itself with the pageant and a few of the characters beyond it, offering a mockumentary evisceration on pageant culture, the boundless rage behind the exaggerated niceness of Minnesota, and pretty much anything else the creators chose to throw in. Those creators are writer Lona Williams, who drew from her actual experience as a pageant contestant in Minnesota, and appears as the third, non-speaking judge, and Michael Patrick Jann who you remember in a few non-speaking roles on MTV’s The State and possibly your nightmares. In a strange way, the world was primed for a story like this. Drop Dead Gorgeous feels like the spiritual heir of two other movies from 1996: the mockumentary structure, absurdist humor, and obsession with small-town minutiae owes a debt to Christopher Guest’s fantastic Waiting for Guffman, while the Minnesota accents and pervasive darkness comes directly from the Coen masterpiece Fargo.

The story opens in 1995 (making this a period piece of a sort), for the 50th Anniversary of the Sarah Rose Cosmetics American Teen Princess Pageant. A documentary crew (predominantly voiced by State ace Thomas Lennon) has arrived in Mount Rose, Minnesota, population 5,076, to witness the city-wide pageant. The winner will go to state, and from there to the big show in Lincoln, Alabama. The exposition is done in a promotional film, which features Adam West lampooning his image a year before Family Guy would call on him to do the same (and prompt TV tropes to turn his name into a participle). The video instantly undercuts the glamor of the pageant by having the host, a former winner, nonchalantly reveal she works at a pork packing plant. The film’s sharpest running gag features characters talking up the importance of the pageant, and then contrast it with some horrible side effect. The most effective features last year’s winner Mary Johanson (Alexandra Holden), a sweet space cadet currently hospitalized with anorexia. Her “triumphant” return to the pageant is too funny to spoil.

The pageant is run by local bigwig and former winner Gladys Leeman (Kirstie Alley, ripping into that accent like no one’s business), and mother of the aforementioned Becky. This should create some kind of conflict of interest, but the entire town accepts that nepotism will carry the day with a sense of grim fatalism. The Leemans are the richest people in their tiny corner of Minnesota, so of course they’re going to come out ahead. This year, there appears to be a serious threat to Becky’s winning: Amber Atkins (Kirsten Dunst) a bubbly trailer park resident who practices her tapdancing while at her after-school job, which is doing hair and makeup for corpses at the local mortuary. The other serious threat, star athlete and president of the local Lutheran girls’ gun club, is shortly murdered on her tractor.

That’s the kind of story we’re dealing with. Someone — and through most of the story it’s heavily hinted that it’s monstrous Becky — is knocking off her competition and really anyone who gets in the way. Her archnemesis is Amber, who through sheer luck dodges several attempts that lay waste to everyone in her general vicinity. There is a ton of darkness in the story, but it’s ultimately the funny kind, as the killers are mostly harmless and everything is through the lens of fundamentally good-hearted Amber. It helps that the movie is damn funny, with many of the jokes, in true mockumentary fashion being muttered asides and actions that directly contradict the story the actors are trying to tell.

The cast is absolutely stuffed with ringers. Dunst is great as Amber, proving that between this, Dick, and The Cat’s Meow, she’s got some seriously good comedic chops. Ellen Barkin gets some good moments as Amber’s mom, balancing her performance between that of a boozy trailer park curmudgeon and genuinely loving mother who wants her daughter to achieve all her dreams. Richards doesn’t even attempt the regional accent here, but she’s not called upon to do much other than act archly, polish a gun, and sing an inappropriate love song to a doll. Kirstie Alley seems to be channeling Sarah Palin in her performance, which is impressive considering the film came out nine years before McCain broke the final seal and unleashed Palin upon the unsuspecting world. Sam McMurray, Allison Janney, and Mindy Sterling all play parts as locals, and these three are basically national treasures who elevate already good material to lofty heights. The contestants feature a few recognizable faces, including Brittany Murphy as giggly Lisa Swenson, reminding us why we loved her, and Amy Adams in her movie debut as dimwitted Leslie Miller. They’re all wonderful, and pretty much any interview with any one of them produces the best laughs of the movie.

As much as I love the film, it does have flaws. The structure doesn’t quite work, as the entire movie is the build up to the pageant followed by the pageant itself… and then another half hour of movie. That’s not to say that the tail end is laugh free — it definitely has its solid moments — but after the pageant, the movie runs out of a lot of the steam its built up. It doesn’t help that the villains are all dead or incarcerated, and all of the non-Amber contestants abruptly vanish from the narrative. The film ends with a “Where Are They Now” that only includes Amber, one of the three judges, and Leslie, which is just an egregious oversight. I bonded with Lisa, Tess, Michelle, and all the others, and a last moment with them should have been required. At least tell me that obvious sex criminal John Dough, one of the judges, had something awful happen to him. That’s all I need.

Drop Dead Gorgeous came back into my consciousness with a piece Buzzfeed ran on it. The movie was a failure at the time, but has picked up a richly-deserved cult audience in the last fifteen years. Considering how terrifyingly prescient it is, we might want to look at it as some kind of lipstick-smeared oracle.

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Some Thoughts on the Week that Was

So the last 7 days or so have been eventful and largely tragic. So, without any particular direction, here are some thoughts….

Ferguson, Missouri. Yet another unarmed young black man shot and killed, this time by a law enforcement officer. It’s frustrating that despite living in a time that is empirically one of the safest in American history, the readiness, willingness, and even eagerness with which a certain segment of the population resorts to homicide despite an absence of a grave and immediate threat of the same to their own person is immensely distressing. Ending a life is a permanent decision and one that impacts hundreds or even thousands of people.

I also firmly hold the belief that law enforcement officers should be held to an even higher standard for the use of lethal force than stand-your-ground redneck nutjobs because their career choice does come with the presumed threat of harm daily and they are more than fairly compensated for the risk. They are trained and equipped with numerous alternatives to lethal force to neutralize a threat. If a peace officer kills a civilian and that civilian is not in possession of any deadly weapons or was not actively using extreme physical force against an officer, that should be a crime. This is happening too often.

Robin Williams. A tragedy, and a particularly poignant one because I think many of us who were familiar with him, his life, and his recent struggles, although shocked by the suddenness of his death, were not wholly surprised he took his own life. Whenever something like that happens, when a known depressive who was so public with his struggle still decides to commit suicide, we’re confronted with two troubling thoughts. The first is that, could we (or SOMEBODY) have done something to help him? The second is a more somber and painful realization that sometimes certain people are beyond help; that there are people for whom life is too much, too painful, and too sad.

The morning of Williams’ death I was met with the news that a friend’s mother had also ended her life in a manner and at an age very similar to Williams. Signs of depression had been there, significant outreach efforts had been made to help her, but short of forced institutionalization, there isn’t anything that can be done to stop someone for whom life has become truly unbearable. Not all suicide attempts are cries for help.

There is something of an epidemic of suicide amongst older Baby Boomers, which researchers are attributing to a number of reasons, especially the social isolation and financial difficulties that come as retirement approaches. The social clubs and fraternal organizations that kept communities together and helped maintain friendships and connections through retirement and into old age, staples of my grandparents’ generation, are fewer and fewer. Community-supported clubs and programs have been eschewed in favor of an “I’ve got mine” attitude hidden behind the rhetoric of lower taxes and smaller government.

I’m not saying community will end suicide–and in Robin Williams’ case he was not want for friends–but knowing that there are people you count on out there and people who count on you won’t hurt.

The most fitting tribute to Williams is the number of people who posted candid photos of themselves with the man. I don’t know a single person more than one degree removed from a personal interaction with Robin Williams. Hell, even my brother met him when he was a child extra in Jack. He gave himself to the world with a compulsive generosity that perhaps ultimately was his undoing, but he had the power to feel like a friend even to those of us who never met him because he gave himself so wholly until there wasn’t anything left to give.

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Yay for Comics! August 2014 Edition

yaySo, a million years ago, Paul Pope drew an illustration of his THB protagonist, HR Watson, jumping for joy and exclaiming “Yay for Comics!” It is a reminder that the medium is filled with excitement. Yet, it can be difficult to enjoy comics with the sexist and violent tirades of certain fans, the thin margins under which the industry operates and the continuing racial and gender inequality in the creative sector of the business, but there are still things to love about it. Things that make me jump for joy, just like HR Watson.

This month includes the last word on All New Ghost Rider, a fantastic all ages book and a sci-fi Western mashup that’s the bees’s knees

All New Ghost Rider #5: Like I keep saying,  I want to like this book. Tradd Moore’s art is superb. It’s grotesque, bursting with fire and a sort of lurid undercurrent you just don’t find in major publisher’s product. The concept is so great and the design of the new Ghost Rider was enough to propel me for five months, but sadly, I’ve reached the end with this title. Though I try to keep it positive in this column, I suppose its important to talk about the comics that do fall by the wayside. In Ghost Rider‘s case, it’s all the elements I called out as worrisome a couple of months ago. The boy underneath the fire is still mostly uninteresting. Though he has a stated objective, getting his paraplegic brother out of East L.A., it’s obscured by an emphasis on the bad guys and meaningless fights. Also, the dialogue is uniformly terrible. But, I hope writer Felipe Smith can turn it around and make the book more memorable. It still has so much potential.

A sample of Tradd Moore's art on All New Ghost Rider

A sample of Tradd Moore’s art on All New Ghost Rider.

Lumberjanes #1-4: Meanwhile, Boom! Studios quietly puts out a lot of all-ages comics, but this title, by Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis with art by Brooke Allen, is by far the best. Centering around a cabin-full of scouts out at a camp where the woods are fare teeming with supernatural weirdness, the book bursts with energy. So much energy appears in its pages that I’m consistently shocked that I reach the end of an issue. The girls are slowly becoming well defined as they encounter mystical foxes, an Indiana Jones-esque underground and a sea serpent. The mystery in the woods is compelling, but the characters —  Molly, April, Mal, Jo and Ripley — make the whole thing inviting month after month. It also feels young, which is a rare trait in comics. I quickly handed off the first four issues to the Satellite Show’s littlest member and she quickly sent me a text message to tell me how much she loved it. It’s fast and delightful; the clear recommendation of the month.

The girls of Lumberjanes.

The girls of Lumberjanes.

The Fuse #1-6 — The Russia Shift: I’ve known Antony Johnston a long time, but I think this is my favorite of his series so far. Set on a gigantic space station that serves as both a permanent settlement and a way-station to Mars, Detectives Klem Ristovych and Ralph Dietrich have to solve the murder of a cabler — one of the stations homeless. While an interesting crime story, The Russia Shift is a great introduction to the society Johnston and artist Justin Greenwood have built in this floating city. The collected trade paperback of the first story is schedule for release on  but I eagerly await the arrival of issue #7 and the next story.

The setting of The Fuse.

The setting of The Fuse.

East of West Volume 1: I’ve already discussed Jonathan Hickman and his ability to craft stories that seem just for me, and East of West continues that trend with a futuristic sci-fi western staring the Horseman Death as a pissed off gunfighter looking to take back what they took from him. “They” are high-ranking officials within the governments of the Seven Nations of America and he’s gonna make ‘em pay. There’s alternate history, Civil War era fashions and the most compelling take on the Four Horseman I’ve yet seen. The art by Nick Dragotta is a world away from the look of Hickman’s other book, The Manhattan Projects, but is equally compelling in its inventiveness. It also finds space for badass moments, like Death’s weird robot horse taking out a squad of enemy forces while the Pale Rider’s companions morph into crows and wolves respectively. It’s mad and powerful and not at all what I expected when I bought it as part of the Image Comics Humble Bundle a few months back.

A scene from East of West.

A scene from East of West.

Well, that’ll do it for this month. Sadly, I didn’t discover something new at Comic-Con, but that’s okay because comics can always offer something new on any new book Wednesday of the year. Next month, I’ll talk about Antony Johnston’s other new title, dive into the world of Pretty Deadly and maybe kill some giants.

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Yakmala: Man of Steel

He keeps that mildly constipated look on his face through the whole movie. It’s how you know this is Serious Business.

It’s unfair to compare adaptations across media. A movie should stand on its own, and even if it comes from a book, comic book, webcomic, dirty limerick, homeless guy’s subway ravings, it should stand on its own as a discrete work. A lot of the criticism of the Goyer/Snyder/Nolan joint Man of Steel, centered around its treatment of Superman. I’m throwing all that aside. I’m reviewing this movie like I don’t even know who Superman is. And I’m pretty sure that’s how the movie was made as well.

Tagline: None

More Accurate Tagline: In the grim darkness of the present, there is only angst.

Guilty Party: There’s a lot to go around here, so I’m going to lay it on the Goyer/Snyder/Nolan triumvirate. These three are like the Three Musketeers, if D’Artagnan died after all four of them had a paint-eating contest and they were always on the way to his funeral. These three hate humor the way Rick Perry hates knowing things. Goyer and Nolan were more successful in their gritty grimdark portrayal of superheroes when they were working with an actual gritty grimdark hero in Batman, but here they try their schtick with an alien who flies around in primary-colored tights and assaults wealthy industrialists with alopecia. Goyer and Nolan, already on shaky intellectual ground, threw things to Zack Snyder, who never had a thought he didn’t immediately attempt to rape. They threw together a boring, humorless slog and called it a movie.

Synopsis: Krypton is royally fucked. The planet’s core is exploding, and no one seems to care. This is what they get when they buy their technology from the Engineers. Amongst this, scientist Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and scientist’s wife Lara (who cares, she’s a complete non-entity) have the first natural birth in thousands of years. This is super important for the movie because… actually, it doesn’t really matter. There’s some silliness about choice, but it’s really just an excuse to re-use the “endless fields, Neo, where human beings are not born. They are grown.” Seriously, those exact CGI sets from The Matrix are recycled, except they’re put under water. I hope the Wachowskis got some royalties.

Anyway, General Zod (Michael Shannon) is really mad about this whole apocalypse thing, and starts a coup. He wants to somehow save the Codex (stored in a monkey skull in a giant pool for some reason), which is the map of the genetic material of the entire species, but only wants to save some bloodlines, which Jor-El objects to. How they plan to save anything when it’s pretty clear the planet only has one working spacecraft and it’s designed for an infant is anyone’s guess. Jor-El sticks the Codex in his son (don’t worry, he warms it up first), and Zod is arrested for treason. Then, the ruling council of Krypton tries and convicts Zod and his crew. Then they’re put in space dicks and flown up to an interdimensional prison.

“Hey, uh… Zack, do these remind you of anything?” “ROCKET DICKS, YEAH!” “Okay, just making sure you’re seeing it too.”

…so apparently, instead of saving maybe some scientists, artists, leaders, that kind of thing, the Kryptonians decided to put their most dangerous criminals in the one lifeboat the planet has. Yeah, Kryptonians are fucking morons.

The pod containing Jor-El’s kid crashes in some farmland, but then we’re suddenly in an episode of Deadliest Catch. I don’t know either. A bearded guy we later find out is named Clark is wrestling with his humanity, his accent, and a crippling flashback addiction, not having much luck with any of them. He saves some folks on an oil rig, then steals some pants and works in a truck stop for awhile. When some guy harasses him, Clark impales the man’s semi on some logs and telephone wires because secret identities are for assholes. The flashbacks go back to his childhood when his father Jonathan Kent teaches him the most important lesson of being a hero: you should never save anyone because it might inconvenience you or your family somewhere down the line. Jonathan is a goddamn monster.

Clark hears about some weird object in the ice from a couple soldiers chatting about it at the truck stop — no, seriously, this is what happens — and suddenly he’s up on some kind of top secret Arctic military base, calling himself “Joe” and everyone’s cool with this. Lois Lane (Amy Adams), a reporter, also shows up on this military base, so at this point I’m just assuming that the armed forces in this reality communicate secrets to different branches entirely through stage whispering and highway billboards. Clark uses his laser eyes to get into the object — which turns out to be a spaceship — and he and Lois have a meet cute that involves him cauterizing her wounds with those same laser eyes. The ship is full of mummies (oh no!), but after Clark plugs in a data stick Jor-El sent to earth with him, Jor-El suddenly gets uploaded into the ship to tell Clark his origin story (oh yeah!). Clark is Kal-El of Krypton, and he was sent to earth because through a combination of solar radiation, atmosphere, and gravity, he would get superpowers. And then he could save everyone and help humanity be awesome. Jor-El is going to be pissed when he finds out Clark happened to land in a serial killer’s backyard.

Clark flies off in his new ship, leaving Lois behind. She uses her reporter magic and tracks Clark down to his hometown (which is never named in the dialogue, so I’m calling it Americatown). Weirdly, she finds Martha Kent (Diane Lane), and then Clark meets Lois at Jonathan’s grave, leading me to believe Martha must have called her son. Nope, a later scene establishes they’d never talked about Lois. Weird. Clark convinces Lois to kill the story, because his dad told him to hide.

Finally Zod and the bad guys show up. After Krypton exploded, the interdimensional prison freed them, so yeah, there was no reason not to use that as an ark and let the convicted traitors die on the planet. They modified the prison into a starship and went around the galaxy visiting old Kryptonian outposts, scavenging equipment. Zod also found the time to grow some douchebro chin pubes, but sadly he never produces a backwards-facing baseball cap to go with them. Zod reveals all this in a dream sequence, which made no sense until I hit myself in the bead with a baseball bat a couple times. Now I get it, and I’ve learned misery has a taste. Zod demands that Kal-El be turned over to him, and Clark surrenders to the military to make this happen.

In an interrogation room, Lois points out the S on his chest (It’s not an S, Clark explains, it means hope on Krypton), and suggests he be called “Super–” but then feedback cuts her off. Man, the movie did not want her to finish that thought. Wonder what that’s about?

The military turns Clark over to the Kryptonians and they also demand Lois, probably because they saw Amy Adams in the credits and figured she was important. Seriously, that’s the only reason. Lois uploads Jor-El into the ship, and then she and Clark escape. Zod and company decide to go bother Martha, and that produces a big fistfight. Clark takes out Zod rather easily by disabling his helmet, which then overloads Zod’s sensitive Kryptonian senses with the cacophony of earth. When two more Kryptonians come down to fight, I figured Clark would just disable their helmets for a quick win. Nope, instead he destroys as much of Americatown as he can with a pointless brawl. This is actually pretty good character development: we’ve already established Kryptonians are so fucking stupid they couldn’t figure out how lifeboats work, and Jonathan instilled in Clark a deep indifference to the suffering of others. Anyway, the military shows up, shoots everyone, but comes to a grudging respect for Clark.

Zod has had enough of Clark’s bullshit, and he sends a World Engine, which is a giant machine that will convert Earth into Krypton (the exact opposite of “terraforming,” which is how a scientist describes it because David Goyer, like David Lindelof, doesn’t know that words mean things). Clark deals with this, while the military goes after Zod’s ship, presently reducing Metropolis to rubble. They plan to drop a bomb made out of the pod Clark came to earth in. Oh, right around here, an embarrassed soldier refers to Clark as “Superman,” and it’s never brought up again, as the mood is sure to emphasize that this is a stupid and shameful name.

Anyway, Clark destroys the World Engine and the military takes out the ship, leaving Clark to fight Zod. He does this by guiding Zod into the sections of the city that haven’t been demolished by the ship, and then punching him into as many buildings as he can. This is a great way to show how thoroughly he learned from his dad: people should not be saved because fuck them. Eventually he corners Zod in a train station and Zod threatens to kill four people with his laser eyes. For some reason, these four really matter to Clark and he decides to kill Zod (and deal with some minor constipation at the same time). And in the most unrealistic part of the film, Clark rolls into a totally rebuilt city, and gets a job as a journalist at a newspaper.

Life-Changing Subtext: Human beings are useless and helpless insects.

Defining Quote: There are so many terrible lines in this thing, it’s tough to pick just one. I’m going to go with a line at the end of the film, after Clark has supposedly learned his lesson and accepted his role as Space Jesus. He and Lois kiss, and she says, “You know, they say it’s downhill after the first kiss,” to which he responds, “I’m pretty sure that only counts when you’re kissing a human.”

SHE’S A HUMAN, YOU INSUFFERABLE DICK.

She’s a human, just like all the people you allowed to die with nary a thought. Get the fuck off my planet, you Kryptonian paraquat.

Standout Performance: She doesn’t have much to do, but I enjoyed Antje Traue as Zod’s right hand Faora-Ul. Other than her harsh Teutonic beauty, she appeared to be the Kryptonian most comfortable with the action sequences. Even though her fight with Clark should have ended when he instantly pulled her helmet off, she did more interesting things with her powers than anyone else. And it was in an IHOP.

They wanted to be very clear on the fact that it’s an IHOP.

What’s Wrong: The movie seems to believe this Clark person is not just someone we should cheer for, but someone we should worship. The film wallows in unearned Christ imagery, first as Clark floats in the water after saving the guys on the oil rig (to be fair, Jesus has been quite clear on his love of fossil fuels), sitting in a church by some stained glass (Jesus was also known for sitting), then floating away from a ship he just punched (Jesus was also a huge fan of punching things). It’s the fundamental disconnect with what the movie believes it’s showing, and what it is actually showing.

Flash of Competence: It looks good, although Zack Snyder has fallen in love with that faux-documentary shooting style I hate. It’s like he’s cycling through all the overused cliches of directing one by one. That guy is the herpetic carbuncle on the cock of American cinema.

Best Scenes: It’s jarring when you’re watching a movie and you realize the filmmakers have an entirely different idea of what a word means than you do. In this case, “alien.” An alien is something you’re born as, yet for some reason Clark suddenly turns into an alien in the middle of class. I wonder if Goyer et al think animals spontaneously turn into other animals? Maybe they’re terrified of cats thinking they’ll become crocodiles.

I should mention my favorite scene in the movie. After a schoolbus goes over a bridge, Clark (a kid himself) saves all the kids inside. Jonathan takes the opportunity to yell at him. When Clark asks “Should I have let them die?” Jonathan’s answer is “Maybe.” No. No is the word you were looking for there, Jonathan. Letting children die is never the right answer for a hero.

While fighting in the IHOP, Faora utters a truly baffling bon mot. She tells Clark that he has morality and she and the other Kryptonians do not. First off… what the fuck person actually says this? Everyone thinks they are moral. But that’s not the truly stupid part of the line. She claims her lack of morality “gives us an evolutionary advantage. And evolution always wins.” That isn’t even close to how you use that word. You might as well put any other word there and it would make the same amount of sense. “We have a Wednesday advantage. And Wednesday always wins.” And the Lindelof Award for Using a Big Scientific Word in an Attempt to Sound Smart that Goes Horribly Awry goes to David S. Goyer.

Zod wants to use the Codex to bring Kryptonians back, and appeals to Clark on this level. It would work but for one thing: Jonathan Kent taught Clark the valuable lesson of letting children die.

Transcendent Moment: This movie undermines itself with such gleeful frequency it’s tough to pick a moment. Still, it has to be the tornado.

Jonathan, Martha, and Clark are driving along, and Clark has a “yer not my daaaad!” moment, when a tornado hits. Jonathan instantly hops out of the car and starts ordering everyone to go to the overpass. Now you might think this is the result of poor research, since someone living in Kansas would know that this is the worst place to go in the event of a tornado. But this is Jonathan Kent we’re talking about. He fucking hates people and wants as many dead as possible. Children especially. So he’s setting them up.

Then, they see a dog is trapped in a car. Jonathan is in the process of carrying a little girl to the overpass (the monster!), but hands her to Clark (so he can get a little blood on his hands and see that it feels good) to save the dog. Never mind that Clark has super speed, and there are winds and debris everywhere, so he could conceivably not show people that he is an invulnerable god. Nope. Jonathan goes himself. And when Clark wants to save him, Jonathan does this perfect passive aggressive pose, like “no… I’m fine… see… you have to let people die…”

It’s still the funniest thing I’ve ever seen in a superhero movie.

Nope… it’s cool. Don’t worry about me. I’ll just hang out here.

The magic of Man of Steel isn’t that it’s a shitty Superman movie — we’ve had plenty of those. It’s that it’s a shitty movie that’s ashamed to be a Superman movie. In the end, it’s a tale told by three idiots, full of sound, fury, and tornadoes.

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