Alice in Wonderland, Kick-Ass, Hot Tub Time Machine

I realize today, as I drink coffee and eat eggs in the sunshine, that I have seen only four movies in the year 2010.

“But, Dave!” you ask, lip quivering. “You watch like 50 movies per year.”

Indeed I do. But I rarely catch many movies before the summer. There are reasons for this. 2010-specific reasons include the fact that I am dating a smart, strong and beautiful woman and we have a lot of other things to do.* Every-year-specific reasons are that if a movie is released before, say, August, I can catch it on DVD or — now — streaming Netflix by the end of the year. So while I’ve failed to see A Prophet and Greenberg so far, I will by, like, November. The big blockbustery nonsense I HAVE seen:

Alice in Wonderland – Wow, really not that great. You don’t have to pine for feminist heroism in every movie to be confused and disappointed that the headstrong, take-no-shit little girl of Lewis Carroll’s story has been turned into a bland, scared, clinging-to-Johnny-Depp action figure. I liked Ann Hathaway’s little hand motions and basically everything from Helena Bonham Carter. And I guess I like that this movie seems to have sparked the neo-3-D backlash.

Hot Tub Time Machine – I almost don’t want to see anything else in 2010 so I can say that Crispin Glover was in 50% of the films I saw. His ongoing gag is a highlight of this movie that almost excuses the really radical sexism (Haha that black guy’s wife made him hyphenate his name!) and missed opportunities to mock 80s cliches. But I generally liked this, especially the embrace of completely amoral behavior. (Did Rob Corddry murder Vince Neil or something?)

Kick-Ass – Also, 50% of the films I’ve seen this year have featured Clark Duke. Probably my favorite film of the year so far, an improvement on Mark Millar’s overwritten comic in a lot of ways.

*Like CONCERTS. That’s what I mean.

Iron Man 2

I don’t read many movie reviews any more, but I assume the libertarian embrace of Iron Man 2 (2010) is in full swing. Insofar as it has a message, it was lifted by screenwriter Justin Theroux from Ayn Rand. “I have successfully privatized world peace!” says Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), dressing down a panel of weaselly senators who want to take his technology away from him. “I’m tired of the liberal agenda,” says Stark to his assistant Pepper Potts (Gwenyth Paltrow), in a line that doesn’t make a lot of sense (he’s tired of spending money on projects that look good for his company) except as a dog whistle to tea partyers. Stark’s biggest foil is Justin Hammer, a government contractor/moron played by Sam Rockwell as the best reason to cut federal spending since Ronald Reagan bashed “welfare queens.”

The problem, as with so many attempts to inject real world relevance and politics into a super hero movie,* is that the message doesn’t really make sense. There’s no sense that Stark’s agenda is any different than Uncle Sam’s — he’s not, as Warren Ellis’s or Mark Millar’s heroes sometimes do, neutering the United States and leveling the playing field between the first and third worlds. And as stupid as Hammer is, his downfall comes not from punishing the innovation of private operators as it comes from hiring as his lead developer a Russian psychopath (Mickey Rourke) who uses his government contract to carry out a vendetta against Stark.

I had fun during Iron Man 2. Downey and Rockwell are given lots and lots of scenery to chew, and they take to it like termites. Director Jon Favreau does some wonderful work with the cliches of the genre and the series, like an angry video chat (in the heat of battle) between Stark and Potts, a 3-D supercomputer projection whose images can be crunched up and tossed into (also imaged) basketball hoops, a souped-up version of the Iron Man armor that folds into a suitcase.

But in Iron Man (2008), Stark is forced, again and again, to invent his way out of a crisis. He puts together his original, clunky Iron Man armor in a frantic race to save his life from terrorists. He develops his improved armor as he experiments on ways to keep his nuclear-powered heart alive — one of my favorite scenes in the film was the screwball “fix my heart, fast!” surgery with Potts. We know that the armor he’s inventing would never really work, but it’s fun watching how long it takes to figure out each kink.

There’s significantly less of this in Iron Man 2 — inventing new armor becomes an easy action movie task along the lines of making an 18-wheeler explode with a well-timed shotgun blast. It takes Rourke’s Ivan Valko six months to create his first bootleg arc generator and energy whip, which he uses to face down Iron Man at a racetrack. (As my friend Phil Klein asked in the dark theater, how is Valko the only person in Monaco who knows that Stark will race his company’s car? Not even the TV station knows.) It takes him approximately three days to create 18 armored droids and a suit of armor that improves on many of Stark’s designs. It takes Stark around a day — in a really moronic sequence — to realize his father hid the chemical code for a new element in a diorama, build a rube goldberg machine that synthesizes elements, and add the new element to his suit. (This element is necessary, by the way, because of a previously unspoken flaw with Stark’s arc generator that is poisoning him, and for some reason toxifies his blood by 24% in 6 months and by another 27% in the two days from the start of the film’s narrative.) Oh, and this — how does Pepper Potts spend her entire career working around sci-fi robots and NOT KNOW WHAT IT MEANS WHEN A RED BUTTON STARTS BEEPING LOUDER AND LOUDER. It means explosions.

Like I said — funny movie, two actors that produce one-liners like Rob Pollard produces lo-fi rock tracks, some memorable scenes of robots going shithouse on other robots. But fairly stupid, a little disappointing.

Also, Scarlett Johansen is in it.

*One exception here is the sonic spying technology invented by Bruce Wayne in The Dark Knight (2008), which actually makes a point about civil liberties, especially when it’s deactivated at the end of the film. And the X-Men films aren’t bad at this either.

Dan Gainor, real man of genius

Since I joined the Washington Post, mid-level Media Research Center staffer Dan Gainor has occasionally nipped at my heels about my “bias.” This attack was something else, though.

Post’s New Conservative Blogger: There’s Video of Drudge ‘Diddling an 8-Year-Old Boy’

Let’s just slow this down so Dan can understand.

Even if it’s a joke

Yep! It was a joke about Matt Drudge linking, for more than 24 hours, to a National Enquirer story about President Obama having an affair. The story was mostly retracted within hours — the key bit about an alleged video tape of the president was removed — and yet Drudge kept this on his site.


My joke: I “heard” a rumor, and just put it out there — like Drudge. If Gainor thinks jokes like that about public figures are out of bounds, he’s even stupider than I thought.

Fairly late in the evening

It was 9:04 p.m., which Gainor doesn’t mention, because that’s not even “late” to nursing home residents.

There appeared to be no follow-up comment, explanation or apology.

That “appears” to be correct! Adorable phrasing, by the way, which makes Gainor sound like a grown-up journalist who “investigates” things — like what’s on a public Twitter account.

Earlier in the evening, he had commented about having too much to drink. “Very cool. I either need to stop drunktweeting or do MUCH MORE drunktweeting.”

Evening? It was 6 p.m.! I was online and noticed this article — which Gainor, being unprofessional and dishonest, does not include — in which James Bennet, editor of The Atlantic cited me as somebody he enjoys reading on Twitter. If you’ll notice, I posted it on Tweetdeck — the desktop-based twitter service — which means I was at home, and sober. Very classy of Gainor to suggest otherwise.

the rest of his comments during the evening were in a similar sarcastic or goofy vein including photos of MSNBC host Rachel Maddow as a bartended at the dinner and a picture of himself in a tux where he commented, “I am ready to either party or wait your table. Or both!”

Other tweets Gainor doesn’t mention — a complimentary tweet about Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas), a joke about Democratic strategist Mark Penn and liberal-leaning pundit and mogul Mort Zuckerman, a photo of a Mickey Kaus for US Senate button. But those don’t aid Gainor’s narrative about me only mocking conservatives, or his oh-so-subtle implication that I was drunk, so he doesn’t link them.

I’ve blocked Gainor on Twitter for a while now — he’s a tiresome scold who swings, misses by a mile, and declares victory as real journalists ignore him. But this was a special mix of humorlessness and innuendo.