Posts Tagged ‘The Avengers’
* Don’t miss my flash review of The Avengers: Age of Ultron! As I say in the update, thanks to my friend Ryan Vu for priming the pump (and look for his brilliant review of Captain America 2 in a few months in SFFTV).
* 2030 is set largely in the titular year, 100 kilometers south of Ho Chi Minh City. The initial title card establishes that 80% of the population has been evacuated due to the rising sea level as an effect of global warming.
* Late last week, using the hashtag #talkpay, people began tweeting about how much money they make—a radical thing to do in a culture that treats disclosing your salary as the ultimate taboo.
* I’ve been buried in final book manuscript revisions, and have been noticing that I’m increasingly using the term “management” rather than “administration” in my analyses of university governance. Part of the reason is that my employer, the University of California, uses Senior Management Group as a formal employment classification. But it’s also because the friendlier aspects of the term “administration” seem decreasingly part of everyday academic life. Friendliness was administration as support structure, as collaborator, as partner, as the entity that did not take orders from obnoxious egocentric faculty prima donnas the way that frontline staff often had to do, but that accepted balanced power relations and a certain mutual respect that could make decisions move relatively quickly and equitably. It would avoid command and control of the kind that prevailed in the army and in most corporations, where executive authority consisted of direct rule over subordinates.
* Well, I guess that settles it: In 50-49 vote, US Senate says climate change not caused by humans.
* “No one has walked on the moon in my lifetime,” I told them. “Yet you try to tell me that it’s my generation who has lost their wonder? That it’s the young people of today who have let everything slip and fall into ruin? You don’t understand. You had the dream and the potential and the opportunities, and you messed it all up. You got hope and moon landings and that bright, glorious future. I got only the disasters.”
* In some ways Ex Machina may be considered a feminist film by sheer dint of our low standards, the scarcity of stories that explore female desire beyond the realm of sex and romance.
* This 5-year-old girl knows a lot more about presidents than you do. At this point I say put her in charge.
* If you’re 33 or older, you will never listen to new music again—at least, that’s more or less what a new online study says. The study, which is based mainly on data from U.S. Spotify users, concludes that age 33 is when, on average, people stop discovering new music and begin the official march to the grave.
* The arc of history is long, but Cheez-Its is finally going to sell a box of just the burned ones.
* The same joke but with this Iceland law allowing anyone to murder any Basque on sight.
* If you want a vision of the future, imagine James Cameron directing Avatar sequels, forever.
LATER-THAT-NIGHT UPDATE: I hadn’t realized when I wrote this how strongly it was influenced by the great review of Captain America 2 that Ryan Vu wrote for us for Science Fiction Film and Television, but reflecting on it a few hours later I really see Ryan’s review as the clear precursor to this. Look for his review in a few months! It’s really smart.
In my five-sentence Avengers review from a few years ago I wrote:
Of course I deeply enjoyed The Avengers, but my sense is it’ll be up to The Avengers 2: Avengers Reveng’d! to salvage the series from the scrapheap of Lesser Whedona. … Though certainly funny and engaging, and on occasion very clever, The Avengers is more or less superheroes completely by-the-numbers, almost entirely lacking in the deconstructive self-awareness that characterizes more artistically ambitious Whedon creations like Buffy, Firefly, and especially Cabin in the Woods and the too-neglected Dollhouse. The film has zero critical purchase on its genre, and precious little Whedonesque irony about itself.
In short, The Avengers is what Buffy would have been, if it were only fight scenes and quips.
Age of Ultron, like The Avengers before it, is fine, though if anything the film actually doubles down on the hollowed-out anti-cinema of the first film: it’s even fightier and much, much quippier, with very little heart (the paltry attempts at character development are exhaustively cloying) and excruciatingly little self-awareness about the genre it is participating in (it really pales in comparison to Captain America 2 on that front, as you knew it would).
A film like this seems to me to defy either aesthetic or political response. What is there to say about it that it isn’t already screaming at maximum volume? Even the film itself can barely muster the energy to care about its own setup or execution, breezing over the only character choice that has any genuine stakes (the initial creation of Ultron) in the span of five or so minutes (and then assiduously refusing to return to it under any circumstances).
The only really interesting thing about the film, to me, is its metatextual participation involving the endless shifting around of pieces in the MCU for a climax that will never arrive. When I watch Age of Ultron my major critical response is in trying to reverse engineer the corporate directives that Whedon was handed when he started to break out this story, and then trying to imagine other ways he might have tried to move the pieces into the proper places instead. What else could he have gotten away with? What did they make him rewrite or reshoot? What was allowed, and what was forbidden?
Of course this is always fantasy franchise-running, but we can be certain that the #1 directive here was “clear the decks.” The primary point of this film is to get rid of characters who won’t appear in the franchise until the next Avengers film at the end of “Phase 3.” In this sense Age of Ultron culminates “Phase 2,” like The Avengers culminates “Phase 1,” but here the climax is more like a toilet flushing than a fireworks spectacular. The central narrative concern here is to remove the blockage of investment in characters played by too-expensive actors so a new crop of rather less famous stars can run through their own four- or five-picture contracts in due course.
What else, besides that? I’d wager Whedon was given orders to soften the surface anti-Americanism of Winter Soldier, perhaps combined with a stick-a-thumb-in-DC’s-eye directive to “do something that will force reviewers compare this movie favorably to the ending of Man of Steel whether they want to or not.” Other than that: Give us some action figures? Make sure you leave some narrative gaps for the video games and the tie-in comics and Agents of SHIELD to play with later? Make sure that you complete the narrative return-to-origin so utterly that, even within the terms of your own diegetic universe, it’s as if the film never happened at all? There’s really hardly anything here, as (again!) perfectly enjoyable it is for the two hours it is on the screen.
It seems to me that Age of Ultron exemplifies a new type of narrative in this kind of media. First we had the franchise film; then we had the prequel trilogy; now every film is a prequel to a film that hasn’t been written yet, a film that will itself merely set the table for the fantasy of still another sequel or series or reboot or tie-in down the line. The real climax, the real pleasure, is permanently deferred, always another greenlight away.
To me a film like Age of Ultron invites speculation about Marvel/Disney’s thirty-year-plan to the exclusion of all other criticism or critique. We need a new theory of artistic creation to explain how films get made in this mode. It isn’t auteurism, it isn’t even really in the hands of individuals at all: it’s a kind of automatic, autonomous process using the combination and recombination of preexisting building blocks, almost on the order of an algorithm, or an artificial intelligence. We have this intellectual property that we think we can monetize more aggressively than we’re monetizing it currently; we have these and those prior narrative elements; now, JARVIS, build me a story.
* Sarah Kendzior and Rebecca Schuman tee up for the grad-school-backlash-backlash-backlash-honestly-I’ve-lost-count. As always, I’m very glad people are talking about exploitation, but nonetheless the unvarnished, apocalyptic negativity of some of these pieces just doesn’t reflect my own experiences in the academy very well at all. Academia contains multitudes; that’s actually a huge part of the problem.
* CEO Pay 1,795-to-1 Multiple of Wages Skirts U.S. Law. Of course, the “law” being skirted is a toothless disclosure requirement, so don’t even sweat it.
* Yglesias wept: Bangladesh to allow unions for garment workers.
Wright proposes that the central document to understanding Hubbard’s psyche is his so-called “secret memoir,” composed around 1947, otherwise referred to as Hubbard’s “Affirmations” or “Admissions.” The document itself has an interesting history: it was found by a former archivist for the Church of Scientology, Gerald Armstrong, who had been tasked with organizing the founder’s personal papers. The more Armstrong read, the less he believed. Convinced that Hubbard was a huckster, Armstrong copied the documents that he discovered in the archives and delivered them to his lawyer. He was thereafter sued by the Church of Scientology. During the trial, Armstrong tried to get on record portions of Hubbard’s “Affirmations,” under the vehement protests of the Church’s lawyers. Since then, the document has leaked to the internet. Among Hubbard’s Affirmations:
“I can write.”
“My mind is still brilliant.”
“That masturbation was no sin or crime.”
“That I do not need to have ulcers any more.”
“That I believe in my gods and spiritual things.”
“That my magical work is powerful and effective.”
“That the numbers 7, 25, and 16 are not unlucky or evil for me.”
“That I am not bad to look upon.”
“That I am not susceptible to colds.”
“That these words and commands are like fire and will sear themselves into every corner of my being, making me happy and well and confident forever!”
Hubbard emerges, in Wright’s account, as a pitiable figure, driven by relentless ambition yet also stalked by an enduring fear of irrelevance. Flawed, prone to tyranny and abusive behavior, he sought to conquer his insecurities by achieving an outsized grandeur. “If one looks behind the Affirmations to the conditions they are meant to correct,” Wright concludes, “one sees a man who is ashamed of his tendency to fabricate personal stories, who is conflicted about his sexual needs, and who worries about his mortality. He has a predatory view of women but at the same time fears their power to humiliate him.”
* Austerity comes to CTU: the new 24 will only have twelve episodes.
* What is happening is a dramatic policy shift whereby the rights and entitlements the US working class has fought for and come to expect are now declared to be, for the foreseeable future, unreachable and unjustified. To put it in media terms, it is “the end of the American dream,” signifying the historic severance of US capital from the US working class, in the sense that US capitalism is becoming completely de-territorialized and is now refusing any commitment to the reproduction of the US workforce.
* A bit out of their jurisdiction, don’t you think? It’s True: The FBI Urged Martin Luther King to Commit Suicide.
* $134,078.44 lien for unpaid hospital bills filed against unarmed man shot by police while fleeing gunman. In a movie called America 2012, it’d be a little too on-the-nose.
* Poll panickers relax: Obama is crushing it in Ohio, and Ohio is basically the whole game this year.
PPP’s newest Ohio poll finds Barack Obama leading 51-46, a 5 point lead not too different from our last poll two weeks ago when he led 49-45.
The key finding on this poll may be how the early voters are breaking out. 19% of people say they’ve already cast their ballots and they report having voted for Obama by a 76-24 margin. Romney has a 51-45 advantage with those who haven’t voted yet, but the numbers make it clear that he already has a lot of ground to make up in the final three weeks before the election.
* Okay, go ahead and panic a little: Romney Debate Gains Show Staying Power. For what it’s worth Obama spiked a bit upward on the 538 graphs today.
* Of course there are still those who think the worse, the better.
Why Romney? Because his transparency as a Neanderthal may, just may, bring people into the streets, while under Obama passivity and false consciousness appear almost irreversible.
Elsewhere on the Web, the affirmative case for Obama has more or less reduced to pure spite.
Do these folks really want their bigoted in-laws and racist YouTube commenters to have the satisfaction of having been right all along? Because that’s what they’ll take away from this.
* ‘Million Muppet March’ Planned. I’ll allow it, but know you’re on a tight leash.
* Isn’t-it-pretty-to-think-so-filter: Why near-death experiences don’t constitute proof of an afterlife.
* And just in case you’re still out there in the cold: Presenting SmartSocks+: the smartest socks in the world.
* It’s not the project I’d have chosen for him, but I’ll take it: Joss Whedon will produce S.H.I.E.L.D., including writing and directing the pilot.
* Biden 2016? Let’s not be hasty. Surely there’s some even less appealing candidate out there somewhere.
* What’s the per-diem for a trip to the Moon? About $8 bucks, minus lodging.
* Police enlist young offenders as confidential informants. But the work is high-risk, largely unregulated, and sometimes fatal.
* Of course you had me at Soviet-era board games.
“You are on a foreign island, the first who has set foot on the island in centuries. It is overgrown now with jungles, butterflies, strange birds singing, and you are walking through the jungle and you come across a gigantic cliff. And upon closer inspection, this entire escarpment is made completely of emeralds, [where] a holy monk hundreds of years ago spent his whole life with a chisel and a hammer scratching a poem into the walls. It’s hard like diamond; it took all his life to engrave only three lines in a poem. Please open your eyes and you will see it; you will be the first one to see it, and you will read it to me.” When the man protested he didn’t have his glasses, Herzog encouraged him to move closer and he would be able to read it. His poem began: “Why can’t we drink the moon? Why is there no vessel to hold it?”
* I definitely picked the wrong week to stay off the Internet: SCOTUS plays the best and biggest game of “Is Health Care Reform Constitutional” of all time. It is! “The decision was 4-1-4.” Why Did Roberts Do It? How and Why Did Justice Roberts Do It? The right goes bonkers, claims Roberts is mentally ill. Did Roberts change his vote at the last minute? Did he? Did he? The long, sad twilight of Anthony Kennedy. Antonin Scalia, ranting old man. Did Scalia Scare Off Roberts? Ilya Shapiro: We Won Everything but the Case. And Ginsberg kills it. Ruth Bader Ginsberg, hero. More (oh, so much more) from SCOTUSblog.
* Should we be surprised by the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the individual mandate and most of the Affordable Care Act? From the perspective of constitutional doctrine, the Supreme Court’s decision follows from 75 years of unbroken precedents.
* The important questions: Two-Thirds of Americans Think Barack Obama Is Better Suited to Handle an Alien Invasion Than Mitt Romney.
* The important questions: Did Nick Fury break the law when he refused to nuke New York?
* Jimmy Carter: The United States is abandoning its role as the global champion of human rights. Abandoning? Champion? Human rights? Let’s start over.
* College students are facing a roughly $20 billion increase in the cost of their federal loans, despite a much-heralded deal in Washington to contain the expense of higher education.
Starting Sunday, students hoping to earn the graduate degrees that have become mandatory for many white-collar jobs will become responsible for paying the interest on their federal loans while they are in school and immediately after they graduate. That means they’ll have to pay an extra $18 billion out of pocket over the next decade.
Meanwhile, the government will no longer cover the interest on undergraduate loans during the six months after students finish school. That’s expected to cost them more than $2 billion.
* Watch out: here comes the Big Rip.
* Jesus wept: “We believe the current teaching of a multicultural curriculum is divisive,” the platform says, adding that it supports teaching “common American identity and loyalty instead of political correctness that nurtures alienation among racial and ethnic groups.” In Arizona, where Republicans banned multicultural programs, students in those programs actually out-performed their peers. Texas Republicans also believe “controversial theories” such evolution and climate change — which aren’t controversial at all — “should be taught as challengeable scientific theories subject to change as new data is produced.” There’s more: the GOP also opposes the teaching of “critical thinking skills” because they “focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”