This is incredibly difficult.
Not difficult to believe, no. Not by a longshot. Anyone who’d seen Carlin interviewed or performing during the last few years can’t be surprised by this news – the man, after all, called his (as it turns out) next-to-last HBO Comedy Special “Life is Worth Losing.”
The difficult part is finding a way to say what I want to say about the man WITHOUT dipping into sentimentality, piety or (worst of all) psuedo-spirituality. He’d HATE that. The best way I can think of is to stay on-topic.
Of the artists and entertainers who’ve influenced my worldview and my own manner of self-expression, I don’t think any of them were a STRONGER and more tangible influence than Carlin. Watching his HBO specials, introduced to them by my parents, were the first time I ever really got the notion of how hugely important and beneficial it could be to truly UNDERSTAND language.
Carlin was part of an explosion of new-breed comedians that came up in the 60s and 70s, his influence often compared to that of Richard Pryor. He “broke through” largely on the strength of his seminal work, the infamous “seven words you can’t say” routine. It was packed with shock-value and attention-grabbing sarcasm, but at it’s core it was the first shot of what would become the bedrock of his art: Language-analysis as comedy. He would get onstage and not ONLY pontificate hillariously on all manner of subjects taboo and mundane – but also take his own material apart piece-by-piece; exploring the meaning of words, their use and misuses and (best of all) what the MISUSE of a word had to say about the mindset and even AGENDA of the person misusing it. For me, this was a revelation: Words weren’t just powerful – they could be WEAPONS. Properly mastered, studied and respected, language itself could be a sort of mental/verbal martial-art… one could literally tear an opponent’s argument apart or even turn it against him simply by knowing the weapons – the WORDS -more completely than he did.
Just about the whole of modern “topical” comedy and satire can trace itself back to him – had there never been a George Carlin, there would be no Daily Show, no Colbert Report, no any of that. But he never rested on his laurels, and never seemed to grow content. Most comedians, hell… most ENTERTAINERS, period, who start out “edgy” tend ton soften as years go on – he never did. It seemed as though the longer George Carlin spent among humanity, the more aspects of it he found to infuriate and disgust him… and the more ways he found to turn his fury and disgust into humorous release. Most people who are “radical” in youth come to change their mind about “the establishment” once THEY ARE the establishment – he never did. The comic who’d slammed ‘the man’ and the Vietnam war in his youth would in old age slam grown-up ‘liberals’ for changing “shell shock” into “operational exhaustion” as a way of marginalizing and ignoring Vietnam veterans.
I will miss him. I will miss being able to hear his take on the events of the day. We will now not have the chance to hear what the Last Angry Man of comedy has to say about Barack Obama’s bullshit-dripping idealistic self-help stump speeches, or John McCain’s “is-he-effing-kidding??” ressurection of “victory with honor.” We haven’t just lost a comedian, we’ve lost one of the greatest American philosophers of the 20th Century.
I’ve gotta find a mechanism to get these done sooner than two to three days AFTER seeing the movie… though, given the boxoffice, it doesn’t sound like anyone needed ME to tell them not to see this.
Let’s get one thing straight: I LOVED Ang Lee’s “Hulk” for what it was: An art-piece that came closer than almost any other attempt at visualizing the dreamlike pace and offbeat drama of superhero comics. Taken on it’s own merits, including it’s ambitious symbolist themes and Nick Nolte’s brilliant Kinski-esque bad guy turn, I consider it to be a singular pop-art masterwork.
What it ISN’T, however, is an especially compelling narrative. While it fit with Lee’s fresh take on the concept to present a Bruce Banner blown about by the winds of fate who ONLY ever takes charge of his life as The Hulk – it didn’t precisely make for compelling drama and it certainly wasn’t the sort of audience-friendly actioner Marvel was going to want as one of the support-beams of it’s new joint-continuity buildup to “The Avengers.” And so here we have this “reboot” which presents itself more as a sequel to an imagined “more conventional” version of the first one.
Predictably, “The Incredible Hulk” (I’ve always liked the adjective in there to help separate him from all those other Hulks who are merely credible) opts to answer the criticism of Lee’s film as too talky and introspective by charging hard in the opposite direction and being as terse and surface-oriented as it can be without outright becoming a Marvel themed fireworks display: Bruce Banner is on the run, trying to cure himself of the Gamma Poisoning that causes him to morph into Shrek whenever his pulse crests 200. General “Thunderbolt” Ross is chasing him, hoping to weaponize The Hulk, and to that end he injects hardcase soldier Emil Blonsky with WWII-era “super-soldier” chemicals that eventually turn him into an “anti-Hulk” named The Abomination. Ross’s daughter Betty is also Banner’s former girlfriend, and is pretty torn up about the whole thing. That’s about it this time around.
The film takes this fairly bare outline and barrels ahead with it from action scene to action scene, always cohesively but with precious little downtime to deal with characters or expand on the story – though it does find time for a great scene in which we’re reminded of the Hulk’s childlike nature when he get’s into a (literal) shouting-match with a thunderstorm. This straight-on pacing isn’t a major flaw, but it does leave one with the sense that a more complex film has been whittled down to the bare essentials.
When the film DOES take a time-out, it’s usually to drop hints at Marvel’s ambitious plan for a united continuity: Off the top of my head, Doc Samson, Captain America and SHIELD all get direct or indirect nods; and those rumors you heard about Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark showing up for an Avengers-teasing cameo were spot on.
I will say that I’m given to wonder if all this fan-service won’t eventually baffle the larger audience. For example, the secondary plot of the film concerns Banner’s attempts to contact an internet pen-pal who’s helping him research a cure. The film twists itself into a pretzel to keep us from seeing him or knowing his name, and when he turns up it’s just Tim Blake Nelson as a well-meaning mad scientist. Now, fans are going to go apeshit because his name is Samuel Stern whom they all know will be transforming into Hulk uber-enemy The Leader at some point… but I can imagine some audiences will be a little perplexed as to what the point was of all the secrecy. At the very least, there’s enough of a tease as to his probable fate in there to at least give non-fans a basic idea of where he’s going, and Nelson couldn’t be more appropriately cast.
Another thing I like is that they aren’t sheepish about the whole “names” issue: Hulk refers to himself in the third person when he bothers to speak at all, and The Abomination gets handed his new nickname in a manner wholly consistent with the 50s monster movies the Hulk franchise has always emulated. I’ll never understand why, out of all the weirdness there is to grapple with in adapting comics, filmmakers tend to get so hung up on twisting the script around to over-explain why these guys give themselves (or are given) elaborate monikers – Am I the only one who gets the sense that, if your someone who’s gonna get hung-up on the illogic of someone branding himself “The ::Insert Color:: ::Insert Animal::” before embarking on a supervillian career, you probably aren’t going to go see these movies in the first place.
One hopes there’s a longer, more character-driven version waiting on DVD, but at present “The Incredible Hulk” is a welcome actioner and easily the best monster movie to play theatrically since at least “The Host.” You get your giant-rampaging-ogre money’s worth, and as a bonus the promise of all this paying off bigger down the road – seriously, the degree to which this film doubles as a “tease” to both it’s own hoped-for sequels AND the Iron Man and Avengers followups is really kind of amazing. Reccomended.
FINAL RATING: 8/10
Being bored, pissed off at work and generally not up to much reviewing. I did find time, however, to take a shot at doing a review of “Sex and The City” in video form, which appears below. If this works alright I may do some more of these. They’ll be shorter and less analytical than the Game OverThinker bits, by design, but hopefully as much fun to keep doing. Lemme know what you think:
P.S. A review of “Kung Fu Panda” is one entry down, went up about an hour before this one.
Here’s a classic case of form getting in the way of function: “Kung Fu Panda” has a story, script and set of vocal performances that make for an ideal quick, no-frills comedy cartoon. Match those elements with the energetic leaness of Anime or the askew anarchy of the “house styles” of Nickelodeon or the Cartoon Network animated faire and you’d have a nigh-perfect kiddie actioner. Unfortunately, here said elements have been paired with lush, intricate, expensive-looking 3D computer animation… and it just doesn’t really fit. The animation is all gorgeous, and the attention to aping the look of authentic Chinese fantasy/action films is admirable, but it doesn’t really “go with” the light slapstick of the overall peice – the film actually OPENS with a traditionally-animated sequence, and it works better visually than the rest. It’s like getting David Lean to helm a Three Stooges short. It doesn’t really make the movie BAD, just not as “complete” as it might’ve otherwise been.
Set in a version of ancient China populated by anthromorphic animals, it’s the story of Po the Panda (Jack Black) a chubby oaf who works in a noodle shop with his father (James Hong, brilliantly cast as an excitable duck – you read that correctly) but dreams of becoming a martial-artist like The Furious Five; the local superhero team trained to protect the region from danger by Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman.)
The Furious Five include Mantis (Seth Rogen,) Crane (David Cross,) Viper (Lucy Liu,) Monkey (Jackie Chan) and Tigress (Angelina Jolie.) Though Po carries on at some length about their various legendary adventures, we gather they mainly exist to act as a last line of defense against Tai-Lung (Ian McShane) an evil Snow Leopard who has mastered kung-fu on a nearly supernatural level and will destroy the entire land – if necessary – in his quest to steal a sacred scroll from Shifu’s temple. When word comes that Tai-Lung has escaped from prison, the Furious Five assemble (along with the rest of the village) so that the temple elder can annoint one of them The Dragon Warrior – a hero of prophecy who will be given the scroll and become the ultimate weapon against the coming danger. Coincidences (or are they?) conspire, you may have guessed, so that the chosen warrior ends up being none other than Po.
So, yes, it’s a broad send-up of “chosen one” kung fu flicks; with animal-ized versions of all the attendant training montages, epic confrontations and heroic poses. The average six year-old will be able to plot out, beat-for-beat, where it’ll go from the moment Po is “chosen” on (and kung-fu devotees with see most of the dramatic twists coming) along with everyone else. The good news is in the details, specifically the voice-acting. It’s interesting to see Jolie cast – even vocally – as a character who ISN’T defined by sex-appeal for a change, while James Hong is a revelation as Po’s over-eager father. McShane isn’t given enough screentime, but credit the film with making Tai-Lung a 100% full-on heavy who always looks to pose a very tangible threat to the good guys. He doesn’t joke around, has no off-kilter personality quirks, he’s just dangerous. The unquestionable highlights, though, are the scenes where Po good-naturedly bumbles his way through Shifu’s Shaw Brothers style training regimen.
No classic, would be a lot better using different animation, but a lot of fun.
FINAL RATING: 7/10