Scottish Manes.

On our Star Wars podcast a few weeks ago, I was threatening that I was going to write a monograph about Ewan McGregor’s hair in films, and I’m sure Benjamin Light thought I was just joking. He probably – rightfully? – hoped that I was.

Scottish manes.I wasn’t. Thought Catalog was nice enough to publish a piece by me the other day: A Selection Of Films Rated On The Quality Of Ewan McGregor’s Hair In Them.”

Here’s the sad thing: I could have gone on and on, and in quite a big of greater detail than I did. Their might be a strange little e-book on this topic in the future so, you know, beware.

* * *

At some point, I feel like I could write another piece (though a much shorter one) on the hair of prominent comic book writers, especially those in the Marvel bullpen. In short: They’re all bald! Sometimes they have the wall of hair on the side, a power move that I’m sure is called “The Captain Picard” in barber college. Sometimes they just go for the shave and shine, electing to try to convince us that they chose to shave their head, not that they were losing a war with genetics. (“Make it SO!”)

I can see you!

Oh well. These are the people who decide who of our favorite four color heroes will die (like Peter Parker recently) or get raped and stuffed in a refrigerator.

FYI: TV Tropes informs me that it is actually referred to as “Bald Of Awesome.”

* * *

Benjamin Light informed me tonight that Ewan McGregor was rated as #5 on GQ‘s list of Most Stylish Men. I could tell you who was rated higher than him, but it’s bullshit. At least it wasn’t Michael Fassbender or Channing Tatum.

Men in suits.

Fucking Channing Tatum.

* * *

The blog is just days away from ending!

And, as always, I’m going to ask and suggest that you check out our podcasts…

Podcasts!

Time Travel Murder Mystery is on a very short hiatus currently, but I imagine that you can expect new episodes again in early January. Meanwhile, Greedo Shot First, our Star Wars podcast for people who hate Star Wars fans, is still going strong. I believe that the subject of our next episode will be a rewatching of The Empire Strikes Back. The haircuts in that movie were really just so so.

Goodnight, Moon.

When you were a kid, because it was the simplest of all possible answers, they told you that God was up in the sky.

As you got older, when you wanted more complex answers, they told you that God was somewhere within.

As a kid my mother always told me that she knew I’d grow up to be smart. She just knew, she’d assure me. That’s nice to hear, for a boy from his mother, but you have to press on and ask why? Without quantification, that kind of praise can be dangerous. So I pressed on. Why, why, why?

The answer, she told me, was because as a kid I understood about the moon and the sun and space. “Huh?” I’d ask. And she told me that she was always amazed that even before kindergarten I understood that the moon orbited the Earth, the Earth orbited the sun, and the Sol solar system orbited around the giant black hole at the middle of the milky way galaxy, and the galaxy was just a string of other galaxies, probably in a snowflake shape, rotating around something else. “You even knew the name of the sun!” she’d tell me, her eyes beaming with motherly pride.

Of course, when I was a kid my mother explained to me what black holes were, as best as she could, as best as I could understand it then, and that’s probably had more effect on me than the memetic concept of God.

The moon, too.

There’s just something beautiful about the our gray satellite up there, isn’t there? “Magnificent desolation,” Buzz Aldrin called it. And he’s right. It looks so much to me like the physical manifestation of an actual human soul: bleak, sad, barren, empty, but with beautiful patterns within the dust and craters if you want to see them.

When I was a kid, we constantly would hear things like, “Tonight the sky will be clear and the planets will be aligned enough that you’ll be able to see Pluto!” Of course, this is back when Pluto was still a planet, because it was neutered by classifications. But I kept looking up in the sky and not seeing it.

Same with comets. Supposedly we could certain comets up in the night sky. I never saw them. And I kept looking. I kept wanting to see them. I was like Fox Mulder and John Locke. I wanted to believe. That there was something up there in the sky, that maybe there was something resembling a God-like thing in our universe, and, worst of all and most devastating of all, you know what? I wanted to believe I was special and somehow seeing these things up there would confirm that for me.

But I never saw them.

But there was the moon. You could see the moon. You knew mankind had gone there and come up and could, theoretically, go back again whenever we felt like it. It’s up there, whenever we want to visit it, that first step on a greater journey. No matter how bad life is Earthside, there’s something up there for us. There’s tangible proof just within grasp that we can escape Earthly troubles and change our whole view of the universe, for good or for worse.

A few days ago my mother was telling me about the day of the actual moon landing, when she was a little girl. She had been playing in a friend’s yard when both her and the friend’s mother came out and told them they had to come inside and watch something. “What is it?” they ask. “Something important,” they were told. “The future.” So inside they went and watched as man set foot on the moon.

My mother described the friend’s mother’s grave reaction to the event, her still face as she watched the grainy television images with cold eyes. “God is dead,” the woman kept whispering. Mind you, this is two years before The New York Times announced it.

My mother is somebody who still firmly believes in the idea of a God, if not a specific religion, not out of a firm belief, a strong faith, but a strong hope. She tells me that’s all there is. “All human beliefs, at their core,” she tells me, “have that hope at their center. When you fall in love, you hope it’s with the right person, and you hope they won’t be a shithead or damage your heart or your sense of the world.”

It’s from my mother that I get a lot of my sense of the world, those beliefs and hopes that you get before you actually enter the world and see how bad/wonderful things are for yourself. She’s also the first person to walk me out into our garden at night as a kid and point up at the sky and say, “Look at that thing.” She’s also the person who first put on Star Wars for me as a kid and said, “You’re going to love this.” And I’ll never forget her walking in during the scene and saying along with Obi Wan Kenobi, “That’s no moon. It’s a space station.”

But I said this is would be the end of me howling at the moon. So as I get to the end of this, I’ll say this one last thing about my mother, besides the fact that I love her, that she read Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon to me as a child…

The moon isn’t a real thing to us. Just a symbol. It stands for something different – probably several different somethings – for everyone. Even in the art it inspires. But we don’t really think of it as a real place we can go to. Just somewhere we dream about going.

So this is about me. About childhood, and about symbols. So here’s something that’s not a shock, something I’m pretty sure I’ve said before: Batman is my favorite “super hero.” My favorite comic book character, if you will. My obsession with him starts where a lot of comic book fancies start: he’s just cool, right?  But to me, he was always cool because he was real. That could be you under the cape and cowl, fighting crime and fighting a hopeless battle to make the world a better place. That could be me.

How sad that I don’t believe in God, at least not God the way others do, but I do believe in Batman?

But Batman is dead now. At least the Bruce Wayne version of him. I believe I linked to it before, but I talked a little about the passing of the Dark Knight in a post at This Recording a week or two ago.

Whenever it came up to write that piece, the editor at TR, Alex, who’s a really nice guy, suggested something about comics. Not a tough subject for me since I’m a bit of a dork, but I’d also say a bit of an amateur expert in the field. And there’s a billion things that I could’ve written about then, but the biggest, most current thing at the time and the thing most prevalent comics-wise in my thoughts: Batman was dead.

Shortly after that piece was written, a story by Neil Gaiman came out, entitled “Whatever Happened To The Caped Crusader?” It was written to be in the similar vein as Alan Moore’s classic “Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow?” and seen as the last Batman story.

The gist of the story is simple: Batman, recently deceased, is watching his own funeral from the cusp of the afterlife. The attendees of the funeral are all his friends, loved ones, and the criminals he spent his entire life fighting. And everyone has a eulogy, telling a story of how Batman died, all of them starring a different iteration of the caped crusader and depicting a different death.

But when the stories run out and it’s time to move on, Batman is ushered into the sweet hereafter by his mother. He’s fought the good fight, she tells him, and he’s to be rewarded. And the reward for being the Batman? To continue being the Batman.

And we learn that young Bruce Wayne’s mother read Goodnight Moon to him as a child and it was his favorite book growing up.

And as he fades away, in the style of the book, he says goodnight to the things that mattered. His friends. The Batcave. The Bat signal.

And then he’s reborn.

And the story continues anew.

The same here, mostly. No more talking about the moon, I promise. Unless something really, really, really interesting comes up. The story up there has been done for a while, but at some point we’re going back. At some point, everything starts over again.

Keep looking up at the sky and wondering, okay?

See you out there, space cowboys and cowgirls.

In which we say “Fiat Lux!” upon the God particle of the cinema…

I saw Ron Howard’s Angels & Demons yesterday.

It’s like when your friend, who’s been dating some douchebag for years and years, and you’ve had to watch her slowly self destruct from it, watch her announce time and again that she’s found the strength to get out, but then slowly turn around and delude herself with reasons why she should stay with the prick. And then they finally do break up. And things are great. And then one day she’s all like, “Oh yeah, by the way, I fucked Matt again yesterday.” And you’re all like, “What? Ugh. Jesus.”

Well, perhaps it’s not that harsh, but it kind of is.

A simple plot summary if you somehow don’t know before a very simplistic review: Based on the novel by Dan Brown (of The Da Vinci Code fame, though this book came first but is now the film sequel) and starring Tom Hanks as Harvard professor Robert Langdon, well known symbologist, is called in when the Vatican needs a little help. You see, the pope just died and they’re in the process of electing a new old white man to rule the world’s enslaved spirituality, but it’s quite possible that the church’s enemies, the Illiuminati (gasp!), have returned with a vengeance. Ewan McGregor slums it up as the carmerlengo, essentially the pope’s secretary who is temporarily in charge until a new old white man is installed in the robes of the Holy See. Ayelet Zurer, the gorgeous Israeli actress who played Eric Bana’s wife in Munich, is around for some excitement as a scientist from CERN because – Holy Shit! – those naughty Illuminatus have stolen some antimatter to set up as  a time bomb that’s going to blow the Vatican to hell at midnight!

Wow, that sounds exciting, right? No, not so much. Like I said, I give you here a simple review in simple statements…

Much like The Da Vinci Code, while watching this movie, I wanted to watch a documentary about some of the realistic parts of this film rather than the film itself. Well, that’s only half true here because, as interesting as Galileo and Bernini and their contributions to Rome are, I don’t usually care so much for the anti-Catholic brand of Illuminatus lore. I guess I prefer the more Bavarian Illuminati? With Adam Weishaupt (or is it George Washington?) and those types.

Tom Hanks. You know what, Tom? I still dig you. At your worst, you’re absolutely harmless, posing a threat to no one. But your best, you’re usually working with Steven Spielberg.

The lovely Ayelet Zurer as Vittoria Vetra, the scientist from CERN, is pretty much just there to be the female lead, to give Tom Hanks someone to lecture to, and possibly diffuse the antimatter bomb if she can. I’m sad that they gave her pretty much nothing to do within those confines and they keep her character pretty passionless.

This whole film feels like one of those 90s CD-ROM games where you do something retarded, stop to solve a puzzle, and one of the characters gives you a two minute history less that is somehow important to whatever buttons you have to mash on the keyboard. I want to throw my keyboard at the screen here.

I blame anything that’s wrong with this movie solely on the direction. Ron Howard, you are the biggest director with no real sense of style or filmmaking craft out there. I’m amazed how you constantly are able to make these action-less action movies. You’re like a TV director given big screen projects to fuck around with. You are the poorest of poor man’s Spielberg (and Spielberg really knew how to balance action and adventure with a reverence for religion and history and also, you know, REAL FILMMAKING SKILLS!). That said, make a Arrested Development movie finally, but just produce it, okay?

Ewan McGregor with his good friend, Jude Law.

I think the truest statement you can say here is that the biggest sin of this movie is ours. Why have we neglected Ewan McGregor so badly that he’d have to resort to this film? I mean, he was in Trainspotting and A Life Less Ordinary and The Pillow Book and like a thousand other brilliant films that he was wonderful in. He’s Obi-Wan Kenobi for fuck’s sake! Also, did you see Young Adam? That shit was hot and wild.

Also, if you have any idea how movies work or have even looked at the casting of this movie then – SUPER SPOILER AHEAD OH NOES! – you can tell that Ewan McGregor is the bad guy here. Sure, you’ve got Armin Mueller-Stahl and Stellan Skarsgard as super eurotrash red herrings, which makes sense to have a former Stasi and a guy with a face like a Nazi, but still, it was always going to be Ewan McGregor. Plus, you should’ve guessed after an hour passed in the movie and he hadn’t shown you his cock yet.

Remember how the first movie was just a constant chase sequence of an airport thriller storyline? Same here, only slightly more ridiculous, and in reverse. This time Tom Hanks is doing all the chasing and running. His hair is much less silly and all of his exposition is done walking or running. It’s like The West Wing but talking about religious meanderings rather than politics. And on something a little less exciting than speed or cocaine.

That said, if this franchise were to become a TV with Tom Hanks, or obviously some decent small screen version of him, going around solving crisis after crisis and going off on art history lectures, I’d actually be down for it.

Antimatter bomb? Seriously? Antimatter is so cool, in real life, and constantly thrown around in the same sentences with the God Particle, which is really the Higgs boson, and I wish you could make bombs out of it. Bombs the size of blowing up small cities too. But really, you just can’t. It would take longer than human history to accumulate that much material.

Berninin’s Habbakuk and the Angel, the first “altar of science.”

I love that terms like “altars of science” keep getting thrown around here. If you think about it, Altars Of Science would make a great name for either a metal band or a children’s TV show.

Also, I love that CERN actually has an FAQ up just to deal with misconceptions that could be out there just because of this film/book.

And Dan Brown has a bit up at his site dealing with the bizarre secrets from the book. By now you kids should know that Bizarre Secrets is actually my middle name. No joke. Just reading my birth certifcate is a wild dip into the surreal.

Thanks to one scene that felt like it was a good 15 minutes long, I know where the jurisdiction of the Swiss Guard (or schweizergarde, if you will) ends and the Vatican police force picks up. Thanks, Angels & Demons!

Back to Ewan McGregor for a moment: Yeah, sure, he’s the bad guy here. He’s dome some heinous shit, but he’s so charming at it. And he seemingly kept a mastery of The Force from the Star Wars prequels because at one point he saves the day by flying his helicopter up however many miles high to set off the antimatter bomb away from people and then parachutes away to safety like it ain’t no big thing. So I’m going to throw out this kind of kind of radical notion: He did all this to be the fucking Pope? Give it to him, guys. I mean, seriously. I think he’s earned it. So he killed the old Pope. Whatever. The guy was old and weak and probably stupid. Obi Wan is young and vital and and has science fiction powers. Don’t you want him leading to continuing brainwashing of the hearts and minds of a billion suckers out there?

And yes, he is remarkably Kenneth Branagh-esque in this story.

Is this film sacrilegious? No. Not at all. I mean, I don’t even care, and I can tell you that it’s just not.

Actually, you know what the movie reminds me of quite a bit? The Name Of The Rose, the film with Sean Connery and Christian Slater, based on the novel by Umberto Eco. Yeah. It reminds me a little of that. But less dirty and sexy.

Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Theresa is actually one of my favorite pieces of art out there, and the story that goes with it. I’ll let you discover that for yourself if you so choose. Also, I have always loved the word “transverberation.”

Ambiagrams! They’re like palindromes but more symbol-ish. The one done for the movie (above) was done by John Langdon, whom the fictional Robert Langdon is based on.

Having read the synopsis of the novel version of this story, I have to say that the changes made to the story for the film adaptation actually work better. A lot better.

One of those changes is to the assassin character, called the Hassassin in the book, which seemed to play like a rape-happy Middle Eastern stereotype. Though it’s interesting that origins come from the the word Hashshashin, which ties into one of my favorite historical figures of all time, Hassan-i Sabbah, whom I’m sure you’ll hear me talk about here at some point…

Nothing is true, everything is permitted.”

Wait just one second here… In the book, Langdon is usually bedding his female leads? He’s like an intellectual Bond type? Interesting. I mean, kind of implausible, but still, it’s interesting.

Eh… anyway. Angels & Demons is not horrible, perhaps it’s better than The Da Vinci Code, I don’t know.  Technically they fall under the category of escapism for smart people, or enlightened people, if you will, and that can’t be that bad. And what’s worse, I think they’ve guaranteed that I’ll read Brown’s third Robert Langdon book when it comes out this year. But my sins? They shall never be purged.