Michael Bay caught dismissive guffaws when he described his latest film as a “small character piece.” As absurd as that statement sounds coming from his lips, Bay was telling the truth. Pain & Gain takes a frantic look at some very twisted people, with minds deformed not only by steroids and supersets but by American pop mythology itself.
Nationalist imagery and references to the concept of the “American” permeate the film. The story’s pro/antagonists (who’s who?) engage in a vague debate about what is “American” and what is not. To Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg), America means hatching a brutal proletarian revolt drenched in capitalist blood. To Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub), the victim of Lugo’s caper, America means his rags-to-riches immigrant journey, fraught with tax evasion and vile business practices.
Lugo is pumped and Kershaw is shrimpy. But on the inside, both think they’re Tony Montana.
From both sides of this crude dialectic emerges a truly American synthesis: The Virtue of Selfishness. This leads to a powerful moral ambiguity throughout the film, with reasonable viewers left wondering who -if anybody- there is left to root for.
Bodybuilding provides the film with a stunning metaphor. It’s a conceptually narcissistic hobby, in which one essentially competes against oneself. The lifestyle fosters obsession with personal gain and self-betterment through complex workout regiments, meal planning, and chemical supplementation.
But in a deeper sense, the essence of bodybuilding is a reified expression of gruff ambition, a physical analogue to the intangible American Dream. Even the scrawniest dweeb can build himself into a Greek God, rep by rep and protein shake by protein shake. If you think I’m crazy, recall the scene towards the end of The Great Gatsby, where they discover one of Jay Gatsby’s notebooks. His detailed, meticulous workout routines were no accident of characterization.
Structurally and visually, the movie feels a bit like an overdose on JACK3D. What starts as a high-energy adrenaline rush quickly devolves into a nightmarish struggle with reality. Conventional heist flick slowly turns to black comedy, and before you know it we’re watching the characters gleefully dismember corpses and barbecue body parts.
Inevitably, some viewers will either miss or ignore much of what this movie has to say about modern capitalist norms, amoral socialization, and the mythology of success and ambition in America. But at the very least, we have here a disturbing true story of despair, transgression, and systemic injustice. Bay’s concoction of characters are as warped mentally as they are physically, and their story serves as an expert satire of the way we treat each other -and the way we treat ourselves.
In this week’s episode the guys talk about the break up of My Chemical Romance and take a look back on the band’s body of work. They also discuss the latest album from rapper Lil’ Wayne (I Am Not a Human Being 2), the downward spiral of Justin Bieber, and offer a few thoughts on the tragic death of Shain Gandee.
wtf? this is outrageous.
Avengers Vs X-Statix by Mike Allred
Michael Allred is doing some incredible stuff for Marvel as of late…
(Source: westcoastavengers, via brianmichaelbendis)
This week the guys discuss Superman, Orson Scott Card, and the fine line between art and artist.
With special guest Tim Tremba, the guys take a meandering look at the return of Justin Timberlake.
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Happy Grammys Day!
Big Barda // Art Adams
(via Giant-Size Geek)
Rumor has it that in the upcoming Man of Steel picture, Superman’s lovable ginger bro won’t be a bro anymore. Although no formal announcement has been made, all signs point to Olsen’s character swapping genders. That’s right: no more Jimmy Olsen. From now on, it’s Jenny Olsen.
As to whether this is a good thing or not, an ever-concerned and engaged comic book community appears to be split right down the middle. On its face, I think it’s great that comic book entertainment is making an effort to include female characters other than damsels in distress and femme fatales. Female characters who are, you know, just people who are part of the story.
But more interesting is the bizarre and sexually ambiguous history of the Jimmy Olsen character itself. True, the character’s upcoming sex change may seem somewhat random and abrupt to most observers. But you’ll be intrigued to know that, in fact, identity experimentation, and specifically transvestism, is a well-grounded, but recently forgotten, feature of Jimmy Olsen’s characterization.
In classic 1950s Superman comics, the otherwise mediocre young man at some point acquired the ability to shape-shift. He’d cycle through various physical configurations, all the while struggling to “find” himself.
But truthfully, Jimmy Olsen’s favorite thing to be wasn’t an alien or a monster or a mutant.
It was a girl.
As noted comics writer and historian Grant Morrison puts it,
Jimmy Olsen could barely stand to be himself for more than five pages…Prefiguring David Bowie and Madonna, his life became a shifting parade of costume changes and reinventions of identity. And long before those two performers were challenging the boundaries of masculine and feminine, Olsen was deconstructing the macho stereotype in a sequence of soft-core gender-bending adventures for children that beggar belief when read today.
As Morrison suggests further, Jimmy’s overt experimentation with his sexual identity may be connected with a more obscure movement in the 1950s: transvestite erotic fiction.
According to the late Dr. Robert J. Stoller, psychoanalytic theorist at UCLA’s Gender Identity Clinic:
“[I]n all samples of this genre of transvestite pornography the fundamentals are the same: the heterosexual young man, unquestionably totally male, innocent, is captured by females who do so not by physical power but by the mysterious power inherent in femaleness and femininity. Humiliated, he is forced by them into women’s clothes…with the women’s help, the man’s humiliation is changed to a pleasurable non-erotic state, when the women openly accept him as a man, a male who has remained a man and a male but who looks pretty and graceful in women’s clothes.”
Indeed, to an interesting degree, Jimmy’s transvestism tracks this paradigmatic fantasy. Over and over, Jimmy is confronted by his own effete helplessness opposite Superman, the supreme masculine archetype. To cope, he finds one implausible excuse after another to put on a dress and makeup. Inexplicably, transvestitism was the recurring solution to the various challenges he faced. It’s simply his fascinating, perverse way of coexisting alongside Superman’s overwhelming machismo. And each time, as some of these examples show, Jimmy’s embracement of his female alter-ego was nothing if not vastly empowering.
While this all no doubt sounds far-fetched, consider for a moment that back in “the day,” often some of the same seedy characters involved in publishing comics were also involved in publishing pornography and erotic fiction. This was a natural, albeit disconcerting alliance, since back then both genres were marginalized, dingy sectors of the underground publishing community. Back then, it wasn’t the booming industry it is now. It was a relatively small group of weirdos.
Superman co-creator Joe Shuster himself was at one point employed by bondage illustrator Eric Stanton. Maybe that’s surprising. Then again, maybe it’s not surprising at all. Take a look at this Pinterest board to get an idea of how vibrant and ridiculous queer pulp fiction used to be. Comic-booky, to say the least.
Of comics, Grant Morrison says it plainly: “Clearly these stories were written by perverts with an intent to pervert the young. They were entirely successful.”
So when you hear people talking about stupid it is that they made Jimmy Olsen a girl in the new Superman movie, now you’ll know the truth. They didn’t change anything.
He’s always been a girl.
With the nominees announced, and my opinions literally bursting from my chest, it’s time for me to weigh in. Here are my (generally) informed predictions for the 85th Academy Awards, our culture’s famously anachronistic and unfair method for determining filmic accomplishment.
Best Picture - Life of Pi
This category is as vexing as it is exciting this year. With an absolute deluge of contenders recently (half the nominees were released in the last month or so), this category almost seems wide-open. But think for a minute.
Zero Dark Thirty is easily the year’s highest-quality movie, but it won’t win for two big reasons. First, Kathryn Bigelow just won for The Hurt Locker in 2009, and is still riding high from its critical acclaim. (Traditionally, the Oscars aren’t necessarily about the end product. Rather, they’re about who the pompous insulated movie community feels “deserves” career recognition.)
Second, the Academy is likely weary about what my be perceived as an endorsement of the hallucinated political message of ZD30, i.e. that it somehow stands for the proposition that torture is awesome. The preposterousness of that view is heartbreaking, but it’s a reality that the Academy probably takes seriously.
This second concern applies equally to Beasts of the Southern Wild and Django Unchained. Both are just a bit too controversial, fairly or not. (see e.g. here and here.)
Meanwhile, enjoying Les Miserables, truly beautiful as it is throughout, depends in large part on your preexisting love for the material. While anyone with a pulse should be brought to the edge of tears by “I Dreamed a Dream,” I’m not confident a viewer with no prior knowledge of the book or musical could walk in to that movie and feel that it was all together a soundly structured, perfectly intelligible film. There are differences in form and convention between film and stage musicals, such that an A+ stage musical may make for a B+ film experience. So to the extent that Tom Hooper got pretty hardcore in his faithfulness to the source (stage) material, that may ultimately detract from its strength as a film qua film.
Silver Linings Playbook was my pick for a while after I first saw it. I truly loved this movie. But if you watch closely, there are unfortunate albeit nit-picky blemishes (like continuity gaffes, e.g. Pat walking in with his dancing shoes taped up, and then sitting down to tape up his shoes seconds later) that just kind of bring it down an imperceptible level. I’d be stoked if it won, and it’s Brett Easton Ellis’ pick. But I think the attributes that make it so endearing- its quaintness and exuberant naïveté - are simultaneously the attributes that make it a deserved nominee, but not a winner.
Lincoln seems to be many casual observers’ prediction, and understandably so. It was thorough and competent. But a conventional historical procedural designed to make proud informed Americans out of proud uninformed Americans doesn’t deserve an Oscar. And is anyone out there really anxious to adorn Spielberg any further? Could anyone really stomach it?
Argo was great, but not Best Picture material, particularly considering Affleck’s Best Director snub.
Amour is the only nominee I haven’t seen. If that wins, I won’t be alone in #SMH.
Finally, that brings us to Life of Pi. I don’t know too many people who have actually seen it. The trailer was too overwhelming, I think. But the few I know who did see it left the theater feeling like they had witnessed a vast cinematic accomplishment. I won’t gush. But this movie was jarringly beautiful, technically innovative, and deeply powerful. If you get a chance, just see it, and I think you’ll agree.
Best Actor in a Leading Role - Daniel Day Lewis, Lincoln
His performance was too cheesy for my taste, but the actor everyone worships playing the president everyone worships is a slam dunk.
Best Actress in a Leading Role - Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
She’s one of the most versatile and hardworking female actors we have seen in a long time. She glows in every role she inhabits. When she was passed over in 2011 for her breakout role in Winter’s Bone, the craziest part was that everyone thought such a young relative unknown actually had a chance. After grinding for a few years in a host of diverse roles, she’s past due for some very deserved recognition. I’m excited.
Best Actor in a Supporting Role - Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
This category sucks this year, mostly because Leonardo DiCaprio deserves to win for Django and was somehow denied even a nomination. I thought Phillip Seymour Hoffman was actually not very good in The Master, and the Academy seems to have mostly seen through PT Anderson’s thickly pretentious charade. It was nice to see DeNiro get off his ass finally in SLP, but Travis Bickle has been dead and gone for a long, long time.
Best Actress in a Supporting Role - Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
No discussion needed. The lock of all locks. The only other possible contender seems to be Amy Adams, who I personally found dreadfully miscast in The Master.
Best Animated Feature Film - Brave
Screw this whole category. (see The Case for Eliminating the Best Animated Feature Award.)
Best Cinematography - Life of Pi
You have to see it to believe it.
Costume Design - Lincoln
All I can remember from this movie actually is the ridiculous atire Mary Todd Lincoln slouched around in.
Directing - Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild
It takes incredible talent to somehow capture just how surreal Louisiana’s reality was during Katrina. And the performance he got out of Quvenzhané Wallis is nothing short of marvelous.
However, bear in mind that this category will eternally bear an enormous asterisk. I join those who are enraged that Kathryn Bigelow was snubbed, and add also my disdain for Ben Affleck being excluded. He’s an exceptional director, and I really thought this was his year.
Best Original Screenplay - Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola, Moonrise Kingdom
This script was brave, delicate, and heartwarming. I waver on my appreciation for Wes Anderson, but this was his first truly perfect film. Possibly my favorite movie of the year. I’m disappointed that this didn’t get Best Picture or Director nods, but I’ll take what I can get.
Best Adapted Screenplay - David Magee, Life of Pi
The conventional wisdom about this book was that it was un-adaptable. Well guess what? It’s wasn’t.
Visual Effects - Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik-Jan De Boer and Donald R. Elliott, Life of Pi
LIKE NOTHING I HAVE EVER SEEN BEFORE.
Film Editing - Dylan Tichenor and William Goldenberg, Zero Dark Thirty
Clean and tight editing was what made each and every act of terrorism feel completely terrifying and unexpected. Even when you just knew it was coming.
Remaining categories? Pass.
So that’s it. Disagree? Come @ me, bro.