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16 June 2006
Movie Review #2
X-Men: The Last Stand

The third X-Men movie was one I’d anticipated for a while. The trailers looked great, and despite the production problems I’d heard about, it seemed one couldn’t go wrong with an all-out mutant war. My mistake.

There’s not a whole lot of unity in X-Men: The Last Stand, either amongst the mutants or in the play of the film itself. I actually enjoyed many parts of the movie, but that was the problem—it existed only in parts. The movie is a collection of scenes and set pieces that never congeal as a unified whole. And frankly, for all the explosions and SFX, it’s kind of boring. I love the first two movies (especially the second), but this one gets an “eh” at best.

First, the build-up is to a war, which we really never get. If you’re going to give us a mutant war, why not give us what’s hinted at in the Danger Room scene near the beginning? Give us the all-out mutant armageddon. At least give us more than one quick battle at the end of the film.

Second, there were several important, and supposedly earth-shattering deaths or radical changes which occurred in the film. The problem is that the director handles them with the grace of a squid on rollerskates. One death is left vague until Wolverine deduces the character must have been killed. For a main character death, this is lame. Height of lame, in fact. We don’t see it, we don’t get proof; we’re told about it almost matter-of-factly. The deaths we do witness have no power. They ought to. Watching them, you want them to be powerful. Clearly the director thought the first of these two should be. It just isn’t. Because the way it’s filmed leaves you thinking that you didn’t really see what you thought you saw, and there’s a nagging feeling throughout that the dead person must come back. Except there’s no pay-off in that feeling.* The emotion in the film dead and flat. If the characters cannot muster the will to care, why should the audience?

Characterisation was probably the worst flaw, in my opinion. There was a lot of “going through the motions,” even for the new characters, as if we should know them already. There are hints that Beast had a long past with the X-Men, but if you’re not up on the comic’s history, this means next to nothing. And again, there’s little emotional interplay between him and the other characters, so there’s no sense of a history present. And though Angel has not only a very cool look, but even seems interesting, it goes nowhere. He has like three lines in the whole movie. The story keeps going back to him as if he’s of central importance, but mostly he just lurks in the background. (There’s a terrific scene at the beginning involving young Warren Worthington’s attempt to not be a mutant with feathery wings. It’s powerful, and probably one of the single best scenes in the movie. The problem is that it suggests his importance to the plot, and again, we get no pay-off. We get three lines and some flying. Whoppee.) But worst of all is the injustices wrought upon the several of the characters’ personalities or moral compasses. A sequel does have a duty to remain true to the previous movies (unless, like I hear the new Superman is doing, one sets out purposefully to erase the horrible mistakes of the past). Professor Xavier acts like a self-righteous prig instead of a man devoted to a noble ideal. This was the most annoying example. I have no problem with him being a little blind to reality, or misguided in his overprotectiveness of mutants, but the attitude he conveyed was all wrong. Also, Storm held to her convictions that being a mutant was not a disease to be cured … until it came down to the face off with Magneto. Apparently any moral implications went right out the window here, because she didn’t even offer reservations, or a sadness that this might be the only course of action. I don’t care how much of an enemy he’d been, or how powerful he is; these are considerations, of course, but the problem is that in the blink of an eye she decided against every conviction she had hitherto professed to hold. That’s just cheap. Finally, there is the problem of Jean Grey as Dark Phoenix. She’s a bloody robot throughout the movie. Even while wreaking mass destruction, there’s no sense of malevolence. And it’s not a creepy sort of impassivity, as though mortals are so far beneath her she cannot be bothered to show emotion. She’s little more than a walking corpse. Phoenix should be bloody barmy! Where’s the mad cackling laughter as she slaughters platoons? Where’s the look of someone not in control of their own power? Where’s the emotion?

Ultimately, I was left with a feeling much like the one I had after watching V for Vendetta. Not a bad movie, but highly disappointing. Again, X-Men has some really great scenes, but this doesn’t make for a good movie. The action has little heart behind it, and ends up being boring. It really does crawl toward the finish line. I put most of the blame on the shoulders of the new director. He clearly has not the control, nor the necessary rapport with the cast, that Bryan Singer had. He’s cobbled together a bunch of disparate pieces which do not coalesce into a cohesive piece.

I think I need a JPW scale to rate these movies. But until I get one, let us leave it at this: X-Men: The Last Stand is worth seeing if you can do so for free and have absolutely nothing better to do. Otherwise, spend the money to rent the first two.

Next up: Cars

*Note: I have heard that there is a pay-off after the credits, but the movie does not engender the will the remain in the theatre for that long. On general principle, I do stay for the credits, but sometimes, it’s just not worth it. This was one of those times.
Jelly Pinched Wolf   2:56 PM
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14 June 2006
Movie Review
Kashi and I have made it out to exactly three movies this year--all in the last month or so. Partly, it was an issue of both time and money, but also there just hasn't been anything worth going to see. As it turns out, that can also be said of two of the three we did see.

I'd intended to review all three in one post, but I ended up writing more on the first than planned, so the others will be forthcoming as soon as I can compose them.

V For Vendetta

Vendetta looked like the perfect movie for us. Comic book vigilante, with a flair for the dramatic, thwarting injustice in a dystopian world. It was neither The Punisher nor Judge Dredd, so it had to at least be a fun romp, right? Not so much. The Problem with Vendetta is not that it's a bad movie, but that it has no idea what kind of movie it wants to be. Downright schizophrenic, in fact. At times it wants to be a comic book movie, at times a detective drama, at times a political protest. And in the end, it never quite succeeds at any of them. Had they stripped most of it away and focused on the detective drama, I think we'd both have enjoyed it more. Stephen Rea's sad-sack detective (if ever there was an actor who's made a career of playing sad-sack characters, I think Rea must be it) and his partner provide the only truly enjoyable moments in the movie, and they're actually interesting.

Visually, it's really well-done, but again, there's not enough substance behind the look. And there's a lack of style, too. Take, for instance, the final climactic showdown between V and like 50 million armed men. Beautifully shot, with some FX to show the trails of the throwing knives as they slice through the air. And then great gouts of blood to ruin it all. I'm a horror writer; I like blood. And gore, and bone, and cartilage, and sinew. In literature, it can work, so long as you know how to control it, when it's necessary, and most importantly all the times it isn't necessary. A Stephen King says in Danse Macabre, "What's behind the door or lurking at the top of the stairs is never as frightening as the door or the staircase itself." It's not just in horror--the good writer should know how to manipulate the reader's imagination for the best effect. Don't give them every detail of the death. Make 'em work for it. Make them wonder just how horrible it is. Make them wonder if they could be next. Eventually you've got to reveal, but if you give it away every time, you won't hold the audience. You've got to cry wolf a few times, at least until they start to get comfy, and then once their back is turned you can unleash the spleens and broken bones and oozing eyeballs. And even then, you do it with style, with panache. Because you still want them to peek through their fingers. This scene in Vendetta started with style and then squashed it with a ham-fisted nod to the more violent animé. Visually, unless you’re going for the comedic effect (à la Dracula: Dead and Loving It) there’s no call for the great fountaining eruptions of gore in what is essentially a shoot-out. The scene called for stylised violence, and that’s not what we got.

Another essential problem, and it’s the Wachowski Brother problem, is that no one in the film ever shuts up. I swear, the script must be at least as long as The Brothers K for all the talking in it. Which leads to the final problem of Vendetta (for me, at least)—the incessant political messages (which get particularly bad in the last twenty minutes or so). It’s a problem I have with many works of fiction (and one of the things I’ll touch on in my Steinbeck post). Get off your bleedin’ soapbox, you’re blocking my view of the story! I have a great devotion to the story, as a concept and as a thing—a living, breathing, and occasionally conscious thing. And when some numbskull steps all over the story to preach his inane opinions or half-baked politics, which prevents the potentially good story from ever becoming good, well it really sticks in my craw. Which is not to say that fiction is not ground in which to plant such ideas—it’s just that they should always and everywhere grow naturally from the story. Otherwise you do an injustice to the story. If your ideas and beliefs are not natural to the story, and if they cannot be expressed in a simple and subtle manner, they have no place being there.

Happily, we lost only time in the movie, because my sister had bestowed upon us a movie gift card, And, as I said, it was not a terrible movie—some of it was actually enjoyable (like V’s pretentious, over-the-top alliterative speech where nearly every word begins with “V” and it still makes sense). But ultimately, it was not a good, balanced movie and so the Wolf cannot recommend it.

Next up: X-Men: The Last Stand
Jelly Pinched Wolf   9:22 PM
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12 June 2006
Grammar and Usage
Though I'm not sure how well it has stuck with them, one thing I tried desperately to drive through my students' heads this year was the correct use of the word "quote." The problem is that even English teachers have become use to the wrong word. Terribly aggravating to me. I'm not exactly a language purist, but, by God, there are some things I will not let slide.

English teachers: check your Strunk and White. It's "quotation," not "quote." While it's somewhat acceptable to use quote as a noun in very informal situations, it never is proper in formal usage. One quotes from a source. That which is obtained in the process of quoting is a quotation. If we do not use it correctly ourselves, how ever will our students?
Jelly Pinched Wolf   3:17 PM
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08 June 2006
Best Reality Show Idea Ever
Part spoof, part marketing ploy (a pretty good one, too), Meow Mix is starting a new reality show starring cats. The news article (
here) gives all the details, but the best part is that the cats are shelter kitties, and regardless of who “wins” they all get a home and a year’s supply of Meow Mix. Huzzah for a company that seems to be getting it right. They stand to make a pretty good profit by this, and they’re taking care of some animals in need without resorting to a radical PETA-type approach.
Jelly Pinched Wolf   8:18 PM
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07 June 2006
Canon to the Left, Right, and Front**
I've always loved Nathaniel Hawthorne's work, but have gained an even greater appreciation of him over this last year. Trying to get 16 and 17-year olds to understand and care about The Scarlet Letter was quite the trial. They did moderately better with "Rappaccini's Daughter" and my freshmen actually seemed to take somewhat to "The Birthmark." Next year's crop are, alas, getting out of The Scarlet Letter, but at least I'll still have the short stories.

All this to say that I was really excited to learn today that plans are underway to bring the remains of Hawthorne's wife and one of his daughters (who were both buried in England, where they'd moved after his death) back to the States and bury them in the family plot at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery (gotta love the literary connection there) in Concord (see news article

And even better than that was my discovery that Hawthorne's other daughter, Rose, returned to the US to found The Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne, a community in Hawthorne, NY (in Westchester County). A cause for canonisation has even been opened for her. Seems a member of one canon may have produced another for a very different sort.

Very cool news, methinks.

*Thanks to Flambeaux for spotting the news on Dom Bettinelli's blog.

**Please excuse the minor pun in paraphrase. The Tennyson reference was an obvious must to a lit geek like me.
Jelly Pinched Wolf   9:23 PM
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06 June 2006
Sickness, Law, and Past Devils
I've avoided posting the last few days because I've gotten ill. It seems after pushing myself to keep up with school demands this past month, my body, realising it could now rest, said to itself, "Self, let us shut down now." And so it did. Nearly lost my voice, but it seems to be coming back now, and the sore throat is going away thanks to the herbal teas kashi's been plying me with.

Yesterday, while still recovering, I got to serve jury duty here in Dallas county. Well, actually, when I say "serve" what I mean is "wait interminably." In truth, though, they run a pretty tight ship there, considering they've got to move that many people though a potential 80+ courts in one day. I managed to get out, without actually having to serve on a jury, by 11:30, so I can't really complain. And at least I'm free from having to worry about it for at least 6 more months.

In the midst of the sickness, several birthdays happened, and I would be remiss if I did not mention them. First, and foremost, was my beloved kashi's, which took place on the
Glorious First of June. I managed to throw together a last minute, very small, gathering which was nice and relaxing. And I know kashi really needed it, as she's been pretty busy and stressed from her own projects of late. In addition, our friend Laura (half of Lauki) celebrated her birthday the following day. Our other friend, Terra, also has a birthday within the first week of June, though I confess to not know the exact date (I think it's the third, but kashi would know better than I). And finally, Citizen Bob celebrates his on this auspicious day of 6/6/06. Maybe it's just the horror writer in me, but I get a real kick out of that.

Speaking of the date, the remake of The Omen comes out today. Great marketing idea, but I'm torn on the movie itself. My first reaction, like many, was, "Why on earth would you remake it when the original was a perfectly fine horror film?" Good story, solid acting, top-notch suspense—nothing that really needed fixing. And yet, after seeing the trailer for the remake before the new X-Men movie (the review for which will come in a later post), I reconsidered. The remake looks good—interesting and potentially very creepy visuals, and also some terrific actors like Pete Postlethwaite and Michael Gambon. And yet (again), I’ve heard that it is in fact slavish in its remake of the original. The question again arises, “Why?” Why can we not leave something good to stand on its own? Why must we always tinker with and try to fix and make “relevant” those things of the past? The past is not perfect; man has made many, many mistakes in his time here (which is kinda the great defining thing about us, isn’t it? We screw up; this earth, this life, is a chance to try to spot those mistakes, learn from them, and make amends by living the best lives we can—not necessarily a perfect life, but we should at least aspire to that). But not all of that which exists in the past is wrong or bad. People who assume that nothing good came out of the “dark ages” (a phrase I’m coming to deplore) are missing something essential. Though it may be true that advancements in pure science took a hit during the period, Europeans made many advancements in more practical areas, from agriculture to transportation to shipbuilding (invention of the modern rudder, for instance) to even warfare (yes, ye naysayers, “war” and “advancement” can be used in conjunction with one another—they are not mutually exclusive). I mean, if Aquinas’ writings are an example of “backwards thinking,” then I’m not sure I want to ever encounter “forward thinking.” There’s a mentality, especially amongst Americans, that all that is past is somehow flawed, and that we should throw it out and ever strive for something better. Striving for something better’s no problem, but when you ignore those successes we have had in the past, you make a huge error. I spent a lot of time with the issue of tradition and change this semester as I covered the problems of the twentieth century in American Lit, and particularly the Modernist approach, in my classes. It’s a far more complex issue than I’d previously realised, of course, but ultimately I came to the conclusion that T.S. Eliot’s approach is far more balanced than a lot of other authors of the time, especially Arthur Miller. This is probably a topic for another time, as I’ve been babbling long enough here already. But essentially it all comes down to my own particular dead horse: balance. Do I want to live in the past? Of course not. But neither should we sacrifice all that has been thought and done before in the name of “progress.” Like life, we should always seek balance.
Jelly Pinched Wolf   11:44 AM
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02 June 2006
Gifts from Students
So, at the end of the year, I received a few gifts from various students. Apparently a couple intended to get me a pipe, even, but as so many of their age, spent all their money before they could get one (in the defense of one of them, he had been in a car accident a few weeks before, and that’s where all his money went). This aside, I thought I’d share with you one gift I received, and the letter that accompanied it. This is truly awesome, and is one of the many great things about teaching.

WARNING: The names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Dear Mr. Jelly-Pinched Wolf,

Thank you for putting up with my crap all year. You are a very patient man. I decided to bestow upon you a movie that has opened my eyes to the ways of being a good guy, and sweet, sweet martial arts. I know I may have gotten your hopes up by putting it in a James Avery bag, and I know you may have thought it was some type of silver or gold. No. Sorry. It’s better; that’s right, I said better. Your homework over the summer is to watch this Epic at least every day. If you do not, you run the risk of failing the quiz at the beginning of next year. I wish I had it so easy. Ishmael sounds like a real thriller—not. Let me put it this way: the main character of the movie jumps through a windshield. I know what you are thinking. You’re thinking “Hey, maybe I’ll cancel the final and put this bad boy in the DVD player. After all, Stan Corcoran did give it to me and he is one of my star pupils.” I support your decision 100% of the way, unless it involves me taking your final.

Keep wearing black,

And the movie he gave me?

*By the way, the book he references, Ishmael, is an entire post unto itself. It’s their summer reading for this year. I haven’t read it yet (I’ll be obtaining the book this weekend), so I’ll hold my tongue for now, but I do know something about it, and let me just say that I’m fairly certain it will be highly angrifying. At the very least, it’ll give my students some preparation for when we reach another work their teacher despises—The Grapes of Wrath. Again, the I-Hate-John-Steinbeck post is forthcoming.
Jelly Pinched Wolf   3:52 PM
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