No excuse for “Justice League”

See these?

These are old school Mego-brand toys that pre-date “action figures” by quite a few years. Young boys couldn’t hide behind euphemisms to pretend they weren’t playing with dolls. I had all of these, as well as a few more. I played with them until their costumes were frayed and various body parts were lost in action.

I wasn’t alone. Thousands, if not millions, of kids have spent countless hours with various plastic-and-felt versions of these characters, and they’ve made up countless stories about them that have never appeared in any medium. And you know what? Just about every story those kids made up would have been better than what was on the screen in the latest “Justice League” movie.

Honestly, how dense do you have to be to screw this one up?

Yes, it could have been worse. (And, yes, “Batman vs. Superman” actually was.) “Justice League” was watchable; it was mildly diverting, and, at just under two hours, it was short enough that you didn’t have enough time to truly hate it. But seldom has so much effort and talent been wasted on such a paltry and generic product.

“Generic” is probably the best term to describe this film. There have been so many iterations of each of these characters, and this movie just cobbled together the greatest hits from each of them. As I listened to Danny Elfman reprise his Batman theme from the far-superior 1989 movie, I found it depressing to hear it used in the service of a Batman with no sharp edges, unlike the menacing Keaton/Burton Dark Knight it originally accompanied.

There were even a few notes of the John Williams Superman theme played during the segment where Superman comes back to life for some reason and then starts arbitrarily beating up the other heroes to kill time. And all it did was remind me that Christopher Reeve played an iconic character, while Henry Cavill is just caretaking the brand. It also made me wonder whatever happened to Hans Zimmer’s “Man of Steel” theme, which was really quite good – probably too good for a franchise that plods on joylessly into complete irrelevance.

Which brings us to the whole Snyder/Whedon disparity, given that Joss Whedon had to finish the film after Zack Snyder had to tend to his family. This probably made the film more pleasant, as Snyder’s preceding DC movies were unrelentingly grim. But what it also did was abandon any sense of continuity in this cinematic universe.

Remember Flash’s inexplicable appearance in Batman v. Superman, when he travels back in time to tell Batfleck that “Lois Lane is the key?” I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t, but it was so strange and out of place that you would assume it was a setup for something significant down the road. And, sure enough, Lois was the key to calming Superman down after an unmotivated tantrum, although the Flash didn’t travel back in time to tell anyone that. It was just a thing that happened.

At least the Flash looked like he might have been able to do something interesting, although he never did. Cyborg was a nonentity; Aquaman was Poochie. (He’s edgy, he’s in your face. You’ve heard the expression, “let’s get busy?” Well, this is an Aquaman who gets “biz-zay!” Consistently and thoroughly.) People are saying nice things about Wonder Woman in this, but I think most of that is leftover good will from her far-superior solo film. Gal Gadot is always a welcome presence, but the material doesn’t give her any opportunities to shine.

Rumor is that Ben Affleck wants out, and it shows. He shlumps through the picture like a guy who is dreading having to do the dishes and walk the dog when he gets home.

And don’t get me started on the villain. Because, really, this film didn’t have a villain.

Steppenwolf, the ostensible antagonist of this piece, is never actually in it. Yes, there’s a poor CGI rendition of some horned dude that looks like he was pasted into the frame from a 2002 video game, but his complete lack of physical presence makes him about as threatening as an Internet pop-up ad. You don’t buy that any of the flesh-and-blood actors are in the same room with him, because he’s not an actual thing, so never for a moment does he offer any peril to the proceedings. A fat guy in a Godzilla suit would have been more menacing.

This is now 15 years since Peter Jackson and Andy Serkis proved you can create a computer-generated character that can be taken seriously. Yet Steppenwolf wasn’t even as convincing as the LOTR cave troll. How did this happen?

It doesn’t help, either, that Steppenwolf’s objective is as much of a cipher as his physicality is. What is it he wants, exactly? Apparently, he’s been waiting thousands of years to get three boxes in order to turn Earth into a post-Burning Man Nevada. Why? Because, well, evil and stuff. Also he’s afraid that the Xbox he lives in might come unplugged.

Did you watch Amy Adams, a genuinely talented and charismatic actress, show up and just, you know, cry a lot? Or JK Simmons, one of the best working character actors in film, play Commissioner Gordon and do… absolutely nothing of interest? Or Willem Dafoe. a genuinely powerful and frightening screen presence, as some sort of Atlantean guy? (Oh, that’s right, his scene was cut. Never mind.)

So much talent; so much waste. And it’s going to lose a crapload of money.

So here’s an idea, DC. Go buy a bunch of old-school Mego dolls; give them to a room full of seven-year-olds, and film what they do for two hours. That’ll only cost you a few hundred bucks, and I guarantee that what those kids come up with will be more fun to watch than “Justice League” was.



A Pardoned Turkey’s Dumpy Fate

The surviving children of Abraham Lincoln are Robert and Thomas, the first of which is about twenty-three years old, a graduate of Harvard College, and is a young man of modest and agreeable manners, quiet, and with a very good share of his father’s sagacity and kindness.

So wrote Noah Brooks, a White House reporter during the Civil War, in his1865 book “Lincoln Observed” about life in Lincoln’s White House. Brooks’s glowing portrait of the elder Lincoln son is not matched by his dismissive description of his younger brother:

The youngest son is a little more than eleven years old, and was nicknamed “Tad” by his father when a small boy, which nickname was an abbreviation of “tadpole,” the youngster reminding his father of that creature in his short, dumpy shape.

That must have been quite a conversation.  “Hey, kid, I’m going to call you Tad, because you’re short and dumpy.” Honest Abe may have been a little too honest on this occasion.

But despite his dumpiness, Tad’s contribution to America’s Thanksgiving public traditions will not soon be forgotten.

From Brooks again:

The President was passionately attached to his boys, and seldom went anywhere without “Tad,” of whom he told me an amusing anecdote on the last election day. About a year before a live turkey had been brought home for the Christmas dinner, but “Tad” interceded in behalf of its life, and carried the case up to the Executive Chamber, securing a stay of proceedings until his father could be heard from. The argument was that the turkey had as good a right to live as anybody else, and his plea was admitted and the turkey’s life spared. The soldiers on duty about the house made a pet of the bird, and on last election day the boy came tearing up into his father’s room to call his attention to the fact that the soldiers were voting. Noticing the turkey among them, the President asked “Tad” if the turkey was voting, too; to which the boy promptly responded – “Oh, no; he isn’t of age yet!” The indulgent father thought that reply was a great deal better than many of the so-called Lincoln stories.

Yeah, not bad for a dumpy kid.

This account is the source for the claim that Lincoln began the tradition of pardoning Thanksgiving turkeys, but the facts here make that dubious. In the first place, this was a a turkey “brought home for the Christmas dinner,” not Thanksgiving. It survived at least until the next year’s election, which would have been roughly concurrent with the Thanksgiving celebration that Lincoln had first designated the year before.

Thus, since the bird received no formal pardon, there would have been no legal obstacle to slaughtering, basting, and consuming it, complete with stuffing, a year after Lincoln’s dumpy son spared its life. That turkey’s ultimate fate, however, remains lost to recorded history.

Later presidents have offered similar reprieves, but none of them carried the force of law until 1989, when President George H.W. Bush began the process of offering an official pardon. Every president since has kept with tradition. This year, President Trump pardoned a turkey named Drumstick, who the president predicted has “a very bright future ahead of him.”

A bright future, eh?

Drumstick, like Tad, is pretty dumpy. He’s a 37-pound bird who has been genetically engineered to live fat, die young, and leave a tasty corpse. It turns out that he and his other pardoned turkeys tend to drop dead of dumpy causes not long after their official reprieves.

John Stossel commented on this phenomenon in a report during George W. Bush’s administration:

Bush made this promise to the two turkeys [he pardoned]: “They will live out their days in the comfort and care of Kidwell Farm in Herndon, Virginia.”

… I visited Kidwell Farm to see how the turkeys pardoned in previous years were doing. I looked for some of the birds pardoned by Clinton, but couldn’t find them. I couldn’t find the Bush Sr. birds, or the Reagan turkeys, or Carter’s, or any of the pardoned birds.

There is a sign saying Turkey Pen, and farmer Marlo Acock took me to it. But the pen was empty. Why? Well, the birds do come here, explained Acock, but they don’t last.

“We usually just find ’em and they’re dead,” he said.

Most of the pardoned turkeys only last a few months, Acock said. One died within days.

It seems that the presidential birds, bred to be eaten, are so fat that by the time of their pardon, their days are numbered.

“Their flesh has grown so fast, and their heart and their bones and their other organs can’t catch up,” said Acock.

Trump joked about the idea of undoing President Obama pardons of turkeys Tator and Tot, respectively. “”I have been informed by the White House counsel’s office that Tater and Tot’s pardons cannot, under any circumstances, be revoked,” Trump joked. “So, Tater and Tot, you can rest easy.”

Or, more likely, rest in peace.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Stallion Returns!

So this blog has gotten no love in over five months, and it has actually been offline for the past two weeks. (Please note that Yahoo Small Business web hosting sucks. I wasted many hours on the phone with those guys repeatedly trying to verify who I was before repeatedly telling me they couldn’t help me.)

This wasn’t just benign neglect. I was intentionally ignoring this place while I was running for Congress.  Any writing I was doing was in the service of the campaign, and I didn’t really want to explain to potential constituents why I operate under the pseudonym of “Stallion Cornell.” I even changed my Twitter handle from StallionCornell to jim_4_congress. (I have since changed it back, but when I’m not campaigning, I don’t really tweet much.)

So, yes, I ran for Congress under the banner of the new United Utah Party, and I had to sue in Federal Court to get on the ballot. I ended up persuading over 13,000 people to leave their tribal politics behind and vote for me, earning over 9% of the vote. That’s the highest percentage for any third-party congressional candidate in Utah history. I was also the first non-Republican/non-Democrat to participate in the official televised debate, which you’re welcome to watch in its entirety below:

I’m the guy in the middle, and they had to raise the podium to accommodate me. It was a lot of fun, actually, although perhaps the most nerve-wracking experience of my life.

But anyway, it’s all over, and now I’m getting deluged with variations of two questions:

  1. Are you happy with the result? and
  2. Are you going to run again?

I’m proud of the race I ran, yes, and I don’t think I embarrassed myself. At the same time, I’m not particularly happy about losing. When I tell people that, they tell me I shouldn’t have expected to actually win a third party run, and they’re probably right. Yet there’s no way to conduct a credible campaign if you’re not running to win. You can’t wake up in the morning and hit the hustings hard if your only goal is to get 9% and go down in flames gracefully.

It was weird, too, to have people complain that the United Utah Party was trying too hard to win. One guy wrote a whole op-ed about how he was excited about this new party until he saw that I wasn’t willing to concede the race to my Republican opponent before the ballots were cast, and it was somehow unseemly that I was actually competing.

Another guy wrote that we should “take it slow” and “plant the seeds” and not expect to win elections for years, maybe even decades. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. It’s what the Libertarians have done since 1972, and look how well it’s done them. Fact is, you can’t “take things slow.” You have to swing for the fences from your first time at bat. Granted, most people who swing for the fences strike out, but every once in awhile, they hit a home run.

(Yikes. Sports analogies? Really? Maybe the campaign really did change me.)

So to answer #2 – yes, I would very much like to run again. I had a great experience, and I think I tapped into a hunger for an alternative to the broken two-party stalemate. But whether I do or not will depend on a number of factors. The first is, will I have the resources to compete? I was outspent by a ratio of over 10 to 1 by both the Republican and the Democrat, and I’m not willing to jump into another race and be forced to bootstrap it in the same way.

I’m also not interested in being a sacrificial lamb. I’m not going to run to make a statement or plant seeds. If I run again, it will be in a race that I am confident I can actually win.

In the meantime, I’m not currently writing for the Deseret News – they understandably wouldn’t let candidates write for their paper –  but I do have a new gig as a contributor to The Jack News, a new website with a mission “to reevaluate political happenings and current events with an eye for factual response and at times a little humor and satire.”

Here are a couple of my latest pieces from other there – one about Al Franken who I have disliked intensely for many years prior to his current scandal, and another about the Justice League movie, which I haven’t yet seen. (No, it’s not a review.) I’ll post other links as they become available.

Beyond that, I’m trying to get my bearings and figure out what the next step is. While I’m doing that,  I’ll probably have more time to bring this blog back from the dead. I’be now been at this for more than a decade. That’s an eternity in Internet years.

But that’s no thanks to Yahoo Small Business. Seriously, they’re the worst.