Metropolis Maria

Monday, December 23, 2013

Twenty minutes into the future: 2013 edition

First off, please understand I am not a fan of A & E network's "reality" series Duck Dynasty. I think it perpetuates a myth that people from the south are loud, coarse, obsessed with hunting, and backward, which then encourages others' belittling attitudes. On the other hand, I do appreciate their strong commitment to their family and their faith.

It is this commitment to faith that has ensnared the patriarch of the Robertson family. In an interview with GQ magazine, Phil Robertson was asked about what he considers sins worthy of death, and roughly quoting from 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, he listed "Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers." Out of that list, people zeroed in on the denunciation of homosexuality, which led to Phil's being suspended from the show "indefinitely."

Immediately pundits on both sides of the issue blew up social media, some referring to Phil as a 'redneck racist homophone hatemonger,' while others decried him being denied his first amendment free speech rights to express his faith without fear of losing his job.

As many of you know, I'm a huge fan of the 1980's series Max Headroom. I have to say, I'm seeing some very disheartening parallels in the Robertson discussion.

First, let's all keep in mind that the Robertson family are pretty well off. A & E needs the Robertsons more than the Robertsons need A & E. The first amendment limits government regulation of an individual's right to speak his mind. The network is not the government, and is therefore not required to adhere to the notion of free speech rights. This means the network can terminate Phil's contract if it chooses to do so.

Second, I can't help but feel as if some folks were looking forward to Phil's fall. The show is unbelievable popular and the family is unashamed of proclaiming their deeply personal faith. They are everywhere: books, calendars, music CD's and even Chia Pets. There just seems to be way too much glee in his suspension. He was asked a question, and he answered in a way only he would, simply and without nuance.  Why was anyone taken aback by his answer? Did anyone honestly expect something different?

So what does this have to do with Max Headroom?  This: the television audience is more worked up about what a celebrity says and the ramifications of his statements than what is happening in the real world. People are losing their lives for their faith in other countries, and the biggest story in the U.S. is that a millionaire lost a side job for affirming his belief in something currently unpopular. This and the furor over the so-called war on Christmas  solidifies the rest of the world's suspicion that Christians have lost credibility when discussing moral issues because we waste time dealing with such frivolities.

Back when I was in high school, Christian supergroups Petra released an album titled Beat the System. One of the songs on that album "Witch Hunt" describes perfectly what I see happening here:

Everybody look, there's a new bandwagon in town
Hop on board and let the wind carry you around
Seems like there's not enough to keep us busy till the Lord comes back
Don Quixote's gotta have another windmill to attack

Another witch hunt looking for evil wherever we can find it
Off on a tangent, hope the Lord won't mind it
Another witch hunt, takin' a break from all our gospel labor
On a crusade but we forgot our saber

There's a new way to spend all our energies
We're up in arms instead of down on our knees
Walkin' over dollars trying to find another dime
Never mind the souls 'cause we really haven't got the time

So send out the dogs and tally ho
Before we sleep tonight we've got miles to go
No one is safe, no stone's left unturned
And we won't stop until somebody gets burned
Bro, bro, bro, bro, bro, bro, brothers
-- lyrics by Jerry Reed, from the album Beat the System (1984)

See also: http://sojo.net/blogs/2013/12/10/theres-war-christmas-just-not-one-you-think

Also: http://m.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/12/the-genuine-conflict-being-ignored-in-the-i-duck-dynasty-i-debate/282587/

Thursday, December 12, 2013

[Review] Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD

If you have been following this blog for a while, you may recall my experience with comic books goes back to my childhood where I was introduced to many characters. One book in particular was an issue of Daredevil (vol. 1, #123) where I first met Nick Fury. In this issue, Foggy Nelson (Daredevil's friend) was kidnapped by HYDRA and was held in HYDRA's secret base beneath Shea Stadium in New York. Not only did Daredevil attempt to rescue Nelson, SHIELD was sent in, led by Nick Fury (as an aside, I didn't remember that Black Widow was also in this book, and so this was also my first introduction to Natasha Romanov).

I love Samuel L. Jackson as Fury, but his is not the Fury I remember from my childhood.  Not too long ago, I was flipping channels and saw this 1998 movie, and realized that David Hasselhoff was cast in the title role. This surprised me, but as I discovered it well into the movie, I didn't stay, as I wanted to watch it all the way from the beginning. And then I forgot about it. Until a couple of things happened. One, Marvel and ABC announced a weekly series based on the SHIELD presented in the Marvel Cinematic Universe films. Another was the debut of the WELCOME TO LEVEL 7 podcast, which reviewed the MCU movies and prepared listeners for the AGENTS OF SHIELD series. The last thing that reminded me of this movie was running across a DVD of NICK FURY, AGENT OF SHIELD.  So, I tracked down an online version, and watched, fully anticipating to hate it.

But, I was surprised. I didn't hate it. Is it great cinema? Hardly. But it wasn't intended to be. Rather, it is cheesy, comic book fun from before we started insisting that things be grounded in reality.

NICK FURY, AGENT OF SHIELD was intended to be a potential pilot for a weekly series, and as such anticipated the current AGENTS OF SHIELD series by a full seventeen years.  It starred David "Knightrider/Baywatch" Hasselhoff, and was written by David S. Goyer. Yes, that David S. Goyer. The same writer who worked on Christopher Nolan's DARK KNIGHT films and the recent MAN OF STEEL.
The story is a simple one, with a plot that could have been lifted straight from the comics. The daughter of a classic villain, Andrea von Strucker (Baron von Strucker's daughter, also known as Viper), is preparing to release the Death's Head virus over New York killing the population of the city and surrounding areas. Nick is pulled out of a forced "retirement" to deal with the threat because he is the only one willing to do what it takes.

There is a lot for fans to appreciate in this TV movie:
A Helicarrier!
LMDs! (and, following Chekov's Law, we do see it in action)

This is the eye patch rockin', cigar chompin', wise crackin' Nick Fury I remember from the old comic books at my aunt's house. This was before he looked like Samuel L. Jackson. While there were a few breakdowns in his portrayal, Hasselhoff nails the characterization I  remember from the comic book.

I didn't care for the way that the actress playing Viper (Sandra Hess) chewed the scenery. She comes off even cheesier than the Hoff. In fact, her characterization is so broad that I thought her accent was horrible. I later learned that she really is from Zurich, Switzerland.

Also, another character, Dr. Arnim Zola, feels horribly underwritten, as if the producers wanted to include him, but no one really understood how.

It's easy to see why it failed, but if it had been picked up, it would have been insanely expensive, so I can't imagine that it would have been successful.

Hasselhoff has recently slammed Samuel L. Jackson's portrayal of the character in a way that really makes him appear bitter and petty.  As I mentioned, I thought he nailed the character as I remembered him, but that doesn't necessarily make him the definitive Nick Fury, as Hoff apparently believes.

In short, this is a cheesy, fun movie that Marvel fans can enjoy and compare with the new interpretations from the MCU.

 (Note: this review was originally featured on the SpiritBlade Underground podcast with Paeter Frandsen: http://spiritbladepodcast.blogspot.com/2014/02/episode-301-agricola-and-nick-fury.html?m=1)