Monday, March 31, 2008

Otherworld


Phil Jimenez has awesome art. It's that simple. His art is great, and his writing is good. I'm not going to lie and say he's Grant Morrison, but he's effective. Otherworld is his creator-owned miniseries for Vertigo back in 2005. It was supposed to run for 12 issues, but ended up being 7. I just finished reading it and I'm going to review it.

Otherworld is supposed to be "Real World meets Lord of the Rings meets Tron" according to the writer-artist himself. Essentially, a college girl and her friends receive special powers and get whisked away to a floating island in the middle of an other-dimensional sea and are forced to lead opposite sides in a war for reality, the two sides consisting of high-fantasy character-types (orcs, trolls, mages, etc) and high-sci-fi character types (cyborgs, huge machines, etc). However, the miniseries ends before the war can begin. Instead, it ends with both sides finally getting their respective armies together.

The good? Well, of course the art is amazing. There's a lot of computer manipulation with Jimenez' highly detailed line work, especially for the technological stuff. It's kind of like Tron, but if Tron was made ten years from now. I've always loved Jimenez' art, and would almost take him over Frank Quitely or Bryan Hitch, but Jimenez' characters' noses are often big. I don't know why.

This is fairly complex plot that takes a while to get going. This isn't simply Batman beating on the Joker for 22 pages. There's quite a bit of character development, especially setting up both sides of the war. The group of friends/strangers are split down the middle and end up throwing in their powers with whatever side they end up with. There's quite a bit of sociological and psychological commentary from the narrator, giving us some pretty deep insights into the nature of the technological City, the warring factions of the fantasy world, and the characters' torn politics.

The problem, however, is that all of the great insights come from narration, not from plot, action or character. The narrator clues us into all the fancy plot twists, all the thoughts and motivations of the characters, and even the secret origin of the floating island called Otherworld. This miniseries' problems can be summed up in one (made up) word: infodump. This is a lot of infodumping, almost as much as a Neal Stephenson novel! Jimenez would have had a better time with 12 issues than 7. He didn't even need to expand the plot: keep it the same, but flesh out reveals and make them organic.

It's also sometimes hard to understand what's even going on. Because the story has been chopped by 5 issues, it's like Jimenez chopped individual panels. We're moving from one action to the next, and I don't see how. The specific movements lack any panel-fluidity or continuity. Things just happen, like static photos, rather than dynamic movement between panels. I can't say for sure if this is a writer problem, or an editing problem, as aforementioned. This choppiness is very evident in terms of dialogue. Conversations flow within one panel, but from one panel to the next, it's quite halting. This pulls me away from the story. Luckily, the dialogue that does flow isn't awkward or amateurish, which is often a problem with artist-writers (who are artists first), such as Todd MacFarlane.

Overall it was an entertaining read. It wasn't a simple fantasy or sci-fi story, and the art was terrific and the characters were fairly believable. Jimenez needs some work on fleshing things out, and more fluidity in panel movement, but otherwise this is an okay comic. Not the greatest, but good. I'd recommend it for fans of fantasy or sci-fi or for fans of Jimenez. For capes-readers, not so much.

Friday, March 28, 2008

All Star Superman 10


Yes, pretty much the best Superman series of the last twenty years is being written by my favourite writer and one of my favourite artists. Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely seem to have produced one of the best Superman stories ever in this single issue.

While Superman gets closer to death, he travels the globe fixing random things, while at the same time, he built a mini-universe on a super fast time scale so that he could watch the development of a world without a Superman. Meanwhile, the bottle city of Kandor elects mini-Supermen to travel into Kal's bloodstream to try and reverse the damage of the solar radiation, but to no avail. Lois puts herself in harm's way just so that she has a chance to talk with Superman, but again, to no avail. She knows he's dying, but he can't face her. He visits Lex in prison and suggests that Lex won, and that now he has a responsibility to do all the great things he's capable of before being put to death, but Lex spits at Superman, refusing the challenge.

There's more that happens in this issue, too. This is one tightly packed comic book, featuring the entire history of a planet and Superman flying through the head of a giant robot. We've got great character moments (Lois and Superman) and great action scenes (the giant robot). We've got beautiful introspection from Superman, and we have him saving the world by defeating a mechano-rampage.

I'm not sure if there's anything else I could ask from a comic book. It's beautifully drawn, as Quitely has this amazing ability to show dynamic fluid panels as well as all-too human movements and poses. It's got a complex chronology in one issue, going back and forth in time, and in the mini-universe. It's filled with ideas and it's filled with emotion.

This might be the best issue of All Star Superman. This might be one of the best Superman stories ever.

I don't want to heap too much hyperbole on this comic, but it's hard. I really loved this issue. Highly recommended.

Frugal Fridays!

And another installment of Frugal Fridays is upon us. Here's what I bought:

Rising Stars Omnibus
Global Frequency issue 1 through 12
The Mighty Avengers: The Ultron Initiative
JLA Titans: The Technis Imperative
The Mist: Two Disc Collector's Edition
Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore
Escape From New York: Two Disc Special Edition
Panic! At The Disco - Pretty. Odd.

My my my my, this was a big week for me. Okay, let's begin.

I'll start with the last, Escape From New York. After seeing Doomsday and feeling pretty not-so-good about it, I got this strong desire to see Escape From New York again. But, I saw that the two disc-er was expensive and not in stores. If I wanted it online, it would run me 40 dollars or more. Not fun. So I went to the used DVD place, and picked up a used copy of the single disc release. But then, I just happened to glance in the new DVD section of the store, and lo and behold are not one, but two copies of the two disc-er for 16.99! Too good of a deal to pass up. Anyway, long story short, I love the movie and it gets better with each subsequent viewing. I plan to rent the sequel just to see how terrible it is....

Next, we have the Rising Stars omnibus, which retails for about 80 bucks and I got it for 35. Sweet. I'd always wanted to read that story, but never had the chance. I'm about halfway through it and I'm digging it. Not the world's greatest comic, but it's good.

I also got a set of Global Frequency in the single issue format, which really works better considering it's twelve issues of done-in-one. It's Warren Ellis and it's really good. My favourite issue is the one with Steve Dillon on art chores, not just because I love Steve Dillon, but because the issue is about a memetic virus from space! Sweet.

The Mighty Avengers issue 1 through 6 is put into a nice hardcover called The Ultron Imperative, whatever the hell that title is supposed to mean. Bendis on script, Frank Cho on art, it's a good match, but holy God was it late. I like the widescreen action and the beautiful art and the plot is fast-moving. This ain't Watchmen, but it's entertaining. It's a shame Cho couldn't keep up with the monthly format; I'd love to see him do more.

I saw The Mist in the theatre, on a free sneak preview, and after seeing the end, I vowed never to see it again. Without spoiling the ending, let me tell you that's it's devastating. But I purchased the two disc-er if only for the black and white director's version. I've watched about half and it looks really sweet. It masks a lot of the not so good special effects while retaining this groovy old-school atmosphere.

Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore is an under-rated Martin Scorsese pic from the seventies from just before he made it huge. It stars Ellen Burstyn in an Oscar-winning role as well as Kris Kristofferson, a pretty decent actor. I've only seen it once, and I picked up the film at the aforementioned used DVD place. It was cheap.

Finally we have Panic! At The Disco's second effort, Pretty. Odd. I'm going to post something about the album later, but let me just sum up the entire album for you: a huge diverse collection of Beatles quotations. Yeah, not so great.

So that's Frugal Fridays this week. It was pretty outrageous, but then again, I had a good week in tips. Okay, so I will see you on the flipside.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

New Avengers 39

I've been following the New Avengers pretty closely for the entire run as I love Bendis and the comic is pretty balls-to-the-wall. But unfortunately, after the death of Captain America, the title has been running around in circles with the remaining New Avengers running around in circles. After the event of "The Trust", Bendis promises to "rewind the clock" and show how the Skrulls have infiltrated so well into the Marvel Universe. Issue 39 brings us to an Echo centric issue.

From here on out, spoilers for the issue

Echo, or Maya Lopez, is deaf and is able to mimic anything she sees, like fly a plane or kick ass like a ninja. This issue shows us a little character development, showing Maya talking to Wolverine. They have a brief conversation about whether or not the conspiracy exists, whether or not the current incarnation of the Avengers is, in fact, Avengers, and if Wolverine is himself a Skrull. He says he isn't because he remembers their shared history, which was a vision quest in the pages of Daredevil, if I'm not mistaken.

Then Echo goes for a rooftop voyage, and runs into Matt Murdock. They talk briefly, and then Murdock turns into Maya Lopez. Oh snap - it's a Skrull. Then they fight, but the Skrull manifests a bunch of X-Men powers, including Cyclop's eye blasts and Nightcrawler's teleportation. They fight, and then Wolverine shows up to do some stabby-stabby, but the Skrull teleports away. Maya knows for sure now that the Skrulls are replacing people and Logan even admits that Maya is one to replace because of her mysterious history.

The next day, she's drinking coffee and Clint Barton shows up, pontificates on the nature of being an Avenger, and that Maya is indeed an Avenger. They kiss, they f*%&, end of issue.

Ohhhkay. So, first things first, the art is pretty standard for David Mack. I was expecting something a little bit more visually striking and innovative, but his normal superhero pencil work is still pretty damn good. Bendis' script is, in a word, whatever. Maya sounds just like every other Bendis character, which is unfortunate, considering she's Mack's creation. There's only four characters in the whole issue, and they all sound alike - that's a problem.

What's the story on Bendis having Clint screw every Avenger? Well, not every Avenger, but in the pages of New Avengers, he's boned the Scarlet Witch and Echo/Ronin. That's a lot of hook-ups for a major mainstream character in an all-ages title. In fact, the solicitation makes reference to the hook-up, as if that's a selling point.

In terms of plot, it was okay. I kind of already knew that the Skrulls were infiltrating the Marvel Universe - thanks Bendis. A lot of comic reviewers are avoiding spoilers for this issue, even though it's not really that crazy. This isn't the same plot machination as the reveal of Elektra's corpse. I don't know.

Again, this is an example of the title spinning its wheels while Bendis slowly and deliberately puts all the pieces in place for Secret Invasion. Which is fine, but it's costing the New Avengers title quite a bit.

I wouldn't recommend this title to anybody but those who are following the Secret Invasion storyline.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Mini-Reviews!

I'm going to do a new feature today, one that requires less critical and/or academic thinking from me, as my braincells have been destroyed by booze and love. The new feature is call Mini-Reviews and I'll just read comics or movies and give a paragraph on what I thought. Ready? Here goes.

Incredible Hercules 115

It was recommended that I read this, even though I have no use for Hercules, Amadeus Cho, or any of that, but I was told to read it because of the insane Ares versus Herc fight. Yes, they throw missiles at each other. Yes, they rip a Helicarrier and through it at each other and they verbally spar over being immortal and why it matters. It's a great fight scene with some great dialogue. However, the colouring was so muddy and gray that it threw me right off. It was okay.

Justice League of America 19

The JLA go to the Salvation Run planet to rescue the Martian Manhunter. The team gets played for saps and gets kidnapped by Kanjar Ro, who is some sort of an obscure JLA villain from before I was born. This has some of the worst art and worst dialogue I've ever read in a comic book. Check out this panel:
Yeah. It's that terrible.


F/X 1

This is the debut issue of a great little superhero story. It's like the exact opposite of Mark Millar's Kick-Ass. This kid gets the power to imagine something, like a bazooka, or a jet plane and he uses it. He's like a living special effect, get it? So he fights this big gorilla (which is in itself a big joke) and he gets his first costume. It's a well drawn book by the legendary douche John Byrne and it looks great. The story is a bit of a clunker, but the two lead characters, the kid and his friend are believable. They're like Peter Parker without the angst. Yet.

JLA Titans: The Technis Imperative

This is a three issue mini-series from 1998 in which the entire Titans roster teams up with most of the JLA roster to fight a technologically advanced creature made up of spaceships that swallows the moon. It's drawn by Phil Jimenez and that's the only reason why I picked it up, and of course, the art is phenomenal. I love Jimenez' heavily detailed style. It also helps that the story is pretty balls to the wall. I just wish it had been written by Grant Morrison

So that concludes the first installment of Mini-Reviews. Hopefully I can make this last.

Monday, March 24, 2008

ahem...


Sorry about the weekend break; I had Easter dinner and I also went out for some drinks. Now, I'll just pop in, give you a quick update and whatnot.

I started watching Kubrick's The Killing, but I fell asleep, so back to the beginning. I also started watching Sidney Lumet's Prince Of The City, which 15 minutes into it, I was digging. I love Lumet's naturalistic style and I love cops.

As I've said in previous posts, I plan to do some fun things this summer. One of them is have a vision quest, another is to ride some horses, McCarthy-style. I will definitely keep the posting up during this. I also thought of another thing I'd like to do. I want to drive to California. Not fly, not swim, but drive. Going on the open road, blasting the tunes, the windows rolled down, me and somebody special in the seat next to me, whoever that might be, but all of this, all of this bullsh*t that I've gone through will be dust floating into the empty night sky, and all that is ahead of me will be beautiful open land, as far as eyes can perceive.

I'd like to take Route 66, but instead, I'd be taking 63-B, which doesn't sound nearly as exciting. I'd like to go to San Fran, San Berdoo, LA, Sacramento, and San Diego and the OC, and everything. But I'd probably only take like a week and a half off work and stay for about two days in CA. It would take two days to drive to California from my present location. The simple fact that I can do it excites the sh*t out of me. I don't even care where I go as long as I hit that open road. But Cali is definitely a must-go destination.

I may also go on a trip to Vegas with my friends, who are definitely going, but I may, I may not. We'll see. Further updates are forthcoming.

Tomorrow Panic! At The Disco releases their sophomore effort, which I will be listening to and probably posting. Later I will post a review of Lumet's Prince Of The City. So y'all come back y'all.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Frugal Fridays!

Well I missed last week's Frugal Friday because I spent money on booze. What happened this Friday? Practically the same thing. I purchased only two things this week:

Into The Wild
by Jon Krakauer (the book)
Dr Strangelove (40th Anniversary two disc special edition)

That's it. I've already posted about
Dr Strangelove (yesterday) and I haven't started reading the book. I am totally head over heels in love with the Into The Wild movie, so how bad can the book be?

This Tuesday, as new release Tuesday, there's not really any films coming out that I desperately need. A new two disc special edition of Bonnie and Clyde comes out, but I'm not sure I need that. In terms of comics, nothing comes out that I gotta have. The end of March and most of April is often an empty void for new stuff. We'll see.

Let me give you a run down on the next week's posts. Definitely in two weeks, I'm going to see The Ruins. So before that happens, I will post something about my reading experience of that book. Also, I will do something on Atonement as promised, and I will finish my Kubrick Kick series with a look at 1956's The Killing. I may also re-watch 2001: A Space Odyssey this week, but we'll see how that goes. I'm going to be watching There Will Be Blood at some point so look for a review, as well.

Okay, so that ends another tiny Frugal Friday.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Kubrick Kick: Dr Strangelove


Yes, the Kubrick Kick series returns for a bit. I took a bit of a break from Kubrick with a whole bunch of non-Kubrickian films, but after the death of Arthur C Clarke, I was renewed in my vigor for that difficult and skilled director (Clarke, of course, being the co-writer on 2001: A Space Odyssey). Today, "a lay of the land" examines the comedy Dr Strangelove: Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb.

The 1964 film stars Peter Sellers in three roles, George C Scott and Slim Pickens. Set during the height of the Cold War, a mentally unstable general orders a nuclear strike against the Russians, and the films follows the Pentagon, the Presidents and some military people trying to stop it, as well as scenes inside the B52 as it heads towards its final destination.

It's supposed to be a comedy, I guess. I didn't really laugh a lot, though, but that might be for a few different reasons. Firstly, a lot of the jokes are so famous ("You can't fight in the war-room") that hearing them in their original context is almost surreal. Secondly, the movie is slow moving and not a lot happens - just like a Kubrick movie. What I did find funny was the little things, such as Slim Pickens reading the contents of the survival kit, or George C Scott answering a private telephone call in the middle of the war room from his sexual partner.

The character of Dr Strangelove wasn't particularly funny or interesting, but again, that may have been because I'm so familiar with the character already. I've seen it parodied and referenced so many times. Peter Sellers is a very versatile actor, I have to admit, and he certainly lives the role of Strangelove, Mandrake and the President.

What I found to be the most fascinating part of the movie, but also the most frustrating, was the sexual subtext to absolutely everything. Everybody's name and actions have some sort of a sexual reference to it, from the President's name (Merkin) to the title character's name. There's talk about stealing our essence (semen) and talk about polygamy. The insane Air Force general is chomping on a phallic cigar and Slim Pickens is riding a phallic bomb. It's all very Freudian. I say that it's frustrating because it's built into the movie, but it doesn't really say anything about it. Are we supposed to conclude that sexual frustration is what caused the Cold War? I don't know.

It's almost blasphemy to say that I didn't really like Dr Strangelove, considering it's one of the best films ever, apparently. I know. I just didn't engage with it. In my Kubrick Kick series, I've found that I learned a lot about how I react to films rather than the films themselves. Expectations and knowledge of the film have changed how I view things. Perhaps, with more viewings, I will enjoy Dr Strangelove more. There's certainly parts I liked about it (Scott's performance is terrific) and parts I disliked (pretty much all the bomb foreplay filled with technical jargon), but I can appreciate it, I guess.

Anyway, I'm not going to spend too much more time on this film. I didn't really enjoy it as much I wanted to, but I certainly didn't hate it or love it. Next in my Kubrick Kick series, I will be taking a look at the director's noir thriller The Killing from 1956, which I'm told has a very awesome ending.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Doomsday is the worst movie of 2008


I loved The Descent - it was a great balls-to-the-wall horror movie with a great ending. So when I heard that Neil Marshall was going to essentially remake Escape From New York (but in Scotland) I was interested. Perhaps it would be over the top and enjoyable. So I saw it tonight. Nope, not enjoyable and not over the top enough. It wasn't balls-to-the-wall and if you're going to remake Escape From New York and throw in every other action movie from the last decade (including, strangely, Lord Of The Rings) than you've got to make it balls-to-the-wall.

Here's the plot summary, if you care. Scotland has been walled off because of a deadly infection, a virus that has decimated most of the population. For 25 years, the country has been left to fend for itself, but the virus has leaked into London. So the government sends Rhona Mitra and her team into Scotland to locate a cure.

Once inside Scotland they meet a punk-motorcycle-cannibal gang and most of the team gets killed. Apparently in post-apocalyptic Scotland, there's plenty of hair dye and eye makeup lying around. So after meeting the motorcycle gang, the remaining cast hightail it to Mel Gibson's Braveheart, where a leathery Malcolm McDowell forces Mitra to fight his executioner. It's a well shot scene, but too bad it's such a strange tonal shift from the first third. It also features some weird Lord Of The Rings references. From Braveheart, the remaining cast find a Bentley and gasoline, and have a Mad Max style car chase, but with - like - six cars. So then, Mitra is able to record the bad guy saying the incriminating stuff and she gives the evidence to Bob Hoskins and something something something who gives a shit?

This. Was. Terrible. The dialogue was atrocious. The acting was atrocious. The plot was scatterbrain and made all these references to cool things that never came back, but we focus instead on a terrible sword fight. Hey, here's a physics lesson for you: when a sword moves through the air, it doesn't make a metallic sliding noise as if it was being sheathed. F*$% that's annoying when I hear that in a movie.

Rhona Mitra's character has one eye and has breasts, so she's Ripley meets Snake Plissken. And her back story is so thin that it could be shaved ham. None of the characters even have names. Well some of them do but who gives a shit?

I hated it. There was two instances where I was entertained: when the automatic guns on the wall let loose on a cute bunny-rabbit which immediately explodes, and when the Bentley is being driven around, but that's because it's a sexy car - only 150,000 dollars.

It's going to take a lot to wash the taste of this movie out of my mouth. In fact, I think I will go buy Escape From New York tomorrow just to do it.

Into The Wild - great movie, or the Greatest?


In this post from before, I talked about my plans for the summer, what I always wanted to do and what I will do. The desire to leave everything behind, even for a bit, has been almost overwhelming for about two years. A recent relationship that ended crystallized that longing into my plan for a vision quest in the wild. I want to leave absolutely everything behind, cut all the safety cords and become part of nature, if only for a bit. As I step out into the wilderness, I can be calm, and be at peace and part of nature. There's too much noise, literal and figurative in my life right now, and I would absolutely love to mute civilization, even for a week.

That gives you a bit of personal background on what I was feeling when I sat down to watch Sean Penn's
Into The Wild, a biographical film about Christopher McCandless' travels around North America. One of my close friends, who is not much a reader, recommended me the book a while ago, and then the adaptation came out, along with a snazzy soundtrack by Eddie Vedder, of Pearl Jam fame.

I don't think I was entirely prepared for the feeling of elation and joy that the film brought from me. Rarely has a movie hit me with such an emotional punch. From the visually entertaining editing to the absolutely pitch perfect acting from the entire cast to the poetic finale to the final photograph, a self portrait of McCandless, this movie hit all the right notes with me, down to the smallest detail.

For those of you not familiar with Christopher McCandless, allow me to enlighten you. He was a well-to-do, white male who after graduating from Emory University, gave 24,000 dollars to Oxfam, abandoned his car, burned the money in his wallet, destroyed his IDs, and gave himself the name Alexander Supertramp. He embarked on an almost two year odyssey around North America, from the middle to the West Coast to Mexico and finally to Alaska, where he found an old bus and lived there for ten weeks before dying of starvation.

The film is about the lives he touched, the lives he changed and the lives he hurt on the way. One of the reasons why the film works so well is that Penn almost mythologizes young McCandless, portraying him as an ethereal charming beautiful mystical figure who leaves most people for the better, grateful that they had the chance to see him, even for a moment. Certainly, the film downplays the negative aspects of McCandless, glossing over his temper, his rants and polemics about the evil system, his seething anger at his parents, his naivety. He was idealistic and innocent, but he blazed his own trail, regardless of family or circumstances or consequences.

Certainly,
Into The Wild articulated a lot of things I had been feeling and wanting and longing for and let me draw a lot of parallels between myself and McCandless. I'm sure everybody wants to leave it all behind, but only the few have the huevos to do as he did.

When McCandless finds himself in Alaska, showering in the spring, watching the deer, howling into the wind of the mountains, running through the fields, there's this childlike sense of wonder that he brings, and I can't help but feel the same elation. Never has a movie made me feel so joyous about life or the future. I couldn't sleep last night because I was so excited about my own future, something I hadn't been in a long time.

Call this journalistic bias. Not even for a second while I argue that I love this movie for more reasons than entertaining and rewarding art. This is a movie that articulates my own feelings about the world, and about my life, and it does so in a very artful and beautiful manner.

As aforementioned, the cast is perfect. From almost cameos from Vince Vaughn to supporting roles such as Catherine Keener, William Hurt, Marcia Gay Harden, and more. As the lead, Emile Hirsh expresses so much emotion without being hammy. He immediately sells that childlike wonder of McCandless and do so without any smirk or irony. I never would have thought he'd be so good, but there you go.

Finally, I have to talk about Hal Holbrook, as Ron. Here is a stunning achievement that was grossly overlooked in the Oscar nominations. Ron is an old man whom McCandless meets, and they form a perfect bond. He lost his child and wife in a car accident some forty years before and McCandless left his arguing bitter parents behind. They eat breakfast, hike, talk and enjoy each other's company. Once McCandless is ready to leave, Ron finds it difficult. He drives the young wanderer to the highway and instead of saying goodbye, he asks to adopt McCandless, but it's to no avail - Alex Supertramp belongs only to himself. It's Holbrook's performance that makes this a definite highlight, and that's saying alot considering how good this cast is. The heartbreak and the sorrow is so evident in Holbrook's eyes as he feels the sting of McCandless' tactful refusal. It's a gorgeous scene.

I could talk about this movie forever. But I think I need to re-watch it and try to separate myself from the viewing experience. I need to step away from own life and re-watch the film, in a critical and academic function. But for now,
Into The Wild remains my favourite film of 2007 and that is saying a great deal considering how good 2007 was for films.

Later this week, check back for a look at the DVD features of
Into The Wild, which is one of the few times where I'm going to watch all the special features. That's how much this movie means to me.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Apologies

Yeah, I haven't posted in awhile, but it's for a bunch of reasons. On Thursday night, Friday night, Saturday night, and Monday night, I went out partying with friends, drinking lots and generally having a real good time. Sunday, Monday and Tuesday have been my film catch up time, while I recuperate from my copious imbibing. The films I watched were
Enchanted
Run, Fatboy, Run
I Am Legend
Atonement
Gone, Baby, Gone
Into The Wild
The Ice Storm

Now I don't really have the energy to post a review for each individual film, so let me be brief (for a change)

Enchanted was charming and funny, and Amy Adams is stupendous, but the film was over-long. Run, Fatboy, Run was also charming and funny but mired in rom-com cliches. I liked I Am Legend more than I thought I would, but the creatures were irritating and CGI'ed up the wazoo. Atonement was, of course, awesome. I will do a whole post on that. Ben Affleck's directorial debut, Gone, Baby, Gone was pretty fantastic, but I'm biased as I enjoy Dennis Lehane a lot. Into The Wild will get its own post, but allow me to spoiler alert my own blog: I loved that movie so much. Finally, The Ice Storm was a repeat, as I'd seen it before, but Criterion put out a splendid two disc set today, and it's still a damn good movie.

So that sums up my week pretty much. I'm going to get back on the blogging horse, but I needed a break, a vacation. So tomorrow we resume regular content, with a review of Neil Marshall's Doomsday which I am going to see in the theatre tomorrow night.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Fantastic Four 555


Readers of "a lay of the land" will remember that this blog is a fan of the Millar-Hitch combo, on such works as Ultimates and Fantastic Four. Millar is a writer who loves to throw the big ideas at the reader and throw the big toys around, while Hitch's detailed and realistic art allow for the "widescreen" action style. It's all very big dumb and explosion-y.

In Fantastic Four 555, it's part two of the four part "World's Greatest" arc. We begin with a flashback to when Alyssa and Reed are dating and attending the University of Vienna. I suppose it's a character moment for Alyssa or something. From there, we move to the present and get some background info on the Nu-World idea, how it's a life-size replica of Earth down to even the graffiti. The world will die in ten years and it's irreversible, apparently. Reed is introduced to C.A.P., a law and order robot that will protect the new Earth because weapons will be outlawed. Once Reed is back at the Baxter Building, Ben sees him and tries to tell him about his date, which went well, but Reed is too distracted and attempts to leave. Ben accuses Alyssa of messing with Reed's head as she always does, but Reed pays this no attention. We switch perspectives to Johnny, who's late for rehearsal for his band, but on the way, he tries to stop a sexy female super villain and ends up doing it in the rubble of a building. Meanwhile, C.A.P. has escaped from his cell or whatever and is hunting down real-world soldiers, who carry guns and are therefore, in C.A.P.'s programming, outlaws. Some American soldiers in Alaska meet up with C.A.P. and the issue ends on a cliffhanger.

In comparison to the first issue, this one had some forward momentum on plot. We're finally introduced to the antagonist, and the major conflict is laid out. Millar has now spent two issues detailing each of the Fantastic Four's individual plots, so now the next issue should be more plot-driven. Again, Millar is throwing out the big ideas, for example, on Nu-World, there's a computerized bank that will monitor the world's economy and keep it balanced for a 1000 years. There's more ideas, too, as per usual. It's all very interesting.

Hitch's pencils continue to be scratchy and overly rendered for humans, but absolutely perfect for anything other than people. His work on Nu-World is absolutely stunning and detailed. I think using Marvel comics, we could put New York City back together brick by brick. Just kidding: this ain't
Ulysses. In terms of human faces, all of Hitch's women look the same. It's irritating. His Thing appears pretty detailed and hulking, though, so that's good. I'm a big fan of the Human Torch. He looks like a man on fire, but not in that liquid-y fire way like Kirby's Human Torch, or that mid-nineties lined Human Torch. It's excellent.

I continue to be pleased and entertained by Millar and Hitch on Fantastic Four and I look forward to the next issue.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Kubrick Kick: Lolita


Today, "a lay of the land" continues to look at Stanley Kubrick films, with a look at 1962's film adaptation of Lolita.

I loved the novel. Loved it. Nabokov has a very sensual and poetic prose style that floats and lilts in your head. He is definitely one of the great prose stylists ever. Lolita is a difficult novel if only because we have to get into the head of Humbert Humbert, a disgusting manipulative coward who is charming, intelligent, decent-looking and European. He marries a woman he couldn't possibly love just to stay in Lolita's life, and he contemplates murder to keep Lolita around. Humbert Humbert is totally in love and in lust with a precocious and innocent child called Dolores Haze. But is the novel about a morally bankrupt academic who corrupts a child, or is it about the morally bankrupt child who corrupts the academic? Part of the complexity of Lolita is the first person narration from Humbert, who's entertaining, eloquent, wry, funny and charming. You want to believe him, but you can't possibly take him at face value. All of this is what makes a visual adaptation of Lolita very hard to swallow. No matter how much of a visual stylist Kubrick is, his cold detached analysis of humans doesn't really lend to the multi-dimensional and duplicitous aspect of Humbert Humbert.

Kubrick, working from Nabokov's screenplay, works backwards. He shows Humbert's murder of Quilty, in a beautiful fluid series of shots in Quilty's mansion on a dude ranch. From the beginning of the film, I was totally in. It was gorgeously shot, and Peter Sellers is a godsend. It helps that James Mason, as Humbert Humbert, has this perfect voice and cadence.

Once we move to the past, and we're introduced to Humbert, and Mrs. Haze, played by the loud and obnoxious Shelley Winters, the movie slows to a crawl and begins to emulate every other movie from that era. Nothing of the first act shows any of the visual flair that the prologue did. Sue Lyon, who plays the titular and titillating Lolita, is extremely beautiful, and certainly makes for a convincing quasi-seducer.

What Kubrick does is quite interesting here. Lolita doesn't have very many lines for most of the first half of the movie. She becomes a sketch, almost, in which Humbert fills in the blanks for the audience. This is a fairly ingenious attempt at first person perspective in a visual medium. Lolita isn't really a character until the second act of the film, in which Mrs. Haze is dead and Humbert and Lolita are driving around America. Once Humbert is totally head over heels, and stuck with her, Lolita's true character is revealed as a bratty snotty spoiled princess whom Humbert waits on hand and foot. He's totally in denial about how mean she is to him, how she twists him and plays with him. This becomes apparent to the audience very quickly that Lolita is destined to break Humbert's heart.

The movie picks up pretty decently in the final act. As aforementioned, Kubrick is a fan of sloooow pacing, so the third act is a breath of fresh air. Humbert and Lo have been living in Beardsley, but after a vicious argument, and a mysterious phone call, they leave and travel the States again. Slowly, Humbert realizes that they are being followed, even though Lolita doesn't seem to care. After a short stay in the hospital due to fever, Lolita suddenly disappears from Humbert's life for three years. At this point, Humbert's life is cut out of the film, including his affair with Rita, the Lolita look-alike (and another reference to doppelgangers). Lolita re-enters Humbert's life by writing him a letter; it turns out that Lo is married, pregnant, and heavy with debt. She asks for a handout, and Humbert shows up at his door, meeting the new Lolita and the new husband, a near-deaf war veteran, whom Lo finds "sweet" but doesn't love.

In order to get the money, Lolita finally reveals who helped her escape Humbert's clutches, and who is the architect of Humbert's heartbreak. It's Clare Quilty, who is the spectral figure of American intellectualism (ie, nihilism, Eastern philosophy, bad dancing and black clothes). Humbert painfully realizes that he can never have Lolita and decides to go murder Quilty, which brings us to the present. The film ends with a caption on screen that Humbert died in prison awaiting trial. Notably, the ending of the film leaves out Dolores' death in childbirth and Humbert writing the "Lolita" novel while in prison. I'm not sure that her death is necessary to enjoy the film.

I found the adaptation to be slow and boring. Even for all of its visual faults, the movie benefits from spectacular casting, including Shelley Winters as the loud Mrs. Haze and Mason as the suave and European Humbert. Of course, Peter Sellers is awesome as usual, playing Quilty's death scene perfectly: wry, uncaring and unfeeling. Kubrick's successful adaptation of Humbert's perspective versus fact is note for note perfect. If you needed to teach unreliable narration for film, this is the movie to use.

One of the numerous reasons why the novel was so good was for the wordplay, the puns, the observations on society, and all of Humbert's great sarcastic and spiteful comments. The film version is only charming and entertaining because of Mason's acting and voice, not because of the adaptation. Pretty much only Cary Grant could replace Mason in this role. The screenplay doesn't allow for any room for Humbert to charm the audience. His voice-over narration is minimal and merely moves us from place to place.

I would still say that this is a successful adaptation of a great novel, but there's still some Kubrick-ian problems, such as the slow pacing and the cold detachment from the characters. And since it's not very visually engaging, such as The Shining or Eyes Wide Shut, that's a definite negative. I expect a lot from Kubrick in terms of composition. Of all of Kubrick's films, this does not rank near the top for me. I liked it, but I didn't love it.

It still remains for "a lay of the land" to look at Fear and Desire, Killer's Kiss, The Killing, Paths of Glory, Spartacus and surprisingly, Dr Strangelove, all of which I've never seen. I will try to track down the Criterion edition of Spartacus, but the first four Kubricks I may never see, if only because they're out of print, or hard to track down. The Kubrick Kick series will take a break and resume with hopefully Dr Strangelove.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Kubrick Kick: Barry Lyndon


Today is the second film in my series of Kubrick Kicks. For no apparent reason, I'm simply on a Stanley Kubrick kick, just like sometimes I'm on a big Tarantino or Kurosawa kick. No reason. So, today, we continue with a look at the interminable
Barry Lyndon.

It's three hours long. And it feels like it. But it still ended up being quite entertaining.
Barry Lyndon is an adaptation of Thackeray's picaresque novel, written for the screen by the great wild-eyed master, Stanley Kubrick. The idea of the movie is that we follow Redmond Barry of Barryville as he attempts to keep jumping up the social hierarchy until he never has to want or work ever again, until he is his own master. One of the reasons why the film feels so long is the episodic structure. It takes almost an hour and half before Redmond adds the Lyndon part to his name.

So I'll just talk about the visuals for a moment, before I get into the story, or characters. Again, like all of Kubrick's movies, this is one of the most beautiful movies I've ever seen. The natural lighting, the sumptuous photography of the landscapes, the intricately detailed deep focus shots, it's all very gorgeous. As mentioned in a previous post, I like Kubrick's use of tracking shots and Steadicam, and he uses both to great use. But after checking with Wikipedia, I don't think that
Barry Lyndon uses the Steadicam, rather it utilizes the normal tracking effects of wheels, I believe. Anyway, it's still awesome. Watching a character walk through a house followed by the camera or led by the camera is like watching a ballet; there's something very graceful about it.

Apparently, this film was inspired by 18th century paintings, and Kubrick attempted to emulate the soft-focus, or the haze of such works. He succeeds greatly. The first shot of the film, of a duel, is an incredible composition that could be printed and hung on my wall, I think. Very few directors have that immediate skill of composition... Woody Allen and Scorsese come to mind as famous examples. (Someday, I'll post about the gorgeous and detailed
Manhattan.) In filming the indoor scenes, Kubrick used a very wide aperture lens and no artificial lighting. The effect is like a flickering painting, quite beautiful.

But, as I've said before, my problems with Kubrick don't come from his technical skills. He's a master at filming something. My problems are at the story and character level. Here's another example of a Kubrick movie without emotion, without any audience investment. Redmond Barry is a pretty unlikeable character: he's lazy, shiftless, devious and unfaithful. He squanders his wife's fortune, he beats his stepson (maybe with reason, maybe not), he cheats at cards, and he's a deserter from the army. Only his incredible luck allows him to move forward in life. From what I understand of the source novel, he's one of the first anti-heroes in English literature. So, I guess, it's the point of the film that we don't like him. But I'm not rooting for him. This isn't like Alex from
A Clockwork Orange, who is the victim of a system as crooked as he is. We root for Alex because he's being brainwashed, forced into becoming "good", which isn't the same as being good. So we feel for him. But, Barry Lyndon is merciless in his pursuit of social climbing. He lavishes money and parties so he can advance, but it's to no avail, as he publicly beats his near-adult son. Barry Lyndon is a cold callous character.

Again, I understand the point of the film. We're not supposed to root for him, because he is an anti-hero. But this is a small example of my problems with Kubrick as a whole. He seems drawn to characters that are loathsome or morally dubious, such as Humbert Humbert or Jack Torrance. There's often no salvation or redemption for these characters: just tragic ends.

All in all, I found Barry Lyndon to be entertaining. While individual scenes may be slow-paced, the plot itself unfurls at a decent pace. There's plenty of duels and action to liven up the joint, and unlike many period films, this movie isn't terribly interested notions of romance or love. Barry Lyndon's first love is his cousin, and it has disastrous consequences, but Redmond's luck is the only thing that keeps him alive. The theme of dueling is omnipresent in the film; most of the important plot points happen over duels, such as Redmond's father's death, his reason for departing Barryville, the end of his story, it's all duels. The final duel in the film is very suspenseful and, of course, filmed impeccably.

For modern filmgoers, this ain't going to be to their tastes. The length and the subject matter isn't keeping with the prevailing tastes, but for fans of period films or fans of Kubrick, this is a must. I wasn't disappointed or bored to tears, as I expected, but moreover entertained. Isn't that the most one can ask from a film?

Tomorrow I'll be watching Kubrick's
Lolita, which I have fairly high expectations for. The novel remains one of the best ever written, in my opinion, and Nabokov's language and prose does not lend itself easily to a film version. I look forward to see what tricks the master has up his sleeve.

EDIT: I think that Roger Ebert, a critic who I hold in high esteem, has articulated my problems and my compliments with Barry Lyndon in a much more eloquent and pointed way. Click here for his review.

Ahhhh...

Today feels like the first day of spring. It's a beautiful sunny minus 1 out there and it's terrific. The outside has that gorgeous spring smell to it. I just want to get out my bicycle and go for a ride, even though it's still rather snowy. This is also a good day to wash my car, but instead of doing that, I'm going to watch Barry Lyndon.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Kubrick Kick: Eyes Wide Shut


I have a difficult relationship with Stanley Kubrick. In terms of technical skills, he's unmatched. In terms of character and story, he's often lacking. Now, I haven't seen every Kubrick movie ever, but I certainly want to. I'm a big fan of tracking shots and the Steadicam, and Kubrick's use of both are innovative and influential. I've never seen Eyes Wide Shut until recently, and I'm still not sure what to make of it. I know this, though, it might be one of my favourite Kubrick films.

Eyes Wide Shut is about a lot of things, even though there's a lot of sex, nudity, cursing, and sex. Tom Cruise plays Bill, a New York City doctor, married to Alice, as played by Nicole Kidman. At the beginning of the movie they go to a Christmas party hosted by Bill's patient Victor, the great Sydney Pollack. At the party, Alice has a dance with a suave and sexy man who blatantly hits on her but she refuses his advances. Back home, Bill and Alice share some pot, and Alice reveals that she's had sexual longings for somebody they met on vacation last year. Before Bill can react, he is called to a patient's side. From there, Bill meets up with the pianist from the Christmas party, an old med school friend, who lets him go to this fancy costume party, in which people have a lot of sex. This begins Bill's journey into a sexual awakening beyond his beautiful wife and his perfect life.

A lot has been said about the pervasive sexuality and nudity that runs in the film, including Nicole Kidman's nude scenes. Suffice it to say that it's a very sexy film without being gratuitous or exploitative. Certainly the nudity comes from the story, rather than the reverse.

This might be the only Kubrick movie I've ever seen where I actually cared for the characters and wished for a happy ending for both of them. Kubrick did a dazzling job of conveying the fragility of emotions of the two leads; it feels like their marriage is falling apart and the only way to escape is to see the other side. Cruise and Kidman give serviceable performances that sell the emotions, but it's nothing really outstanding.

As aforementioned, Kubrick is extremely skilled with the camera, and this movie doesn't disappoint at all. I think my favourite "move" he does is the long tracking shot behind someone as they walk down a hallway, through doors. This "move" appears frequently in Eyes Wide Shut to my delight, most efficiently used in the scene in which Bill enters the chamberroom for the great chanting sequence in the weird costume party/orgy. Kubrick is never shy at keeping the camera moving, and he lets the camera spin around his characters in a slow leisurely pace, much like the pacing of the film itself.

The film is supposed to be paced like a dream, because one of the themes of the film is the nature of dreams. Does the act of infidelity in a dream constitute a real act of infidelity? Does dreaming of cheating make it so? This theme lends itself to a dreamlike pace to make the characters think their only dreaming in the more surreal scenes. Normally, I have huge problems with the pacing of a Kubrick movie; he lets people just sit there.... Even though Eyes Wide Shut has the same trademark Kubrick pacing, I wasn't annoyed or bored; I was simply fascinated by the Scenes From a Marriage style.

I longed for a happy ending in this movie, and it ended perfectly, on the exact note I wanted it to, and the exact word that the film should have ended with. Next up, I want to see Barry Lyndon, which I own on VHS, but I don't own a VCR. We'll see what I can do....

Kubrick Kick: A Series


This week I'm going to take a look at a bunch of Kubrick movies I've never seen. I have a long and difficult relationship with Kubrick's films, that I will get into as the week progresses. I received the new boxset from Warner Brothers this Christmas and the only film I've watched was The Shining, which I watched on Christmas Day. Otherwise, I hadn't touched the other films. So, join "a lay of the land" as we take a look at the difficult and cerebral master, Stanley Kubrick.

My review for Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd

The Last Emperor


In this post, I spoke of purchasing the Criterion Collection's four disc set of The Last Emperor, and I have finally finished watching it.

The Last Emperor is one of the only (if not the only) films to win every Academy Award that it was nominated for, including Best Director and Best Film. There's definitely a reason why. In terms of technical skills, Bernardo Bertolucci is perfect. For most of the running time of the film (I watched the theatrical version first), I was just gaping in awe at the beautiful composition and camera movements. There's so many sweeping camera movements that kind of remind me of Scorsese that zoom past, in, or out of Pu Yi, and it's all very gorgeous.

It's a biopic of China's last emperor, Pu Yi, who was crowned at the age of 3 and was confined to the Forbidden City for most of his childhood. During this time, in the early 20th century, China was going through a lot of massive cultural and political changes, including changes in government, and the increasing influence of the Western world. For most of his life, Pu Yi was a puppet and blind to the forces beyond his small life, and his small emotional growth. He was expelled from the Forbidden City and then reinstated as an emperor by Japan in the new country of Manchukuo, essentially Pu Yi's native land, Manchuria, but he is again blind to being used by the Japanese government. After Japan's surrender, Pu Yi is captured by the Russians and is sent back to China and spends 10 years in a reeducation prison. The film leaves out the time with the Russians and the time in the gulags. It focuses mostly on Pu Yi's time in the reeducation prison and his reforming by the prison governor, who becomes an almost father figure to him. After 10 years, Pu Yi is released and becomes a gardener in Beijing. The film ends with Pu Yi going back to the Forbidden City and meeting a child wearing the red of the Communist party, a symbol for the future. Pu Yi proves to the child that he was the emperor by revealing the cricket from Pu Yi's childhood which is hidden in the throne. For some reason, the cricket is still alive, and Pu Yi disappears. It's a great scene.

The film leaves out quite a bit of his life, including his numerous wives; instead focusing on the first wife and the first concubine. It also combines numerous characters into composites, but the film isn't about historical accuracy. The Last Emperor is about a complex man living during a complex time in history, and the country that he lives in. Pu Yi learns to be his own man while at the same time that China learns to be its own country. There are a lot of parallels drawn between China and Pu Yi in the film, while at the same time, a lot of contrasts. China is often explored as an idea, kind of like how America is an idea. Many characters speak of China, showing the myriad perspectives on such a big country.

Bertolucci is such a fantastic director. There's a terrific scene in which Pu Yi, his wife, and his concubine gather under the silk sheets in the Forbidden City. It begins playfully, with giggles, but then Bertolucci shows an overhead shot of all three under the sheets, with no skin exposed. You can see their hands moving and their bodies moving. Their giggles shift into moans and it becomes very erotic, even without skin. But then the lighting changes from blue to red, because the storerooms have been set on fire. The colour shift is so gorgeous, and it's very symbolic. At this moment, Pu Yi's life in the Forbidden City has changed forever.

The Criterion Collection has, of course, done a remarkable job in the extras and in the restoration of the film. The film looks pristine and new, which is very important to a film where colour is extremely symbolic and everpresent. There's no way this film could be black-and-white; there's too much colour. The Last Emperor was certainly deserving of its awards for Best Art Direction and Best Cinematography.

I love this movie, and I have since I was a child. It's such a complex and rewarding story, and every time I see it, I get something new from it. Strongly recommended.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

I call a moratorium on Superman-Batman fights


Okay. That's it. No more. I just read Darwyn Cooke's New Frontier one-shot tie-in for the animated adaptation of his mini-series, and I have to call shenanigans. I've had enough: it has become a cliche to have Superman fight Batman and have Batman meticulously plot it out and beat Superman. It's a cliche. Here's why: I've seen it before. More than once. I love Darwyn Cooke's art - it's beautiful and stylized, so I'm almost willing to give him a free pass here. Almost. This is certainly the best drawn Supes-Bats fight, but that doesn't excuse the fact that I've seen this before.

So the New Frontier special is three stories scripted by Cooke, only the first drawn by Cooke. The first chapter is the aforementioned fight that is supposed to be a missing chapter from the original mini-series. It's a terrifically drawn story that has the President giving a direct order to Kal to bring in that masked vigilante called The Batman (as he's commonly called in The New Frontier). Kal struggles with the decision and consults with Wonder Woman. If Batman is fighting for the good of Gotham, isn't he working for the greater good? What is the true greater good in this case? Is it following the President's orders (the Prez's definition of the greater good) or is it allowing The Batman to fight for his city and for good? This boils down to a main theme from the original series, and the philosophical struggle Superman has represented for in The New Frontier: does Kal fight for justice or does he fight for the law?

Cooke's skills as a scripter are often forgotten when speaking of his work, but the missing chapter encapsulates, very briefly, the grand drama playing out in Superman, in Wonder Woman, and in The Batman. It doesn't take long for Cooke to lay this out, and it's a compliment to his talents that he does so very efficiently.

The second story isn't drawn by Cooke, but it's in the same cartoony style. It's a team-up between Robin and Kid Flash as they investigate something or other. The story is really besides the point; the interaction of the two characters sold the story so well. It ends with JFK dubbing the two of them the teen titans, which Robin finds corny. *Lol*. That's sarcasm, by the way.

Finally, we have a Black Canary-Wonder Woman team up that is drawn so painfully that I couldn't even finish it. WW looks like she's 300 pounds - a very remarkable difference than Cooke's beautiful muscular lithe Diana. The story was also tedious: something about Playboy bunnies or something. It was terrible.

All in all, I was pretty disappointed. I love original New Frontier. Not even Cooke's terrific pencils could save the story from the terrible cliche. The first chapter doesn't present anything new that the original mini-series hasn't already expertly done. Oh well. Not everything is a winner.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

mmmm beer

I had some Red Stripe beer yesterday at my buddys' house. I'm not really much of a beer drinker, as I prefer mixed drinks (and even those girly drinks), but the only thing they had was Red Stripe. Luckily two rye shooters helped me swallow the initial beer, but you know what? Red Stripe is Jamaican delicious, and it comes in a stubby bottle, which we don't see too much of here in Canada. It's a sweet beer, and it goes down smooth. If you're a beer drinker, try the Red Stripe. I like it. Okay, on with the regular content....

Friday, March 7, 2008

Frugal Fridays!

Today is Friday, and I received my tips, which means I spent them on things I don't need. This Frugal Friday is a bit bigger than last week, but still fairly small. Let's take a look, shall we?


The Perry Bible Fellowship is the maddest, most deranged, most funny comic strip in existence. The humour is so dark and twisted, but the art is just so incredibly gorgeous. The artist and author, Nicholas Gurewitch has such an astonishingly diverse range of styles and skills. This book is a collection of strips, that aren't really linked together by common characters or themes. Superficially, it seems very simple: three panels, one gag. But there's so much going on. With some jokes, the gag is subtle enough that I need to read it a second time. A lot of the gags twist our expectations of childhood things, or innocent things. Often, the humour comes from the comic possibility of unbelievable tragedy. Gurewitch often anthropomorphizes things such as vegetables, planets, jars, animals. But the jokes will come from the inherent personality of the inanimate object, like in this extremely well drawn example which is called "Bad Apple":


Anyway, I strongly recommend and urge you to purchase The Trial Of Colonel Sweeto And Other Stories.



RASL is Jeff Smith's new comic and it's great. I think. I don't know. There's a lot to be explained and a lot to happen, but otherwise, this is a decent first issue. Rasl is an art thief with the ability to move through dimensions - I think. He steals a Picasso and ends up in an alternate universe in which Dylan isn't called Dylan, but his birth name. Then he gets chased by a rat-faced guy in a trenchcoat and then something happens, I don't know what. I really really enjoyed Bone. I have the one volume edition and I've read it a billion times. Smith's cartoony yet dynamic moving art is tremendous. He's such a talent. Since Bone was so terrific, I'm willing to lay it on the line for RASL. Let's see where it goes from here.



The last thing I got today was a cheap copy of Fantastic Four/Iron Man: Big in Japan, which I've read before, and loved, but never had a chance to pick up the collected edition. Let me the millionth person to say that Seth Fisher was an amazing artist and I was choked when I found out he passed away. His art was so lively and zany and out of this world and so detailed. To have Fisher draw all these big monsters and have the FF and Shellhead go at 'em is pure heaven. A plot isn't even necessary, but luckily there is one, and it's terrific.

So that's the end of this week's Frugal Friday. I spent less than thirty bucks for all of this. Next week, there is practically nothing new coming out that I desperately want or need. No Country For Old Men is out on DVD, so I'll probably be picking that up.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Finally!

Today, Zach Snyder released some promo stills of his big screen film adaptation of Watchmen called, surprisingly, Watchmen. Snyder has released a couple stills already, of the backgrounds and sets that match Dave Gibbons' designs. But now, we get our full shots of the Watchmen cast. Here are Rorshach, the Silk Spectre, the Comedian, Nite Owl and Ozymandias. So far, I'm liking what I see. The Comedian is especially close to what he looks like in the comic. Nite Owl is a little too muscular for my liking. In the comic, Daniel was a little pudgy and a little middle age. Ozymandias has a pretty po-faced expression, but his costume looks decent, even though the colour scheme has changed, but then again, gold on film looks a different than gold on page. So now we're a year away from Watchmen and I'm starting to build a smidge of excitement. I still think that adapting Watchmen from the comic medium to film is nigh on impossible, if only because of the pacing and structure. But we'll see, won't we?

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Futurama II

It looks like the second Futurama direct-to-DVD film will be called "The Beast with a Billion Backs", and it will be released on June 24th, 2008. I've posted previously about the awesomeness of the first direct-to-DVD and I can honestly say that I'm really excited for this. Also... it guest stars David Cross. Now in what universe does David Cross' involvement equal suck? None that I know of. Oh wait... Cross was in Small Soldiers. So anyways, look for it on June 24th, and look for a review of it from "a lay of the land".

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Black Hole


I'd read that David Fincher was attached to direct a film adaptation of Charles Burns' comic
Black Hole. I wasn't really impressed with the idea; I wanted Fincher to direct something with a ton of visual pizzazz. But since Fincher was involved, I thought, how terrible can this comic be? It was on many blogger's top ten list the year it came out, and frequently, people tell me it's the bomb. So I picked up a copy, an early Frugal Friday, I suppose.

Black Hole is set in the mid Seventies, in Seattle, and follows a group of teenagers, some of whom have been affected by an STD they called "the bug," which causes grotesque physical transformations, some subtle, some hard to hide. The two major characters are Keith, a big pothead with nothing to do and a tendency to be constantly somewhere else, and Chris, a popular pretty girl who ends up falling in love with Rob, one of the infected. Rob's physical transformation is easily hidden: it's a little mouth in the front of his neck, just below the adam's apple. Chris and Rob end up having sex after too much drink, and Chris becomes infected. At the same time, Keith goes from having a crush on Chris to falling in love with Eliza, a girl with a tail.

The comic is very listless and wistful and longing and tender and sad and surreal. It's like reading Bret Easton Ellis directed by David Lynch or David Cronenberg. There's a strong sense of visual metaphor that starts with the very first page and ends with the last page. It's the image of the black hole, the gaping darkness that gazes back at us, the black hole that represents an uncertain future, and the darkness within us. The black hole isn't necessarily a bad thing; for many characters, the black hole is a warm safe place away from the bug, away from the social problems of living with a disease. Burns has crafted a very strong multi-faceted visual metaphor for the black hole that is represented by Rob's croaking mouth, a slit in a dissected frog, a rock formation in the lake, the sea, a gash in Chris' foot, and, of course, the vagina.

While it isn't erotic or graphic, this is a very sexy novel. These teens fumble and f*&% and suffer the consequences of their snap decisions and their copious substance abuse. The vagina becomes an important metaphor for all of the characters, and it repeats often. It's a safe warm place.... Burns shows through small scenes that the social stigma of the bug makes living in regular civilization very difficult, so the infected teens hang in small crowds, and make tender sexual connections with each other as a way to escape from it all. Burns shows this in very ingenious splash pages of random images and symbols. The snake, representing the story, representing the sperm, representing the bug makes frequent appearances in dreams and hallucinations. There is a lot of great sexual visual metaphors that makes the comic much more than a story of teens f*&%ing and smoking up. This is a story that is uniquely a comic. It's a visual story that relies heavily on visual information that tells more than what the narrators' (purposely) clumsy attempts at insight can do.

I really liked this comic, but I don't think that Fincher is the best choice for this. Cronenberg has the visual chops for this monster, but it's not like Fincher is terrible. I think that this comic, more so than others, will lend itself greatly to a film adaptation (rather than other comics like
Watchmen), as the textual narration is easily cut to let the images tell the story. I could see this being a terrific movie.

Frank Bascombe

For the past year and a half, I've been slowly working through Richard Ford's trilogy of novels about Frank Bascombe, sportswriter, father, real estate agent, husband, and narrator. In order of publication, Frank's story is told in The Sportswriter, Independence Day, and The Lay Of The Land. Today, I finished reading the third and hopefully final novel.

Each novel is set during a pivotal American holiday, such as Easter for the first book and Thanksgiving in the third. A pattern is used for all three novels - essentially Frank goes through a spiritual crisis relating to the past and relating to his place in the world. However, each novel builds on the previous one.

Frank's story is really about the reconciliation with the past and with the future. Every time we meet Frank, he thinks he's happy, but he's not really. He moves through life with a fake grin and some talk about sports and who will win the pennant. His loved ones move around him and he tries his best to connect with them. He and his first wife, Ann, divorced because they just weren't meant for each other, as well as the absolute heartache of their first son's death at an early age. The son, Ralph Bascombe, is the ghost that haunts Frank forever. He's always trying to settle with it, to make peace with it, but he never can. His relationship with his surviving son, Paul and daughter, Clarissa is complicated and strained.



In The Sportswriter, Frank tells us that he hates people who live in the past, that he hates people who can't move on, but he's obsessed with the past. He can't stop reliving the pain of death, the pain of divorce, the pain of failed prospects. He resigns himself to a life of writing abouts sports for a high class magazine. Sports represents bullshit, essentially. Frank spends all this time in bars, with his current lover, with his son, bullshitting, making the days go by. He hasn't found his place in the grand scheme of things, and he may never will. There's two pivotal moments in The Sportswriter: Frank's interview with the injured sports-stars, and the climax in which he realizes he can't marry his lover, Vicki. He realizes this when he learns of the suicide of his friend Walter, a member of his informal Divorced Men's Club (another way of living in the past but loathing it). Walter's death is the edge that Frank is standing at: whether to move forward in life, or to stay entrenched in the pain of the past. Frank moves forward, and decides not to continue with Vicki. He ends up in Europe with a much younger lover, and a better sense of his place.



We meet Frank in the second novel, Independence Day, set fifteen years after the first novel. Frank has now become a real estate agent and is living in his wife's old house in New Jersey. During the course of the Independence Day weekend, Frank tries to again reconcile the past by forging ahead with a relationship with Sally, bonding with his troubled son, Paul, and trying to sell a house to a couple with more problems than you can count. Independence Day won the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Prize, the first novel to do so. This is a much more complex novel than the first one. Frank has entered what he calls the Existence Period. He's at middle age and has resigned himself to a life of selling houses and simply existing, being part of the world as it moves on, rather than struggle against it. But he's still not happy. The spectre of his son, and of his marriage to Ann, and of Vicki hangs over everything he does. He sells houses to be a part of something bigger than just writing. The theme of real estate features very heavily into this book, seeing as how all three novels are American pastorals that meditate on the grand themes of being, uniquely, American. The meat of the second novel is the road trip that he takes with his teenaged son, Paul, and the anger and resentment that Paul feels comes to a head. He's not a happy kid. They go to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and then to a batting cage, where tensions grow and Paul gets hit in the head with a ball. The climax of the story is Frank at the hospital with Ann, realizing that his relationship to the past can never be broken. He again resigns himself to living with the past, but forging ahead. The ending of Independence Day isn't nearly as hopeful or as joyous as the previous book. This is an older, wiser Frank. He decides to stick with Sally and be happy, and instead of just existing, he's going to try and be more.



Finally, we finish with Frank in The Lay Of The Land, which this blog is named after, in part. It's now 2000 and the election looms over America. Frank is still a real estate agent who's married to Sally and lives in an upscale beachside property. He now owns his own realty business that employs a funny Buddhist Tibetan by the name of Mike Mahoney. Paul works for Hallmark in Kansas City and has met Jill, a one-handed girl who seems to be able to handle Paul's... bizarre behaviour. Clarissa has gone from straight to gay and back to straight with Thom, an older sage man. She's staying with Frank to help him recuperate. It seems that Frank has prostate cancer and has a needleful of radioactive BBs shot into his body to vanquish the cancer. He may be married to Sally, but she has left him for a long-lost (literally) previous husband who disappeared long before Frank met her. Ann's second husband is dead, leaving Ann lost at sea and despondent.

During the course of the Thanksgiving weekend, Frank sells some houses, witnesses a suicide bombing at the local hospital, gets into a bar fight, hangs out with Vicki's senile father, gets into a fight with his son, rebuffs Ann's desire to remarry, and gets shot by a 14 year old Russian assassin who's after Frank's asshole of a neighbour. More than anything, The Lay Of The Land is about spirituality and mortality. Frank is as close to death as a healthy man can be, and he finally, finally, sees that Ralph is never going away. He's not mad about Sally leaving him - she had to. He's not mad that Ann is trying to get back together with him. He's not mad that Mike is trying to buy him out. He's not even mad that he has cancer, or that he was shot (which happens at the climax). Frank is in the middle of the Permanent Period, where things finally settle down and people become who they are going to be, and things become as they will. The lay of the land is that it will always be. There's no "is that it then?" - rather, things are and things be. If the two novels before were about Frank's relationship to the past, this is the final moment when Frank faces life and decides to live. He mentions more than once that the crippling moment of Ralph's death does not define him, but rather is a part of him. Frank says that he will never get over Ralph's death, but it's part of the lay of the land. It's all part of the grand story. At the end, back together with Sally, Frank flies to the Mayo clinic for hopefully good news about the cancer. Frank knows he's going to live and he's not nervous. The plane touches down, and he's back to being on the ground literally and figuratively.

Frank's an interesting and complex narrator. We can't believe the things he says, cause he's bullshitting all the time, with people, with family, with us, with himself. He never faces the truth until it's staring at him in the face. You can't escape the past anymore than you can outrun it, he finally decides, and instead of living inside himself, being insular and an island, he brings himself back to the world, to the ground, to the land. He might not be entirely happy at the end of the story, but at least he's not bullshitting himself. Isn't that the most one can ask?

I really loved The Sportswriter, and really liked Independence Day and enjoyed The Lay Of The Land. The second book has much more going on, but the immediacy and the innocence of the earliest and youngest Frank gave me a more emotional reaction. However, I think the third book has the happiest and most satisfying ending. It's taken over 25 years, but Frank has finally stopped bullshitting himself.

I wouldn't mind re-reading these books right away and teasing out every meaning and symbol I can find. They're very complex novels that I'm sure lend themselves to multiple readings, but unfortunately, I have a million billion books to read as it is. Next, I am starting Richard Powers' The Echo Maker, which won the National Book Award.