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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Glourious -- This started off as just a link, but I discovered, hell, I have something to say.

The link: Jog takes along, nuanced and well-written look at Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds.

Now, I don't agree with Jog's overall assessment of the film, finding it much more successful than he does at what it wants to do, but there's no denying he explains his reasons for seeing the film as he does very well indeed, and that's why I'm linking to it. You should see the movie, then read his review. I went Friday night, because I have had enough of a blast at every Tarantino film I've ever seen that I need to see him on opening night.

I'd need to see Inglourious Basterds again at least once (and I will) in order to really coagulate my feelings about it in any sort of detail; but I think I'm with Roger Ebert on this one. Tarantino's brass balls never clanged louder for me than while I was watching this movie, and I thought he'd already hit that peak with Death Proof, which I realize some people disliked but I thought was a brilliant summation of QT's love of moviemaking.

Inglourious Basterds is far ballsier, and its most amazing scenes -- the opening life-or-death poker game between a French dairy farmer and a Jew-hunting Nazi, or the face in the smoke, or, Jesus, that David Bowie scene, holy shit! -- they're all better than anything Tarantino has ever committed to film before, and who the hell thought that was still possible after Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown?

So, I respect Jog's views and I enjoyed reading his thoughts (always do), but I absorbed Inglourious Basterds more the way Ebert did, like a force of nature. If a tornado lifts you up into the air, you don't argue with it about gravity, man, you just go along for the ride. That's what I did Friday night, another unforgettable night at the movies courtesy of Quentin Tarantino, who has given me more than any other director in my lifetime.

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Monday, March 09, 2009

Who Botches The Watchmen? -- Anyone who's stopped in here a time or two knows I love and respect Roger Ebert's writing a great deal, so I find myself in the somewhat unusual position of siding with comics critics like Tom Spurgeon and Tim O'Neil in not really much liking the film adaptation of Watchmen, while Ebert loved the film so much he has already written about it twice, once in a formal review and again in his more personal online journal.

Watchmen is a graphic novel I hold in pretty high regard, despite the oft-mentioned weakness of its ending, somewhat analogous to the ultimate revelation of Orson Welles's Citizen Kane: both works are so entertaining, engrossing and (most importantly) formally ambitious that they represented paradigm shifts for their respective artforms, film for the better, comics usually for the worse. When I interviewed Alan Moore a few years ago for an NPR-affiliated Public Radio station, he mentioned that he felt somewhat responsible for the dire turn superhero comics made in the wake of Watchmen. To be certain, that phenomenon is not Moore's responsibility, no matter how much he regrets the end result of the book's influence. Director Zack Snyder, like all the awful superhero comics writers that have aped Moore's superhero masterwork, sees the surface but barely comprehends the underlying complexity. More urgently, Watchmen's imitators in comics can create all the dark, grim, moody, crappy murder mysteries they want -- from Meltzer to Straczynski, from Johns to Bendis, none of the superhero writers who've tried to tap that vein have ever demonstrated even a tenth as much understanding of the medium of comics as Moore possesses, or a hundredth of his imagination.

Snyder's film is virtually all about grabbing the facile elements of the book and pretending to be much better than it ultimately is, kind of like an eight year old dressing up in Dad's clothes. They don't fit well and the kid can't figure out how to tie a tie, but at least the shirt's on top and the pants aren't backwards.

Which is to say, as I did on Twitter immediately after seeing the film, "Sort of like a live action trailer for the book. OK, but doesn't capture the beauty of Moore and Gibbons's collaboration." Many moments were fun to see up on the screen, like Rorschach and his end-is-nigh sign, or Rorschach eating Dan's beans, or Rorschach...well, you get my point. I did think the actor playing Dan did a great job of conveying the innate schlubbiness of the character, but the choice of going supercool-Matrixy with the costumes instead of staying true to the material cuts the guts out of one of the main themes of the story, that putting on a costume doesn't changes your essential nature, as much as you might want it to. Just as, I guess, getting the job of turning Watchmen the graphic novel into Watchmen the motion picture into a movie doesn't mean you'll necessarily get it right, as much as you and a million nerds might want you to.

Someone said that the movie is probably the best adaptation that could have been made from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons's work, and that might actually be true. But the point only serves to highlight the stone-cold fact that, as a movie, Watchmen is most of all irrelevant. The book represents a high-water mark for creative ambition in its native medium, an achievement unlikely to ever be matched or exceeded, especially in the superhero genre. The movie represents two hours I spent one Saturday in a theater, and nothing more. If Snyder wanted to translate a few cool scenes from the comic book onto the big screen, well, he did that. If he wanted to demonstrate why people still read, analyze and adore the comic book 25 years after its debut, he could not have failed more completely.

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Thursday, March 05, 2009

Huge Star Trek Movie Spoilers -- Readers of IDW's Countdown series already know what I consider the biggest spoiler, but a new synopsis of the movie's novelization spells it out in black and white as well. DO NOT CLICK THE LINK IF YOU DON'T WANT A MAJOR PLOT POINT SPOILED.

I'm usually fine with spoilers -- I read the entire script of the sixth Trek movie -- a murder mystery, no less! -- and still loved seeing the film when it came out in theaters, and still love it to this day (despite a couple of major mistakes in the script that sadly made it to the screen*).

This one, though -- maybe it's the old, old Trekker in me speaking, but I wish I didn't know the villain Nero's motivation going in. It's so huge for the Trek universe, and so enmeshed in the post-Nemesis world in such a delicious way, that I really do wish it was going to be a surprise when the film plays out before me for the first time in May.

All that said, if you're really, really okay with spoilers, click on over and have at it. If this isn't a genuinely exciting movie and a real revival of all things Star Trek, I am going to be very surprised and hugely disappointed. So far, everything looks right to me -- even the comic book prequel I didn't think I'd care about at all is pretty much essential -- and I can't wait for May to get here.

* Scotty would not have called the Klingon Chancellor's daughter a "bitch," and the character Valeris's origin as Saavik remained painfully obvious in at least two sequences.

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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Roger Ebert: How to Read a Movie -- Here's Ebert with the best piece on visual storytelling techniques you'll read today, many of them applicable to the composition of comics panels and pages.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

The Anemic Monday Briefing -- I got nothin', I'm telling ya. Go read Spurgeon's excellent Blake Bell interview, which pretty much answers all the questions I had about Bell's excellent book about Steve Ditko, Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko, which I reviewed recently and can't recommend enough.

Sorry to hear the new X-Files movie apparently was a huge flop over the weekend. I liked it a lot, and recommend you see it if you like the series, but I guess in the summer of Dark Knight and Iron Man, it's no surprise that an excellent, character-based suspense movie like X-Files: I Want to Believe doesn't blow away the competition.

Makes it seem even more unlikely that we'll ever see the continuation -- or conclusion -- of the alien invasion mythology that was woven throughout the entirety of the series. Well, maybe they can do it in comics form, like Buffy Season Eight. Which, if it was as good as that series, I would have few complaints.

Oh, one other thing to mention -- James Howard Kunstler writes about driving up Route 4 in New York's Capital District. This decrepit stretch of lost American highway is almost literally in my backyard, and I travel it a few times a year. Kunstler's description is evocative and dead-on.

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Saturday, July 26, 2008

X-Files: I Want to Believe -- Extremely short version: I missed the hell out of Mulder and Scully since the end of the season where Duchovny left full-time duty on the series. It was great to have them back, and the story is top-notch, creepy-as-hell X-Files storytelling, as good as Tooms, for example, to compare it to an episode with a similar vibe.

For sheer viewer immersion, I enjoyed it more than The Dark Knight, although obviously it lacks a knock-out performance of Heath Ledger proportions.

It does, however, have one extremely gratifying cameo, probably two-thirds of the way through it, that just made me grin from ear to ear and electrified every scene this character was in for the rest of the film.

The story itself is hella grotesque, with one seriously hideous special effect that is only on-screen for a second, but it was enough to make my stomach lurch, just a bit.

Oh, and it has Leoben from Battlestar Galactica. Come on, you know you wanna see it.

I want to believe you do, anyway. And I'm glad I did.

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Hello, America.The Dark Nihilist -- The new Batman movie The Dark Knight works on a number of levels -- as a superhero movie, it makes almost all that came before, from Superman to X-Men and everything else, including its own predecessor, Batman Begins, seem hopelessly juvenile. As filmed adventure/fantasy fiction, it is as compelling and ambitious as some of the better superhero(y) movies of the past few decades, including The Matrix and Dark City.

Unlike most cape-based films, it works as a movie, with an epic scope and fantastic sequences firmly, even boldly grounded by its attention to character and genuinely first-rate acting by Morgan Freeman, Christian Bale, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Aaron Eckhart and especially, the very heart of the movie, Heath Ledger as the first, full-on believable Joker, a thing never before seen on film, and rarely seen in the comics. You want to spend time with this Joker the way you wanted to spend time with Hannibal in The Silence of the Lambs or Dexter on Dexter, or Vic Mackey on The Shield. They're mad, they're murderous, they're the life of the party with lampshade-on-head and razor blade in hand.

And because of Ledger's fully-committed, fearless willingness to explore the both the depths of nihilism and the heights of anarchy, the movie works as a nuanced and powerful commentary on the state of our world right now. Make no mistake about it, Ledger's Joker is both living terror and living terrorism, the manic, horrific spirit of the 9/11 bombers skull-fucking Hannibal Lecter in hell after their 72 virgins failed to show up as expected. The Dark Knight's Joker may very well have infected Ledger's soul and driven him to an early end; as "The War on Terror" has shown America the gaping hole at the center of its vapid, self-destructive militaristic-consumerist ideals, so too does Ledger's cheap, terrible and unknowable clown drive his enemies -- Batman and all of Gotham's would-be knights, from Jim Gordon and the tragic Harvey Dent to the very everyman on the street (in a marvelously constructed sequence involving game theory set on two boats, one filled with "good people," the other filled with hardcore criminals) to the very edge of their own personal ethics and beyond. "Any Gotham resident who sacrifices freedom for personal safety," it might be said "deserves The Joker."

Yes, more than anything, The Dark Knight speaks directly, violently to our post-9/11 world of paranoia and sacrificed liberties. Morgan Freeman's Lucius Fox is every compromised American as he lets Bruce Wayne convince him to invade the privacy of literally every citizen in Gotham in his fevered zeal to bring down his enemy. Sure, Bruce Wayne means well when he abuses and misuses the technology at his disposal to battle the terror that is waging war against him; the Bush administration claims it means well, too, when it engages in illegal wiretaps and surveillance of a compliant and complicit populace. Batman means well when he tortures The Joker for information; he's trying to save the love of his life, freedom and the safety of us all. See also Jack Bauer. See also, America. What's left of it.

Heath Ledger goes dark like Chris Carter's Millennium or Trent Reznor's The Downward Spiral went dark. Down deep, shuffling and giggling and picking scabs and demanding all in his quest for nothing, for nihilism, for lost hope and bad jokes and shaggy dog stories by way of Dog Day Afternoon; call it Shaggy Dog Day Afternoon and there you have The Dark Knight. Watch it and you'll see what I mean.

The movie is about heroism like Bush's war is about righteousness; the fact is, both are about arrogance and mindless violence pretending to be about greed and torture and terror. Ultimately The Dark Knight is only about the black, empty hole inside Heath Ledger's Joker like The War on Terror is only about the black, empty hole inside George W. Bush and his fellow war criminals. And that is why the movie, and the war, fail on an epic level.

Both are filled with murder and mayhem and good guys and bad guys and supposed good guys who act bad and very, very bad guys who suppose they are good. The failure of Bush's war is obvious and needs no explanation; it has literally destroyed the US and Iraq and thus is a perfect storm of nihilism disguised as imperialistic idealism. The movie's failure is less distinct and comes, actually, very late in the proceedings. At the exact moment Batman leaves The Joker hanging instead of cutting his throat and letting him die, the movie betrays itself and its own dedication to exploring the darkest holes we all contain. The Silence of the Lambs was an artistic success because Hannibal not only got away at the end, but got away and obviously was going to eat his own nemesis, Dr. Chilton, for dinner. Think back to the glee you took as the camera pulled back to show Chilton being followed into a crowd by Hannibal, breezy and as determined as a lion stalking his prey, his bloody, frenzied victory never in doubt.

No wonder Ledger couldn't live with what he had created; obviously neither could Warner Bros., Christopher Nolan or the people who go to see this movie. The truth of it is too much to live with, and so Batman lets the Joker live and it all falls apart. It's a marvelous, invigorating ride to the very end, but in failing to succumb to the fact that all we've seen leads only to one, dead-end conclusion and yet does not, the movie ultimately falls flat and fails to embrace its own themes and fails to answer truthfully the questions it asks. The prisoners on one boat and the innocent on the other prove the value of humanity in their final choices, and the end of The Dark Knight by all rights and very obviously should have proved and justified the death wish of Ledger's Joker by allowing Batman to take his revenge and murder the clown; it would have been fitting revenge for the death of Rachel Dawes; it would have guaranteed a safer Gotham City; it would have shown Batman his true face and his true purpose. The Joker would have found it the funniest joke of all, but because Nolan and Batman fuck up the punchline, The Dark Knight fails to be the pinnacle of art being true to itself and its own inner logic.

It's a wild and imminently watchable ride. I just wish it had the courage of its convictions.

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Spurgeon and Butcher on TCAF and More -- Two of my favourite writers about comics join forces to promote this coming weekend's Toronto Comic Art Festival (which I am beyond bummed out about not being able to attend, damn it) and talk about lots of other stuff, including The Greatest Comic Shop in the World, The Beguiling, as well as Butcher's dead-brilliant solution to the sexism and misogyny rampant in corporate comics today.

Tom Spurgeon Interviews Christopher Butcher.

This is one of the best interviews I've read all year, and I hope you've already clicked over and aren't even reading my babbling anymore. But if you are, I'll just finish by saying I wish to hell I had known Butcher needed a Zuda San Diego party invite, because for some strange reason I had one and had zero use for it. I would have overnighted it to him, I swear to God. It's the least I could have done to repay him for the hospitality and kindness he showed me when I visited Toronto back in 2005.

If there's any way at all you can get to TCAF this weekend, I urge you to do so. It's everything about a comic book festival done right, by people who actually have good ideas about how the industry and artform need to be stewarded. Have a blast, everybody.

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Monday, August 07, 2006

The Descent -- I came to this movie very late, but if you haven't seen it and you like scary movies, The Descent is the best one I've seen in many years. Here's Ebert's spoiler-free review. Pay careful attention to what he says about not letting ANYONE tell you ANYTHING about the movie, other than to see it. Re-read his review once you have, because he cannily includes points you won't even notice until you see the movie.

We watched it last night, and I was amazed to find a horror film in 2006 could contain new ideas, new shocks and genuine horror. Download it, add it to your Netflix queue, steal an old lady's matinee ticket on your lunch break -- but if you haven't seen it, see it.


Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Brokeback vs. Crash -- DVDFile's Mike Restaino eloquently explains why it's so ridiculous that Brokeback Mountain was denied a Best Picture Oscar.

And speaking of Crash, I watched the first half or so of the David Cronenberg film of the same name this past weekend, and was once again unable to finish it, despite my love of James Spader. Anyone wondering if any art is just too twisted for me should have a look at Cronenberg's Crash. If they can take it. I find I can't...

Not that the movie shouldn't exist, or that others can't enjoy it, it's just interesting to me to find out what my own limits are. Crash presents a pretty good example to me of where I really prefer not to go with the art I consume. It's just too goddamned disturbing.

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Monday, August 15, 2005

Monday, Briefly -- Thanks to everyone who bought an item or items in the Mid-Summer Fundraising Sale. My wife and I packed and addressed dozens of packagaes yesterday, and this week we'll be shipping stuff out. Thanks also to everyone who linked to the sale, it's much appreciated.

I'm frankly in awe of the quality of today's update on Comic Book Galaxy proper. Two powerful and well-reasoned opinion columns (both of which incorporate reviews and/or previews) and a terrific review of a landmark comics work. Make sure you click over and spend part of your day with the Galaxy gang, they're doing good work.

I'm also thrilled with the job Chris Hunter has been doing since he accepted the Editor-in-Chief position here at the Galaxy. He's doing fantastic work, and I'm grateful to have the site in such talented hands. Thanks, Chris.

Didn't get a lot of comics reading done over the weekend -- Saturday was spent with the family in Albany, at Earthworld Comics, at the New York State Museum, and finally at the Spectrum Theater to see a great documentary called March of the Penguins. Between the stunning bottom-of-the-world footage and the sardonic narration of Morgan Freeman, you really can't go wrong. But the real appeal of the movie lies in the dramatic story of the penguins themselves. When you see the genuine drama that their mating cycle entails -- for example, standing up in the same place for four months without eating in order to protect an egg at 50 to 100 degrees below zero in brutal wind and snowstorms -- well, come on. Those little birds are tough. Seriously, it's 80 wonderful minutes of film. if it's playing anywhere near you, check it out.

I did manage to read some comics yesterday, though -- some of The Complete Crumb Comics Volume 17, which has some of my favourite Crumb stories in it, as well as stuff I'd never read before -- and I even talked my wife into reading John Porcellino's forthcoming Perfect Example, which she liked, especially John P.'s story of the pain of a high school crush.

If I know what comics women would like to read, why doesn't the comics industry?

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Sunday, July 24, 2005


Point Blank -- I finally was able to pick up the Point Blank DVD re-release yesterday, after weeks of hunting it down and finally having to special order it from the local mall DVD store. It was certainly worth the wait.

Although obviously not tied directly into comics in any way, I have a hard time believing knowledegable readers won't be blown away by this film: Point Blank visually and from a storytelling perspective is simpatico with the work some of the most accomplished creators I can think of, including Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (this movie is about as close to Sleeper as you can get, at least until the story of Holden Carver is actually filmed), Darwyn Cooke and Gil Kane.

First and foremost, the movie's look, feel and especially the animal naturalism of Lee Marvin in the role of Walker was a direct inspiration for Kane's landmark His Name is...Savage; some of the night driving scenes, so marvelous with their shadows and neon signage, reflect the pop noir sensibilities of Cooke and his stylistic brethren. The use of vertical angles as a visual motif reminds me of Frank Miller's Daredevil heyday, and the love affair that director John Boorman's camera has with the architecture and settings throughout the film can clearly be seen in later works by directors as diverse as Quentin Tarantino and Jim Cameron. Los Angeles becomes a character under Boorman's skilled stewardship, here closing in on Marvin and his enemies with the stark diagonal planes of the LA river basin storm drains, there opening up the world as Marvin stalks the Hollywood hills with the city laid out beyond him in magnigficent, eye-popping clarity.

The story is one of passion, treachery, and revenge; the mechanics of the story are implicit not only in the spare, at times near-impressionistic dialogue, but in the stunning visuals Boorman's camera utilizes. From the acid-trip grooviness of the backstage nightclub battle, with the action reflected and commented on by the models' faces cast huge on a projected screen, to the splashes of psychedelic colour on Marvin's face at the conclusion of the scene, colour, lighting and angles are counted on to carry so much of this story -- and they bear the burden well.

I don't know if Patrick McGoohan was thinking of this film when he created The Prisoner, but fans of that series will also see echoes on the screen, in the way each scene is colour-coded across the board. On the commentary track, Boorman talks at length about his theories of colour in relation to the film, and it's a lesson with strong practical applications for anyone working with colour, in movies, comics, or any artform.

Point Blank is a movie I know I will be returning to again and again, to relish Marvin's primal scenery-chewing presence, and to bask in the glow of Boorman's vivid colour choices, so wonderfully recaptured on this DVD. If you want to tell stories, or if you just enjoy them being told to you well and with a challenging wit and intelligence, Point Blank is absolutely indispensible viewing.


Sunday, July 10, 2005

Sunday Afternoon DVD Stuff -- Just back from the local mall, where I special ordered the re-release on DVD of the Lee Marvin clasic Point Blank, which I have never seen. Enough people I trust tell me it's good that I plunked down the deposit for the special order with no reservations at all. It should come in this coming Friday, so, keep your fingers crossed for me.

I actually spent much of the day yesterday looking for this DVD, which was released last Tuesday, but came up empty in three different stores in Saratoga Springs. I guess there's not enough smart film lovers in either Saratoga or here in the Glens Falls area for any store to order a copy -- Jesus, that is a depressing thought. I might have been able to find a copy in Albany, but I didn't feel like driving all the way down there, and I couldn't justify it with a coincidental trip to the comics shop, since nothing of consequence came out this week that would make it worth all the hassle.

I did, yesterday, though, buy two other DVDs, since I was really craving some good-movie satisfaction after studying Roger Ebert's The Great Movies over the past few nights at bedtime. I picked up Dark City (which I had never seen) for 8 bucks at Borders. Between the excellence of the movie and the full-length Roger Ebert commentary track, 8 bucks for that disc is about the biggest bargain in DVDs that I can think of. I also, in the same store, picked up Night of the Hunter with Robert Mitchum. I liked it for many of the same reasons Ebert does, namely the sense of dread, the oddness of the child actors and the fabulously skeevy Mitchum performance. But I was surprised and a bit disappointed in the third act's overtly religious tone and sudden removal of Mitchum as anything other than a bit player. The transference of father-figure status in the mind of the boy as Mitchum is taken into custody also fell flat for me -- I get what director Charles Laughton was going for, and maybe it even could have worked with the right set-up, dialogue and direction, but as it is I'm kind of wishing I'd just rented Hunter, although I am happy with my purchase of Dark City and can see myself watching that one again and again.

Amazing, too, how much of Dark City you can see in works that came after, including The Matrix and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Also interesting to me was how much Mitchum's character in Hunter was probably an influence on the evil misogynist preacher serial killer in the final season of Buffy.


Friday, July 08, 2005

Last-Minute Weekend Shocker! -- Well, I can't really say I am surprised, but Roger Ebert's Fantastic Four review has changed my plans for tonight, at least. I trust Ebert implicitly -- more than any other movie critic, I find he is able to accurately convey to me the feel and form of a film -- and his fairly definitive condemnation of this latest Marvel superhero movie has me thinking if my kids ever see it, it'll be on DVD. If the studio sends me a review copy. Maybe. Parenthetically, why they even bothered to continue after seeing The Incredibles is a genuine mystery to me. At the very least, they should have reevaluated the script and tried to get a little of the superior film's energy, wit and imagination into FF. Stupid Hollywood make Hulk's head hurt. Bah.

So, in other news, lots of good stuff going on over at the main site today, including new editions of BREAKDOWNS and LAST CALL from Chris Allen and Johnny Bacardi, respectively, and also a Jef Harmatz review of James Kochalka's THE CUTE MANIFESTO, which Alternative Comics head honcho Jeff Mason told me earlier this week should be shipping within the next couple of weeks. It's worth your time and money simply for the inclusion of REINVENTING EVETRYTHING, in my opinion, but there's a ton of other fun stuff in there as well, making the book probably the second most essential Kochalka volume after the monster-sized AMERICAN ELF collection.

In strange neighbourhood news, my wife said she noticed a former co-worker of hers sitting extremely upset on the curb at an accident scene within walking distance of our house yesterday afternoon. Checking the morning paper, it seems this woman was driving a UPS truck that got slammed into by a motorcycle allegedly speeding down these quiet city side-streets, and the operator of the motorcycle lost his arm when he slammed into the back of the UPS truck. Jesus. Even knowing I wasn't at fault, as this woman apparently wasn't, that would still be pretty traumatic. And it makes me realize how lucky I was to get away from my own car accident a few months ago with only a stiff neck and back pain...

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Friday, November 08, 2002

What's Good For Spider-Man? -- You see a lot of Spider-Man DVDs these days. Displays in seemingly every store push hundreds and hundreds of copies of the webhead's film debut at you. Buy. Me. Now!!

Is it good for consumers? Well, it makes a desired film easy to find.

Is it good for comics? I don't see how it can't be, considering how much more intertwined with the industry this movie is than any previous comics film. I wish Ghost World had had as much information related to Dan Clowes and Eightball as the Spider-Man DVD has stuff about John Romita, Stan Lee and the other people who contributed to the book over the decades. It's impossible to view the DVD without having an acute awareness that this is a character with a rich history, and hey, in case you want to see more, there's a coupon for three free issues right in the DVD case.

My six-year-old son recognized Spider-Man on sight before we took him to the movie, but he didn't really care about him one way or the other. Since the film, the character has captured his imagination and I've never seen him so interested in devouring everything he can about a fictional character. Action figures, t-shirts, comics, hats, snow boots, all are plastered with Spider-Man, and he loves it. As a comics reader with a full 30 years invested in reading and enjoying comics, it's extremely gratifying to see him take such delight in Spider-Man. I don't care too much for any of the current comics series, but you know, when I was my son's age, I did. Today I think From Hell, Ghost World, Forlorn Funnies and other great comics show the vast potential for a medium that I fell into partly because of -- Spider-Man (and thanks, Gerry Conway and Ross Andru -- they were there when I discovered the book and you know how that is). So maybe 30 years from now my son will have similarly matured and refined tastes. Maybe he'll move on to something else. Who cares? Right now he's deliriously happy with something that won't hurt him, and that's good for him.

Is it good for Spider-Man? I don't really know what that means. Marvel's characters have lagged behind DC's for decades in terms of becoming genuine cultural icons. To the vast, uncaring public whose known for decades that Clark Kent was Superman and Bruce Wayne was Batman, 15 years ago only real fans knew who Peter Parker was. Now everyone knows.

The Spider-Man movie has pushed the character over the edge into full-fledged cultural icon status.

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Friday, October 11, 2002

Indie Press Titles On the Silver Screen -- This is an article that first appeared at the site Independent Publisher.

"A Conversation with Alan David Doane of Comic Book Galaxy and Chris Staros of Top Shelf -- Comic Book Movies Score Hits and Misses."

Comics have long played a part in movie making, the obvious examples being Superman and Batman. But do the films really capture the essence of the authors' and artists' original creations?

A breakthrough occurred in 1994 when the movie version of The Crow seemed to bring the comic's dark mood and look to the screen, and this spring's Spider-Man wowed audiences with high-tech special effects. But what about the "alternative" comics being published by independent presses, many of which deal with real people, true crime, or teen angst.

Over the past year film adaptations of indie comic and graphic novels have been made: From Hell, Dangerous Lives of Alter Boys, Ghost World, and Road to Perdition.

"We've seen pretty definitively that movies based on comics lack the depth and gravity of the comics they're based on," says Alan David Doane, Editor-in-Chief at Comic Book Galaxy. "For example, while From Hell is probably the best, most complex, challenging and progressive work ever created in comics, it became on film a mildly interesting horror story, despite an obvious desire on the part of the filmmakers to create a serious, high-quality film."

Doane feels that lighter weight material like Spider-Man and X-Men seems to fare better, translating their simplistic good vs. evil themes into compelling, if forgettable, popcorn movies.

"Ghost World is probably the best film I've seen made from a comic book, and the key thing there was that Dan Clowes was intimately involved with the movie's production. I think the more the creator is involved the better the chance that the resulting movie will be a work of enduring excellence. No one is going to remember Batman Forever in ten years -- hell, no one WANTS to remember it now -- but Ghost World (the 2001 movie was directed by Terry Zwigoff and starred Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson) is an excellent translation of a comics story that will be well-regarded for decades."

Comics have always been cultural and social barometers, often expressing views and opinions "not ready for prime time." Just like independent films, this raw and impulsive form of expression is somewhat intimidating to consumers, many of whom act more as collectors than art-lovers. But the overall trend has to be encouraging to a genre that's been fighting for respect and shelf space.

"I think that the recent movies based on comics so far, like From Hell, Ghost World, X-Men, Spider-Man, etc., were all quite good," says Chris Staros of Top Shelf Productions and publisher of From Hell. "More importantly, they did well at the box office, which insures that Hollywood will keep their interest in basing movies on graphic novels and comics." Indeed, Staros reports that two new Top Shelf comic book adaptations are underway: Mephisto and the Empty Box and Creature Tech have just been sold to Hollywood.

"For me, the most significant benefit of all of this is the fact that great comics are being re-introduced to the public at large again, showing people the potential of a medium that they've pretty much forgotten over the years," says Staros. "Sales of graphic novel to the bookstores and libraries are on a big upswing right now, and that's fantastic, as this will help comics become on par with film and other media as a source of entertainment for everyone."

Doane is not quite so optimistic: "Progressive and visionary creators are usually marginalized in the marketplace at the time their social commentary is most vital," he says. "When R. Crumb was creating his masterpieces, the most popular comic books were Spider-Man and Green Lantern. While Dan Clowes was brilliantly spearing middle America's lethargic complacency, comics fans were "investing" in fifty copies of Youngblood #1 in hopes of someday buying a second mansion with their profits."

"That's part of the reason why Comic Book Galaxy is so committed to seeking out the diversity in the small press, alternative and independent comics community. Visionary creators like Rob Vollmar, Paul Hornschemeier, James Kochalka, Farel Dalrymple and others are creating works that comment on the vast scope of human experience and selling to an audience in the low thousands, while absolute garbage sells in the tens or hundreds of thousands to a delighted audience of willing suckers. So, yeah, the great, forward-looking comics are out there and always have been, but they're pretty hard to find under all those copies of Uncanny X-Men."

"The reason the most progressive creators have the edge over mainstream comics, and over the mass of pop culture in general, is that they are creating intensely personal and visionary work grounded in human experience and with the simple ambition of making a human connection to the readers. The guys doing Spider-Man are looking to entertain some overgrown children while stashing away money to buy a second house or a new TiVo recorder."

Although comics artists responded quickly and powerfully to the Sept. 11 tragedy, Doane doubts that this will have a lasting impact, or that comic book artists at large have developed a stronger social conscience.

"September 11th comic books may have gotten Joe Quesada (Editor-in-Chief of Marvel Comics) on the Today Show, but I don't think the vast, untapped potential audience for comics was reached because of it. What will change society's (non-)relationship with comics is the creation of works with adult appeal -- stories grown-ups can be interested in and entertained by and want more of -- and getting them into the hands of those potential readers. I see recently an expansion of the graphic novels section in stores like Borders, but discouragingly, the biggest and best independent bookstore where I live has marginalized graphic novels in-between kids' books and science-fiction. So there's work yet to be done."

Does Doane see any rays of hope on the horizon?

"The Internet is bringing about a sea change. Creators are in closer contact with their readers -- and editors and publishers and fellow creators -- than they have ever been at any time in history, because of the Internet and the ability to send large files of comic book artwork out over a broadband connection. The Internet's impact on comics -- and everything else -- has been huge, and it's still at the very beginning stages."

"As connections and computers get faster and more and more people get online, look for even more visionary and personal comics to come out of it, because publishers are also, in a sense, becoming secondary. Any talented creator with a computer and a halfway decent connection can get their work directly to their readers with no middleman at all. It's amazing. Now all we need is a visionary micro-payment system to fulfill that particular potential of comics."

"That said, I'm always going to prefer to have my comics on paper. It's some sort of tactile thing."

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Saturday, August 10, 2002

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan -- Got the STII Special Edition DVD yesterday and spent some time watching it last night and this morning. I haven't yet just sat and watched the actual film, as such, all the way through. I've seen the movie so many times that it's almost an afterthought. I'm sure I'll watch it sooner or later, but the story itself, yeah, I know it pretty well.

Even this director's cut. Because the local ABC affiliate has been showing that version (with the revelation about Scotty's nephew and a couple other scenes) for years, and I have a pretty good quality tape of it that I made a couple of years ago. I'm glad they chose to include that stuff on the DVD, though -- I think it makes it a better movie, and on the commentary track, I learn director Nick Meyer feels the same way.

Meyer himself comes off a little icy and deluded in his commentary. The funniest part is how he's evidently still in denial over having Merritt Butrick wear a jaunty sweater tied around his neck in one crucial scene. Meyer spends about ten minutes defending the decision, which was obviously a bad one as long ago as the time of the film's initial release. Despite Meyer's claims that all films are somehow dated and anchored in their own era, a good director will endeavour to excise obvious fads and slang that will make the film even more of its time. Meyer goes on and on -- and on about the fucking sweater on the commentary track until you want to punch him in the mouth. Clearly he's taken a lot of heat over that sweater over the past twenty years, and he kind of, sort of concedes that if the audience is taken out of the movie by an anomalous element (which the sweater does do, in spades) that the director has failed. Then he defends himself some more. It's as funny as it is annoying.

Another amusing element is the way William Shatner's hubristic excesses are sort of taken for granted. No one bothers saying Shatner is a pompous ass all out of proportion to his minor gifts -- it's taken as a given and then the discussion proceeds from there, with multiple references from Meyer and writer/producer Harve Bennett touching on how Shatner's ego affected the film and his performance. Probably the funniest moment from Shatner is when he takes credit for the Spock death scene. Shatner loves taking credit for things, and yet the one time he actually is justified in taking credit -- the fifth Trek movie -- well, I for one can't wait to see his interviews on that DVD.

Ah, Star Trek. I said recently that selected Next Generation episodes and this movie, the Khan movie, are about all the Trek you need. Watching Khan last night with my wife, I said "You know, Star Trek never got any better than this." And I believe that. A few TNG and one DS9 episode may have been nearly as good, but the high point of Star Trek was 1982, and this DVD proves that definitively. The bad decision was not giving the franchise to Leonard Nimoy to oversee when Roddenberry died. Michael Pillar and Rick Berman were made wealthy men ass-raping Roddenberry's child for years and years, and the sad, sorry excuse for Star Trek that is on today ("Enterprise") is just a pathetic reminder that there was once life in the franchise. This DVD is a much better reminder, and again, really, all the Star Trek anyone needs.


Saturday, June 22, 2002

Entry 0019 -- I go for months without renting movies or even thinking very much about the medium of film. I rented a couple of excellent movies for weekend viewing, though, and just finished watching the second of the two.

The Others is an old-fashioned ghost story with a twist so modern that to even compare it to anything else might risk giving its delightful conceit away. Trust me that it's 100 suspenseful, tension-filled minutes that had me guessing right up to the very end. Gothic and intimate, it's a great movie to watch with somebody you love -- or at least like very much.

Monster's Ball is a movie I'd wanted to see for months, and finally had to settle for the VHS copy at the video store, as the DVD has been all rented out every time I dropped in to try to score a copy. The movie's acting pedigree -- Billy Bob Thornton, Halle Berry and Peter Boyle -- is absolutely stunning. The story, about the generational sickness of racism, and of letting hate fall away from you, is by turns horrifying and riveting. The most powerful movie I've seen in quite some time, Monster's Ball is no popcorn movie, but food for thought that pulls no punches.


Saturday, June 08, 2002

Entry 0005 -- My wife and I just finished watching Vanilla Sky. Like many of my favourite movies (Eraserhead, The Matrix), it is composed of multiple layers that get peeled back like the layers of an onion. There's a somewhat clumsy moment of exposition at the end that puts the film squarely in the Total Recall neighbourhood (and apparently led to many, many bad reviews), but for the most part the film is a fascinating puzzle about identity, self-pity and regret. It's also visually beautiful, with some amazing camera work (and one outstanding, non-computerized scene in a deserted Times Square). Tom Cruise's cheery, breezy arrogance plays well to the character he plays here, a child of privilege who life is turned upside down, inside out, and reduced to an horrific nightmare in which every attempt to reclaim his personality and identity is stymied and twisted, by time, by circumstance, by deception. Not a perfect or transcendant film, Vanilla Sky is nonetheless compelling and thought-provoking, and a movie that will reward future viewings.






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