Friday, April 30, 2010
The "Gladiator Plot". Never has a plot been so ill-conceived, and so over-used. Why would you claim that enjoyment of visceral action is a bad thing, if that is exactly what you are providing me with? What is that supposed to mean? Why are you directing action movies, if you hate them so much? Why did you discard the joy of ridiculous film making, and replace it with the exact same level of frenetic energy, except with the intention of making me not enjoy myself? Yes, I understand, it is a satire, but of what? Of itself? What is the point of that?
Let me explain my problem with this movie by dissecting one of its most memorable images - the sweaty naked fat man eating waffles and playing video games. First of all, this is an intentionally unpleasant image, that is supposed to make me feel revulsion. Okay, so I am supposed to be revolted by the idea of a video gamer. It is, I think, also supposed to be funny, in its disgustingness. So I am supposed to laugh at the idea of the video gamer. But what is it about video gamers that Neveldine/Taylor find so disgusting, and humorous? I mean, apart from the fact that they are naked fat men eating waffles? I mean, of course you could argue that the reason this man is portrayed as disgusting is not becuase he is a video gamer in the contemporary sense, but that he is such a loathsome person that he is okay with enslaving other people for his own entertainment. But this is obviously meant to be taken as a metaphor for gaming as it currently is - the use of the naked fat man is supposed to evoke in us images of people we have seen on the news and whatnot who spend their entire lives doing nothing but playing video games. So, are they trying to claim that contemporary gaming is tantamount to slavery? That those computer generated icons are people too, and we should respect them? What is the point? If you are going to show me an image as disgusting and unpleasant as a naked fat man eating waffles, you better have a damn good reason. Otherwise, your movie is just disgusting me, and that makes me like the film less. If I could properly work out the reason behind the naked fat man, then alright. If you were making a clear satirical point, I could accept it. But this film doesn't make a clear satirical point. None of its satire is clear, or focused. It's all just rambling and arbitrary, and most of it is aimed at the target audience for the film. After all, a film called Gamer is going to attract people who are mostly, you know, gamers.
Maybe that is the point of the film, after all. Maybe the idea is to jolt the audience out of its fat, lazy stupor. Maybe it is trying to say, "get off your lazy arses. Stop living fake lives, and go out and live a real one!" Maybe it's trying to say, "stop playing video games, and do something real! You know, like making and watching movies!" Except that it doesn't even say that properly, since one of the video gamers is portrayed as a hero, and his big heroic act is basically playing a video game.
This is the problem with Gamer. It is a film that tries so hard to make you think, but most of what it makes you think is just, "goddamn this was a stupid movie." It wasn't terrible, but the film was much worse than it thought it was.
But think about it - a little girl has an imaginary friend, or does she? Nope. Turns out he was real all along. And he visits her again when she is a grown up, but she has made some poor decisions. He tries to fix things, but is kind of an asshole. Everything turns out alright in the end.
It was a good episode, and Matt Smith's whole, "I am a new doctor and therefore am a madman and don't know how my body works" thing was well done and funny, but the actual plot was kind of blah. Not the Amelia/Amy Pond stuff, that was all good (although does anyone work as a 'kissagram' anymore? How is that a job?) but the alien plot was by-the-numbers. The taking over the images of people in comas was a nice idea, as was the getting the voice wrong thing, but the actual alien itself looked pretty crummy. And I didn't understand why the Doctor shouted out, "Don't look at it, or it will kill you," she looked at it, but it didn't kill her. It just sort of hung there, growling.
Maybe I would have liked this episode better if I hadn't watched the second episode first, because the only thing this episode does really well is introduce the new Doctor and his companion, who I had already met. Oh well. It was still pretty good.
Thursday, April 29, 2010
The first sign that this film is really about film is the fact that Orson Welles spends most of the film sitting at an editing desk, manipulating the film we are watching. Welles acts as a sort of narrator-raconteur-tour guide-editor-magician hybrid throughout the film, lending his own presence when no other footage could be had (much of the film is edited from an earlier, never-finished documentary, filmed by someone else - it was made on the cheap), and generally just explaining what it is we are looking at. Even when Welles is talking about things that have seemingly nothing to do with the cinema, like art forgery, it is still always related back. For example, his long rants about art forgery contain many, many jabs at the uselessness of 'experts' as any sort of preventative against art forgery, because they don't know what they are talking about. This is one of the key themes of the film - experts have no idea what the hell they are talking about. Their knowledge is superficial, and largely useless. While not explicitly stated in the film, this is a reference to film criticism, most specifically Pauline Kael's longform essay "Raising Kane", which attributed much of the success of the film to Herman J. Mankiewicz's screenplay, rather than to Welles himself. Kael wrote this essay as a sort of anti-auteurist experiment, an attempt to point out the fact that Welles did not, in fact, make Citizen Kane all by his lonesome, that lots of other people were involved as well. Welles did not take kindly to this essay and reacted accordingly. Whether this was because he liked being thought of as a wunderkind, or because Kael's essay attempted to point out the fact that many people were involved in the making of the film, but ended up claiming that Mankiewicz was the sole auteur, it is difficult to say, although it is notable that Welles did write a rebuttal article, that talked about all of the other people (besides him) who made Citizen Kane possible, although this could just have been an attempt to disguise his own massive ego.
Welles does spend some time in F for Fake discussing architecture, and how this is an anonymous and group activity, and how beautiful. Though he does not mention film in this section, it is clear that he is comparing the creation of a building to the making of a film (with its many contributors). Welles ends this segment with the line, "maybe a man's name doesn't mean that much," signifying the idea that the author is really irrelevant, but it is the text that matters. This moral is somewhat undercut, though, by the fact that Welles portrays himself in this movie as some sort of overlord of film - working the editing board, narrating from various places, interviewing and interacting with the subjects of the documentary, even telling a few stories of his own. The fact that this is so obviously a film "made by Orson Welles" is at odds with the idea that "a man's name doesn't mean that much" in art. This contradiction is almost certainly intentional, though, as one of the film's central ideas is to play games of irony with the audience - a sort of "how many levels can you spot?" type thing.
Another way in which Welles brings F for Fake back to film - Clifford Irving had written a fake autobiography on Howard Hughes. Welles links this back to Citizen Kane - claiming that the original idea for Citizen Kane was going to be a roman a clef about Howard Hughes, but they changed it to William Randolph Hearst because, "nobody would believe Hughes' life in fiction."
This is an interesting, enigmatic puzzle of a film. Fun and funny, but also thought provoking - even if most of the thoughts it provokes are of the, "what is the point of that?" variety. That is the game of the film - see if you can work out the point for everything.
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
This book, however, was not boring. It wasn't much of anything else, but it wasn't boring. It sort of read like a coffee table book about science fiction movies, except with a lot less pretty pictures. Oh sure, sometimes it would make actually decent points - its analysis of 2001: A Space Odyssey was a highlight - but sometimes it just spent pages and pages waffling on about the difference between scifi and science fiction, and I just didn't care.
There were other enjoyable bits as well - trashing Richard Fleischer, the man who should never have been allowed to direct another film after Doctor Dolittle (starring Rex Harrison), or talking about the fact that the producers of Moonraker were mentally retarded when they said, "this movie isn't science fiction, it's science fact." Or when the book just starts screaming about how awful the Disney movie The Black Hole is. This was all good, and the book also made some good points about how and why special effects improve over the years, and it certainly wasn't difficult to read, but it was basically just a light, breezy read. I certainly shouldn't have this as my inaugral book. Oh well.
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Also, none of these characters semm to have any understanding of the value of money. In the first scene, and for no discernable reason, a group of hoodlums just leave a huge bag of money lying on the side of the road. I mean, sure, Batman was standing around near them, but he was distracted, which is why they were able to get away. Surely they could have managed to pick up a bag - how long does that take? Three seconds?
And then later on in the epsiode, the Penguin, the Joker and Twoface are all bidding against each other in an auction to determine who will learn the true identity of Batman. At first, they bid against each other, "one million!" "no, two!" Then the Joker has a better idea - pooling all their money together, so that they can all learn the secret! So instead of just paying him two million, they end up paying him fifty million! That makes so much sense! I'm not sure, but I'm pretty sure that generally if every single person at an auction decides not to bid against each other and to pool all their resources together, you can actually just, you know, not bid anything more! You raised it to two million then decided to stop bidding? So why are you paying his fifty million? It makes no fucking sense! I mean, okay, I can understand the Joker inventing such a fucking stupid idea, because he's the Joker, and I can maybe buy Twoface doing it if his coin tells him to, but the Penguin? What the fuck, dude? When did you become retarded?
Apart from this idiocy with money though the episode is pretty good. I do really like the plan Batman uses to trick everyone into thinking Doctor Strange was full of shit. Not the Robin dressing up plan, the other one. The switching the tapes one. That one was pretty clever.
Monday, April 26, 2010
Except it doesn't build. It goes in the reverse order to what it should - it puts all the funniest stuff in the first act, has a second act that is funny when it makes sense or someone is falling over (and very funny when both are happening,) but the third act just kind of sits there. It doesn't build. I mean, the situations get progressively more ridiculous, but they don't get any funnier. They just get to a point where it is all so ridiculous that all the characters have given up trying. And when characters stop trying, farce stops working. You just sort of sit there, thinking, "this would all be a lot funnier if they were just performing Nothing On properly, without stuffing up. Most of it was funnier in its original context."
Maybe that is the problem with the film - it seems like the play that the troupe is staging would be funnier than what we are watching. I just want to see the second act of that, rather than just progressively worse versions of the first act. I mean, yes, it's a very daring and meta thing for a play (now a movie) to attempt, but you're not Tom Stoppard, Michael Frayn, you're writting plays about sex and people falling down a lot. Save the deconstruction to people who know what they're doing.
Maybe I'm being to hard on it. After all, the only performance of it live that I've ever seen was a High School Play that one of my friends was in, and it was funny, but, you know, a High School Play. Maybe the building ridiculousness of the final act just simply works better on the stage than it does on film. All of the reviews from the time seem to think so... I apologise, Michael Frayn. Also, I just checked your Wikipedia page, and found out that you are now a successful dramatist, as well as novelist, and translator of Chekhov and Tolstoy. So, yeah, that Tom Stoppard crack was maybe uncalled for. Sorry.
Talking about this film's plot is pointless - even if it wasn't pointless it would be impossible, as most of the characters don't really know what is going on, and the one's that do aren't saying anything. A hitman performs a hit, someone sees him walking out of the room, and the police look for him. That is the film's plot, with a few diversions about the people the hitman is working for, and their various reactions to the police being on his trail. I complained a couple of days ago about the backstory stuff in Shoot 'Em Up - no such problem exists here.
What matters in the film is not plot, but the style in which the 'plot' unfolds. Alain Delon walks around Paris with so much economy of motion, you'd almost swear he was on jet-propelled roller skates. He barely makes a facial expression when he gets shot in the arm, just dispassionately washes and dresses the wound, then goes right back to wandering around. His main antagonist, the police investigator, however, moves like he hopes that more movement equals more case-solving. This dichotomy - that between under- and over- moving, makes up the bulk of the film, but neither turn out to be effective. The only thing that is truly effective, in the context of this film, is fate. And death.
Watch the two scenes in which Delon goes to see the mechanic, who changes the number plates of the stolen cars. In the first one, Delon exits his car, stands against a cupboard perfectly still, and smokes. He hands the man a wad of cash, gets in his car, and drives away. No words were exchanged. In the second scene, Delon stays in the car. He still has that economy of motion, but now his face is betraying him - he is afraid. The mechanic leans in and says, "this is the last time." And we know he is about to die, as surely as when Katherine Ross leaves in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Delon replies, "okay." He knows too.
This is a great film. If I have one problem, it is the fact that when Delon shoots someone, we see him taking his hands out of his pockets, empty. He cut to the other man's face, and he cocks his gun. Cut back to Delon, and he is now holding his gun. Why is this there? I don't understand the point of it. But apart from that five seconds of film, this is great.
But apart from all these awkward contradictions, it isn't a bad show. I like the fact that it embraces its comic book origins without feeling the need to make fun of them (not that making fun of comic books isn't perfectly valid, it's just good that this show didn't feel the need to retread the Adam West Batman,) the theme music is great, the animated interstitials are fun, the actors have just the right amount of ham.
But to the episode proper. It was alright, except that the plot hinged on Wonder Woman acting like an unbelievable idiot. She doesn't bother to retrieve her Golden Lasso after using it to save a ten year old boy (she's in too much of a hurry, or some bullshit), instead leaving it in the hands of the ten year old. Yeah, that's a fucking great idea, you fucking moron! Give the Lasso of Truth, an incredibly powerful weapon of which there is only one in the whole world, to a fucking ten year old! Are you insane? Are you high? What the hell?
Also, Wonder Woman manages to easily break out of chains described as being so strong, "not even an elephant could break them." Then, in the very next scene, she can't overpower a single, completely average strength woman. Huh? So she's stronger than an elephant, but she can't easily overpower someone of regular strength with absolutely no fighting ability? How does this make any sense?
Apart from those two massive plotholes, though, it was a pretty good episode. I liked the evilness of the bad guys, the bits of the plot that weren't filled with holes were actually pretty good, and there was this great scene where, for no reason, this pointless secretary steals the focus of the scene with her pointless mugging and eating of apple pie. She was the best thing in the episode.
Sunday, April 25, 2010
The Beast Below was amazingly well done. Never in a million years did any one of the audience members watching the show think the line, "until you hear a child cry," was a setup for the final plot reveal, because it was just so damn naturally woven into the story. You might have started to work out what was going on when someone said, "it won't eat the children," but before that, no way. It just felt so naturalistic and correct at the time, so when it becomes important at the end, the whole episode suddenly makes so much more sense, even though before that point you didn't really think there could be much more sense to be made. The 'tough moral decision' section of the episode did teeter on the edge of becoming Russel T. Davies-esque Melodramatic bullshit, but Moffat's plotting saved it. So rather than feeling melodramatic and forced, it felt natural and inevitable, and above all right.
Of course, the actual political message of the episode was somewhat hackneyed (can't we all just get along?) but that doesn't really matter. It's never revealed why those creepy Smiler things are everywhere (rather than just cameras and/or military police,) or why they look like those robot-fortune teller booths, or how they have three sides to their faces. But none of that matters. These are minor quibbles, and do not dampen what was a really, really good episode of Doctor Who.
Review: Bored to Death episode 1.1: Stockholm Syndrome and episode 1.3: The Case of the Missing Screenplay
Stockholm Syndrome: This is a great pilot. I love the fact that all of the male characters in the show are emotionally stunted man-children. This is the role Zach Galifianakis always plays, as I'm pretty sure he is incapable of playing any other, but Ted Danson is wonderful. His silver hair has not made him any less handsome, and so to see this handsome man act in basically the same way as Jason Schwartzmann and Zach Galifianakis is very funny. It is also very funny that Jonathan Ames is just a terrible detective. He just sucks at it. He actually does sort of solve the case he is on (his first,) which was a missing persons thing. But once he finds the missing woman, and sees that she is tied up to a bed with a gag in her mouth, instead of trying to save her like a normal person would, he smokes some pot with her captor, and complains about how his girlfriend just left him.
The Case of the Missing Screenplay: As much as I liked the pilot, this episode was better. It had Jim Jarmusch in it! Riding a bicycle around his office! It was excellent. The only problem I had with this episode was that the plot contrivance which caused the titular 'missing screenplay' was a little too contrived for a show like this, that attempts to have a veneer of truthfulness about it. I mean, it's not supposed to be what life is actually like for anyone at all, but it is supposed to be truthful, in that it is about what life would be like if the real Jonathan Ames decided to become a detective. Ames isn't trying to portray himself as some television hero-detective, but as the bumbling fool that he is, complete with all the neurosese and meaningless hangups. And because the show does a really good job (most of the time) making me believe that this idiot would be so deluded as to think that he could become a private detective, it does feel a bit like cheating when it resorts to obvious plot contrivances. The episode was still brilliant, though, so I should probably stop whining.
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia is one of the funniest sitcoms currently being made. It is also one of the most horrible. The characters are just the worst people imaginable - they make the characters on Seinfeld look like regular people. The entire show is a satire about how stupid, lazy, underinformed, mean and downright despicable modern society is. Not that it assumes that anyone was ever any better in the past - the character of Frank, played by Danny DeVito, proves that, in the world of Always Sunny, people have always been despicable monsters.
The reason I am talking about these three episodes in a clump is that I watched them all in a clump at my friend's house, and so couldn't review them one by one. Also, I don't have to write variations of the exact same introduction three times in a row.
The Gang Hits the Road: One of the running jokes of the show is that the male characters overtly treats the show's token female character like traditional sitcom writers have often treated their token female characters - with contempt. Sweet Dee is the token female in question, and although she is one of the funniest characters, all of the other characters treat her like she doesn't matter, because she is the "useless chick". This is a nice reversal on the traditional sitcom, where the female character would be there to just look pretty, but not actually be funny, or involved in any of the guy-oriented storylines (I'm thinking here of Diane from Cheers, that token woman from Taxi whose name I can't remember, the black woman on Newsradio, most of the female characters in That Seventies Show. I am not criticising the actresses who played these parts, often better than they were written, but the writers who didn't seem to know what to do with the female characters. I am also not criticising the odd show that actually did successfully use their female cast properly, like The Mary Tyler Moore Show, or Burns and Allen). My point in all this rambling incohenerency is that this joke comes to a sort of climax in this episode, where the guys all plan to take a road trip to see the Grand Canyon, and they don't invite Dee. She finds out about the trip, and the guys all spend a good deal of the rest of the episode either trying to get rid of her, or constantly criticising her. Her reactions to all this horrible behaviour are hilarious, and are sort of what makes it okay for the men to all be so mean to her - she is just as bad a person as they are.
The Great Recession: This episode plays with another very funny aspect of Always Sunny. The fact that the characters are so egotistical and stupid that they have no idea how the world works. The Financial Crisis has meant that a shanty town has started right in front of the bar that everybody in the show owns or works at (boy I'm a bad reviewer. I didn't even mention where the fucking thing was taking place until the review of the second episode.) So Mac and Dennis decide to cook up one of their worst plans yet - Paddy's Dollars (the pub is called 'Paddy's Pub'). These were supposed to act as incentives to get people drinking at Paddy's, sort of like a loyalty card, except that they didn't actually make anyone buy anything in order to get the Paddy's Dollars, they just distributed them for free. So, at the end of the day, they had sold all their inventory for zero dollars. Or as Dennis puts it, "well, no actual dollars, but we made all our Paddy's Dollars back." The only problem with this episode is that the character of Charlie is used poorly. Charlie is some sort of unidiagnosed mentally-retarded person, who is often the funniest person on the show, but in this episode he is given very little to do. He has a not very funny run in the Mac and Dennis storyline where he tries to defend his job, and in the Dee and Frank storyline (where they try to start a business together, because Frank, who was a millionairre, was whiped out by the Financial Crisis, and Dee is a moron) he makes a brief and unfunny appearance as a "crab man," someone who is trying to get Dee and Frank to invest in his crabbing venture. Apart from the underutilisation of Charlie, however, it is a very good episode.
The Waitress is Getting Married: This, however, is an even better episode, precisely because of its use of Charlie. The Waitress is a woman who Charlie is stalking, and it turns out that she is getting married to a man Dee dated in High School. Dee wants everyone in the bar's help to stop this from happening because she is jealous of the waitress getting married before her, and the others decide that they need to get Charlie interested in other women, so that he won't be too devestated when Dee's plan inevitably fails. This is not out of concern for Charlie's happiness or well being, but simply a safety precaution. They worry that if Charlie were to find out that the love of his life was marrying someone else, he might come in to the bar and kill everyone. The date between Charlie and the woman he meets over the internet is one of the funniest things I have ever seen, as is Charlie's attempts to write a personal profile for match.com. This is a very good episode, and it ends on a surprisingly sweet note. Although it is telling that the surprisingly sweet note involves someone giving someone else a box of hornets as a 'present'. That is as sweet as Always Sunny ever gets.
Update: I just watched a bunch of Youtbe clips for Frisky Dingo and Sealab 2021. I should not give them another go. They are exactly as terrible as I remember them being.
I mean, Jesus Christ, this is a movie about death traps, and almost nobody is killed by a fucking death trap! We see that one guy at the very start, and another guy gets acid in the face, but apart from that, nothing. They just walk around, perfectly unharmed! More of them are killed by one of the guys inside the cube than the cube itself! Oh, and by the way, the villain is the one black guy, so this movie, apart from being boring and annoying, is also racist. Hooray!
And I was watching this film with a bunch of people with University degrees in Mathematics, and despite the fact that about half of the dialogue of the film is devoted to incomrehensible garbage about numbers, aparrently none of it makes any sense. They claimed that most of the time that a character actually said something that was actual proper maths that it was just incorrect, and the fact that the way the cube moved didn't bear any fucking correlation to the fucking numbers! I'll trust them over this shitty piece of crap any day.
Aagh I hated this film. I hated it so much.
I really like so much of this movie - the camera work, the inventiveness, the jokes - that it is somewhat disappointing that the film occassionally sucks. Do not get me wrong, I am not trying to suggest that I think that there should have been 'more character development,' or that the characters should have been 'less cartoony'. If either of those things had happened, the film would have lost the specialness that it has. The whole film was about the beauty and fun of screen violence, and to bog that down in the molasses that lesser movies need to keep moving forward would have been a mistake. I would just have liked it if all of the gun battles were as inventive and fun and funny as the first one, or the one in the munitions factory.
Actually, I would have liked the film more if we knew less about Clive Owen's character's past. At the start, he is just an angry, crazy man, who accidentally gets mixed up in something that has nothing to do with him, and is inexplicably amazing with a firearm. That was enough. We didn't need any more. We didn't need to know that pointless bullshit about his wife and child having been murdered and he sold the gun to the murderer bla bla bla. All that just detracts from the awesomeness of the character. Knowing why he is like he is is both pointless and diminishing to him. All we needed to know about him was that he was a total badass. The rest is just an irritance.
Saturday, April 24, 2010
The problem with Batman: Brave and the Bold usually is the fact that the teasers are so much better than the episode proper. You get two minutes of genius, followed by twenty minutes of alrightness. But this episode, the show-proper was actually better than the teaser! The teaser was good as well, though. Booster Gold was in his classic 'stupid moron' characterisation, failing miserably to answer a bunch of the Riddler's riddles, in order to free Batman from an electrocution trap. Batman escapes on his own, he frees Booster, and they punch some guys. It was pretty good, there was some nice banter, but it certainly wasn't the best Brave and the Bold teaser I have ever seen.
Ah, but the episode proper. It starts out as basically a regular episode, with a group of kids on a field trip to a nuclear plant, a mad scientist breaks in, Batman punches him, big atomic blast. The atomic blast fuses some nerdy kid and his irritatingly jockish coach into one body. So far it was all alright, but nothing spectacular. But then it is revealed that Batman has been split into three seperate personalities by the blast. The logical and analytical one, the angry and violent one, and the stoner one. That's right, apparently Batman has a stoner side to him! He wonders around, saying he has 'the munchies', and eating nachos. He is basically Keanu Reeves in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. It is fucking hilarious. What's even funnier is the fact that the other two Batmen just hate the stoner Batman. At one point the angry Batman just explodes and shouts, "Batman does not eat Nachos!" It is very funny.
This was such a good episode.
Friday, April 23, 2010
This Week's Comics: Brave and the Bold, Supergirl, R.E.B.E.L.S., Justice League of America, The Spirit, Power Girl, Superman/Batman, et. al.
The Brave and the Bold No. 33 written by J. Michael Straczynski, illustrated by Cliff Chiang. This comic made me cry. It started out, and I was thinking, "goddamn this is stupid. What the hell is going on? Why am I reading this? Why is any of this happening?" And then, bam. I realised that this was Barbara Gordon's last night, and I just cried and cried. The dialogue is kind of poorly written, much of it is sort of boring, the artwork is acceptable if a little blocky, but goddamn is it good.
Supergirl No. 52 written by Sterling Gates illustrated by Ivan Rodriguez. This, however, is not good. Jesus Christ, this book has what must be the worst written accidentally-revealing-that-you-knew-something-that-you-said-you-didn't-know I have ever read. When Brainiac 5 says, "There's no possibility we've met before, Kara. In fact, records of you don't even exist in my time. I'd never even heard of you before I got here an hour ago. You're just little Linda Lang, Superman's forgotten cousin," it is actually ridiculous. Why is he saying all of this? I mean, I could buy one of these slips of the toungue. Calling her Kara, or Linda Lang, or mentioning that she's Superman's cousin, but all three? Seriously? We are seriously meant to believe that Brainiac 5, one of the smartest characters in all of D.C. comics, is stupid enough to make the exact same mistake three times in ridiiculously rapid succession? Why? Why was this so stupidly done? It makes no sense. Was it meant as a brief explanation as to Supergirl's origins for people reading Last Stand Of New Krypton? Why not just have a description of her in a narration form, oh wait you do already on the fucking title page! Goddamnit this comic is stupid.
R.E.B.E.L.S. No. 15 written by Tony Bedard illustrated by Cluade St. Aubin. I have no fucking idea what is going on here, and frankly I don't really care. Some of the artwork is nice (although the overuse of cross-hatching on people's faces is quite ugly) but apart from the whole Dick Grayson thing, I had no fucking clue what was going on. This is the first issue of R.E.B.E.L.S. I have read, and I read it because I wanted to see what was happening with Starfire (a character I've always liked) but I honestly couldn't tell you what the fuck was going on. TZhere was some guy who everyone wanted to kill? And he had a starfish drawn on his face? And some random people were calling him the Master? But then saying that the Master was someone else? I've got no fucking clue.
Justice League of America no. 44 written by James Robinson, illustrated by Mark Bagley. I quite liked this book, the Justice League beginning to work as a team and so forth, but it still doesn't properly answer the question - why the fuck has the Justice League been so reduced? Why is the only A-Grade Superhero still there Batman, and even then he's not the original one. Who's idea was it to trivialise the Justice League like this? It has worked better than it should have, but it is still a dumbassed idea. Also, Etrigan is a stupid bullshit character, so it was good to see people trying to beat the shit out of him.
The Spirit No. 1 written by Mark Schultz, illustrated by Moritat. Ugh. Is it some sort of editorial mandate that these First Wave books look like shit? Why the hell are they so ugly? First Doc Savage, and now this? Jesus Christ, did Mark Schultz ever even read any of the original (and excellent) Will Eisner The Spirit comics? Or did he even to bother to read Darwyne Cook's (pretty good) revamps? It seems to me that his entire fucking knowledge of the character comes from that godawful Frank Miller movie, where Miller seemed to think that he was supposed to be making an awful Batman movie, but accidentally inserted the Spirit. The Spirit isn't brooding, guys! The Spirit is a happy-go-lucky kind of guy! Why do you keep doing this to him? Why do you have him walking away from an explosion without looking behind him? That isn't The Spirit! The Spirit is awesome, and would marvel in the awesomeness of the explosion! Fuck you Mark Schulta, and fuck you Moritat!
Power Girl No. 11 written by Justin Gray, illustrated by Jimmy Palmiotti. This was really good. Great artwork, good story, nice conclusion (?) to the Ultra-Humanite plotline, and I laughed quite a lot when Power Girl just lasered Satanna's arm clean off. Genius. And her replacement arm is great looking. I'm really looking forward to seeing where this goes.
Super/Batman No. 71 written by Joe Casey, illustrated by Joshua Williamson. This was okay, but it wasn't great or anything. This series just sort of plods along, going from over-long fight scene to over-long fight scene, never really having anything interesting happening, but never being really terrible either. Everything about it is just sort of uninteresting.
Batman: Streets of Gotham City No. 11 written by Paul Dini, illustrated by Dustin Nguyen. There are two plotlines that every superhero comic or action show eventually do, and they are both always the worst episodes of the show: the waking-up-in-a-mental-institution-and-being-told-that-the-rest-of-the-show-was-all-a-delusion plot (which is supposed to raise questions about the nature of reality and fantasy, but doesn't), and the Gladiator plot, which is supposed to raise pertinant questions about the nature of vicariously enjoying violence, but doesn't. The Gladiator plot goes like this: main character is kidnapped, and forced to fight other people with similar abilities to them, for the enjoyment of rich people. They rebel against being slaves, and lead all of the fighters the show arbitrarily decided we should like in an uprising against their rich supressors. It is just such an awful idea to do this - why would you question vicarious violence when that is EXACTLY WHAT YOU ARE PROVIDING FOR THE AUDIENCE! It makes no sense. We tune in to watch some mindless violence, and instead get some stupid, cliched polemic about how we shouldn't be enjoying mindless violence. Why? Why shouldn't I be enjoying mindless violence? Obviously I am against slavery, but that is not really what these episodes are ever about. They are about how disgusting those rich people are, paying to see other people's torment. Well, fuck you, t.v. show or comic, I'm gonna enjoy the violence anyway. That said, even though this comic was a Gladiator plot, it didn't suck as much as some Gladiator plots I've read or seen. That isn't a compliment, for it is still a stupid goddamn idea, and kind of a dumb comic, but it isn't as bad as it could have been.
The Amazing Spider-Man No. 628 written by Roger Stern, illustrated by Lee Weeks. I'm not normally a Marvel reader, mainly because most of their books are X-Men related, and if you haven't been reading every single one of the X-Men books for the last fifteen years it is impossible to understand what the hell is going on at any point, but I've decided to give some of their other books a look. And I've gotta say, I was pretty impressed. This was a very entertaining comic. And, it was quite easy to follow. And, something I didn't know, it actually has a sort of 'previously on' at the start of the comic. Huh. That was actually useful. Why the hell don't D.C. have 'previously ons' at the start of their books? I may have been able to understand at least some of R.E.B.E.L.S. if there had been a 'previously on,' and that was a far, far more confusing story than the one in this Spider-Man comic. Also-Letters to the Editor. How come D.C. stopped with the letters to the Editor? I mean, come on, man, it's comics. You are supposed to have a Letters to the Editor. It's fucking tradition, or something.So, huh. Maybe I'll start reading Marvel again.
Deadpool No. 10 written by Victor Gischler, illustrated by Bong Dazo. Huh. This was also pretty good. I mean, quite violent, and the Marvel Zombies idea is getting old, but still. This was pretty entertaining. Funny, exciting, and probably the best artwork out of anything I read this week. So, Marvel, I apologise. I stopped reading you when Civil War became interminably tedious, but now I am back, at least probationarily.
The Voyages of She-Buccaneer No. 7 written and illustrated by Heidi & Will. I hadn't read any of the other She-Buccaneer comics, but this one said that it was an 'origin story' on the front, and, I mean, well, lady pirates. How could I not read this? I was expecting it to be shit, but surprisingly it wasn't. It was actually pretty entertaining, it moved at a nice pace, the artwork was good, the villains were villainous, the heroes were dashing and heroic. The dialogue is kind of shitty at times, trying to be all 'pirate-y' and coming off as pretty-near incomprehensible, and I don't really understand what was up with the mystical dagger thing, but those are minor quibbles. Really. The only major quibble I have is that the fucking thing is aparrently moving to 'digital format' next issue. Fuck that.
Kato - Origins No. 1 written by Jai Nitz, illustrated by Colton Worley. This comic is alright, but hopefully it gets better after this issue. This whole thing is mostly setup, so the next few issues are hopefully payoff. It certainly wasn't bad, though.
American Vampire No. 2 written by Scott Snyder, illustrated by Rafael Albuquerque. It's like True Blood, but in comic form! And shitty! So much tedious exposition, so much boring dialogue. The artwork is really good, but the writing is so boring and annoying that it hardly matters. And the whole two stories thing was annoying. You know what, it reminded me of Bite Club. Man, I didn't give a shit about Bite Club either. I'll maybe read another issue or two, mainly for the artwork, but if it doesn't get better, I'll be dropping this book like, errr... something you drop fast.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
However, if one chooses not to take this as a political polemic (which is the way I take it, because I'm not in France and therefore it makes no difference to anyone in the world what I think of their immigration policy,) it is a highly effective drama. Yes, sometimes it does slip in to melodrama (like the climax of the film, and the fact that his one true love is being forced into an arranged marriage gasp oh my gosh,) but the non-melodramatic parts are very effective. Take the relationship between the swimming instructor and his soon to be ex-wife. There is an undercurrent of emotion there that is always apparent but almost never acknowledged, meaning that a scene as simple as the ex-wife coming over to collect some of her books and nicknacks is given a melancholic sort of subtext. And I liked the fact that this relationship was left almost completely unresolved, and the resolution the film decides to give us is minimal and fleeting.
This was a very good film, but was not that good a political message. But I'm fine with that. Political-messagey films are almost always terrible. It's good to find one that spends its time on character, rather than using its characters as walking mouthpieces. There are no big speeches in this movie, and when characters ask why they help these people their response is invariably, "I don't know."
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
The first section is a fun little story about the Renaissance-era painter Raphael, and his mistress. There is a crazy labyrinth that leads into the Vatican, and it is just fun to watch totally improbable Renaissance technology at work. There is quite a lot of sex, and a bit of violence as well - the mistress kills some guys with poisoned cherries and someone stabs a man's eye with a skewer.
But this is nothing compared to the insane violence that occurs in the second section. It starts out as a weird, slightly bestial coming of age story, with a young woman using her pet rabbit as a masturbatory aid. Huh. Okay. Then you are introduced to the young woman's parents, and, if you have read Angela Carter's short story The Fall River Axe Murders, about the infamous murderess Lizzie Borden, you can pretty much tell where this is going. Except that in this movie, it's even more messed up, because the young woman is (kinda, sorta) raped, and then the rapist hangs himself in front of her eyes. While pleading to be cut down. Which she doesn't do.
And after that completely insane (but very effective) segment, we are left thinking, "oh, where the hell can it go from here? It started out fun and silly, got extremely violent, where to next? Is it going to get even more violent and crazy? Is it going to get even more awesome in a weird, psycho-sexual sort of a way?" But no. What we get instead is an episode of Lassie. Honestly. The last segment is just a goddamn epsiode of Lassie. A woman gets kidnapped, and her goddamn dog comes to rescue her. Alright, to be fair, there is an awkward and tedious rape scene (it doesn't seem particularly violent, nor particularly exciting, so I don't really understand why it's in there except that Walerian Borowczyk (how is that a name) thought it needed some spicing up, which the scene patently failed to do), and the dog does bite the guy in the balls, but apart from that, its just a lot of scenes of a dog running, interspersed with scenes of two people sitting in the bag of a van. Oh, and after the guy was bitten in the balls, he decided it would be a good idea to summersault into a nearby river, even though when he was bitten in the balls he was inside. So, he summersaulted out of the door, down the bank, down and the boardwalk, and then into the river. That is some powerful ball biting right there. It is also kind of hinted at that the woman and the dog will go on to have some sort of sexual relationship, but I didn't know or care about it at all, so I didn't really bother to try and work out what was happening at that point.
Why did he think I wanted to watch an episode of Lassie? Why would anyone want to watch an episode of Lassie? What the hell?
It is somewhat unfortunate, then, that Micmacs is not a particularly good story, nor is it particularly well told. In fact, the plot actually doesn't make any sense. So... there's this guy, and his dad is exploded by a land mine when he's a little kid, and he gets shot in the face when he's an adult (but the bullet doesn't kill him because... he was watching The Big Sleep?) and so he loses his job and his apartment (because when you've been shot in the face as an innocent bystander in some sort of violent altercation, everyone just thinks its perfectly fine to steal all your stuff) so he goes and lives in a magical garbage dump with a whole bunch of tramps and hobos who are all idiosyncratic but utterly charming and comical. Apparently hobos aren't drug addicts and hobos after all, but mechanical geniuses and people who can talk in coherent sentences. Well, it's France, maybe their hobos are cleaner or something. And then, rather than deciding to track down the people directly responsible for him being shot in the face, or for the death of his father, he decides to attack two weapons manufacturers instead! Because they are the ones who are really responsible - not the people who actually placed the bomb, or the people who actually were shooting in the middle of a French street, but the arms manufacturers.
Look, I'm as against arms manufacturers and their massive profits based largely off of the misery and death of others as the next anti-gun left-wing what-have-you, but I really don't think this man should be holding a personal grudge against people who had no direct input into his downfall. I mean, there are people in the world who were far more responsible for the death of his father and for him being shot in the face. Like, the people who placed the bomb, or the people who were shooting at each other! Those are the real bad guys here! And yes, the arms manufacturers were enjoyably evil and villainous, and they did do terrible things all throughout the film, and I did get some satisfaction out of seeing them punished. But it didn't really make any sense that it was this guy to be dishing out the vengeance.
All that total-lack-of-story-cohesion aside, this was an enjoyable film. The ingeniously-ridiculous ways in which our hero goes about punishing the arms manufacturers were very, very fun to watch. It was basically like a really good con movie, except that most of the plans were bat shit insane. Like that plan that involved the giant cannon made out of scraps of stuff found in the junk yard. What was that cannon even for, even in the context of the rest of that plan? There was absolutely no point to it - it was just very fun to watch.
Was... was this film racist? All of the black characters were either terrifying or silly and effeminate. It did sort of worry me while I was watching the film - why aren't there any just, you know, regular black people? Why are they all caricatures? And is it less or more racist to feature no black people at all, or to feature only black people who are either terrifying or kind of stupid?
Sunday, April 18, 2010
With that in mind, Cat Scratch Fever is not a great episode. It certainly wasn't a bad episode, but it wasn't great. The villain was kind of boring, and his henchpeople were pretty annoying. But I did like the fact that they put Catwoman on the path towards being a kind-of-hero at this point, which is something that does pay off later with some better episodes than this one. And I did like the fact that she started the adventure as Selina Kyle, in hopes of leading a normal life, but her love of cats forced her to take action. It was only after she had failed to stop the bad guys as Selina that she turned in to Catwoman. I also really liked the ending, where Batman gave Selina her cat back. No dialogue, no meaningful glances, no nothing. They didn't even have to look at each other. It was so goddamn romantic and sweet. Batman - secretly he's just a big teddy bear, and that's how I like it.
NOTE: I do actually like The Dark Knight, Tim Burton's Batman, Batman Returns, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, and the Adam West show. I just think BTAS is better.
Batman Begins is rubbish though - Scarecrow is such a stupid fucking badguy.
Also, the songs are pretty bland. They aren't bad, but if every single line of dialogue is going to be sung, I would have preferred it to be sung to some tunes that didn't sound like elevator music. I understand that the point of this is the fact that the singing is supposed to seem natural and organic, and to basically seem like real conversation. But I ask again - why? Either make it a proper musical, with actually good songs and dance numbers and so on, or make it a proper movie and have everyone just talking. I do not understand the point of this weird mixture.
And it doesn't really have that knowing wink of the best New Wave films either. I don't mean that every good French New Wave film is tongue-in-cheek. I mean the best films of the French New Wave say to the audience, "I know this is a film, and you know this is a film, so why don't I just stop pretending and acknowledge that this is a film, and that way we can all have a lot more fun - I will be able to do all sorts of crazy shit I wouldn't be able to do if we played a game of "let's pretend we aren't watching a movie."" And I suppose this film is sort of doing that with having the characters sing all their dialogue, but the fact that the singing is intentionally kind of bland, so that it plays basically like regular dialogue would, means that Demy is playing "let's pretend we aren't watching a movie," or at least trying to.
There are really good things about this movie, though. I love the look of the film - it's so candy coloured and gorgeous. The set decoration and cinematography go a long way towards mitigating all of the above mentioned flaws. It's just so pleasing to look at, that it's unfortunate that it is kind of boring to listen to.
I also do like the plot of the film - I like the fact that there aren't any real 'villains'. Every character is basically a good person, just trying to do the best they can, and circumstances or poor choices lead them astray. A good example of this is the character Roland Cassard, the rich man Genevieve marries despite the fact that she is really in love with Guy. If this were a more melodramatic movie, Roland could have been portrayed as some evil, canniving asshole who the audience is supposed to throw their popcorn at. But instead, he is a tender, gentle, loving man who accepts the fact that he will never be Genevieve's primary love. I like that.
I also like the fact that, though it is very sad that they don't end up together, it didn't utterly destroy their lives. They are both basically happy people, living basically happy lives. The loss of their one true love has not stopped them from living, or from loving other people. This is more believable, and hence more touching, than it would be if it all ended in some big suicide pact.
I said in the beginning of this review that, given my love of musicals and French New Wave films, it would make sense that I loved this film. Do I love it? I'm not really sure - I do like it, because its good elements are enough to make up for its mediocre elements, and it doesn't have anything actually bad about it - neither pleasantly boring songs nor a total lack of dancing are bad things, they are more about a lack of good things that should have been there. But it isn't a Great film, and I really don't think it should have won the Golden Palm at Cannes. It's entertaining and definitely worth watching, but it ain't all that.
Saturday, April 17, 2010
Secret Six No. 20 written by Gail Simone, illustrated by J. Calafiore, on the other hand, is fucking excellent. The last issue ended on a pretty good climax, except that it seemed like it could have gone somewhere very stupid. Fortunately, Simone knows exactly what she's doing, and makes her characters into people who don't pay no goddamn attention to any of that moral ambiguity crummier comic book heroes are always whining about. Also, I really like the weird and touching relationship developing between Black Alice and Ragdoll that just runs through this book in the background, subtley counterpointing all the insane and awesome violence. A lesser writer than Simone would make that relationship all foreground stuff, but if she did that, then something more melodramatic would have to occur, which would detract from the beautiful strangeness that is occuring at the moment.
Batgirl No. 9 written by Bryan Q. Miller, illustrated by Lee Garbett. This was a pretty good book - I like the fact that, even though it is Batgirl, the artwork doesn't focus on the cheesecake very much. Instead it makes her look like a total badass, and someone who definitely deserves to be bearing the 'bat' name. I also like Batgirl's banter with Oracle, but I think that Oracle's friend Wendy could turn in to a pretty annoying character of the, "oh, I'm in a wheelchair and everyone feels sorry for me but nobody feels sorry enough! I'm gonna take over the world!" variety, but if that does happen, hopefully it isn't played to cliched.
Batman No. 698 written by Tony Daniel, illustrated by Guillem March. D.C. have really been screwing Edward Nigma around lately. After all these years, the character has finally become interesting - rather than being the crummy Joker knock-off the Riddler, he was a rival master-detective who would sometimes help out Batman, and he became a much more fun character. But just recently in Gotham City Sirens it was revealed that the Riddler might be making a return to supervillainy (lame), and now this - he might actually be dead. Goddamnit D.C. stop screwing Edward Nigma around! He is currently one of your most entertaining characters, now that the Blue Beetle doesn't have his own run, and yet you seem to want to fuck with what was working. Stop it. Still, it was a good book, and if Edward Nigma isn't actually dead or a supervillain, I will be very happy indeed.
Booster Gold No. 31 written by Dan Jurgens, illustrated by Norm Rapmund. So he wasn't able to save his sister's boyfriend, or, you know, the other seven million people, because that would 'screw with time', but he was able to go back and save that little girl's dog, which makes it all okay. Ummm... okay. Why would that change the future any less than saving one single person? And what the hell does "Because we were here earlier we could make this change?" mean? Oh, you're going to "fill us in later" are you? Oh good, because I'd hate to understand your time travel rules right now, so I could judge if what is happening actually makes any kind of sense or not. Booster Gold is an entertaining character and an entertaining book, but it does keep threatening to just completely stop making any sense at all. Hopefully Keith Giffen will be able to step in and either make everything make sense, or entertain me enough so that i don't really care that I don't understand what the hell is going on.
I just wanted to punch that kid in his stupid face, and so when the movie intimated that he was going to die in a fiery explosion, I thought to myself, “finally.” As such, the scene of events happening to prevent the boy from reaching his destination (a man brushes the boys teeth in public! A Parade! A conversation with a bus driver! THERE’S A PUPPY! THERE IS A GODDAMN PUPPY ON THE BUS THIS IS THE WORST THING EVER IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD THERE IS A GODDAMN PUPPY SITTING RIGHT NEXT TO HIM AND IT’S CHEWING ON HIS GODDAMN FINGER THIS IS SO ADORABLE AND THEY’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!!!!!!!!!) just sort of bored me. I honestly didn’t care about the climax of this movie at all. I just sat there noticing exactly how mechanical Hitchcock’s construction of these sort of scenes was. If it isn’t affecting you emotionally, you sit there thinking, “yep, so now he enters the big crowd of people. Close up of the bomb. Man forces him to be part of his demonstration. Close up of the bomb. Intercut the demonstration with close-ups of the bomb. Boy runs away quickly, camera stays mostly on the bomb. Another crowd. More bomb. Parade. Bomb. More parade. More bomb. Oh, now there’s a translucent copy of the letter saying the bomb will explode at 1.45 hovering over the boy’s actions. Now there’s a CLOCK. Now there’s a goddamn close up of the clock’s gears. Now the boy is sitting next to the cutest goddamn puppy the world has ever seen. Jesus Christ, Hitchcock, laying it on a bit thick, aren’t we?”
When Hitchcock’s suspense tactics work, they work so well that it really doesn’t matter how mechanically constructed it all is. But when it doesn’t work, when you aren’t affected, it’s actually more annoying than a film from a worse director, because a film that has no idea what it’s doing is less irritating than a film that is so goddamn sure of itself, but isn’t working. And the real problem is that, when you aren’t being affected on an emotional level, it isn’t fun to break down on an intellectual one. The scenes aren’t fun, they are just mechanical, so if you aren’t on the edge of your seat, you’re bored and annoyed. Compare this to a film from the French New Wave, or Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead trilogy – when you aren’t emotionally affected by those movies, it is still fun to intellectually think about exactly what the film is doing – it can be just as satisfying a movie experience to intellectually thinking about all of the crazy shit that happens in say, Shoot the Piano Player, and how fun and great it all is, as to be emotionally affected by everything that happens. Hitchcock isn’t like that – there is no other level. If you aren’t gripped by the story, there is just nothing to do but think about the tediously mechanical nature of it all.
Something else I noticed while watching Sabotage – all of the jokes and so forth are provided by extras. None of the characters have any funny lines, but you get people you have never seen before and will never see again saying jokes as they drift randomly past the camera. Like Hitchcock new that these scenes needed some levity, but couldn’t be bothered making his main characters in any way interesting, so decided to give the levity to random strangers. I kept wishing the film would follow any one of these people who wafted in and out of the movie, rather than the bores we were stuck with. But alas it was not to be. But - why? It doesn’t make any sense as a thing to do – I mean, I can understand having comic characters who provide levity in one scene and are never heard from again, but these people weren’t even characters – they weren’t interacting with the film in any way. None of the main characters talked or even looked at any of them. What was the point? Just make your main characters interesting, or introduce actual ancillary characters who can spout jokes. But don’t just give all the good lines to random strangers. It’s pointless.