“Yeezus,” Kim. Jesus.

Thought experiment, OK? You’re Kim Kardashian. You spent a year having an extremely weird, embarrassing divorce plastered all over magazines in the checkout lanes and on sh*t celebrity TV shows. Divorcing a goofy-looking NBA power forward, no less.

You start going out with Kanye West, and you get pregnant. Over the next nine months you can’t step outside without a million camera’d assholes descending like huge, horrible birds to take your picture. This sucks, because walking around outside is really good and important when you’re pregnant. The photos become cover stories (plural) in checkout lanes about how fat you’re getting. (No exaggeration; they put her picture next to a picture of a whale.)

EXCLUSIVE: Kim Kardashian and Kanye West shopping in New York CityYou have the baby the same week Kanye releases an absolute blockbuster album. Millions of people are listening to “Yeezus” at the same time as they’re still talking at work about how fat you got and what a stupid name you gave your baby. (North.)

There’s a song on “Yeezus” called “Blood on the Leaves.” It samples this classic 1939 tune called “Strange Fruit,” by Billie Holiday, about lynching. “Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees/Blood on the leaves” is the first line in the song. It’s a sad, sick, powerful image.

Kanye raps over that song about how he can’t enjoy his summer because he can’t spend money on the nice stuff he wants because of the baby. He raps about doing Molly (kinda like ecstasy) at a party. And he finishes the song with this:

Then she said she impregnated, that’s the night your heart died
Then you gotta go and tell your girl and report that
Main reason ’cause your pastor said you can’t abort that
Now your driver say that new Benz you can’t afford that
All that cocaine on the table you can’t snort that
That going to that owing money that the court go
All in on that alimony, uh, yeah-yeah, she got you homie

The very next song, “Guilt Trip,” starts with the line “I need to call it off.”

Two takeaways here. One: Kanye is crazy, and he will say anything. I’m sure lots of critics are offended he would take a beautiful piece about lynching black people and turn it into a bouncy club joint about living large, doing drugs, and not wanting to be a dad. That’s the point, though. Imagine Kanye saying “People are gonna freak out,” before doing some of the stuff he does, like saying “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” during a Katrina telethon and interrupting Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at some big award show to exclaim Beyonce got robbed. “People are gonna freak out.”

(Ha! Mike Meyers is so funny in that clip.)

Same thing before he makes these songs.

“I am a God” features my favorite line in a long time:

I am a God
So hurry up with my damn massage
In a French-ass restaurant
Hurry up with my damn croissants!

He’s really mad when he says that last part. This is supposed to be zany, right? It totally works.

And two: Even if you don’t technically feel bad for Kim Kardashian, isn’t that a crazy situation to be in? Doesn’t she hear “Blood on the Leaves” and think for at least a second, like, “Your heart died when you heard I was pregnant?”

I asked my wife. She loved the Fat Kim photos in those magazines; she’d show them to me as I was digging out the debit card at Albertson’s. Don’t you think that’s kind of a crazy situation she’s in, with Kanye as the kid’s dad, and he’s rapping this stuff?

Eew, my wife said. No.

The Fall of “Mad Men”

The Fall. “Empire” is the best Star Wars movie. “Dark Knight” the best Batman, with the whole city hating him at the end. The second part of Guillermo Del Toro’s vampire novel trilogy “The Strain” (coming to TV!) is called “The Fall.” Remember how pissed off and sad Harry Potter was as his saga rounded third base with the fifth book?

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“I DON’T CARE!” Harry yelled at them, snatching up a lunascope and throwing it into the fireplace. “I’VE HAD ENOUGH, I’VE SEEN ENOUGH, I WANT OUT, I WANT IT TO END, I DON’T CARE ANYMORE!”
“You do care,” said Dumbledore. He had not flinched or made a single move to stop Harry demolishing his office. His expression was calm, almost detached. “You care so much you feel as though you will bleed to death with the pain of it.”

. . .

“Mad Men” Season 6 just ended. The Fall of Don Draper. It was great.

By far his worst affair ever sees Don embracing evil. (No reading while you wait for my sex!) He pays dearly. He sucked at a job he once dominated, because horrible decisions aroused the demons in his disturbing personal history like never before. Don has journeyed from Season 1, where he proudly ignored death (“It’s toasted”) to Season 6, where he resigned himself to hell and grew to fear those black wolves on his trail. Beyond the week-to-week excellence of “Mad Men” as a character-driven workplace comedy, Don’s descent from cocksure Madison Avenue bad-ass to scared, regretful alcoholic has been incredibly compelling.

I love the Dick Whitman flashbacks. They never last too long, and have a gritty-art edge like “There Will Be Blood.” Dick Whitman scenes are kinda Gothic and scary, with dark religion, sex, death, and profound, world-shattering tragedy.

We saw this season how Don/Dick lost his virginity (“The speed episode,” forever); it was strange and f*cked up. And the Hershey story. My God, that Hershey chocolate bar story . . . it was so . . . . Damn. And what timing. Emotional bombs exploded huge on this year’s “Mad Men.”

I don’t want Don to die. And he’s made-up.

In the season finale he confessed to colleagues that sad Hershey-bar tale about who he was, finally, and that was so huge. There was also hope in the look he shared with Sally at the whorehouse where he grew up. This season ended with hints of a coming resurrection, slivers of hope shining through Don’s crippling self-hatred. The optimism of these moments was surprising, weird, and welcome. (Interesting how he was filmed walking down those stairs right after his near-firing, though, and the way those assholes asked “Going down?” as he was getting on the elevator. Maybe Don’s still doomed?)

Remember the lesson that inspired a young Bruce Wayne to blossom into Batman? “Why do we fall?” his father asked him. “So we can learn to pick ourselves up.” “Mad Men” Season 6 was the The Fall. Now comes The Rise. Next season will be the show’s last. I bet it’ll be better than “The Dark Knight Rises.”

(My favorite moment of the year wasn’t the Hershey confession, or Don taking his kids to his old home. It was a couple episodes previous, after Sally caught Don with the neighbor. He gets epically drunk and is wearing the oddest, saddest little smile as he shuts his apartment door to end the episode. THAT, I think, was rock-bottom. Jon Hamm is so good on this show.)

World War Z Preview: Facebook and a Samurai Sword

My second-favorite chapter in World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War ends on a samurai sword.

Horror stories tell us who we are, and zombie tales are perhaps the best mirror of all. “Dawn of the Dead” took place in a mall because Americans of the late 1970s were becoming mindless consumers. “The Walking Dead” and other zombie apocalypse tales are popular today because they depict a world where our most highly educated and successful people—lawyers, bankers, politicians, etc.—are worthless liabilities; everyone has to get back to the basics of survival.

Or something. I just know Facebook is insulating people from the world outside, and redefining who they are as individuals. I have friends who are wonderful, warm, and engaging in person, but on Facebook they’re angry, obnoxious, hyper-partisan, and judgmental as f*ck. Which version is the more accurate representation? My friend, or my “friend”? That question gets harder to answer.

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World War Z is a book written like a series of first-person short stories. A researcher is traveling the globe after the war has ended, collecting survivors’ stories to piece together what happened. The book is amazing, and if you like zombie stuff you can’t do any better.

In Kyoto, Japan, we meet Kondo Tatsumi. He is a skinny, acne-faced teenager in old photos. But that was before the war, and his escape from an apartment building swarmed by undead.

Because he felt like a loser, Tatsumi says, his teenage self “chose exile in a better world.” He went online and became part of a network of people obsessed with information. “I didn’t have to worry about my appearance, or my social etiquette, my grades, or my prospects for the future. No one could judge me, no one could hurt me. In this world I was powerful, and more importantly, I was safe.”

Tatsumi did not come out of his bedroom, even after the war came to Japan. He and his online community devoted themselves entirely to the zombies. “We studied their psychology, behavior, weaknesses, and the global response to their attack upon humanity.” When the order to evacuate Japan came down, he wasn’t scared: “Japan was doomed, but I didn’t live in Japan. I lived in a world of free-floating information. . . . Japan might be evacuated, Japan might be destroyed, and I would watch it all happen from the safety of my digital mountaintop.”

His parents disappeared.

As days passed, fewer and fewer online friends were logging in. Did this scare Tatsumi?

“It annoyed me. Not only was I losing a source of information, I was losing potential praise of my own. To post some new factoid about Japanese evacuation ports and to have fifty, instead of sixty, responses was upsetting, then to have those fifty drop to forty-five, to thirty. . . .”

Ding! Ding! Ding! Look in the mirror, Facebookers. I know so many of you who constantly post news hits and personal updates, and I am certain it’s for the responses—comments and “likes.” Feedback is a drug, and social networkers can be addicts.

But even constant Facebook kudos can’t keep the apocalypse at bay forever. When the internet finally, inevitably shut down, Tatsumi was forced to see if anyone else was around. Freaking out, he went out into the hallway to maybe find a neighbor. “It stank. The whole hallway stank. I suddenly became aware of a low, steady scraping noise, like something was dragging itself across the hallway toward me.

“I called out, ‘Hello?’ I heard a soft, gurgling groan. My eyes were just beginning to adjust to the darkness. I began to make out a shape, large, humanoid, crawling on its belly. I sat there paralyzed, wanting to run but at the same time wanting to. . . to know for sure. My doorway was casting a narrow rectangle of dim gray light against the far wall. As the thing moved into the light, I finally saw its face, perfectly intact, perfectly human, except for the right eye that hung by the stem.”

Tatsumi fled back into his apartment and threw open the window curtains.

“Kokura was engulfed in hell. The fires, the wreckage. . . the siafu (zombies) were everywhere. I watched them crash through doors, invade apartments, devour people cowering in corners or on balconies. I watched people leap to their deaths or break their legs and spines. They lay on the pavement, unable to move, wailing in agony as the dead closed in around them. One man in the apartment directly across from me tried to fight them off with a golf club. It bent harmlessly around the zombie’s head before five others pulled him to the floor.”

And that’s when the knocking started on his own door, and he heard a neighbor beg loved ones to stop until “the voice was swallowed in a chorus of moans.”

He tied sheets into a rope and willed his feeble muscles to work as he started slowly lowering himself from one apartment balcony to another. “I looked up at my balcony and saw a head, the one-eyed siafu was squeezing himself through the opening between the rail and the balcony floor. It hung there for a moment, half out, half in, then gave another lurch toward me and slid over the side. I’ll never forget that it was still reaching for me as it fell, this nightmare flash of it suspended in midair, arms out, hanging eyeball now flying upward against its forehead.”

He continued climbing down the building, occasionally entering apartments and discovering tenants dead inside by suicide.

Three days he moved down the building, searching apartments frantically for a weapon as zombies banged against the front doors. There weren’t even hammers or crowbars, because “What salaryman does his own maintenance?”

“I landed on the fourth-floor balconey, reached for the sliding door, and looked up right into the face of a siafu. it was a young man, midtwenties, wearing a torn suit. His nose had been bitten off, and he dragged his bloody face across the glass. I jumped back, grabbed on to my rope, and tried to climb back up. My arms wouldn’t respond, no pain, no burning—I mean they had just reached their limit. The siafu began howling and beating his fists against the glass. In desperation, I tried to swing myself from side to side, hoping to maybe rappel against the side of the building and land on the balconey next to me. The glass shattered and the siafu charged for my legs. I pushed off from the building, letting go of the rope and launching myself with all my might. . . and I missed.”

He hit a balcony below his target. No zombies in that apartment, just pictures of the occupant. It didn’t stink, so he’d probably thrown himself out the window. Tatsumi looked at the pictures, depicting vast travels and a rich, full life. “I’d never even imagined leaving my bedroom, let alone even leading that kind of life. I promised myself that if I ever made it out of this nightmare, I wouldn’t just survive, I would live!”

Then his eye caught a reflection in a mirror, “of something shambling out of the bedroom. The adrenaline kicked in just as I wheeled around. The old man was still there, the bandage on his face telling me that he must have reanimated not too long ago. He came at me; I ducked. My legs were still shaky and he managed to catch me by the hair. I twisted, trying to free myself. He pulled my face toward his. He was surprisingly fit for his age, muscle equal to, if not superior to, mine. His bones were brittle though, and I heard them crack as I grabbed the arm that caught me. I kicked him in the chest, he flew back, his broken arm was still clutching a tuft of my hair. He knocked against the wall, photographs falling and showering him with glass. He snarled and came at me again. I backed up, tensed, then grabbed him by his one good arm. I jammed it into his back, clamped my other hand around the back of his neck, and with a roaring sound I didn’t even know I could make, I shoved him, ran him, right onto the balcony and over the side. He landed face up on the pavement, his head still hissing up at me from his otherwise broken body.”

There was a commotion at the door, zombies banging to enter. He ran to the bedroom to grab more sheets. There was a single photograph on the bedroom wall, of the apartment’s now-zombified ex-occupant. “Something was in his hand, something that almost stopped my heart. I bowed to the man in the photograph and said an almost tearful ‘Arigato.'”

He found it in a chest in the bedroom, under papers and the ragged remains of a uniform. “The scabbard was green, chipped, army-issue aluminum and an improvised, leather grip had replaced the original sharkskin, but the steel. . . bright like silver, and folded, not machine stamped. . . a shallow, tori curvature with a long, straight point. Flat, wide ridge lines decorated with the kiku-sui, the Imperial chrysanthemum, and an authentic, not acid-stained, river bordering the tempered edge. Exquisite workmanship, and clearly forged for battle.”

Tatsumi survived. Logged off. Lived!

LeBron Unleashes Balding Glory, and Game 7 Is On

Roughly 20 percent of men start losing their hair in their 20s. One hundred percent of those 20 percent have issues. You don’t get sad because you’re bald, you get bald because you’re sad. That’s probably overstated (and wrong), but it has felt that way to every guy who’s helplessly watched his hairline recede while friends’ ‘dos remain proudly thick and lustrous. Why? we wonder. Goddammit, why?

But we know why.

I’ve watched a lot of LeBron James’s games, and I’ve seen his headband get knocked off before. What was amazing last night—beyond the insanity that included Mike Miller’s one-shoe 3 and Tim Duncan’s 25-point first half—was that the headband stayed off. He looked like a different person. Exposed. Gloriously human.

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We got everything great and fascinating about LeBron in Game 6, once that headband came off. His team looked dead in the fourth quarter, certain to lose the title on its home court, when he went nuts. Eighteen points, from all manner of angles, in the fourth quarter and overtime. He also got bug eyes with a minute left. Chewed his lips and nails. He started taking bad shots and making turnovers. Even at the end of a frantic contest, with the championship at stake, LeBron was whining to the refs for foul calls.

Ray Allen took a lot of sh*t for leaving the Celtics to join the Heat. A veteran and champion, it was Allen who hit the game-tying 3 in the fourth quarter. Chris Bosh got an offensive rebound (you read that right) and had LeBron wide open, but Bosh lasered the ball to Allen instead. If he’d given it to LeBron, the Spurs would be champions this morning.

From AP: Somewhere in there, early in the fourth quarter, James lost his familiar headband. He couldn’t remember exactly when or how.

The headband vanished because God took it. In A Song of Ice and Fire, the books the HBO show “Game of Thrones” is based on, a key character facing trial for terrible crimes is forced to walk naked to court. It’s called the penance walk. The Faith, made up of Septons, wants you to show who you truly are in that moment of judgement.

Headband gone, LeBron was brilliant to get his team back into last night’s game. Then he choked in crunch time. When he was in Cleveland, LeBron’s end-of-game chokes meant certain defeat. In Miami his teammates are good enough to ease his burden, to take and make big shots. He isn’t alone any more.

LeBron’s baldness shows us is there is a normal man in that Freak Giant’s body. He has demons and insecurity. His triumphs have been awesome to watch, but there’s been failure, too, and he feels it. He had a triple double last night, and he nearly lost the title to Tim Duncan, whose hairline and cool facial expression never change.

Remember Jordan is to Bond as LeBron is to Bourne? Add this to the list of differences between LeBron and Michael Jordan: LeBron can’t just shave his head and slit throats. He doesn’t work that way. Neither do you, I’ll bet.

On to Game 7. I expect an inter-generational all-time battle of titans, with Duncan and LeBron both falling down dead from exhaustion as the final shot is floating toward destiny.

“Man of Steel” Review, Part II: Hit the Bricks, Goyer

Spoilers and strange politics ahead. . . .

. . .

. . .

When Superman kills someone in the comics, he turns into a bad guy. Not that Joker didn't deserve it after setting off a nuke in Metropolis. (This "Injustice" storyline became an awesome video game.)

Even if the bad guy deserves it, Superman’s not supposed to kill. He becomes a bad guy after killing Joker for nuking Metropolis. (This “Injustice” storyline became an awesome video game.)

So Superman breaks the bad guy’s neck, huh?* That’s the best you could come up with? Not only was it an awkward little scene that made no sense to watch (was Zod trying to turn his spontaneous heat vision toward those people and Superman wouldn’t let him, or. . ?), the end of Superman’s battle with Zod saw him actually killing his enemy to finish a fight. That is not Superman’s way, man.

But I guess if he’s killing to save lives it’s OK?

Sigh. . . .

We were talking after “Man of Steel” about how the government approves scripts before it’ll let filmmakers use their equipment. If you want to put the army in your movie, the thinking goes, you better not make the army look bad. I thought it was strange that the government would let Superman smash a drone at the end of “Man of Steel,” and tell off a federal general for spying on him.

But Obama will pretend he doesn’t like drones. What Obama won’t say, ever, is that it was wrong of him to take out any of the many enemies he’s killed as president. “Man of Steel” was great for the U.S. government, because it demonstrated that even Superman has to end an evildoer’s life when innocents are at stake. His actions say killing is justified.

“Man of Steel” is an awesome movie because of its actors, directors, effects. . . a lot of things. But not its screenplay. And not just because it’s a sell-out; David S. Goyer wrote the script and in those rare moments when the movie relied on him, he completely whiffed.

Henry Cavill and Amy Adams had great chemistry as Superman and Lois Lane, but it was up to Goyer to write the lines they say after their big first kiss. The cheesy exchange hit with an embarrassing thud.

And it was surely a challenge figuring out how to end a fight between two invulnerable supermen. But that’s when you have to step up as a writer. Zod starts shooting heat vision from his eyes, and Superman grabs his head, and these two guys who were just exchanging huge blows above Metropolis are suddenly struggling over a slow neck turn. Superman asks Zod to stop slowly moving his eye lasers toward a family, and then he breaks Zod’s neck and screams. This resolution is a stain, and it will always be the worst thing about “Man of Steel.”

Goyer Boner No. 3: He had Michael Shannon as Zod and gave him nothing fun to do. Terence Stamp’s Zod in Superman II (in 1980) was a hoot. “So this is planet Hooston?” Shannon was great at making Zod twitchy, scary, and oddly sympathetic. But he was not funny, or any fun.

There’s already a sequel in the works, and apparently Goyer’s writing it. Bad idea. Let someone else take a crack. The only thing about “Man of Steel” that wasn’t great was the writing.

. . .

And if they’re making a trilogy, the next one — “Superman,” I’m guessing — has gotta have Lex Luthor. Then Part III is the Doomsday fight that killed Superman, since that was the biggest thing to ever happen in comics. Problem is, the Doomsday fight was so amazing because of its vast destruction of Metropolis, and how desperate Superman was to end the destruction because so many people were getting hurt all around them.

Superman’s fight with Zod in “Man of Steel,” though, has skyscrapers toppling into each other like dominoes. I guess you’ve gotta just accept that the lives you see within the actual frame of shots are the only ones that exist in this universe, because otherwise we’re watching the worst tragedy in modern American history.

And if that’s so, the epic fist fight with Doomsday doesn’t carry emotional heft, because there isn’t an entire huge city of civilians’ lives at stake.

Maybe this new Zack Snyder Superman just wants to fight, though, and doesn’t care who gets hurt.

*If you’re gonna get wet, go swimming. Superman shoulda ripped Zod’s head off.

Superman, Father’s Day, Russell Crowe as Jor-El

With the whole planet Krypton erupting and exploding around him, Russell Crowe has to reach his wife and newborn son. On the way, he must steal The Codex. This means flying, swimming, and fighting over the equivalent of miles. He has about 15 minutes.

The inaction of Krypton’s global-warming-denier leadership has culminated in a military coup, led by General Zod. Russell Crowe watches Zod and his men kill the Council (or Congress or whatever), and has to snap into action, or his family and species die forever. He flies on a dragon who will heroically save his life and then sacrifice itself during this mad sprint. He dives hundreds of yards into electric baby juice. He has a shoot-out and a thumping fist fight.

He also kisses his son, and lightly touches the baby boy’s head before blasting him into space.

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FLASHBACK: “Man of Steel” pre-production meeting. One-Armed Abbey’s, an Australian dive bar surrounded by barren outback. Zack Snyder and Russell Crowe are sitting at the bar at 3:40 a.m. It’s just them and Abbey.

“Look Russell, baby, this guy we got to play Superman is great, but he doesn’t have the chops like you. For this movie to be classic you’ve gotta be the one that brings it.”

Crowe rubs his beard. “You say Brando played this part?”

“Oh, yeah. You didn’t see it?”

Russell Crowe shrugs.

“You’re the man here, Russell. You’ve gotta-”

Snyder stops talking because Crowe has leveled his unblinking eyes at the director, channeling Maximus. Snyder feels scared, as though suddenly face-to-face with a lion. But he is also, deeper down, reassured. Safe.

“I’ve got it,” the actor growls.

Russell Crowe takes the script, scoots his stool back, stands, grabs a knife off the table, spins, and fires the knife into a dartboard on the other side of the bar. Thrang! Perfect bulls-eye. Crowe doesn’t look back as he lopes in big boots toward the exit, but he calls back over the sounds of his steps “You better make sure the Superman fights are awesome!”

“Oh, they will be!” Snyder yells as the bar door shuts behind Russell Crowe, for the last time until “Man of Steel” is a great hit. Snyder turns back toward his drink and says to no one “Smallville and Metropolis. It’s gonna be sick!”

The director motions to Abbey for another.

Henry Cavill plays Superman just right, with the bland good-guy-ness of Jesus or Harry Potter. It’s his movie, but because of the nature of the part he can’t give “Man of Steel” the knowing soul it needs to be great. He’s not really even Superman yet. He’s a man of steel. An unknown. He doesn’t even know himself.

Russell Crowe looks his age. Graying, grizzled, dignified. He looks like a badass dad. And with this classic performance he fills the crucial void in a big, important blockbuster. He helps ease the burden on Cavill, like a good dad should. Jor-El is an action hero for the film’s prologue, fighting for his family. Then he’s a recurring ghostly helper, the father-figure spirit guide. (And we know he approves of his future daughter-in-law, because he teleports around Zod’s ship opening doors for Lois Lane and helping her escape.)

This is Russell Crowe’s best part since “Gladiator.”

Dads, happy father’s day. Russell Crowe did right by you (Us!) with this one.

The movie’s come out and it’s a monster hit. Zack Snyder is on the phone in his giant office, surrounded by action figures and oversized neon movie posters. He’s yelling.

“Daniel Day! Baby! They’re offering $80 million for you to be my Lex Luthor! You should see the cyborg suit we’re making! I need you to spend time with it. This cyborg suit’s gotta be like a great friend of yours, or like an extension of your body. You play the smartest man in the world, and evil is relative! Come on, man! It’s gonna be sick!”

“Man of Steel” Preview, Part III: Everything at Stake

“Man of Steel” mustn’t suck. We are living in a moment of American history when corruption’s rot has tangibly spread across entire states, screwing up the lives of everyday innocents. Supervillains are real. They’re in Congress. If Superman isn’t awesome, that will only make it worse.

Emotional investment is key. For “Man of Steel” to be great, General Zod must feel real and terrifying. He’s gotta put up a spirited, spectacular fight. Michael Shannon as much as anyone (except, maybe. . .) is the right man to play Zod. His crazy, crooked cop in “Premium Rush” is a classic*. For just this scene in “Revolutionary Road” (this is such a good scene), he earned an Oscar nomination:

Flip Side editor’s note: This is the thrilling final chapter in an epic “Man of Steel” Preview Trilogy. In Part I, we fretted the director selection and costume (Click here). In Part II, we handed Hollywood the blueprint for a “Justice League” movie that will make more money than all the Harry Potter and Star Wars flicks combined (Click here).

The first scene of that movie, incidentally, is Joker giggling and murdering his way through a maximum-security underground government/Green Lantern Corps prison (with help from Deathstroke, whom he’ll quickly double cross) to free a shackled, locked-down Doomsday.

Count this somewhere among the Top 10 greatest things about the Netflix TV show “House of Cards”: It reminded us how good Kevin Spacey is. Spacey had been, for a while, the best. “Usual Suspects” and “American Beauty” Oscars. Hypnotic in “A Time To Kill,” “L.A. Confidential” and, especially, “Seven.” (Not “Se7en.” How did that happen?)

Since those high times? “Superman Returns” in 2006. No one cared if another Lex Luthor raised an ugly continent, or whatever the f*ck. We just wanted them all to shut up. And Spacey was such a predictable choice as Lex Luthor. You know who would have been way better? Duh.**

Anyway, Spacey turned to TV to finally douse the permastink from a lousy Superman movie.

Watch out, Michael Shannon. You might get the stink on you too. Spacey’s “American Beauty” and Shannon’s “Take Shelter” feel kind of similar—they’re both entertaining, emotional movies about normal guys, and they both address relatable issues simultaneously personal and grand. (“American Beauty” and the meaning of freedom; “Take Shelter” and fear of disaster.)

Zack Snyder will take something wonderful and twist it into garbage. Again, see “Watchmen.” No don’t. So the pressure is on Shannon. “Man of Steel” might very well need saving from a runaway maniac of a movie director. A transcendent bad-guy performance can work like ultimate medicine.

Oh, and what’d Kevin Spacey play in “House of Cards” to reestablish his cred? An evil, corrupt politician. Check out Kelsey Grammar as an insane, murderous Chicago mayor on “Boss.” What about “Scandal”? I didn’t watch it, but isn’t the president an alcoholic sex freak? TV is getting its villains exactly right lately.

Read the news, or just look around. Superman fights for truth, justice, and the American way, right? Except truth and justice aren’t the American way anymore. You or I can’t do anything about that, but maybe a superhero could. We need the Man of Steel.

At the very least, we need “Man of Steel” to not suck.

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* This can’t be stressed strongly enough: “Premium Rush” is the best movie a person in the mood for something fast and fun could rent. Daredevil bike messenger (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) vs. corrupt cop (Shannon), on the streets of Manhattan. It’s a great, great time.

**

Lewis

“Man of Steel” Preview, Part I: Zack Snyder Makes Great Things Bad

Zack Snyder doesn’t care that staying classic can be gangster. This is how Superman looks in comic books:

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Nice. And this is how he looks in cartoons:

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It’s clean. Powerful. Primary colors in just the right proportion.

Snyder doesn’t care because he’s crazy, and imbued with Hollywood power.* He directed “Watchmen,” a movie version of the transcendent graphic novel. If you think Superman’s cool, “Watchmen” is one of the best books of modern times, according to Time magazine and anyone who ever read it.

The Alexander-worshiping Ozymandias, “The smartest man on the planet,” looked like this:

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Then Zack Snyder made a movie version and decided Ozymandias should look like this:

ozymandias

Did you throw up a little? How awful is that? It’s not even close. Maybe stuff like the pervy, overdone costumes are why legendary “Watchmen” comic writer Alan Moore doesn’t hold back trashing Snyder’s work, and says he won’t ever watch the “Watchmen” movie because it shouldn’t have been made in the first place.

That “Watchmen” movie, in hindsight, is awful for a lot of reasons, including over-the-top slow-motion gore inserted by Snyder because, uh…, that’s what he’s good at? It would be a pop-cultural tragedy, but fans of the book love it so much they just forget the movie or outright refuse to acknowledge its existence.

And now he’s made “Man of Steel,” another revered comic-book commodity, and this is what his Superman’s costume looks like:

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That snake skin or something? And what’s with the love handle decorations? Nice random belly-button orb! Does it do something?

The costume looks expensive, and unlike the tried-and-true vintage Superman style that’s endured since the 1930s. This is what Zack Snyder did with “Watchmen”: He prioritized costume updates. He took something great and changed it to suit his cracked-out-fanboy tastes, even though what he likes contradicts the basic ethos of the source material. I’m still mad his Watchmen heroes could fly and punch through walls.

So this “Man of Steel” movie could be a spectacular disaster. We don’t know what’s gonna happen in the story, but Snyder’s last movie, “Sucker Punch,” was a preteen gamer’s wet dream, minus the coherence. It was also loathed by critics (23 percent Tomatometer), including Richard Roeper: “An indecipherable, hypocritical mess that proves you can fill a movie with scantily-clad women with big guns and it can still bore one to tears.”

I blogged about it before. (Watching “Watchmen,” “300,” and “Sucker Punch” While Waiting for Superman.) This picture sums up “Sucker Punch” just fine:

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If Zack Snyder’s using Superman to create another of his dumb, crazy action movies, so be it. Be prepared, though, for another bad Superman movie to sting more than you expect.

All that said, there is reason for hope….

Superman wrote these words on his tombstone in the Limbo world between life and death in "Final Crisis"

Superman wrote these words on his tombstone in the Limbo world between life and death in “Final Crisis”

* The thudding failure of “After Earth” has people asking, What happened to M. Night Shyamalan? It’s the same thing that happened to Snyder. Early blockbuster success (“The Sixth Sense” for Night, “300” for Synder), gives a director some Hollywood power. If that director has loopy and wrong ideas about what’s good, the power gets misused and proves dangerous.

Potential Game 7 Holy War Alert, Part I: Tim Duncan

If the Spurs-Heat NBA Finals series can get to Game 7, it will be a Holy War loaded with meaning. It will be the historic stamp forever marking the summer of 2013. It will be a battle in which opposing titans fall down dead together as the final shot soars toward destiny. Aliens in other solar systems are tuning in to a LeBron-Duncan Game 7.

There was a famous national-TV game in 2007, where the angry and terrible NBA referee Joey Crawford made some bad calls on the Spurs. Tim Duncan was sitting on the bench at the time. Duncan said nothing, just started laughing, and Crawford ejected him. As he was walking to the locker room in disbelief, Duncan talked to the sideline reporter. “I said ‘Honestly, Tim, did you say anything?,'” she reported. “‘No,’ he adamantly said, and he had some choice language for Joey Crawford as he left the floor, guys.”

I bring this up so we can see a picture that was taken much later, apparently at a Halloween party. This picture helps demonstrate why Tim Duncan is awesome. He’s a subversive sort, with a slick sense of humor:

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That’s Spurs point guard Tony Parker with the eye patch.

In an era of players leaving college early to be drafted into pro hoops, Duncan kept putting off being the No. 1 overall pick to stay four years at Wake Forest studying psychology and Chinese literature. He has a nerd’s nasally voice, is a huge fan of the movie “The Crow,” collects swords and knives, and enjoys playing Dungeons & Dragons. When the Spurs were awarded their championship rings in 2006, Duncan paid teammate Brent Barry $100 to kiss NBA commissioner David Stern on the cheek.

When Duncan was drafted by the San Antonio Spurs it was a perfect match of player and place—a goofy, laid-back dude going to a laid-back city. This goofy, laid-back dude is also, incredibly, “the greatest player of his generation,” Bill Simmons said in a video tribute two weeks ago, “greater than Kobe, greater than Garnett, greater than Shaq, greater than anyone.”

His resume includes two regular-season MVP awards, three NBA Finals MVPs, and four championships. His per-game stats, as noted by Free Darko, match up closely to the first eight numbers (excluding 0) of the elegant Fibonacci Sequence, where each number is the sum of the two before it.

50% (field goals), 1 (steal), 2 (blocks), 3 (assists), 5 (free throws made per game), 8 (field goals made per game), 12 (rebounds), 21 (points).

The consistency, therefore, is mathematical. Duncan’s game is tuned with nature. He’s amazing.

He’s 37. Duncan’s won four championships, but the last was in 2007. His career is almost over, yet here he is again in the Finals. By all informed accounts he is rabidly competitive, so with his career winding down this fifth ring would be enormously significant. You can be certain he wants it badly.

Duncan is the best player of his generation, the generation that came before LeBron James’s. He cannot want to step aside yet. This NBA Finals is an inter-generational collision of meteoric legacies. It’s about the past and the future, drama that has built over years culminating in a matchup with historical significance. This NBA finals is awesome.

Sweet Lord I hope it goes to Game 7.

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(The only thing that might be better is if Kobe was in the Finals against LeBron and that went to Game 7, because Kobe would actually play it up. Lakers management denied us that chance, though, when it decided to hire the worst coach in basketball instead of the best. See previous post, Zenmaster’s Revenge.)

“Star Trek Into Darkness” Review, Part III

This is the third chapter in the epic “Star Trek Into Darkness” Review Trilogy. In Part I, we revisited a very young me matching wits against Capt. Picard’s greatest nemesis, Q, (click here). In Part II, we discussed Kirk’s flagrant violation of the Prime Directive to save Spock (click here).

Now, a question: What is the Darkness?

“Star Trek Into Darkness” is a cool title. That might be all there is to this.

Then again, J.J. Abrams “Star Trek” movies take place in a universe alternate from the classic, mostly wholesome adventures of Kirk and Spock in those fuzzy old TV shows and movies. In Abrams’s Star Trek universe, a crazy Romulan played by Eric Bana came back in time and destroyed the entire planet Vulcan, where the Federation began. (Recall from the Next Generation film “First Contact” that it was Vulcans who reached out to Earth once we developed a warp drive. That changed everything. Blowing up that planet is a major deal.)

News flash: Powerful authority does not respond well to huge attacks by crazy guys obsessed with killing and revenge.

In “Into Darkness,” the Federation has awakened Khan earlier than in the classic’s universe, so he can assist in militarization. Remember Scotty begging Kirk not to bring the torpedoes onto the Enterprise? He tells Kirk it sounds like they’re undertaking a military operation, and that’s not what they do. “We’re explorers,” Scotty says.

Dick Cheney quite famously said after 9/11 “We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will.”

“the dark side.” To fight back.

“Why would a Starfleet admiral ask a 300-year-old frozen man for help?” Kirk asks Khan, upon learning the truth.

“Because I am better.”

“At what?” Kirk says.

“Everything. Alexander Marcus needed to respond to an uncivilized threat in a civilized time, and for that he needed a warrior’s mind — my mind — to design weapons and warships.”

Spock: “You are suggesting the Admiral violated every regulation he vowed to uphold, simply because he wanted to exploit your intellect…”

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“He wanted to exploit my savagery!” Khan exclaims. “Intellect alone is useless in a fight, Mr. Spock. You, you can’t even break a rule – how can you be expected to break bone? Marcus used me to design weapons. I helped him realize his vision of a militarized Starfleet. He sent you to use those weapons, to fire my torpedoes on an unsuspecting planet, and then he purposely crippled your ship in enemy space, leading to one inevitable outcome: the Klingons would come searching for whoever was responsible, and you would have no chance of escape. Marcus would finally have the war he talked about, the war he always wanted.”

How about that? The government wants war. And it will hunt through the darkness to get it.

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