April 12, 2013

No Expectations

Can the 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates live up to their complete lack of hope?

By Robinzon Chavez 

America-Thrust had tasked the author with following the 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates from the newly-established Pittsburgh Bureau. However, the first Friday of the season came and went without so much as a single tweet about baseball from the author.

An intern by the name of Preston was sent from the America-Thrust offices to Pittsburgh in order to keep the author’s affairs in order and to keep him in the proper state of mind for work to be done. There was immense skepticism within the America-Thrust organization as to whether Preston had any chance of success.

After several attempts by the author’s editor to contact Mr. Chavez and/or Preston, the editor finally received word from Preston the Intern that the author was not missing or in jail as had been feared, but had in fact been hard at work. So hard that he had simply lost track of days and forgotten to file his April 5th story.

Preston the Intern stressed that there had been no contact with the home office because the author had forbidden any, going so far as to confiscate all cell phones, laptop computers, tablets, etc., and had them locked in the safe at the Korner Pub, so that Mr. Chavez could “concentrate on baseball.”

The editor doubts this story is true, and believes that Mr. Chavez was the author of the message. If so, then Preston the Intern’s whereabouts remain unknown. The good news is that the author filed his April 12th story on time.

PITTSBURGH — So we’re what now, a week-and-a-half into the season? Can’t say there have been too many surprises, as far as the Pirates are concerned. I have to say that one thing that threw me off guard was this babysitter you’ve sent me. He says his name is Preston, but I have to assume that’s some sort of joke. Middle name Spencer? Last name Poindexter, maybe?

Whatever we’re calling him, he’s not very fun. For the first day he was here, all he did was complain that the Korner Pub was too smoky, and he constantly asked if we were going to go anywhere else, to get something to eat or to check out the “rest of the Pittsburgh bar scene.”

I don’t know what sort of assignment you told the Intern he was going on, but the least you could have done was send me someone who doesn’t use language like “bar scene.” I’ve now made it my personal mission to eventually get him so stinking drunk that he agrees to split a pack of Winstons with me.

At least he likes baseball, and isn’t afraid to talk to the riff-raff about it. In that sense, we don’t make a half-bad team. I may even be able to bring him over to my team one day, and when that happens your whole operation is in trouble.

The word on the street in Pittsburgh has remained pretty consistent for the first couple of weeks: no expectations. That is a monumentally positive attitude to take, in my opinion, when taken in context of the last two decades of Pirates baseball.

Lest you think that I have holed up in the Korner and not seen the light of day for the last twelve days, I am happy to report that ol’ Preston and I made it to the North Side for the opening series against the perpetually sad Cubs. These two teams are sure to be locked at the hip all season, and the three-way wrestling match between them and the Brewers to stay out of the division’s basement could get downright filthy. The smart money would be on the Brew Crew to be your third place team, just based on their outright dominance of the Bucs in the last five years — but the even smarter money is to stay the hell away from those sort of predictions.

We started opening day upriver from PNC Park at a lovely spot called Nied’s Hotel. The Korner doesn’t open until 11 A.M., even on the day of the Pirate’s home opener — despite my vigorous protestations — and with a 12:35 start, that just wasn’t going to cut it. A solid day-drunk can’t be achieved quickly, not without a spectacular flame-out sometime before dark, and besides, the KP’s extensive menu of peanuts and every available variety of Cheetos products is not the most nutritious breakfast if one plans to spend the day seriously watching baseball.

Nied’s is a Hotel in name only, but if the Korner ever burns to the ground, it will certainly become my new home away from home. The doors open at 7 A.M., and the breakfast crowd is a sundry collection of factory workers and professional drunks. The coffee is so blackstrap-thick that all but the most robust of whiskies can get completely lost in it, which is just as well since I slyly instructed the sassy barmaid Barb to go double-heavy on the booze, and Preston was none the wiser.

The fried fish sandwich was the finest I’ve had north of Tampa and more than made up for the fact that I was awake well before noon. It was so good that I demanded a kiss from Barb, who was also our chef for the day, and old enough to be my grandmother. I was halfway over the bar when Preston pulled me back and held onto me like I was a prize cattle he was trying to keep out of traffic, forbidding me to engage in such shenanigans. I told you he was no fun.

I calmed down for Preston’s benefit; the staff appreciated my enthusiasm for their wares, and even offered me a free pitcher of Duquesne Pilsener to compliment the fish, which I accepted graciously.

“How about those Buccos?” I yelled to everyone. This is an acceptable declaration in any baseball town, especially on opening day, but the response in this one was as deflated as they come. It’s doubtful the attitude of Pittsburgh baseball fans has an equal anywhere in America. The Pirates were once one of the premier franchises in the sport, and even after the lean years of the 80’s they stormed into the early-90’s with some of the best teams to never have won a World Series.

This is not the City of Champions for nothing; the Steel City is used to winning. The Steelers are perennial contenders, and have been to three Super Bowls in the last ten years, winning two. The Penguins have been to two of the last five Stanley Cup finals, with one victory, and have had either the best or second-best hockey player in the world on their roster for almost every season since 1985. (Don’t ever mention the “second-best” thing to anyone in Pittsburgh, by the way, unless you have time for a thirty minute lecture on Le Magnifique.)

“Whatever,” one old fellow with an even older-looking mustache said. “Another shitty season.”

“Even if they start good, they’ll just fuck it up at the end,” said his younger drinking buddy.

“The ballpark is great,” Barb chimed in then. “I take the grandkids down for fireworks night once or twice a year.”

My questions about the lineup and the starting rotation were largely met with shrugs and more questions. “Is Tabata still on the team?” “Didn’t they sign that pitcher that was on the Twins before?” These are the same fans that will endlessly debate the merits of a backup linebacker, or start arguments over who should be the left-winger on the checking line, but when it comes to the Pirates the general attitude is, “why does it matter?”

And it probably doesn’t. The Pirates aren’t a team that the fans let themselves get invested in. They still watch baseball here, but reluctantly, out of obligation.

After buying a round of Black Velvet shots for the whole bar, Preston and I were on our way. Through blustery spring snow we hitched a ride downtown and got to the stadium just in time for the sun to peek out. The crowd was energetic, but clearly beer-fueled and barely interested in baseball. The Pirates did nothing to change that in getting mowed down by Jeff Samardzija over the next few hours, and most of the rest of the next two weeks were more of the same.

Preston and I did our best to console the post-game crowd at the Korner — consoling that went deep into the night — but perhaps the saddest thing is that it was largely unnecessary.

Robinzon Chavez is editor-publisher-founder of America-Thrust.

November 28, 2012

A Very Dr. Lou Thanksgiving

The author has for decades been cultivating contacts very deep within the ESPNiverse. These contacts have provided him with covert information on multiple ESPN employees, as well as transcripts for ESPN programming that never made it to the air for various reasons, usually related to the objections of Standards & Practices, upper management, or both.

These contacts have been surprisingly easy to maintain, due mostly to the Worldwide Leader in Sports’ compensation packages — widely considered the modern equivalent of indentured servitude contracts — which enable the author to bribe almost any employee at the network, with the occasional exception of top executives, for pennies on the dollar of what it would cost to bribe a comparable insider at, say, Fox News.

Previously obtained intelligence includes the details of Sean Salisbury’s green room contract stipulations (three live chickens, a hand-cranked yarn winder, and a blowtorch), Chris Berman’s pre-show ritual (ether), and the frequency with which Scott Van Pelt polishes his forehead (twice an hour).

However, a majority of what the author has collected from his sources have been transcripts of the wildly popular Dr. Lou program. He has so many transcripts of this particular program for two reasons:

1. Dr. Lou has for years been on a prescribed heavy regimen of Oxycontin and synthetic mescaline, which keeps him alive but which also causes prolonged fits of hallucinations and incoherence, meaning most episodes of Dr. Lou devolve into a rambling mess more suited to the Andy Warhol Museum than ESPN. For this reason, only about 10% of produced episodes make it on the air.

2. The author has a profound fascination with the show, and rewatches episodes frequently.

What follows is the transcript for A Very Dr. Lou Thanksgiving, which was taped in late October and slated to air Thanksgiving night at halftime of the TCU-Texas game. For reasons that are obvious, the special was never shown, every known available copy has been destroyed, and all participants were required to sign nondisclosure agreements.


Dr. Lou is dressed as a pilgrim and stands at center stage.

DR. LOU: Good afternoon everybody. Boy, am I ever excited to throw a Thanksgiving hoedown for all of my most wonderful friends and enemies. This is the time of year that we reflect on the past year and give thanks for what we have through over-eating and racial harmony. Today, I’ve put together a tribute to the very first Thanksgiving. Now, in those days, a Football game took three-and-a-half weeks to complete and often resulted in scores of deaths. And that’s why we liked it!

There’s a knock at the door.

DR. LOU: My heavens, is it time for guests to arrive already? I tell you, my friends are as punctual as a horsefly in August.

The door opens and in walks international superstar Regis Philbin, dressed as a giant turkey. As he joins Dr. Lou on stage, the audience bursts into wild, uproarious applause. Some in the audience, in fact, are so rambunctious in their excitement that studio security has to politely ask them to calm down so the show can continue. After nearly two minutes of standing ovation, it is finally quiet enough for Regis to begin.

REGIS: Gobble, gobble, Dr. Lou!

Another minute-and-a-half of applause.

REGIS: Dr. Lou, I am so proud to be here to celebrate Thanksgiving! What’s for dinner?

DR. LOU: [looks up and down at Regis’s costume] I don’t think you want to know.

Acknowledging laughter from the audience.

REGIS: Lemme guess: horsebeef again?

Huge laugh. The audience is practically crying they’re laughing so hard. Regis can do no wrong in their eyes.

DR. LOU: Well, Reeg, we’re here to give thanks and make friends with the Indians.

REGIS: Indians, like the guy who does my arthroscopic knee surgery and gets me all my pharmaceutical-grade cocai— ?

DR. LOU: Whoa there, Reeg! We’re on TV. You remember what that’s like, don’t you? Here, pop a couple of these red ones and you’ll be fine.

Dr. Lou hands a few pills to Regis, who gobbles them whole.

DR. LOU: No, I mean the Native American Indians, a great race of people with whom we broke bread at the very first Thanksgiving all those many years ago.

Regis’s pupils are suddenly the size of golf balls.

REGIS: Well, holy shit-balls, let’s get going! It sounds absolutely tremendous! This so-called Thanksgiving sounds like it’s OUT OF CONTROL!

The audience — obviously — loves this. Most of them, it’s safe to say, wish this moment would never end. Massive applause.

Then there’s another knock at the door. In walks Tim Tebow, dressed as an Indian, except his warpaint has “John 3:16” written on it. There are a handful of unenthusiastic claps.

TEBOW: Hey, guys, happy Thanksgiving. Thanks for inviting me over for dinner.

REGIS: Look, Dr. Lou! The Tebow! Get him! Is he here to throw us in the volcano?

DR. LOU: Seems you’re battling the Fear, Reeg. Here, have some blue ones.

Dr. Lou again hands Regis some pills, who again swallows them in one gulp.

TEBOW: I thought before we started, I could talk to you guys about the very first Thanksgiving.

DR. LOU: That’s why we’re here.

TEBOW: That’s the day that Jesus fed all the white people in North America with only one turkey and three ears of corn.

REGIS: He lies!

For Regis, the blue pills have only made things worse.

DR. LOU: Son, I’m pretty sure that’s not what Thanksgiving is all about. Jesus didn’t come to America until we defeated the British.

TEBOW: It’s in the Bible.

REGIS: Jesus!? He’s nine feet tall! Can he make it stop?

DR. LOU: You’ll have to excuse my friend here. Usually mescaline takes a lot longer to kick in.

TEBOW: And then, after dinner, Jesus gave America infinite freedom, freedom that lasts forever.

DR. LOU: That’s not how it happened.

TEBOW: Yeah-huh.

DR. LOU: Well, let’s agree to disagree so that you’ll stop talking.

TEBOW: Oh...

DR. LOU: Is that another knock at the door?

It isn’t.

DR: LOU: I said, is that another knock at the door?

There seems to be some confusion behind the door before, without a knock, the door opens and Rich Rodriguez walks in dressed as a cowboy. A few inadvertent laughs come from the audience.

RICHROD: There was a thing... Was I supposed to...?

DR. LOU: Holy cockfight! What are you wearing?

RICHROD: Cowboys and Indians, right? Did I hear your message wrong?

REGIS: What’s wrong with this man, Dr. Lou? He looks, but sees nothing!

RICHROD: I can see fine.

All the small children in the audience are now visibly scared of Regis.

DR. LOU: [laughs it off] Don’t worry about RichRod, guys. He’s just in the wrong costume, like a racoon in a flea circus.

TEBOW: [puts his hand on RichRod’s shoulder] Do you need saving, my son?

RICHROD: Whaa..? No! Get off me! I just, you know, it’s hard now. I have a job where they want me to do stuff, and wear pants pretty much every day. And I hardly ever find the time to throw rocks against my shed anymore. I really miss throwing rocks against my shed.

DR. LOU: Today is a perfect day to take your mind off of your troubles, RichRod. There’s no reason why Pilgrims, Indians, and Cowboys can’t all get along.

RICHROD: Wow, thanks Dr. Lou.

REGIS: [murmuring to himself] Empty inside. Empty inside.

Another knock at the door, and this time it’s Lenny Dykstra, not in a costume, but in a prison jumpsuit and escorted by two police officers.

DYKSTRA: What the fuck, is this a party or what? Where are the bitches?

Audibile groans from the audience.

DR. LOU: Lenny, my old friend. How in the slippery willy did you get here?

DYKSTRA: Special release for Thanksgiving, [spits on the floor] and since my mom’s a bitch I figured I’d stop by here instead. Y’know, free meal.

DR. LOU: Great to have you, Nails. This is the most fantastic Thanksgiving I could have imagined. Good friends, good food—

DYKSTRA: Speaking of which, bro, could we get on with the eating? I have to be back in an hour.

DR. LOU: The turkey’s going to be a little while longer.

DYKSTRA: Ah, what the fuck, bro? I’m fucking starving. I don’t care, I’ll eat it now. I don’t even care if it sucks.

A voice rings out:

VOICE: Anybody home?

Standing in the door are Karl Rove, dressed as a lady-Indian, and Peyton Manning, dressed as a Pilgrim.

DR. LOU: Oh, look, if it isn’t Pro Bowl quarterback Peyton Manning...

Mild applause.

DR. LOU: ...and political strategist Karl Rove!

Even the mention of his name seems to be turning stomachs in the audience.

ROVE: Not Karl, Dr. Lou, Carla.

DR. LOU: Hehe, it’s always nicer to have a purdy lady around.

DYKSTRA: This isn’t what I was talking about when I asked where the bitches were.

PEYTON: It’s an honor to be here to celebrate and honor the very first Thanksgiving.

Regis gets into Karl Rove’s face and points a finger at him.

REGIS: This plump thing is not a lady.

ROVE: [pushes Regis’s hand down] Hey, I’m trying to be discreet here. I just need you guys to play it cool and pretend I’m a woman, okay? If Sheldon Adelson’s goons come around, tell them I was never here.

PEYTON: In that tradition, I would like to, as a Pilgrim, extend my hand to my Indian brothers as we gather for a feast.

DR. LOU: What are you talking about, Peyton?

PEYTON: I’m doing my lines, from the script.

RICHROD: Now there’s a script? Jesus-god.

DR. LOU: We’re kind of going off script here. Off-the-cuff stuff.

PEYTON: This isn’t how we practiced it.

DR. LOU: Well, that is a good point. Maybe we should move onto our song, a wonderful rendition of “Come Ye Thankful People Come.” Now if we could just all gather together and hold hands—

TEBOW: Um, hey, guys.

Everyone turns around toward Tebow. At his feet is an unconscious Regis.

TEBOW: He just fell over. I think he’s probably dead. Heaven’s a better place.

The audience is breathless.

DR. LOU: Poppycock. This happens all the time. He’s fine. All I have to do is give him a quick adrenaline shot to the heart, and he’ll be ready for action. But this is probably a good time to say goodbye to everyone here in the studio and at home. So, here’s wishing everyone a safe and happy holiday season. Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

RichRod, Tebow, Peyton, Rove, Dykstra and his handlers all wave toward the camera as it backs away from the stage and the shot fades out. The last image we see is Dr. Lou jamming a giant needle into the chest of Regis.

The tape cuts out.


Robb Witmer Full is editor-at-large of America-Thrust.

July 28, 2011

Overexposed Tiresploitation

By Robinzon Chavez

Rubber is not at all what it seems. What it seems like is a weird, little, independent revenge flick, in which a tire gains sentience, blows things up with its “mind,” and wreaks havoc in a small town.

That’s sort of what it is, at least partially. That storyline is really only the device that allows writer-director Quentin Dupieux to do some even stranger things with the movie, things that I’m not convinced totally work.

Going into this, I was 100% ready to commit to a tire-on-a-rampage movie. However, Dupieux either wasn’t convinced anyone would accept such a film, had no interest in making such a film, or only had a short-film’s worth of material and wanted to beef it up by making it so fucking meta that it hurts.

What we get to start the whole thing off is the immediate knocking down of the fourth wall, which is never rebuilt for the remainder of the film. A solemn looking guy emerges from the trunk of a car and explains that what we are about to see is an ode to “no reason.”

“No reason” is actually a better explanation of the first scene than it is of a tire becoming violently sentient. Isn’t the intended audience for a movie like Rubber ready to accept strangeness like that?

The first scene comes off as an apology for the rest of movie, as in, “We know there’s no way you could watch a film about a killer tire without being eased into it and lubed up good.”

Maybe Dupieux doesn’t know this, but we’re a little past postmodernism at this point. The show-within-a-show, or movie-within-a-movie, is now something that’s readily available on Network Television, or in a Redbox kiosk. Proclamations made after 9/11 that Irony is Dead seemed rather silly in the face of handlebar mustaches, trucker caps, and wolf T-shirts, but there may have been something to it after all.

We now live in an age in which Americans eagerly and genuinely embrace their stupidity, ignorance, and obesity, and our media is fractured and specialized enough to accommodate it. Rubber is a movie that may have at one time freaked out a few squares, but now it’s far too easy for those squares to avoid it for their entire life.

This should have been a gory, rough, overexposed tiresploitation flick, but it comes off more as an interesting, well crafted, slightly underdone student film. This is not to say it’s not an enjoyable movie. The tire in question, supposedly named Robert, does explode quite a few heads, which gives it high marks in my book.

Essentially, Rubber turns out to be a dissection of the film-watching experience, or the film-reviewing experience. Unfortunately, what America needs right now is an unironic, straightforward exploration of a killer tire’s tortured psyche.

Robinzon Chavez
is editor-publisher-founder of America-Thrust.

April 4, 2011

Dogma Collapses

Red State is Kevin Smith starting over.

By Robb Witmer Full 

Maybe since Kevin Smith has always been told that he isn't much of a director, he decided to deconstruct his filmmaking to its component parts and build something new.

Smith has dubbed his foray into self-released films "indie 2.0," but the movie itself is a solid piece of independent filmmaking, very much in the "1.0", or maybe "beta 0.5," mode.

Red State in many ways looks just slightly more polished than what I could produce in my garage. I mean that in a good way. The lack of a musical score gives the whole thing a snuff film feel, and there's plenty of nasty shit happening to keep up the mood.

There is an underlying dread in the background of Red State, kind of like the Blair Witch Project, or Texas Chainsaw Massacre... That feeling that we're watching something we shouldn't.

A lot of that is because we're never given a chance to get comfortable in the story. Every five or ten minutes Smith turns the film in a violent new direction, and Joss Whedon's rule of Any Character Can Die At Any Time certainly plays here.

The main thrust of Red State is that there are inherent layers of bull-shit built into any power structure, and when that bull-shit is left unquestioned is when those power structures get dangerous and allow people to get away with horrible, even primitive, acts.

But we're not left with a lot of time to ponder big ideas. And we shouldn't be. The movie's questions don't have any answers. Certainly not answers a movie can provide us. The pace is quick, and at times frantic... Sometimes, after all, the speed of the real world sweeps us up, and leaves us with no decision to make. Occasionally you get shot in the head.

There's not anyone to root for in this movie. The most redeeming characters get killed off early, and even they didn't have a lot going for them. But it's ultimately not a movie about character arcs, or redemption, or even any sort of victory.

Red State is about a culture in decline, clinging to belief systems that are crumbling themselves. It's the most nihilistic movie since Fight Club, and both films are reminders that society and its dogma can collapse under their own weight sometimes.

Robb Witmer Full considers Mallrats a masterpiece, of a sort.

March 7, 2011

Open-Minded Vikings

How to Train Your Dragon is not burying the lede.  

By Robb Witmer Full 

How does one train a dragon? Make it dependent on you for survival, for one thing.

Okay, our hero, Hiccup, and his dragon, Toothless, are mostly equal partners when all is said and done, but without Hiccup, Toothless is still at the bottom of that canyon.

There were some parts of the story that I would have liked to see explored more deeply, but only if done in an R- or at least PG-13-rated way. Like, the dragons that are kept captive for the students to learn their dragon-killing skills on, that's torture, right? Even Michael Vick would likely be aghast at the size of the mass grave behind that arena.

Not to mention the psychological torture the students go through themselves, being put by their parents into life-threatening situations on a daily basis, and taught to brutally murder living (albeit dangerous) creatures in the process.

And why Hiccup's instructors and fellow students simply accept that he has a "way with the beasts" instead of executing him for witchcraft is beyond me.

The Vikings do have to be commended for their surprising open-mindedness. Somehow (in the course of, what, days?) they are able to go from existing for the sole purpose of dragon-slaying to accepting them as equals. Er, I mean pets. Accepting them as pets.

So, if nothing else, they prove to be more enlightened than your average American.

Robb Witmer Full has never been accused of witchcraft.

February 23, 2011

Crack-Enhanced Bad Situations

An endless swath of highways connects Cedar Rapids to Duets.

By Robb Witmer Full 

Watching this, it felt as though I was really inside Duets, the Gwyneth Paltrow/Huey Lewis karaoke classic. Like when you're in a dream, and you know that you are in a specific place, regardless of the fact that it bears no real resemblance.

Both movies occupy the same universe, the one where the American Midwest is an endless swath of highways connecting hotel bars and crack-houses. The characters' lives in both movies are centered around those bars, and making something of themselves inside of them.

The life of a Midwesterner seems pretty lame to Big City Folk, and that of Midwestern insurance salespeople doubly so. But everybody's got to get their kicks somewhere, and for working types, that's what conventions are for.

In Duets, the prize was the Karaoke Championship. The NATIONAL Karaoke Championship. (One must assume this is a title sanctioned by the U.S. Karaoke Association.) What the characters are really after in that movie is a chance to be a star, even if it's only in front of a few dozen people.

The coveted Two Diamond Award is at the center of Cedar Rapids, but like the National Karaoke Championship, the ESPY's – or, the Oscars, frankly – it is an award that doesn't have a lot of meaning outside of the room it's presented in.

For the insurance sales representatives, the ASMI (?) convention is their yearly chance to party like they used to at state universities and branch campuses. Sleeping around, doing shots, acting like they're some sort of big-shot back home.

There's also always a chance you hang out with the wrong prostitute and get caught up in some crack-enhanced Bad Situations, but that's just part of the territory, a hazing for rookies. This kind of stuff is what the convention/hotel business was built on; Vegas exists because of it.

Cedar Rapids doesn't take nearly as many chances as Duets – not that there are many movies that do or should – but sometimes the safer choices are the right ones.

Of course, in both movies we have characters fall into heavy-duty drug benders that they have no business dealing with, but Cedar Rapids never falls into the Outrageous-Comedy trap, even when it could have easily become just another John C. Reilly-playing-a-dumbass movie.

There's enough of those, or at least there will be eventually. What if the point is to make a grown-up comedy about fucking around? We could probably use a few more of those.

Robb Witmer Full is the National Karaoke Championships correspondent for America-Thrust.

February 22, 2011

Tights and Capes

Superman: The Movie shines its brightness on America. 

By Robb Witmer Full 

Superman comes from a different time in both American Comics and America itself. Comics were pure kids-stuff then, so most of the characters dressed like clowns to catch the eye of any passing children, not at all unlike modern-day cereal boxes, with the use of big, bright, primary-colored mascots to mesmerize the little scamps.

So, I get why the Tights and Capes, I guess, but it's always been a large hurdle to leap, as it were. Why would Superman dress like such a jack-ass?

Or (at least in the movie version), why would his father dress him like such a jack-ass when he made clear to his son that he should try to blend in with humans. And it's not like the film established at any point that Kryptonians ever dressed like that...

Whatever, I'm over it. For now. But, yes, Superman is kind of silly, and he's exactly the sort of character that for so long mis-defined what comic books could be.

There are no shades of gray in this Superman world, very little humor, and absolutely no irony of any kind. People will smile occasionally. Superman, for all his other-worldly advancement and wisdom, is so oblivious to Earth reality that he thinks there really are only two sides, Good and Evil.

Perhaps he just loves fascism. At the end of the movie, when he's dropping the Bad Guys off at the prison -- without all the mess of a trial -- he simply waves at the prison guards and tells them that they're all on the same team.

These same prison guards would happily smuggle drugs and weapons into the prison for the Bad Guys, so long as the price is right. Whose side are they on then, Superman? And what if they're using their ill-gotten gains to feed their family?

And for a guy who is so learned, Superman is still kind of an Aw-Shucks idiot. I know, he was raised in Kansas, but small-town values are not the same thing as dopeyness.

The tone of Superman is hard to get right. Maybe this is why any updated version seems so out of place. It operates on a cultural logic that doesn't exist anymore, except to be made fun of, and to ridicule it would destroy the whole Superman ethos.

A mid-90's Superman movie, to be directed by Tim Burton almost looked like this:

I'm not making that up. It makes the Schumacher-era Batman movies look like... well, the Schumacher-era Batman movies.

We want Superman to be dorky, and simple, and to wear the the blue and red tights even if they are, as Jon Peters once famously said, "too faggy."

Superman: The Movie gets it mostly right. Does it get too close to Cheese? Yes, dangerously so. Obviously, it's pretty hard to believe that Clark Kent's co-workers, especially Lois Lane, don't get that he's Superman, but at this point if you can't accept that then you are some sort of Secret Communist.

And a bomb that can hit the San Andreas fault right in the G-spot, causing California to fall into the ocean? Even if it were possible, come the fuck on. And let's not discuss whether or not time will actually go backwards if the Earth spins backwards.

Christopher Reeve is just un-bland enough to keep the audience awake and Lois Lane interested. Actually, it's hard to understand what she sees in Superman, except for the 6'5", studly, and able-to-fly thing. Reeve is not exactly Mark-Hamill-in-Star-Wars bad, but I don't see what he brings to the table besides looking just like Superman.

Gene Hackman's Lex Luthor is totally underused in this movie. He spends most of it behind a desk, underground, being about half as interesting as Gene Hackman can be.

Brando, on the other hand, if fucking awesome as Jor-El. The opening sequence on Krypton should have been an entire prequel itself. Who wouldn't want to see a whole movie about a planet that runs on Crystal Technology?

That would have been far too cool, however. The movie we did get is exactly what we need a Superman movie to be: action-packed, kid-friendly, a little boring, and most of all, BRIGHT.

Robb Witmer Full has never worn tights; capes, occasionally.

February 17, 2011

Digital Masks

Catfish is the real Facebook movie.

By Robb Witmer Full 

The Social Network is and will forever be "the Facebook movie," but Catfish is a movie that takes place within Facebook. The site is used as a tool to set up an entire fantasy world for the center of the documentary, Nev.

And he falls for it, hook, line and sinker. But who can blame the guy? He is seduced by an impossibly beautiful and talented country girl who is completely taken with his Big City Life and perfect teeth.

That she isn't real doesn't make their relationship any less authentic, their connection any less strong. The truth is that Megan, or Angela, rather, doesn't know the real Nev any more than he knows the real her.

Okay, a little bit more. But Facebook is just another in a long line of technologies, dating back to masks and face-paint, that allows us to hide our true selves, if even just a little. The internet hasn't changed this, it's just given us a new venue for it.

Who we are on Facebook is not who we are at work, or out for drinks on Friday evening, or at Sunday dinner with our parents; it's like a Fight Club that you can talk about. But we are all these people at the same time. Technology has allowed an unbelievable amount of connection, but also allows us to fracture our personalities in ways we chose, and in ways that we can lose control of.

Catfish is about that loss of control, and the depths to which that fracturing can take us. And like drug addiction, when we've lost that control we often hurt someone we care about.

There's nothing malicious about what Angela did, but it is incredibly fucked-up. She certainly needed the fantasy more than Nev did, and she probably ended up hurting herself more than him.

Angela is a sad, creative person, not happy with who she is, but she's able to live vicariously through her own imagination. Nev fell for her deception, but it's hard to view him as a victim. She did it for his benefit as well as hers, to continue the real friendship going between two fake people.

Robb Witmer Full is editor-at-large of America-Thrust.

A Reckless, Arrogant, and Stupid Dick

In The Social Network, Mark Zuckerberg finds his place on the DAP spectrum.

By Robb Witmer Full 

Maybe Mark Zuckerberg is an asshole, maybe he's not. If I had to decide where he fits into the Team America Dick-Asshole-Pussy Spectrum, I'd have to say Dick.

Actually, now that I think of it, the whole movie is kind of based on the D.A.P.S.

Team America tells us "the problem with dicks is: they fuck too much or fuck when it isn't appropriate." That is exactly what Zuckerberg does. He fucks his one and only friend (Pussy), and fairly inappropriately.

He also sticks it into a triumvirate of rich, raging Assholes on his way there. In Zuckerberg's defense, they did want to shit all over him. And since he's a dick — a reckless, arrogant, and stupid dick — he can't really help it, can he?

This movie is nearly flawless. The script is tight and fast, every performance is spot-on, the score is not only tension-building but sometimes downright frightening, and every frame is visually stunning.

David Fincher must be an enormous prick.

Robb Witmer Full would rather not take a position on where he fits onto the DAPS.

February 2, 2011

The Prinze of Preposterousness

Don't watch Prince of Persia too closely, and it could be worth your time.

By Robb Witmer Full 

I swear that for the entire time I was watching this, I thought the star was Freddie Prinze, Jr. It may have been the Pinze-Prince connection, or that it never dawned on me that Jake Gyllenhaal would be cast in the role of action hero... Not that Prinze would have made any more sense.

But there were a lot of "Wow, where has this guy been?" -type thoughts going through my head. (IYI: Freddie Prinze, Jr.'s resume since the Scooby Doo movies is a bit sparse, but does include a writing credit on an episode of WWE Saturday Night's Main Event, so he hasn't entirely disappeared.)

Gyllenhaal, alas, is no Freddie, but that's fine. The actors in Prince of Persia are kind of inconsequential to the movie and, just like the plot and the characters, only get in the way of moving on to the next action scene.

Which are actually kind of awesome. The parkour scenes are pretty cool, even if it's never explained what it is, or where he learned it. Born with it? Sure, why not.

There's nothing to complain about in the swordplay or stabbing-death departments either, though they are decidedly gore-free. And I gotta say, there are a couple of good dick jokes for a Disney movie.

As for the plot, I've never seen a movie that was so unconcerned with how it got from one action sequence to the next. Every plot device seems to happen totally out of context, or accidentally. Mostly accidentally. I vaguely remember one scene where a character says they need some-thing or -one and another character basically says, "Oh, well, that thing or someone is right around this corner," and bam, there it was.

Maybe the scene didn't happen exactly like that. I can't really remember, since I wasn't paying close enough attention, but that's only because it doesn't matter. Getting too involved in the plot would only use the parts of your brain that should be turned off when watching movies like this.

At the end, when Gyllenhaal is explaining to his brother what has been going on the whole time, actually saying the plot out loud, the movie seems to take a moment to let it sink in so the audience can accept the preposterousness of it all. The film itself acknowledges that preposterousness throughout.

The moments that Gyllenhaal is made to look cool, or charming, or shirtlessly hunky, are done completely sincerely, but also hilariously off the mark every single time. At least a few times in these moments, Gyllenhaal seems to smirk at the camera as if to say, "Are you still watching? Yeah? Then check this out."

Can Prince of Persia compare to Road House or Only the Strong as a camp classic? Sadly, no. It's just a little too polished and Disney-fied for that. But if you are are drunk, or trying to distract a multi-generational family gathering, it might be the movie for you.

Robb Witmer Full is editor-at-large of America-Thrust.