This is Epth Nation

Epth is a state of mind, not a place. Reading this will give you a virtual drivers license in that state, but you'll still need to be 21 to purchase alcohol. And you can't get any there anyway, so stop asking.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Netfilx Diary(not really): X-Men 2

Now, I know what you're thinking...I didn't really get this from Netflix. But it fits in well with the series. It's an old recap from a couple of years ago. I hadn't posted in a while, and I thought y'al might enjoy it.

X-Men II: X-Men United
(X-Men versus those darn humans)
(Professor X: Simultaneously the most powerful and least powerful of superheros)

Well, for the first of these recaps of Movies That I See on Mondays (MTISoM), I present to you X2, the second of what is obviously going to be a long series of movies based upon the characters in the Marvel comic book "Uncanny X-Men". This movie totally had that "Empire Strikes Back" second-in-a-trilogy feel to it. It stands alone as a movie, just like "Empire", but works better as a part of a cohesive whole. It's really just a way to bring the comic book melodramatic month-to-month format to the movies in a workable fashion. The good news is, it works. Pretty much. Except for the stupid parts.

Now I'm going to warn you. I liked the X-Men comic books when I was a kid, so paragraphs relating to nerd-type issues such as the faithfulness of the movie to the comic book will be started with an asterisk (*) so you don't go crazy being "bogged down in nerdy minutia".

First things first. The movie was the #1 movie at the time, so it was showing in a humongous theater. Just huge. And when I walked in, there were exactly 3 other single (in number, not necessarily marital status) guys of about my age in attendance and that's it. So, I got my pick of where to sit. I sat in back of all of them, so I could keep my eye on them, those losers. Then, what better have been a father and daughter walked in and sat down. There were six of us. At $5.25 a pop, we just added $31.50 to the X2 gross. If you want to go to a movie and be relatively alone, you should clearly go to the Monday morning show.

Right at the time the movie was supposed to start, I hear the projector start, then stop, then a voice yelling "Oh, come on!" Then frantic futzing, then more starting and stopping, cussing, and banging. Finally, the "previews" start (really more commercials than previews. The first one was that Powerade commercial that has the Matrix guy telling you to drink Powerade so that he can harvest your body energy. I mention this only so I can write, "I F-ing hate the Matrix." I'll see that next week, probably, so I'll expand on that there. It's just so overblown and overhyped.) and go for 5-8 minutes and abruptly stop. I hear the same voice that said "Oh, come on" say "Thank God for the previews!" and other things that I don't have the energy to censor right now (maybe I need some Powerade, eh?). Finally, 10 minutes later, I hear squeals of joy coming from the projector room, and then the movie, er, the previews start again. I'm sure it's been overanalyzed by everyone already, but what happened to the days of the "be quiet and no smoking" movie theater ad, 2 previews and then the movie? A better question is, "What will the movies be like in 10 years?" Think about that. At this rate, most comedies will actually take less time than the previews/commercials themselves. I F-ing hate money.

So, the movie starts at 11:55 (11:30 start time), and the six of us are immediately battered with a presidential assassination setpiece starring the 2nd coolest mutant there is, Nightcrawler. Only you don't know it's Nightcrawler. Even if you watch the whole movie, you only piece together the fact that he's Nightcrawler if you pay attention to this one incongruous out-of-character statement he makes about the Germans calling him the "Nightcrawler of blah blah at this blah blah circus or whatever." But trust me, he's Nightcrawler. And he's trying to kill the president. And he can teleport from one place to another to another to another, The special effects on this are cool, but suffered from my expectation that you would see a flash of pink light and hear a "bamf" instead of seeing blue dust and hearing a "whoosh". But that's my problem, and totally not the movie's. What did I expect, 20 guys saying "bamf" in unison? How would you make the sound "bamf"?

*I call Nightcrawler the 2nd coolest mutant there is because only Colossus is cooler. I loved these 2 guys as a 10-year-old boy. Probably because Nightcrawler believes in God and Colossus always tried to be good. I don't like my heros to be anti-heros. I guess I've always been an anti-postmodernist and didn't know it. Anyway, readers of the comic book will instantly know that Nightcrawler, despite his appearance, is not evil but under some sort of mind control.

So, Nightcrawler, or as you are calling him at this point, "The Renegade Blue Man Group Member", almost kills the president but leaves before finishing because somebody has the audacity to hit him with a bullet. But Blue Man is good, and Professor X tracks him finally to Boston. He sends the hotter half of his X-Men team (the girls) to go find him and bring him back there before the evil xenophobic bastards they like to call the police get to him and kill him. You know, mind control notwithstanding, I totally sympathize with the humans in this X-Men universe. A mutant tries to kill the president (with a knife that has some pro-mutant propaganda written on it), and the humans catch flak for trying to capture him and interrogate him? Why didn't he turn himself in, if he's so good? Professor X is as much a mutant elitist as Magneto, only less murderous. So anyway, those hot members of the X-Men go to catch the Blue Man.

Meanwhile, the Wolverine and his ridiculous haircut start out the movie in Canada(?), where he is trying to find who gave him those signature claws of his. He boringly finds a snowed-over base, and then goes back to the Xavier School, and sees the girls before they go. The worst part of this movie, just like the first movie, is the Cyclops-Jean Grey-Wolverine bizarre love triangle. The hot girl who can read minds, Jean Grey, is attached to the no-talent pretty-boy frat guy Cyclops, who never met a person he wasn't able to bore and then blast with his eye ray; and she's also animally attracted to feral manimal Wolverine, who is one step away from looking like Chris Kattan's "Mr. Peepers" from Saturday Night Live. Really, he's gross, even if it is Hugh Jackman. So, who does she pick? Apparently, the frat guy, even though he's curiously offscreen for the middle hour of the movie.

*At this point in the movie, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos takes a break from living with John Stamos, turns blue, sheds her clothes, and breaks into the main villain's files. She does this because she can literally become other people, apparently. That ability would really tick me off if I was her enemy. Anyway, among the names listed on the computer screen are several people from the comic book that didn't make it to the movie. A little wink of the eye to the comic book nerd. Thanks, filmmakers.

By the way, hats off to the casting department for this movie, at least in most cases. Nightcrawler looks like Nightcrawler, and even though Alan Cummings doesn't for a minute convince you he's even been to Germany, much less lived there, he's just fine. James Marsden as Cyclops is one of the casting successes of the last century. Nobody else could have captured the essence of the spoiled frat-guy overcompensating fleebyness that made Cyclops the most hated good guy in comics. Halle Berry is hot but totally wasted as Storm. Rumor is she's pissed at the screen time Storm got and I would be, too. She is first of all the best actress of the bunch, second of all the hottest, third of all (and this is the big secret that the X-Men don't want you to notice) she is the most powerful of those X-People. During a plane chase scene, she created not one but several tornados in a matter of 5 seconds. So, the absence of any real good Halle Berry dialogue and action scenes is one big mess-up of screen time and unrealism. Cut out one of the 20 scenes explaining Pyro's fall to the dark side, for pete's sake. He sucks. You heard it here first - Pyro is the Wedge of this series.

So, yeah, there's the love triangle that gets resolved later when she picks Cyclops and then kills herself (wouldn't you?). Sorry for letting the end out of the bag so soon. While I'm at it, the X-Men win and the world stays alive. Don't you feel relieved now? Let me tell you how it happened.

About now is the second big action setpiece of the movie, as agents of an unnamed Government agency apparently created under the Patriot Act and led by a total nut named Gen. William Stryker take the opportunity to attack Xavier's mutant school and take it over. Storm and Jean are off getting Blue Man, and Professor X and Cyclops are visiting last movie's villain, the stupidly-named Magneto (pronounced overproperly, like mag-NEE-toe). Magneto informs him that, "well, you know that device you built that allows you to track every mutant on earth? I told the nutbag about it because he made me. We're still superior though." So, Professor X is gassed and captured by General Nut and Cyclops is defeated by his head henchwoman, the (unnamed) hot Asian mindcontrolled mutant with fingernails like Wolverine's claws. Could there be a connection between her and Wolvie? Is Martin Luther Lutheran? Thankfully, this means we don't see the blank fleeb Cyclops until way later. Why don't they just kill him? Because it's cooler to have him attack his true love (inasmuch as a frat boy is capable of love) later.

*This whole story is loosely based on the 1982 Big Important Comic Book, "God Loves, Man Kills". I'm thankful that liberal paranoia of the military after 9-11 has supplanted liberal fear of Christians to some extent; in the 1982 book, Stryker is a religious nut who hates mutants, not a government nut who hates mutants. The only real anti-conservatively-religious moment I remember in the movie is when a mutant who does nothing named Iceman (who has the power to freeze coffee, ooh dang.) goes home to tell his family he's a mutant, and his mom asks him "Can't you just stop being a mutant?" Hee Hee. And then the audience asks the filmmaker, "Can't you just stop drawing bad analogies?"

So, General Nut has captured Professor X, the most powerful brain on the planet. and keeps his powers in check with what appears to be something pieced together from parts of an old laser tag set. Who knew what you could make with that stuff? Also, the attack at the old Xavier school succeeds in taking over the school, but they only capture 6 mutant children so they can be used as kids-in-jeopardy plot device later on. That's a funny-looking word, jeopardy. Anyway, the rest of the mutant children escape through secret panels in the walls. A big metal guy who goes unnamed but is actually Colossus helps some children out and then tries to help Wolverine, who wants to kill all the soldiers by himself and waves him off. A girl who goes unnamed but is actually Kitty Pryde walks through a bunch of walls and reminds us that the filmmakers have made the conscious decision to focus on the boring X-Men from the comic book and not her and Colossus. Man, those 2 are just made for an action movie, as is Nightcrawler. Why weren't they in the first one? I'll tell you why:

1) They needed the bizarre love triangle, so Wolverine/Jean/Boring Frat Guy were automatically in.
2) Halle agreed to be storm, and come on, it's Halle as Storm
3) You need Professor X, and another outsider that comes in with Wolverine, who happened to be Rogue
4) There was no room in the first picture for more character introduction and exposition than they already had.

*As a side note, let's talk about Rogue (the girl with the white streak of hair) for a second. She is the one character that the movie takes great liberties with in comparison with the comic. First of all, could they not work into the script the salient fact that Mystique (The evil Blue scaly lady who's hot, and who actually wears clothes in the comics) brought her up in the ways of evil before she (Rogue) turned good? Not only that, but the catalyst for her turning good was her permanent absorption of the powers and memories of a traditional super hero named Ms. Marvel, who was super-strong and could fly and all that. So, in the comics, Rogue is super strong and can fly. All of this would have been interesting, especially considering the only thing she does in this movie is look cute, kiss a dude and stop the accursed Pyro from blowing up some Policemen. What a waste.

As another side note, it would be remiss of me to not mention that the X-Men uniforms are a rip-off of the Matrix, and that they should go with something more colorful and superhero-esque. Bulky black leather sucks.

Man, this recap is getting long. Sorry about that. Let's fast forward in this paragraph: Wolverine and the Teenage Mutant Non-ninja Non-turtles go to Iceman's home and tell his family he's a mutant, which causes the bad analogy I mentioned earlier and also causes Iceman's little brother to call the cops, who shoot Wolverine and are going to capture the others when Pyro decides to blow up some police cars but goes too far and Rogue absorbs his powers to stop him. General Nut holes up in an underground lab and rebuilds a machine he stole from Xavier's School, the cerebro (which proved remarkably easy to steal for such a dangerous machine). He then uses his son Jason, who was a failed bit of Xavier's early years and has the ability to create lifelike illusions with his mismatched contact lenses, to trick Xavier into killing every mutant in the world with the Cerebro.

Meanwhile, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos (blue version) breaks magNEEtoe out of his plastic prison by seducing his guard at a bar, drugging him, and injecting him with what appears to be a caulking gun's worth of liquid iron. Of course, the guard doesn't notice the extra iron in his blood, and the machines that control magNEEtoe's prison don't detect the iron, and the whole scene is just so they can have the special effect of iron coming out of this guard's bloody body. So he escapes and joins his enemies the X-Men in an attack on the underground lab that General Nut and his army are holding that rube Professor X.

(yes, there were other important things, like the plane Halle and Jean and Blue Man are flying in being attacked by U.S. Fighter jets, which they kill but not before a missle blows off the back of the plane, and it's a good thing they ran into magNEEtoe before they crashed, isn't it? Then Mystique and Magneto laughed at Rogue's hair stripe, like being blue or wearing a barbarian helmet constitute good fashion sense. Then Pyro joined Magneto because he wants to kill people, and Storm did, well, nothing.)

Professor X is tricked completely because the laser tag crap on his head turns him into a stupid person that is susceptible to any suggestion by a little girl, even genocide. Of course, the little girl is just an illusion, created by Jason Stryker and his contacts. MagNEEtoe breaks in and kills a few humans and in a few seconds reprograms the Cerebro to kill humans by moving the tiles on the walls of the room, I guess, and Mystique turns into General Nut practically in front of Jason and tells him to kill humans now. So Jason turns into a plot device and tells Professor X to kill humans. And Professor X is still a total rube, so he starts the process of killing humans now. Way to go, most powerful mind in the world. As Spider-Man can clearly attest to, with great power comes great responsibility. Next time you build a Cerebro, keep it locked in the closet. Or better yet, in Wolverine's pants. Nobody would go down there.

*Jason's character is interesting because he's clearly meant to be the X-Men villain Mastermind under a different name. And in a wheelchair. And without mutton chops. And with more drooling. Anyway, Mastermind is probably the single most important villain ever in the X-Men universe. Here, he's a convenient plot device in a wheelchair.
F the comic fan, says the filmmaker.

The X-Men break in and stop Professor X (yay! Storm actually gets to do something! Told you she was powerful) and forget about Jason, but not before a mind-controlled Cyclops attacks Jean only to be blasted back by the power of her foreshadowing the next movie. That sentence did make sense, and was in fact rather clever. They kiss and make up and Jean's foreshadowing causes the convenient dam plot device to crack and then bust, causing the kids-in-jep plot device to roll into action, and in the end everyone gets out safely except the power of foreshadowing kills Jean Grey and anyone who's even sniffed an X-Men comic book knows that she's not really dead, but has become the Phoenix, who is not mentioned by name (just like everyone else in this movie).

*The so-called Phoenix Saga is the probably the most popular story arc the X-Men comic book ever had. If they do choose to do the Phoenix Saga next movie, it will be very dark. You see, the Mastermind (See? He is important.) caused the Phoenix to cause Jean Grey to go crazy (this was all revised later to make Jean Grey look like less of a murderer, but just deal with my explanation, ok?) and kill 5 billion people until she got it under control. Then she killed herself for real (again, revised later - she came back) to stop the Phoenix. It was the Apex of the X-Men comic book, and it affected everything before or since in the X-Men timeline. I just hope that if they do the Phoenix Saga;
a) Colossus gets to be involved; and,
b) They introduce the Hellfire Club and that White Queen of theirs.

But they probably won't. At the end of the movie, Cyclops and Wolvie are grieving Jean, and Professor X senses the Phoenix but doesn't tell them about it because he's a scumbag, and then proceeds on with his normal teaching duties and never again mentions the fact that he very nearly killed the whole world today. I tell you what, I bet that Cerebro gets stolen again real soon. We can't have a plot device in Wolverine's pants, can we? Don't answer that.

Overall, the movie is infinitely better for fans of the comic book. All the characters and the lack of development are sure to confuse even the sharpest of action-movie watchers. But the setpieces are cool, and you bet it will spark discussion in the nerdier aspects of our society. I give it 3 overpriced popcorns out of 5.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Hairstyles From Which My Male-Pattern-Baldness Saves Me

I'm going bald quickly, and that's a bummer because there's no way around it. If I just let it go, I'll look ugly; if I fight it with combovers or pills or balms, I'll look pathetic. Maybe it's time I look at the positive side of this hair-losing. Here's a list of hairstyles I can never inflict upon the world:
  • The Mohawk
  • The Hair-Helmet
  • The Mop Top
  • The Bush of Hair, and it's smaller cousin,
  • The Shrub, and it's larger cousin,
  • The White Man's Afro
  • The Combed-Forward Neanderthal, and it's more labor-intensive cousin,
  • The Hair Plastered Forward Like You Were Just Walking Backwards in a Windstorm
  • The Hair Band
  • The Feathered Back Like Farrah Fawcett
  • The Bowl
  • The Slicked Back Coach
  • The Meticulously Messed-Up
  • The Steve Nash Just-Washed-But-Still-Greasy
  • The Mark Cuban
  • The Dreadlocks
  • The Lightly Frosted
  • The Spaghetti-Head
  • The Sensitive Ponytail Guy
  • The Standing Straight Up Due To Products
  • The Everything Combed Towards the Middle
  • The Kirk Hinrich
  • The Donald Trump
Looks like I'm the lucky one after all, eh? No, you're right, I'm still not.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Things For Which You Can Be Fired From Papa John's

...if the Area manager catches you. These were related to me by my store manager, Guy, and when I reacted incredulously he said, "Hey, I'm just a puppet." To illustrate this, he held his hand up at chest-level and wiggled his fingers -- apparently the universal sign for "puppet". No, Guy, you're not a puppet, you're a sycophant. But to be fair, you do look like a muppet.

This list excludes obvious things, like stealing, and other things that aren't obvious but also aren't insane.

1) Not having your "Papa John's" cartop lit.

This is my current area manager's greatest fixation -- I truly believe he views unlit cartops as the devil. If he shows up at your store and you have an unlit cartop on your car, you are fired AND the manager on duty is fired, with no questions asked and no chance for appeal. So, if the plug comes loose or the light burns out, you better have another job lined up because you're as good as dead with the cartop Gestapo on the prowl.

A couple of weeks ago our area manager, who I'll call Man Bob Bill (MBB), came in late at night to deliver some crap to our store. Luckily, the other driver and I had our cartops lit. He then said, "I wanna thank you guys for having lit cartops, well, I guess I shouldn't thank you, since it is a job requirement."

So, we make our car a target for robbers (and clueless drunk teen mockers) to provide you free advertising and you SHOULDN'T THANK US? What is MBB's view of the employee? As a faceless "Human Resource", no better or more important than the cars they drive? Even if you think drivers are expendable and worthless, do you actually let that statement fly out of your lips? Where did this guy go to management school? Beiruit?

It should be noted that there are three (3) separate signs on the wall that command us to light our cartop. One of them actually misuses the word "remedial", as in, "we should be moving forward, but people are still having trouble with things that are quite remedial, like having a lit cartop". What he really means to say is "quite elementary." So in his warped mind only a stupid person would not have a lit cartop on their car. Heck, the really smart people would have one even when they're not on the clock, according to this logic. We're so dumb we can't figure out where the plug goes, apparently. Is this guy for real?

2) Getting gas on the clock.

You must know how much gas you have at all times, so you don't get stuck and have to make a choice. I wonder, do you get fired for running out of gas, too? But seriously, taking 3 minutes to get gas (total cost to Papa John's -- 26 cents) is firing-worthy? How about driving too slow? Or taking an incorrect route? Or reading the address wrong on the ticket? Or forgetting a 2-liter of coke?

My point is, all these other things will not get you fired, but cost you more time than getting gas. Thinking helps us grow.

3) Not being clean-shaven.

That's right, you and the on-duty manager can be fired for having beard stubble. Now, there is no official Papa John's rule posted as to how much beard stubble you can have, either in length or thickness. It just says "clean shaven". MBB makes the final call, I guess. Nothing like letting a lunatic decide the fate of your job by his own arbitrary standards.

And think about this -- what other job would they fire both you and your supervisor for you not shaving that morning? Once again, is this guy for real? You get no aren't handed the store razor and told to go in the bathroom and don't come out until you're aren't told to go home, shave, and come aren't forgiven for the first offense...apparently your warning is the only the knowledge that the area manager, the MBB, is totally bat crap crazy. About bare faces.

(This MBB is also the guy who had a serious talk with our store's assistant manager about shaving off his "menacing" goatee'. Unfortunately, goatee's are allowed at Papa John's, so all MBB could do is strongly discourage them. Is this guy for real?)

4) Not wearing a belt.
Being fairly, umm, not as thin as I once was, I don't need a belt at all. But MBB thinks I do. He thinks everybody does. I will be fired if he catches me working without one, in fact. The manager on duty will also be fired...for me not wearing a belt...that doesn't hold my pants up anyway, and that nobody would notice if it were gone. This is so stupid it make me dumber for even thinking about it. I don't know if I can ever think about this again.

5) Not Wearing a Nametag

Let's get this straight right now -- there is no good business-related reason for a delivery driver to have to wear a nametag. You want to know why it's required? Some guy somewhere thought it would be a good idea for customers to know the names of the people serving them food. Now, if it's a waiter at a restaurant, and you have to get his attention, I would understand the use of a nametag there. That would be helpful. But think about it -- why would a customer have to know a delivery guy's name? To yell at him more personally? Nobody cares about this. Nobody, that is, except that most repulsive of life forms: the area manger, of which the most repulsive is the MBB.

Just for the record, I didn't wear a nametag for a whole year at Papa John's. How many complaints from customers do you think I got? The answer's really quite remedial -- none. And this is something to get fired over? So, let me get this straight -- I show up for work on time, I do my best, I work well with others, I'm nice to the customers, even the mean ones, I wear a clean uniform, I make myself into a mugging magnet with the lit cartop to advertise for you, I shave and get gas before work, I in fact do everything you ask of me...

And you fire me and the manager on duty for me not wearing a nametag? A worthless 1 x 2 inch piece of plastic that nobody notices? Does this make any sense? Is this guy for real?

I must also add that because of the lack of having a special for one large pizza, our business is in the crapper. But don't let that news distract you, MBB, from reaching Papa John's single most important goal -- to have the employees that are most conformed to an arbitrary uniform standard.
At least when the store closes, I can get away with not wearing a nametag.