Monday, June 28, 2010

100 years, 100 films 15: The Thief of Bagdad (1924)

I really wasn't expecting to dislike this movie. I especially wasn't expecting to dislike it as vehemently as I did. The first ten minutes of the film were really good - Douglas Fairbanks playing a lovable asshole thief, using his amazing acrobatic skills to steal stuff from people in inventive and fun ways. "Oh good," I thought to myself, "this is some interesting character development. I assume by the end of the film, he'll have learnt not to be such a dick, he'll have won the hand of a beautiful princess, and he'll have put his fun and inventive acorbatic skills to the cause of the just. This should be a lot of fun." Well, I was right about everything, except the "lot of fun" part.

Most of the problem of the film comes from the fact that, after the good first ten minutes, the film grinds to a screeching halt for about an hour and a half for this unbelievably tedious romance bullshit between Douglas Fairbanks as the thief and I-Don't-Care-What-Her-Name-Was as the princess. This entire hour and a half should have been about ten, maybe fifteen minutes. The Princess has a bunch of suitors she doesn't really like, but her dad's forcing her to marry one of them. When things look at their worst, she spies a handsome rapscallion whoms she takes an instant fancy to. He takes a fancy to her, they fall in love, the father refuses the match, the thief runs off to become a proper Prince. That's what happened. And if it had happened in a reasonable length of time, it would have been fine. But this stuff, this stuff which should be purely setup for the adventures to come, takes up an hour and a goddamn half. This tedious bullcrap is most of the movie.

And once it finally gets to the adventure stuff, well, it's fine, but it certainly isn't good enough to make up for the unbelievably dreary shit that preceded it. Part of the problem with this part is that, yes, we have Fairbanks running around, being all swashbuckle-y, but we also have these stupid pointless scenes of the Princess's suitors, running around like dicks looking for precious items with which to win the Prencess's heart, and my god did I not care about them. Fairbanks would slay a dragon, then it would cut to some idiot buying a rug from a market stall. Cut back to Fairbanks talking to these legitimately awesome looking tree people, cut to some douche stealing a magical gem from some Hindi statue. These are characters who exist solely to be bested by Fairbanks. Why the hell would I want to see their non-Fairbanks related exploits? Why should I care at all? You manifestly failed to make them interesting during the goddawful palace romance stuff, why do you think I'd be interested now?

Even the Fairbanks adventure stuff isn't all that great. I mean, it's fine, but Fairbanks fighting a dragon just isn't as interesting as Fairbanks fighting a man. When he's up against a man, we see his swashbuckling fury, and he leaps and swings his way across the set like a brilliant madman. Here, he sees a dragon, he thinks, "oh shit, a dragon." He pulls out his sword. He stabs the dragon. He puts his sword away. That's all we get. No leaping around. No using crazy props. No real fun. And there's no real sense of danger, either. When Fairbanks swordfights other men, the battles sometimes make it look like Fairbanks might lose, or at least it might take him quite a while to get into a position from where he can win. Because the dragon is a big, cumbersome puppet, there isn't any actual fighting. He sees it, he stabs it, he wins. No back and forth. No tension. But I'll concede that most of my irritation with this stuff was probably because I was already bored out of my skull at this point, and it was going to take one hell of an awesome fight scene to make me not bored. If the film before this had been better, this stuff would have been fine. Not great, but fine.

There is a decent movie buried amongst the tedious muck here. I just wish Raoul Walsh, the director, had allowed his editor to find it. It's a concept that should run for eighty, maybe ninety minutes. But because Walsh was so in love with every single frame of his movie, he let it run on and on and on and on for an interminable two and a half hours. And I can see why. The art direction, set decoration, costumes, they're all glorious. The movie is great to look at. You could take any individual still frame from this film, and it'd be beautiful. But this beauty just doesn't translate into a good film. It just doesn't.

Review: Doctor Who episode 5.11: The Lodger

Wow. Two good episodes in a row. That's something of a record in this season of Doctor Who. So we start off with two people who are something of an anomaly in contemporary television. They are, in fact, not particularly attractive. These two not particularly attractive people (James Corden as Craig, Daisy Haggard as Sophie) are obviously in love with each other, but are worried about ruining the friendship and all that jazz, and so aren't ever intending to do anything about it. That is, until the Doctor gets stranded in London without his trusty time machine, moves into Craig's flat, and in Matt Smith's usual crazy way, manages to cause chaos. But, you know, the good type of chaos, where everything turns out alright by the end. The two not particularly attractive people reveal their love for each other, and get straight to ruining the hell out of their friendship. Happiness and smiles all round.

This being Doctor Who, there are, of course, some horrible aliens lurking around bent on killing everyone on the Earth. But fortunately, the episode doesn't really pay much attention to them, and goes about telling the sweet and charming story of Sophie and Craig, leaving the aliens to just a few small (and legitimately creepy) cameos right up until the climax.

This was the correct decision. The human characters presented here are far more interesting than any aliens we've seen this season (with the exception of the Doctor, of course.) And by keeping the aliens firmly in the background, they actually manage to successfully build suspense about them, something which basically every other episode this season has resolutely failed to do.

This episode's only real problem was the basically total removal of Amy Pond from the storyline. I assume that this was for budget and scheduling reasons - in previous seasons there has always had to be one episode that featured the Doctor and his companion barely at all (the excellent Blink, the reasonably good Love and Monsters). My guess is that Stephen Moffat decided to get around this problem by having the cast split up into two seperate groups which could be filmed simultaneously, and because Amy wasn't in it all that much, she could then go on to film some of her scenes from other episodes. This seems like a reasonable plan, and the episode wouldn't have made any sense with Amy standing around, screwing up the Doctor's attempts to screw up Craig's attempts to screw up his life, but still. I would've liked a bit more Amy. Other than that, though, a good, solid episode.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Review: Doctor Who episode 5.10: Vincent and the Doctor

I could sit here and bitch about this episode. About how there were moments of awkward embarassment, clumsily handled interactions between Vincent van Gogh and the invisible monster. Or I could bitch about all the little, cloying , pointless, "oh look we've got van Gogh in our episode! Here are all our van Gogh references!" jokes. But I'm not going to. I'm not going to, because this episode was actually great.

Sure, it had its problems. It wasn't perfect. But the moment when van Gogh walked into the art gallery and received all that praise he should have gotten during his life time, well, it was transcendental. It was the happy ending van Gogh deserved, and the fact that it was only possible for him to receive that ending in a show about time travel shows two things: 1.) we live in a stupid world, were stupid things happen all the time; 2.) story telling is us humans' way of rectifying this inherent stupidness, and when it does, it can be magical.

As far as I can see, there have been two main complaints lobbed against this part of the episode. The first complaint is that it is over-sentimental goo. To this, I say, "I don't care." I have no other response. I understand your position, and feel no animosity towards you for holding it, but fuck off. I don't care.

The second complaint is one that I don't even really understand. The complaint is - if van Gogh knew that he would be regarded as the greatest artist of all time, why would he still kill himself in six months? To this, I respond, "he's clinically ill. He has depression. People with depression don't exactly think about things rationally. Nor do moments of happiness negate the clinical illness." And also, "what, so no successful people ever killed themselves? While you were watching Gus van Sant's Last Days, did you sit there and think, "I just don't buy that this guy would kill himself. Look at him, he's successful, famous, adored. What is his problem?""

Saturday, June 26, 2010

100 years, 100 films 14: The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923)

I'm not really a Lon Chaney Senior fan. I always feel like saying to him, "yeah, okay, I get it, you can make your face look horrible. Now do something interesting." The films always seem to be presenting the audience with the technical skill of Lon Chaney's makeup, and forgetting the fact that one guy's ugly face cannot sustain audience interest for two hours. This movie wasn't really an exception.

There are some good moments - Chaney's Hunchback flinging himself around the belltower, ringing the bells; or his tongue darting in and out of that vile mouth, like some sort of deformed lizard man. But it's not really enough to make up for the general tedious gutlessness of the rest of the film.

Case in point - in the novel, the villain is the Archdeacon Frollo. This is because the entire point of the book was that the church was a corrupt and corruptable organisation - it was run by man, and therefore susceptible to man's flaws. Here, the film makes the frankly bizarre choice to have the Archdeacon Frollo be a good guy, and his evil brother be the villain. His evil brother, who FOR NO GODDAMN REASON, lives in the church.

Now, I know the reason in the context of the film - he needs to live in the church in order to make Quasimodo do his evil bidding. But this plot necessity doesn't excuse the fact that this just simply makes no sense. In the novel it made sense - when the villain is a man of the church, it makes sense for him to, you know, live there. But when they wussed out and made the villain a man with no connection to the church, they probably should have gone the whole hog and made him not live there! This giant plot whole is like a huge reminder to the audience that the filmmakers were wimps who refused to criticise the church. If they hadn't changed from the book, there wouldn't be this bizarre problem, but if they were going to deviate from the book, they should have at least deviated in a way that made some semblence of sense! But no, they were just too goddamn lazy to think up some other plot, so they just forcefully removed all the bits they didn't like, replaced them with nothing but garbage, and presented it to the audience, hoping nobody would wake up and realise that it just defies explanation.

If they didn't want to criticise the church in its entirety, they could have had the Archdeacon be a good guy, but a lower down priest be the villain. Or, if they were to chickenshit to criticise the church at all, then they could have had the Archdeacon as a good guy, and the villain as someone who visits the church a lot, maybe with the specific goal of abusing Quasimodo, or maybe for other reasons, like they were the Archdeacon's friend, or something. Or, yeah, they could have kept the villain as the brother, and just not had him live in the fucking church. It was just, "oh, hello, brother, just popped round to see how you were going. Now where is that crazy hunchback at?" Did they really need to have him live in the church?

I probably wouldn't have minded this insane plot point so much if the film had been interesting in other ways, but it was just so... flacid. Except for a few moments of Lon Chaney (who I think is pretty overrated anyway), there wasn't all that much going on. It was basically just a big, bloated, stupid, epic. And I don't like big, bloated, stupid epics. They bore me shitless. What, I'm supposed to think that because you have more extras on screen, that makes your film more entertaining? Fuck that. I thought Avatar was stupid and boring, I'm supposed to be amazed because you've got two hundred extras wandering around? Sorry, movie, but you're going to have to offer me something actually interesting, if you want to hold my interest.

Review: Batman: The Brave and the Bold episode 117: Menace of the Conqueror Caveman!

The problem with Brave and the Bold (particularly in the first season) is that the cold openings are often better than the episodes proper. This episode manages to sidestep this problem by having a crummy cold opening as well. None of the episode is bad, exactly, it's just all subpar. The cold opening has Batman and Wildcat punching Bane a whole lot of times. Well, alright, but where are the jokes? We get Wildcat saying stuff like, "you interrupted me during my workout. I've still got 537 push ups get through." Oh yeah, real great. Wildcat works out a lot. Good stuff. I understand that what the show is trying to do is distill the essence of Wildcat down to its simplest and most ridiculous forms - that is how it creates some of its funniest moments. But is Wildcat's most ludicrous thing really that he... works out a lot? Surely it would be his old age, or his brutal stupidity, or the fact that he is a blatant Batman rip off, pretending to be someone who was around before Batman. But nope, apparently it's the whole... working out... thing. Oh, and Bane, as presented in this show, is just a really boring villain. Apparently he's not some super smart madman with fists of steel, aparently he's just a tedious muscled jerk. Why not make Bane in any way interesting? Because that would require effort, I suppose.

But to the episode proper - what did I think of that? Well, I thought that Booster Gold could have been a really funny character in Brave and the Bold, either as what he pretends to be in the comics (a giant douche), or what he really is in the comics (a guy pretending to be a giant douche so that villains don't suspect that he is any real threat). The show went with the first choice. Not what I would have gone with, but okay, it could still work. Booster Gold as giant douche could be funny. But he just... isn't. He's pathetic, and a little sad, but he isn't funny. There are a few funny moments to do with Booster-as-douche. The flashes of him in the future, showing how he became Booster Gold in the first place work surprisingly well. But most of the time you just feel sorry for him. Booster-as-douche should be a cocky self-assured moron who thinks he's the greatest thing ever, despite all evidence to the contrary. Here, he seems like a guy pretending to be a cocky self-assured moron, because he's nursing a desperately fragile ego, and the constant knocks he receives from an uncaring world don't help him any at all. His stupidity doesn't make you laugh, it just makes you feel bad.

And this sets a sort of pall over the rest of the episode, so that things that would have been funny if the tone of the episode was lighter and sillier just come across as somewhat mean spirited. The show always walks a fine line between parody and loving homage, but here, because the episode fails to put you in a good mood, the loving homage stuff sort of feels like vicious parody stuff, and it's all just a bit of a downer.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

100 years, 100 films 13: Nanook of the North (1922)

Before I watched this documentary directed by Robert J. Flaherty I was worried about this film. I was worried it was going to be either patronisingly racist, or boring. Fortunately, it was neither of those things. It started out threatening to become both - the first fifteen or so minutes of the film are kind of slow, and there are a few scenes of stuff like "Oh look! Nanook has never seen a gramaphone before! Isn't it hilarious to watch him marvel at this technology we take for granted!"

But then something happened. Something that totally immersed me into this film. Nanook killed a walrus. Now, it wasn't so much the actual killing of the walrus that fascinated me. What fascinated me was the fact that, after Nanook had killed this walrus, he then had to deal with this giant two tonne lump of meat flopping around in the ocean, being pulled in and pushed out by the tide. It had never really struck me before (or at least not in such a concrete form) - if you live in a Hunter Gatherer society, once you hunt something, you then have to gather it as well. And if you've hunted something big, that gathering can actually be more difficult than the hunting was. Dragging around that two tonnes of meat is way more difficult than throwing that spear was.

And from this revelation onwards, I was hooked. Nanook builds an igloo - fascinating. Nanook struggles to capture a seal - rivetting. Nanook and his family get stranded in a snowstorm - terrifying. Nanook is forced to leave his dogs outside in the snowstorm, while he and his family take shelter in an abandoned igloo - heartbreaking.

I understand that significant portions of this documentary were staged for dramatic effect, but really, does it matter? At the time, the idea of "documentaries" didn't really exist in the concrete form in which they exist today. Flaherty was attempting to depict what life was like for the Inuits, not exactly what happened to these specific Inuits at the specific times Flaherty was there.

Review: The Princess Bride by William Goldman (1973)

I love Rob Reiner's film adaptation of this book. I love it so much, that I just kept putting off reading the book, because I didn't want to ruin the film. What I feared would happen was that either the book would be too good, and the film would appear crummy by comparison, or the book would be crummy, and I'd be left wondering exactly what the hell it was I liked about the film in the first place.

Fortunately, neither of those things happened. The movie is a faithful enough adaptation, so that most of the time I was reading it I was actually just pretty much playing the movie in my head, but not so faithful that there was absolutely nothing new, either. I still don't think the book is quite as good as the movie (I don't care what anyone says, reading the line, "I died that day," is just not nearly as heartbreaking as hearing Robin Wright scream it), but there are some things the book does very well that the film does not.

For example, the book's false abridgement is just a very clever idea. It was first published in 1973, the era of Vietnam, and pretty much uniformly depressing Hollywood movies. In order to have this sort of escapist romantic pulp accepted by both the public and the critics, Goldman needed to put some sort of ironic, depressing undertones in the book, making it palatable to a populus who had given up on happy endings. But if he had put the ironic, depressing stuff into the story proper, it would have made the book less fun, thus taking away its central appeal. So the ingenious strategy he came up with was to have the ironic, depressing stuff be a fictionalised autobiography about him and his attempts to abridge the story of The Princess Bride (written by the fictional S. Morgenstern) from an often tedious social satire to a fast paced adventure story. This way, the readers were able to be suitably depressed by the story of the failing marriage and the strained father-son relationship, feel suitably cool and hip for appreciating the ironic "I'm abridging a book that doesn't really exist" parts, and also, secretly, deep in their heart of hearts, be swept along by the romantic adventure stuff. The self-awareness gives people the right to enjoy the totally un-self-aware bits.

Also, the abridgement meant that Goldman didn't have to write any of the boring crap parts that he couldn't be bothered with. And it allowed him licence to write some pretty damn funny jokes.

Review: The Powerpuff Girls episodes 1.1, 1.2 & 1.3

Ah, the Powerpuff Girls. This was the funniest, craziest, most demented American television cartoon from the nineties. I loved Animaniacs as much as the next kid, and I can still recite entire sketches from Sheep in the Big City, and Angry Beavers was goddamn hilarious, but nothing could beat the bat-shit crazy that was The Powerpuff Girls. It was a parody of all that pseudo-feminist Grrrl Powa b.s. that was infecting the world at the end of the nineties, with the rise of The Spice Girls, and the Charlie's Angels movies, and all that other crap. All that garbage that had as it's moral, "girls can kick butt and be awesome just as well as boys, but they still need to be attractive, otherwise they are worthless as people." And by focusing the show on three kindergarteners, they accomplished two things. Firstly, they took Grrrl Powa to its most ridiculous extreme, making the dichotomy between the feminine innocence and the masculine violence as patently absurd as possible, forcing people to acknowledge the fact that the whole Grrrl Powa thing simply doesn't work as an ideal. Secondly, by removing all the sexuality inherent in the Grrl Powa stuff (because, you know, kindergarteners are not sexy, and the show made no attempts to try and make them sexy) they actually managed to make it more palatable as legitimate feminism. Because sex is totally removed from the equation, it's no longer a matter of, "girls can do anything, but they damn well better look super hot while doing it," but rather just, "girls can do anything." So the show managed to both mercilessly mock the terrible nineties "feminist" messages, and also to requisition the stuff that was legitimately good about those messages, and use it as it should have been used in the first place.

And it managed to accomplish all this while giving us kids the most insanely graphic violence we could hope for, as well as a whole lot of really funny jokes.

With that out of the way, on to the individual episodes.

Insect Inside: This seems like a really poor episode to start the show on. It has some legitimately funny jokes in it, but the villain is just kind of... boring. I mean, he's gross (a man obsessed with cockroaches), but in a sort of a League of Gentlemen, pointlessly disgusting without actually being funny or interesting or not-boring, kind of way. I only air my puzzlement at this being the first episode because, according to Wikipedia, it was actually second in production order, but Cartoon Network aired it first. Why would they air this first? I don't get it.

Powerpuff Bluff: I love this episode. This is the episode where three grown men decide to dress up like the Powerpuff Girls so they can get away with commiting crimes. And their scheme works. The central (very funny) joke of the episode is that, despite the fact that these grown men have prominant facial and body hair, are six feet tall, speak in obviously mannish voices, act like total assholes, and are wearing terrible costumes, nobody is able to tell them apart from the real Powerpuff Girls. This comes to a hilarious head in the climax, when the Powerpuff Girls themselves are unable to tell their own sisters from the grown men in costumes. Great stuff.

Monkey See, Doggie Do: The first introduction of the Powerpuff's chief villain (Mojo Jojo, a monkey with a giant brain) is ever so slightly disappointing, although it does have its moments. When the Powerpuff Girls are turned into puppy dogs it's just about the most adorable thing it would be possible to see without your heart literally melting.

Mommy Fearest: I've never much cared for this episode. The Professor falls in love with a woman (with the excellent/stupid name of Ima Goodlady) who turns out to just be dating him so she can ground the Powerpuff Girls and steal the Mayor's jewels. The episode starts well - the meeting between Ima and the Professor is pretty hilarious. But as it goes on, and Ima turns into more and more of a hateful bitch, it all just seems cliched. One of the best things about The Pwerpuff Girls is the way that it plays with and makes fun of cliches, but here... they don't. They pretty much just go straight for an evil stepmother thing, and it just seems lazy.

Octi Evil: This is the episode that first introduces the single most insanely fucked up villain in the history of anything. The villain's name is Him, and he is basically the devil in a transvestite Santa costume, with this horrifying, echoey voice. This isn't his best showcase, he isn't nearly as creepy here as he would later become. But still... good stuff.

Geshundfight: This episode starts brilliantly, with the three stupidest criminals in Townsville trying to pull off the stupidest possible "heist". The three criminals are the Amoeba Boys, three single celled organisms that are (for reasons never explained) the size of regular people. It starts off brilliantly, but it doesn't really know where to go afterwards, and just sort of drifts off into nothingness. There are still a few funny jokes along the way (the "Keep off the Grass" joke, the Professor explaining the plot), but it basically just sort of peters out.

Monday, June 21, 2010

100 years, 100 films 12: The Kid (1921)

Charlie Chaplin is really difficult to talk about critically. He is so ludicrously iconic and overrated that you feel the need to justify why you don't think that he is the greatest comedian in the history of ever. And then, on the flip side, if you do enjoy his films, if you find him legitimately funny, then you find yourself sort of making excuses for it, because even if you do like him, you just can't like him that much. It would be virtually impossible. So you just sort of end up feeling vaguely ashamed that you like him, because after all, all the cool kids like Buster Keaton. Only losers like Chaplin.

So I've been putting off writing this review for a few days now, and trying to decide what tone to take. Should I criticise the film for its ridiculous levels of sentimentality? Should I argue against the basic uninventiveness of the gags - the fact that there is nothing nearly so clever in this movie than there is in, say, Harold Lloyd's Safety Last, or even Keaton's oft-derided College? Or should I praise the fact that, although there aren't any big, clever, ground-breaking jokes, many of the jokes that are there are legitimately funny? Should I claim that there are scenes in this film of legitimate sweetness - such as the little boy making Chaplin breakfast in bed? Should I praise, or criticise? What do I think of this movie?

And after several days of thinking, I've decided that I think it was pretty good. Fuck being hipster-cool, and fuck being some douchebag I-uncritically-love-all-classics moron. I'm taking the middle ground, where this film belongs. It isn't a great film, but it is good. Yes, the sentimentality can become mawkish at times, and yes, the film is lacking any big comedic set pieces. But it's a nice, funny, gentle sort of a comedy, and it did make me happy.

I don't get the ending, though. I mean, what's going on? Are the tramp and the actress living together? Are they sharing ownership of the kid? Is the tramp just stopping by the actress' house, saying a final goodbye to the boy he loved as a son? It's just a really ambiguous ending, and I don't think the movie means for it to be ambiguous. I'm pretty sure the movie is just going for the happiest ending it could possibly show, and who the hell cares if it makes no sense? Well, movie, I care that it makes no sense. I didn't like you quite enough to forgive you for just ceasing to mean anything at the end.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Review: How I Met Your Mother episode 5.13: Jenkins

I stopped watching this show during Season 4, because it became terrible. I tried to start again in early Season 5, but Ted is just such a stupid dick. And yeah, I know that nowadays the writers are intentionally making Ted into a dick, to try and pretend that this was their intent all along. But no, dudes. Ted was supposed to be adorable in the early episodes, and making him into an obnoxious idiot just makes the show a whole lot worse. Also, the Canada jokes just became insufferable. Yes, I get it, Robin's Canadian, and the rest of the cast is culturally insensitive. Move on.

But this episode actually didn't have any Canada jokes, and, well, it did have Ted acting like a stupid idiot ("I guess I didn't get super drunk and vomit all over myself, then. Oh wait, no, I did both those things. FACE.") but the rest of it was pretty good. The Robin drinking game thing was funny, and the Marshall-Lily plot was good, and Barney didn't have a whole lot to do, but I think that's largely because Neil Patrick Harris directed the episode, and couldn't be bothered having his own plotline as well. So, yeah, good job. I didn't dislike this episode. Maybe I'll watch some more. And then again, maybe not.

Review: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (2009)

I'm pretty sure this book didn't have as huge an emotional impact on me as it did on most people, because to me, the characterisations were not at all surprising. I studied Thomas Cromwell and Thomas More at University, and the way I learnt the story was that Thomas More was an evil, sadomasochistic jerk who just had pretty much the worst possible opinions about everything, and Thomas Cromwell was a boy who managed to go from being a blacksmith's son to the king's chief adviser. He was pretty much the first "self made man", and I always just assumed that everyone thought that he was a hero.

So, to me, the book was just a recycling of what I already thought. A really good recycling, don't get me wrong. I liked the book a lot. It's just that the book was supposed to be revalatory, but it wasn't. And the fact that I didn't realise it was supposed to be revelatory probably did impinge on my appreciation of the book. Because, apparently, the generally held view of Thomas More was that he was some hugely virtuous all-round-nice-guy, and that Thomas Cromwell was a greedy S.O.B. I can't really work out why anyone would think either of those things, but apparently that's the general view.

But to what I did like about the book. I liked Mantel's stylistic choices. I liked the fact that the narrative is pretty much linear, but the book still manages to play with our perception of time. That the book will have thirty or forty pages that describe a half hour's worth of events, and then will jump forward three years without any explanation of what happened in that intervening time, and we're left to work that out for ourselves. It forces the reader to actually think about what is happening and what it all means. Mantel is giving us exactly what we need, and nothing more. She also does this with her use of pronouns. Sometimes there will be three, four, five, six characters standing around talking to each other, and she will write something like, "then she said," or "then he exclaimed", and the reader is left to work out exactly who it was who said or exclaimed. And you can almost always work it out, but it does sometimes take effort. It is effort that Mantel demands of the reader, and effort that she richly rewards.

Review: Wonder Woman episode 1.2: The Nazi Wonder Woman

Why is Wonder Woman so goddamn stupid in this show? There is a scene in this episode where Wonder Woman is attending a charity fund raising thing, trying to use her image to raise some money for the troops. Then someone else dressed as Wonder Woman walks onto the stage. This Wonder Woman is a Nazi (we know this because it tells us in the damn title), and yet, what does Wonder Woman do when confronted by this obvious imposter who she has no knowledge of? Does she gently whisper in someone's ear a question along the lines of, "huh? Is this some sort of stunt you organised to raise more money for the troops?" Does she make any display of even mild-level confusion? No. She just stands around smiling like a goddamn idiot.

And yes, television, I understand. Some men are sexist pigs who want to keep women down, and for no reason assume that women can't do anything. I understand that these men are inherently bad people. They deserve to be taught a lesson. The thing is, though, I would find it a little easier to buy your message of "women are equal to men" if it wasn't for the fact that on your show, every single female with any level of competence is super-attractive, and the actresses were obviously hired for their levels of attractiveness, rather than acting ability or intelligence. Because honestly, I find your implied message of, "women are equal to men, as long as they're super hot" incredibly distasteful.

100 years, 100 films 11: The Mark of Zorro (1920)

Head over to good ol', and search for 1920's "The Mark of Zorro". Scroll down to the reviews section, click on "see more." Click on the "filter" button, and filter it as "Hated it". There you will find two reviews. One of those reviews describes the movie as "outstanding" (but incongruously gives the film just six stars). The other review describes the film as "well done" and "enjoyable". It gives the film seven stars.

Now see if you can find any other film on where the worst reviews call the film "outstanding" or even "well done" and "enjoable". It's pretty much impossible. Casablanca? Nope. Apparently that's a tedious pile of shit. Citizen Kane? Nope. Apparently there's some retards in the world who had to turn the film off after half an hour. Singin' in the Rain? Nope. Apparently that film is stupid and annoying. The Errol Flynn version of The Adventures of Robin Hood? Nope. Apparently that film is incredibly lame (although, bizarrely, the first review to come up claims that it is a "really good movie", but gives it three out of ten anyway.)

I spent quite a long time being baffled by people's taste in films (seriously who hates The Band Wagon? Or Annie Hall? Or High Fidelity? Or goddammit who the hell hates The Princess Bride?) and I could only find one other movie that had no real negative reviews. That movie was Harold Lloyd's excellent Safety Last, and even then the first review to come up under the "Hated it" section describes it as reasonable, but underwhelming. Even the two other Zorro adaptations that anybody cares about, The Mark of Zorro remake with Tyrone Power, and Antonio Banderas' The Mask Of Zorro, have negative reviews.

My point here, is that I think it is actually physically impossible to dislike this movie. Sure, you can quibble with it. You can claim that such and such an actor was a bit hammy, or that the blabadee bloo scene dragged for a bit longer than necessary. Or that Douglas Fairbanks has a weird frog face, and was overplaying his 'fop' scenes like crazy.

I'm not saying that this is the greatest movie ever made or anything, because it really isn't. It isn't really even a great film at all. But it is a good film, and one I think it's physically impossible not to enjoy.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Review: Doctor Who episode 5.9: Cold Blood

Goddamn this was stupid. At no point did anything that happened make sense or be dramatically satisfying. Why was Ambrose such a stupid moron? What the hell is the Doctor even talking about at the end when he tells Ambrose to get the world ready for the Silurians return? I mean, what kind of control does he think this one goddamn woman has over humans a thousand years from now? What the fuck?

And - why the hell were Rory and Amy standing on the damn hilltop waving to their past selves? That didn't make any sense. Why had they come back to this point to see their past selves and wave from a vast distance? And why when Rory had been erased from time did Amy still decide to go to the far-away hill all by herself? What the hell was the point? I understand it was a dramatically convenient way of displaying that Rory well and truly had disappeared from all time, but still... it should at least make some sense. Not be quite so goddamn BLATANT about being nothing but a plot device.

And that's really been the problem with this whole two parter (well, one of the problems, anyway). There is absolutely NO attempt made to hide the fact that everything that is happening is just a convenient plot device. I mean, in the first part we had the whole Rory getting lost because he didn't want Amy wearing her engagement ring (the flimsiest pretext for seperating characters in the history of ever), and now we've got the Amy and Rory waving thing. We also had the kid with dyslexia, the old-aged romance, the fact that the Silurians decided to isolate the area (for no reason) and then de-isolate (for no reason).

Actually, now that I think about it, most of these problems weren't even proper plot devices. They were all set up as terribly executed plot devices that were supposed to pay off, but most of them didn't. Rory's wandering away meant that he discovered that the graves were stealing people. This is never mentioned again. The kid having dyslexia (set up in a really awkward and pointless openning scene, as well as several other equally awkward and pointless scenes throughout the two episodes) never goes anywhere. The only poorly handled plot device that actually has any sort of resolution is the old-aged romance, where their love for each other causes them to stay behind and bla bla bla. I mean, it was stupid and boring, but it least it went SOMEWHERE, unlike the rest of this mess.

Review: The Return of Sherlock Holmes episode 1.3: The Musgrave Ritual

These adaptations of Conan Doyle stories made during the 1980s have one really big asset and one really big drawback: the asset is Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes. Brett plays Holmes as an intensely tactile, active man, with facial expressions of almost startling ferocity. He has a peculiarly bold sort of physical presence which forces the viewer to think, "yes. This is Sherlock Holmes" (at least for the duration of the episode). It was particularly well done in this episode, with his various drug addictions leading him to be sickly and weak at the commencement of the story, and in full-on virtually-unhinged-by-genius mode at the end, but with both parts being played with the same sort of angry joy at the world.

The one major drawback of these adaptations of Conan Doyle stories is quite simple: everything else. It's not that the episodes are bad exactly, but everything else is playing on a completely different level to Brett. Edward Hardwicke is playing his Doctor Watson as if Jeremy Brett was acting like a normal person acts in a BBC period drama - as if Brett had no real intensity. He's not a bad Watson, he's actually quite good, but he and Brett are just never on the same wavelength. And for some reason, everything else about the show seems to follow Hardwicke's cue, rather than Brett's. It's almost as if we get two different versions of the show being played at once - Hardwicke's refined, regular BBC prestige production, and Brett's madman freakout extravaganza. Either one by themselves would be a pretty good show, but together they seem... weird. Not bad, it's still quite an entertaining show. But still... tonally weird.

But to the episode proper. The Musgrave Ritual is a stupid plot, and it is impossible to disguise the central preposterousness of the premise. The idea that someone would hide the secrets of buried treasure as a riddle in a family ritual just makes no sense. Why did this ancestor do this? Was he just really bored one day ,and thought to himself, "I'm going to write the most awkwardly worded riddle imaginable. It isn't going to have two meanings, it's just going to be goddamn retarded"? Why could nobody solve it until Holmes came along? I know somebody says, "we've tried for years and years to work out the riddle, it's just nonsense," but that doesn't excuse these characters from being utter morons. I mean, goddamn, their goddamn butler managed to solve the riddle working surreptitiously at night. NOBODY in the Musgrave family could solve the riddle, for all the hundreds of years it's been recited? That makes no goddamn sense.

Review: Batman: The Animated Series episode 1.45: Terror in the Sky

This was a surprisingly good episode. Man-Bat is an awful villain, but here, somehow, they made him work. I think because they just totally ignored the whole "this is the flip side of Batman!" junk that was Man-Bat's original (terrible) purpose. Also because the whole thing had a real sense of tragedy about it, it actually felt somewhat emotionally resonant.

Kirk Langstrom had a real sense of desperation about him - it actually made me think of Lon Chaney Jr in The Wolf Man - he knew he had done something terrible, but he didn't know what, and there's something both terrifying and heartbreaking about that. The evocation of The Wolf Man in this episode is somewhat strange, given the fact that just two episodes ago there was an entire story about werewolves, and it didn't make me think about Lon Chaney Jr once, except maybe in a, "man, I wish I was watching The Wolf Man right now instead of this garbage" kind of way.

My one problem with the episode is that the twist actually makes no sense, given that we see the two Langstroms in bed, fully pajama-ed, seconds after we see Man-Bat. So what, when the Man-Bat was de-transforming it decided to change into its pajamas and gently get into bed? And then somehow completely forgot about this intermediary stage? But apart from that one logic-flaw, the episode was actually pretty good.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

100 years, 100 films 10: The Doll (1919)

I've always felt somewhat uneasy about Ernst Lubitsch, the director of The Doll. This is because one of his films, a film many critics have basically dubbed his 'masterpiece' (or at least one of his masterpieces) is a horrible piece of sexist trash. Heaven can Wait filled me with such bile that now whenever I think about Lubitsch my first thought is, "man, I feel sorry for his wife." The moral of Heaven can Wait is basically that it's okay to be a philandering shit of a husband, because what's your wife gonna do? Leave you? Ridiculous! She has no means of support! She's trapped! Hooray!

So now whenever I see a Lubitsch film, I am always hyper-aware of the sexual politics at play. And it was to my great relief that The Doll has no real problems in that department. In fact, it was actually a somewhat subversive exploration of sexual and marrital politics, and what, exactly, a woman's role was in relation to her husband.

The plot of the film involves a very sheltered man who lives off of his rich uncle and is terrified of women. The uncle (who is a Barron) decides that he doesn't want his lineage to die out, so he says to his nephew that if the nephew were to get married, then he would receive a huge dowry, as well as a hefty inheritance. In order to gain this inheritance, the nephew decides to stage a fake marriage, with a robotic doll. He goes to the local doll/robot maker, who has just the thing for him - a robot doll that looks exactly like the doll maker's duaghter. Unfortunately, the doll is broken by the doll maker's apprentice, and in order to save the apprentice's hide, the daughter offers to pretend to be the robot. Hijinks ensue.

What makes this film better than the outline above implies is partly the self-consciously 'fairy tale'-esque atmosphere the film evokes, making the ridiculousness of the set up part of the film's charm. But also, it's the fact that the film uses this somewhat stupid plot to examine exactly what goes on in male-female relations.

Our heroine, Ossi, is a lively, funny, vivacious sort of person, but because she is pretending to be a doll she is forced to stifle those urges. But it is through the occassional outbreaks of personality that occur, when she stops pretending to be a doll and just becomes herself, that cause Lancelot (the Barron's nephew) to actually fall in love with her. And it is only when she finally throws off the pretense of being a 'doll' altogether that the couple can be properly happy with each other. The film's basic point is that a happy marriage is a marriage between two people who are honest with each other about who they are, and like each other anyway.

The most interesting part of all this, though, is that the film is promoting honesty in marriage, but not in courtship. By the end of the film, Lancelot and Ossi are in love and happy because they have told each other the truth. But they never would have gotten to that point if Ossi hadn't first pretended to be a doll, because Lancelot, who was deathly afraid of women, only managed to become comfortable around her because he thought that she wasn't a real person.

The point of the movie, then, is that it's important to start off a relationship fulfilling all of your partner's desires so that they fall in love with you. With that accomplished, you should gradually reveal your real personality to them, first in little chunks to acclimatise them to it, and then, eventually, you should be able to be yourself without the other person stopping loving you. Or maybe the point of the movie isn't that this is how male-female relations should work, but rather how they do work, at least sometimes. Maybe it's more observational than moral.

But whatever the case, it's still a hell of a lot better than Heaven can Wait. At least it acknowledges the fact that women have feelings, and that men should maybe sometimes think about them when contemplating their actions.

I'd like to point out that, although this review has been largely analytical, the film really doesn't need to be watched in an analytical way to be enjoyed. It is really funny, really sweet and really charming. It's just a whole lot of fun.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Review: A big bunch of Looney Tunes (part 1)

In Australia, they never bothered to release the Looney Tunes "Golden Collection" sets. What they did instead, was release the first two sets in single disc form, then release a weird, bastardised version of the third set in single disc form, but with all the special features removed and a bunch of the cartoons missing. I have only just gotten around to buying the proper third set, and so will be going through quite a lot of Looney Tunes cartoons over the coming weeks.

Hare Force (1944, directed by Friz Freleng): - decent Bugs Bunny cartoon, with Bugs fighting a dog named Sylvester over who gets to sleep next to an old lady's fireplace on a cold winter's night. My only real problem with the cartoon is the disparity between the dog's voice and the dog's actions - he is actually a decent rival for Bugs, tough and clever and street-smart, but he is voiced like Lenny from Of Mice and Men - he has that typical Looney Tunes 'retard' voice, and seeing a character with that voice holding his own against Bugs is... weird. It's as if Friz Freleng decided to use that voice before any of the script was written, and when the dog was changed into a worthy adversary, he just went, "eh, fuck it" and kept it the same.

Hare Remover (1945, directed by Frank Tashlin): - I have always hated this cartoon. That first shot of Elmer Fudd, when his cheeks look like two giant goiters dancing on the sides of his face, always revolted me, and I've never really been able to pay attention after that. There are a few funny jokes, but... ewww... [shudder]

Hare Tonic (1945, directed by Chuck Jones) : - This cartoon always makes me think of Elmer's Candid Camera and Elmer's Pet Rabbit, two terrible caroons directed by Chuck Jones, both of which ostensibly star Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd, but made at a time when neither of those two characters were, you know, good. The reason Hare Tonic makes me think of those two terrible cartoons, is because this is the first cartoon directed by Jones to use the Fudd-Bugs dynamic properly. Here, Jones had finished with the irritating voices, all-too-cutesy drawing style and deathly pacing that marked his films of a few years earlier, and had started using things like good jokes and funny drawings. Hare Tonic isn't perfect, but it is a massive step up from what came before.

A Hare Grows in Manhattan (1947, Friz Freleng): - I don't understand the point of the framing device of this cartoon. Normally these fake "Hollywood biography" cartoons are a series of blackout gags, linked by the narration. I understand the point of the framing devices in those cartoons - it holds the thing together. Here, the actual cartoon is one long uninterrupted chunk of story, but before it begins and after it ends we get a bunch of basically unrelated... stuff. Not a bad cartoon or anything, just strangely formatted.

Easter Yeggs (1947, Robert McKimson): - I like how much of a dick everyone is in a McKimson cartoon. The Easter Rabbit is a lazy douche who tricks Bugs into delivering Easter eggs, the little kid is a hideous monster, and Elmer Fudd is a guy who is actually trying to kill, cook and eat the Easter Rabbit. The only character who starts off the cartoon as basically a good person (or anthropomorphic rabbit, or whatever), Bugs, ends the cartoon by blowing up the Easter Bunny. There's also some very, very funny animation in this cartoon - when Bugs is angrilly skipping and singing, "here's the Easter Rabbit, hooray!" through clenched teeth, it is basically impossible not to laugh.

The Wabbit Who Came to Supper (1942, Friz Freleng): - I really don't like this period's design of Elmer. The additional heft just makes him seem more pathetically lovable, and so when Bugs Bunny is super-mean to him for no real reason you just sort of feel bad, rather than thinking it's funny.

Bowery Bugs (1949, Art Davis): - I don't like Art Davis as a director. He doesn't really seem to be able to tell what's funny and what isn't, so he just piles an avalanche of unfunny gags on, until they become numbing. Sometimes there will be a funny joke, and when that happens you do laugh, but more often than not it is a confusing and disorienting experience. His visual style is interesting, but only in a slightly horrifying, ugly kind of a way. That said, this is one of his better cartoons, with some genuinely funny moments. But it still just doesn't... feel right.

Review: Batman: The Brave and the Bold episode 115: Trials of the Demon!

This wasn't that great of an episode. It was a funny idea - Batman goes back in time and meets Sherlock Holmes. Batman proceeds to act like a total dick. That's funny in principle, but not so much in execution. The Sherlock Holmes and Watson characters were just so... bland. They were neither ridiculous and over-the-top charicatures of themselves, nor interesting non-comedic characters. They were just two bland humans with generic English accents. One of the men happened to be wearing a deerstalker - that's how you could tell it was Holmes.

Apart from the blandness of Holmes and Watson, the episode had other, more serious, problems to contend with. Namely: Etrigan the Demon. God I hate Etrigan. He's such a stupid, boring, generic character. Having him speak in rhyme doesn't help matters - it just highlights what a crummy character he is.

There were a few nice bits in the episode - Batman fighting the ridiculous supervillain Crazy Quilt was a nice touch - but mostly it was just not very good. It was all knowingly silly, without actually being funny.

Friday, June 11, 2010

100 years, 100 films 9: The Outlaw and his Wife (1918)

This movie is a slow burn. It starts, and there's about half an hour of not-that-interesting stuff about farm life and bla bla bla, and then it suddenly moves off of the farm, into the wild, and becomes interesting. Then it becomes really interesting. And, before I really knew what had come over me, I was rivetted. Sure, it could be argued that the stuff that I was rivetted by was actually just cheap melodrama, and cheap melodrama that doesn't even make any sense. And that argument would be correct.

Except for the fact that it does make sense. Oh sure, it makes no goddamn sense in any sort of real world way, but it makes a weird, compelling film-sense, as well as a peculiar sort of emotional sense, and it had an almost physical effect on me, so I'll forgive it its total lack of logic.

Let me explain what I'm talking about: there is a scene in the film where the titular wife (as well as the titular outlaw) are being attacked by a bunch of men on horses, trying to arrest the outlaw. The wife screams, "they'll never take my baby!" Runs over to the edge of a nearby cliff, and throws her child over the cliff. Now, in the cold, clear light of day, I obviously realise that this makes no sense. How is anything that the men on horses would do to a baby going to be worse than death? No mother would ever, ever think like that. It makes absolutely no fucking sense.

And yet, in the heat of the moment, with the emotional intensity of the scene constantly escalating, the moment of the wife throwing the baby off the cliff has a real visceral power. And that sense of intensive shock I felt was worth the fact that it didn't make sense.

The lack of logic isn't the film's only problem. It's ridiculously episodic - the film will often just jump two years, seven years, fifteen years into the future, with little or no attempt to make the jumps flow properly, or explain how far ahead the jump is. And the first half an hour, while certainly not bad, is a little tedious, particularly when compared to everything that happens afterwards.

So yeah, it's not a perfect film. But I don't care. It was a damn good film, and I can say without hesitation that it was the best film of my 100 years, 100 films experiment so far.

This Week's Comics: Booster Gold, Secret Six, Deadpool Corps, Deadpool Wade Wilson's War, Chew, House of Mystery, Buzzard

Booster Gold no. 33 written by Keith Giffen and J.M. Dematteis, drawn by Chris Batista. This was... pretty good, I guess. I don't know. I think I'm getting bored with superhero comics again. I mean, throughout this whole thing, what I was most entertained by was the conversation about the appropriateness of swearing in front of little kids. A conversation that took place between a superhero and a floating robot. I'm getting too old for this shit.

Secret Six no. 22 written by Gail Simone, drawn by J. Calafiore. Again, the superhero stuff just wasn't as interesting to me as the other stuff - the flashback about the horrible man who forced his son to murder his mother. The rest of it... eh.

Deadpool Corps no. 3 written by Victor Gischler, drawn by Rob Leifeld. It's really difficult to review more than a few Deadpool comics. There are only so many different ways you can say, "kind of stupid, but pretty funny." So, yeah, "kind of stupid, but pretty funny."

Deadpool Wade Wilson's War no. 1 written by Duane Swierczynski, drawn by Jason Pearson. Okay, I've decided to address the fact that one thing that I like about Deadpool comics is that Deadpool is actually properly insane. And that part of his insanity is the fact that he believes that he is a character in a comic book. Woah, dude. Meta.

Chew no. 11 written by John Layman, drawn by Rob Guillory. This was actually really good. I am kind of getting sick of superheroes, but there are plenty of non-superhero books out there to keep me enjoying the medium until I get over my, "ugh ever superhero book is exactly the same and completely formulaic and the writers are all hacks and bla bla bla" thing, and one of those books that I've just discovered is "Chew". The artwork is fun and stylised, the writing is interesting, the concept bizarrely entertaining. Seems like a pretty good book. Might see if I can find some back issues...

House of Mystery no. 26 written by Matthew Sturges, drawn by Luca Rossi and Christiana Cucina. This had nice artwork and good writing, but I didn't really understand what was going on a lot of the time. I mean, this was the first issue I read, and I heard that it was a horror anthology comic, but there is this weird and convoluted linking story that didn't seem to make a whole heap of sense, so... yeah.

Buzzard no. 1 written and drawn by Eric Powell. I liked this, I guess, but it wasn't really what I was expecting. There were no jokes in it. There was great artwork, and Powell's patented brand of bleak, humiliating despair, but there weren't any of the jokes to lighten the mood. Well, not lighten the mood, exactly, but make the heavy mood more palatable.

Review: Batman: The Animated Series episode 1.44: Day of the Samurai

This episode is visually amazing. It's just a pity that the story is so boring, and the dialogue so bland. I sat there, entranced by the incredible use of colour and line work, as tedious expository dialogue flew in one ear and out the other. Because I was so uninvolved by the plot, I'm not entirely sure exactly what happens. But here is what I gathered:

There's some ninja, and he fights a woman for some reason. Batman cares because... the woman was his old sensei's new protege or something. He flies to Japan, and the ninja steals a map to some ancient fighting instructions that are hidden in a cave (because they were just too damn deadly or whatever). Batman follows the ninja to the cave, but the instructions had deteriorated with age, to the point that they crumbled when they were touched. There was a big enough piece left to teach the ninja some sort of death blow or something, though, and so... Batman... [scene missing]... Batman and the ninja are fighting near a volcano, and the ninja uses the death blow, but Batman was prepared because he had seen the ninja's training dummy and so knew were the death blow was supposed to land (or something like that). Batman beats the ninja, and then it was the end? Oh wait, no, then Batman's sensei said... something... about how Batman... wasn't a ninja? How he was a samurai? Or some shit like that, anyway.

I don't know if any or all of that is correct, and I don't really care. I enjoyed this episode visually, but it was just... tedious in all other respects, sort of like a bad Tim Burton movie. I think this is partly caused by the fact that the episode was directed by Bruce Timm, the producer of the show, who seems like much more of a visual guy than a story guy. I love Bruce Timm and all, but he needs a really solid script (like Heart of Ice or Mask of the Phantasm) to do actually properly good directorial work. Otherwise you just get very pretty tedium.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

100 years, 100 films 8: Raffles the Amateur Cracksman (1917)

I was beginning to lose hope in this pointless little experiment I'm conducting here. It was starting to seem like I was going to have to wade through a never ending stream of tedious shit, and that after all this was over, I would never want to watch another old movie again, as long as I lived. So it is with a huge sigh of relief that I declare that George Irving's Raffles the Amateur Cracksman is actually pretty good.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not saying it's a great film. But it was entertaining. There's something about John Barrymore that makes watching him really fun. He's a completely ridiculous actor - his wild shifts in facial expression and his bizarre outbursts mean that it is impossible to think of the character he's playing as anything approaching a real person. But at the same time, he's electric. He's acting so over the top that you just kind of let yourself go and enjoy it. It's almost as if he's playing a game with the audience - you know that he's brazenly scenery chewing, and he knows that you know he's brazenly scenery chewing, but he'll be damned if he'll crack first.

There were other enjoyable things about this movie as well. The pacing was quite brisk, and it was helped along by a camera that (for the time) is positively frenetic. The cinematography is rarely actually 'good', but it moves around so much that it doesn't really matter. This frenetic feeling is helped by the frankly bizarre overuse of interstitials. Normally, this would slow the pace of a film down do a deathly halt. But here, somehow, it seems to actually speed things up. It's helped by the fact that a lot of the interstitial artwork is surprisingly elaborate, but I think that the constant cuts back and forth between the text and the images add to the jittery, can't-sit-still quality of the film, leading to the impression of a decent pace.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

100 years, 100 films 7: 20,000 Leagues under the Sea (1916)

This is a film in which nothing happens. I mean, the start's alright - the ship Abraham Lincoln sets out to attack a vicious monster that has been plaguing the seven seas and that no fisherman has ever survived an attack from. Turns out the vicious monster - actually a submarine. And up to this point, I thought, "alright, so now is where it gets interesting. Soon we'll get the giant squid battle, and the whirlpool, and all that other great stuff. The special effects won't be great, but they'll be fun in a silly kind of a way." But alas, t'was not to be. What I got instead was about half an hour of shots of people just wandering around underwater. It wasn't interesting.

There was also this weird side plot about these people stranded on an island. It had absolutely nothing to do with anything (and according to Wikipedia was stolen from a different Jules Verne novel). This stupid island stuff is dumb and leads nowhere, except that it is the catalyst for a really, really stupid ending. Captain Nemo is reunited with his long lost daughter (?) and is so overwhelmed with happiness that he dies (??)

I suppose I should now talk about the revolutionary nature of the underwater photography, and how nobody had ever seen anything like it before, and how it must of wowed those innocent rubes who didn't have access to David Attenborough documentaries or whatever. And yes, I guess it probably would have been impressive at the time. But it really wasn't impressive, for two reasons. The first reason is the fact that, well, once you've seen glorious full colour underwater cinematography of bizarre and amazing fish, it just isn't that interesting, looking at not-that-great shots of nothing-much. The second reason is that the transfer of the film I watched was so terrible that it was actually difficult to work out what the hell was happening in the underwater stuff a lot of the time. This isn't really the film's fault, but it certainly did ruin any sense of wonder. It's difficult to be overawed when you're sitting there thinking, "huh? What's that? What's going on? Who's that guy?"

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Review: Batman: The Animated Series episode 1.43: Moon of the Wolf

Gee, I wonder with a name like Moon of the Wolf, if this is gonna be an episode about werewolves? But this episode sure doesn't give its audience much credit, since it seems to assume that we wouldn't be able to work that one out ourselves. The first quarter of the episode is devoted to Batman trying to figure out what the bad guy is. If only someone'd just show him the episode's title card, then we could just skip over all this crap.

Actually, at no point in the episode does Batman or anyone else manage to work out that the villain is a real werewolf, as opposed to a guy in a wolf costume. But at the end, after the werewolf has fallen off of a building into a river and his body was unable to be found, Sargeant Bullock was asked, "do you think he's really gone?" to which he responds, "there's a full moon in another month. We'll know then." So, I don't know, maybe someone did actually show Bullock the title card, but nobody bothered to ask him about it.

I just couldn't get in to this episode. It wasn't bad, but it took itself so seriously, and it was not a plot that should have been taken seriously. I mean, I suppose you can use werewolves seriously and have it be good - it is an inately tragic idea, a man turns into a monster against his will, and then turns back and is forced to deal with the consequences, and his own sense of guilt - but none of that is really explored in any depth here. It's just a big wolf smashing stuff, and the action scenes aren't really that well done, anyway.

I guess part of the problem is that great werewolf stories work on a symbolic level - they are about man's sexual desires, and the unpleasantness/pain (both physical and emotional) they can cause to their loved ones. But the plot of this episode (mad scientist tricks athlete into becoming a werewolf, forces the athlete to commit crimes in exchange for the antidote) doesn't make sense on a symbolic level. So... the mad scientist is... forcing... the athlete... to be the 'pitcher' in a homosexual relationship? But in the end the sex becomes so overwhelming it destroys them both?

Oh, wait. The scientist represents capitalism and a renouncing of God. The athlete follows the money-hungry atheist, and this leads the athlete on the path that eventually turns him into the devil. Or the... scientist... is the devil... and he leads the athlete into temptation... and then is destroyed...

The scientist is Eve, the athlete is Adam. The werewolf potion is the forbidden fruit, the being a werewolf is the 'knowledge'. When the werewolf falls from the top of the building, he is literally 'falling' from God's grace, into the murky waters of Earth. And Batman is... errm... Batman is... the wrath of God? God himself? I'm not really sure, but I'm going with this one.

Or maybe the scientist is the snake, and the athlete is Adam AND Eve, at the same time...

100 years, 100 films 6: The Birth of a Nation (1915)

About a month or so ago I reviewed a film called Odds Against Tomorrow, and I complained about its hamfisted diatribes on race relations. I mean, I agreed with what the film was saying (racism=bad), but it was saying it clunkily, and it was kind of annoying. Ah, for the days when I was mildly annoyed by clunkily handled pleas for racial equality. The Birth of a Nation also has clunkily handled messages about race relations, except the messages that The Birth of a Nation preaches are hate-filled diatribes against anyone and everyone who isn't white. It is one of the most spiteful, enraging movies I have ever watched. What the hell kind of a film has the goddamn KKK as the heroes? Honestly! What the hell? And what does D.W. Griffith, hatemonger extraordinaire, have to say about his obvious detestation of black people? "To say that is like saying I am against children, as they were our children, whom we loved and cared for all of our lives." (Shutup, dude, you're just making it worse).

There are people out there who will tell you that one must view this film in its historical context - that racism was an accepted part of life back then, and that ideas of racial sensitivity were basically unheard of. I call bullshit on all that crap. People back then knew that this film was racist - many of them complained about it at the time. This film isn't just standard level turn of the century casual racism, this film is just ridiculously hateful. There is a scene in this movie where a black man asks a white woman to marry him. The white woman is so disgusted and infuriated that she immediately flees, running off of a cliff and killing herself. The black man had absolutely no intention of causing her any harm, and the fact that she died was just a horrible, tragic accident. The black man is seen fleeing the scene of the death by the woman's lover, who assumes that the black man murdered the woman. The white man gets a whole bunch of his white buddies (also known as the Ku Klux Klan) together to chase down the black man. One of the buddies finds the black man, they get in an altercation, and the black man is forced to kill the white man in self defence. The KKK then capture him, hold a "trial", and immediately declare him guilty and murder him. And for some insane reason we're supposed to sympathise with the white guys! I mean, what the hell? That makes no goddamn sense! None of that was the black guy's fault! It was a series of unfortunate events that spiralled well out of control! WHY IS HE BEING KILLED, YOU STUPID SHITHEADS?

So people'll say, "that was a common attitude at the time. It's no longer acceptable, but they didn't know any better." FUCK THAT. A Broadway musical called Show Boat openned only ten years after the release of Birth of a Nation. Show Boat, which was a mammoth success, is a show all about how terrible and hurtful and bad racism is. THIS WAS RELEASED ONLY TEN YEARS LATER. People at the time where perfectly capable of putting two and two together and realising that, you know, black people were humans, and all, and that maybe they should be treated as such. I mean, YES, attitudes have evolved a lot since that time, but this isn't just Rochester from the Jack Benny Program levels of racism. This is Ku Klux Klan levels of racism, and that was never acceptable. There has never been a time when the KKK weren't assholes.

But, okay, let's say that I chose to listen to those people who were telling me to look past the horrible racism, and see the film that existed underneath. Well, the film underneath is... well... it's just not that good. I mean, it isn't bad, but what's so great about it? It's not a film that even comes close to being able to justify its three hour running time. It plays kind of like James Cameron's Avatar - kind of slow and tedious a lot of the time, cardboard cutout characters who are entirely uninteresting, telegraphed villains, poorly executed plot twists, and pretty decent action scenes (that it's difficult to actually care about). I've read reviews of the film that claimed that the first hour of movie was great - why? Even before they all become hella racist, the characters are totally unengaging. I just didn't care about anyone in this film. What was interesting about any of them? I guess some of the villains were interesting, except that I wanted them to succeed, and the film was trying to tell me they were evil. Oh no! A black person who wants to be a politician? Burn him! Burn him at the stake!

But there I go again, bringing the racism back into it. It is difficult for me to think about this film without being infuriated, but when I wasn't being infuriated, I was just being bored. I mean, I suppose one could claim that the battle scenes were impressive. But they weren't, you know, interesting, or anything. It was just a bunch of men running around. Why should I care? The movie never bothers to give me a reason.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Review: Doctor Who episode 5.8: The Hungry Earth

This episode was kind of boring, so I think I'll take the opportunity of this review to talk about how great Matt Smith is as the Doctor. He hasn't been in very many good episodes, but that is in no way his fault - he is excellent (as is Karen Gillan as Amy Pond, but that's a topic for another review of a mediocre episode).

First of all - his eyes. Matt Smith's eyes are amazing. No doctor has ever used their eyes so well. Whenever he is conversing with another person, his eyes are constantly searching their face, as if he is able to physically see into the other person's sould just by staring at them. He may be cracking some stupid joke, or delivering some tedious exposition, or listening to someone else crack a stupid joke or deliver tedious exposition - but his eyes never stop searching - his brain never stops working., no matter how stupidly he is acting.

And that's another great thing - the fact that it is all an act. The Doctor has realised that the best way to get people to pay attention to him is to act like a mad person who seems to know what he's talking about. So much of his craziness is a put on, so that the other characters feel both out of their depth and at ease.

I also really like the fact that he is a dick. He treats the people that surround him so blatantly like cattle for him to direct that he almost considers his own dickishness to be a big joke. No Doctor has been this brazenly jerkish to everybody near him since Tom Baker, but whereas Baker's jerkishness came in the form of an enjoyable smug sense of superiority, Smith's is more a general obliviousness to the fact that humans have thoughts or emotions of their own. It is really fun to watch.

But yeah, like I said earlier, the fact that it is really fun to watch the main character doesn't mean that it's really fun to watch the whole episodes. There have been a few good episodes with Smith, and hopefully the conclusion to this two parter will be good (it might be - this first episode wasn't terrible, just mediocre), but I'm not exactly holding my breath.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

100 years, 100 films 5: His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz (1914)

I chose another Oz film, because I thought it would be interesting to compare with 1910's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and see just how much American cinema had evolved. And, well, it has evolved, quite a lot - it's rarely impossible to tell what is going on, for example - but, if this film is anything to go by, it hadn't evolved to the point of actually being good.

The problem is that, even though the action is now staged with a certain level of competence (admittedly that level isn't particularly high - there are an awful lot of shots where you just can't see anyone's heads), it never manages to make us forget that this is just a bunch of people in stupid costumes running around in someone's backyard. There's nothing 'special' or 'otherworldly' about any of the locations, and so it just becomes a thing of, "so, what's the difference between Oz and the real world?" I mean, yes, there are witches and wizards and living scarecrows, but those are just magical people. What is magical about the world?

There are a few moments that work on an "Oz is a magical world" level - there is the surprisingly effective "wall of water", and the castle is somewhat otherworldly looking. But most of the time, it's just a regular patch of land. The best example of this problem is with the introduction of the Cowardly Lion. We get a title card that announces, "the Cowardly Lion is king of the jungle," and then we see a guy in a lion costume sitting in a wheat field. I'm sorry, L. Frank Baum, but that wheat field isn't a jungle, no matter how much you want it to be.

Another problem was the fact that the magic just wasn't very... impressive. The special effects are all just sub-par George Melies rip-off stuff, and this was made at a time when just having someone vanish and turn into a horse or whatever was no longer a novelty. There needed to be something special about the effect, otherwise it just isn't interesting. That's not to say that the effects are bad or anything, they're just... meh.

But, when all is said and done, it wasn't exactly a bad movie, and it was certainly a massive step up from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Friday, June 4, 2010

This Week's Comics: Joker's Asylum, Spectacular Spider-girl, Hawkeye & Mockingbird, Legendary Talespinners, Sweet Tooth, Dust Wars

What a crummy week for comics. I walked into the shop, and stared at the "new comics" table in dismay. There was absolutely nothing that I actually wanted. I ended up getting six comics, but they were all the sorts of books that I would have been perfectly happy to skip if there had been a better selection.

Joker's Asylum II: The riddler written by Peter Calloway, drawn by Andres Guinaldo. Alright, so this is a comic I probably would have picked up anyway, but this is the only D.C. comic I bought. Everything else just looked so goddamn boring. And I was sort of excited to see that Joker's Asylum was back, because it was sometimes really good, but it was really variable in quality - you'd get the excellence of the Penguin story one month, then the awfulness of the Poison Ivy story the next. And given the shittiness of the Riddler as a villain, I wasn't holding my breath. What I got was actually closer to the Penguin than Poison Ivy - it was pretty good, sad and touching and tragic, and the Joker's narration was pretty funny, as well. This was by far the best comic this week, although that really isn't saying much.

The Spectacular Spider-girl no. 2 written and drawn by Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz, additional art by Sal Buscema. Yeah, so the only Spider-man related book this week was a stupid knock-off about his daughter. I'm not saying that Spider-girl is automatically a bad character or anything, she probably could be done interestingly. But here she wasn't. She really, really wasn't. And the Punisher's here as well, so, yeah, that's bullshit.

Hawkeye and Mockingbird no. 1 written by Jim McCann, drawn by David Lopez. So much set up. The openning sequence was a nicely handled action set piece, establishing who Hawkeye and Mockingbird are, how they operate, their history etc. etc. And I thought to myself, "alright, this might actually be good." But then after that one good action sequence, we just get clumsily handled character introductions for pretty much the entire rest of the book. Not terrible, and it might get good in a few issues, but this one was pretty meh.

Legendary Talespinners no. 3 written by James Kuhoric, drawn by Grant Bond. This was a pretty cheap Fables knock-off. Not terrible, but, again, meh.

Sweet Tooth no. 10 written and drawn by Jeff Lemire. I honestly don't know if this was good or not. I just had no idea what was going on. Maybe I shouldn't have started reading at issue 10, but honestly - what was happening? I just don't know.

Dust Wars no. 1 written by Christopher "Mink" Morrison, drawn by Davide Fabbri. This really did suck. It was boring and stupid and incomprehensible. There was just nothing good about it. I never would have bought this book if there was anything else for sale this week, but I just couldn't leave the shop with only five comics. I probably should have. Or maybe I should have gotten Demo - that looked confusing and oblique, but it least it looked vaguely interesting. And, you know, not awful.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

100 years, 100 films 4: The Child of Paris (1913)

Leonce Perret's 1913 film The Child of Paris is the first actual "feature" film in my 100 years, 100 films experiment thingy - it ran for a little over two hours. Which was somewhat strange, since it climaxed about seventy minutes in, and then just kept going.

It starts off with a happy aristocratic family - mum, dad and precocious little girl. They are happy and gay but - oh no! The father is called away to war. Kind of sad, but it's alright. There's an... uncle (?) around to be the man of the house, so the status quo is maintained, more or less. But after a ridiculous looking battle sequence (it resembles no battle sequence more than the ending of the Marx Brothers film Duck Soup), the father is killed. (Or is he?) Well, that's sad and everything, but at least their is the uncle (?) around to look after things. Oh wait, no he's not, he's called away to war as well. Oh, and the mother goes crazy and dies of grief.

Yep, so after that cheery beginning, the precocious little girl gets shipped off to a boarding school that makes Oliver Twist's orphanage look like a fun place to be. It's so clichedly horrible that after just a single day the little girl decides to run away. She falls asleep on the side of the road, is picked up by a petty thief, and is sold into slavery to an abusive alcoholic cobbler.

Boy, this film lays it on thick. These openning passages actually do become ridiculous after a while - particularly since the little girl is such a... weird actress. She does the exact same over-the-top arm movements and exaggerated facial expressions that an adult actress would do in a silent film from this time, but coming from a tiny child it just feels bizarre. Sometimes it is legitimately effective, like when she starts sobbing in the boarding school, surrounded by her totally uncaring classmates. But sometimes it seems truly surreal - there is one scene when she first goes to the boarding school, and her dolly is taken away from her. She is left in this big empty room all by herself, and she does this weird thing where she just sort of stretches her arms out longingly, then holds them there for about a minute. It's as if the director forgot to give her direction after "hold your arms out," and so she just stayed like that until he called cut. Which he didn't do for a really long time.

So anyway, after she's sold into slavery to the cobbler, the cobbler's apprentice feels sorry for her and becomes her friend. They hang out for a while, making the best of a bad situation, and it's here that the film starts to pick up - it's finally gotten out of its, "let's do the worst possible things we can think of" routine, and has admitted that some people can be nice.

And then it turns out that the father wasn't dead after all! He was just a prisoner of war. So he comes back to find his wife dead and his daughter missing, and is understandably pretty annoyed about the whole thing. So he gets the newspaper to print an article about how his daughter is missing, and a bunch of unscrupulous rapscallions who know the drunken cobbler decide they will basically ransom the daughter out to her father. The cobblers apprentice finds out about this whole thing, and he doesn't want the girl to get hurt, so he follows one of the rapscallions to their secret hideout, where they have tied the father to a bed (for some reason). He then alerts the police, they burst in and arrest everybody. And this should have been the end - that way the film would have had constant forward motion, culminating in a satisfying climax.

But what actually happens is that one of the rapscalians escapes with the little girl, and flees the city. Why does he do this? It isn't really clear - he makes vague allusions to having some sort of plan to extort more money out of the father, but he already got a million francs out of the deal - how long does he think his luck could possibly last? The fact that he managed to get away at all was lucky - the fact that he managed to get away with the ransom money was basically a miracle. Why does he choose to take the girl as well? To slow him down and increase the chance of capture exponentially? To make sure that the police are putting all their resources into capturing him? It makes no sense - and it would be fine if the answer was "to continue the plot" - I would have accepted that as an explanation. But the plot gets really crummy after this point, and if he hadn't taken the girl, none of the crumminess would have happened.

What do I mean when I say that the plot gets crummy after this point? Well - the movie becomes a detective mystery from this point on, with the cobbler's apprentice working as an amateur sleuth. Nothing wrong with that in theory, but the problem is that it's really weirdly done. It isn't some ceaseless quest, building in speed and tension, moving towards an inevitable confrontation between the apprentice and the rapscallion. But this doesn't happen. It happens for about the first ten minutes - the apprentice finds clues, works out what's going on, tracks the rapscallion down, hones in on him. And then, for no reason, the film just decides to... wander off for a while. It spends about twenty minutes just meandering around. The apprentice rents a hotel, eats some food, gets some new clothes, wanders aimlessly around some parks. And after this pointless meandering, the film never regains steam. It just sort of continues at this ambling pace, and so the ending of the film just seems sort of like a petering out.

The film should have either stopped after seventy minutes, when the police arrested all the rapscallions, or should have edited out about twenty minutes of the last fifty, where absolutely nothing of consequence happens, slowing down the pace to a weird and pointless crawl. If it had done either of those things, it would have been really good. As it was, it was just reasonable. Not bad, but... reasonable.

Review: Scott Pilgrim vol. 2: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World by Bryan Lee O'Malley

I really like the Scott Pilgrim books. I like the way Bryan Lee O'Malley plays with the comic book form. I like the way he has taken the conventions of the stuff that he likes (comic books, video games, Dungeons and Dragons) and uses it all as a means of explaining real life. The real world perplexes him - he is only able to understand it through a haze of video game references.

I also like the fact that Scott Pilgrim is a dick. Not intentionally, but his total lack of understanding about the world, his obsession with video games, his intense absent mindedness, and his basic self-centredness lead him in to all manner of easily avoidable problems. It's good to see a fictional love triangle that feels real, because it isn't based on ridiculous misunderstandings, or characters that are intentionally mean spirited or hurtful. Scott isn't intentionally mean. He never does bad things on purpose. Bad things just happen because he forgets to contemplate the consequences of his actions. This seems more realistic an explanation for his sort of behaviour than most movies or t.v. shows offer up - it isn't based on sadism, or a need to feel powerful, or an uncontrollable desire, or any of that crap. It's based on being an unthinking douche.

And I like the fact that, even though we know Scott is an unthinking douche, we also still like him. We empathise with his problems, even if they are all caused by his own idiocy. We see what the girls in his life see in him, even while laughing at his total inability to get a job, or his lack of musical talent, or his ridiculous obsession with retro video games. This is because underneath the idiocy he is basically a decent person. He's a douche, but he's basically a decent guy. And that's something I think we can all relate to.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

100 years, 100 films 3: Queen Elizabeth (1912)

Ugh. God this film sucked. This film was such a piece of arse munching shit. I hated this film so much I can't think straight. I thought I was going to be able to write my review in this rage induced state, (I just finished watching this piece of fucking shit), but no. I need to take a break to calm down.

[one shower later]

Okay, I think I've calmed down enough to explain exactly why 1912's Queen Elizabeth, directed by Henri Desfontaines and Louis Mercanton, and starring Sarah Bernhardt as the titular character, is a huge pile of shit.

I will start with the biggest problem - it's boring. It is so fucking boring. And this isn't like some guy who's favourite films are Robocop and Ferris Beuler saying that the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice is boring. Yesterday, I watched a French film from 1911 that was described as a 'social commentary', and I didn't find that boring. I didn't love it, but I didn't find it boring. So when I say that Queen Elizabeth is a boring piece of garbage, you don't need to take that with a grain of salt. It is boring. There are two main reasons that this film is boring. It is insanely stagey, and the interstitials are terrible, and destroy any possible chance of suspence.

The insane staginess - this is a filmed version of a stage play. Now, when people in the sound era make filmed version of stage plays, they are often accused of being boring because they are 'stagey', or 'not filmic'. This is often a perfectly justifiable complaint - the film makers didn't do enough to turn the material that is best suited for the stage into something suited for the screen. So, okay, let's take a movie that this complaint is often leveled at, Alfred Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder. I'm not choosing that film because I dislike it or anything (I actually think it's pretty good), but because it is the first film that comes to my mind when ever anyone talks about the 'staginess' of filmed stage plays. Okay, so imagine Dial M for Murder - pretty much all takes place in the one setting, most of the intrigue is communicated through dialogue, not a whole heap of action or movement - and then, remove all sound. So now what you have is a bunch of people standing around, mouthing dialogue silently. Oh, and I don't mean "replace the dialogue with dialogue interstitials" or anything, I mean just simply remove all sound. No replacements. No alterations of any kind. So now you have long, long, long, long, long (long long long long long) scenes of people... openning and closing their mouths. Oh sure, sometimes you can sort of intuit what they are saying, but most of the actors aren't really emoting with their body language much or anything, they're pretty much just... standing around and talking. There is a scene where Queen Elizabeth meets Shakespeare. They shake hands, they exchange pleasantries for about two minutes, the scene ends. WHY IS THIS IN THE FILM? I mean, okay, I can understand having a scene where Elizabeth meets Shakespeare - Shakespeare's a cool dude, I get wanting to put him in your film - but ABSOLUTELY NOTHING HAPPENS IN THIS SCENE. There are zero things going on. I suppose we in the audience are supposed to be sitting there going, "oh, I bet Shakespeare's saying some funny quip right now. Oh, that Shakespeare. He's such a fun guy probably." I'm not complaining about the fact that the movie has no sound. I'm not - I like lots of silent movies. What I'm complaining about is a movie that has no sound AND DOES ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO COMPENSATE. You know that old writer's trick of trying to imagine how a scene would play in a silent movie, so that you can write your script visually as well as verbally? Well, this movie does the exact opposite. It tries to imagine a film with sound, and just plays like that. Towards the end of the film, I was so goddamn bored I was actually providing my own dialogue. 1st Woman: "Oh! I'm a stupid fucking idiot who's waving my arms around for no fucking reason!" Man: "Well I love you anyway, even if you are a retard who likes to wave your arms around!" 2nd Woman: "I'm some character who you may or may not have seen before, but have absolutely no memory of! I don't know why I'm in this piece of shit!" I'm not saying it was great dialogue, but it was better than NOTHING WHATEVER.

The second reason this movie was boring was the terrible, terrible interstitials. The film makers decided that, instead of providing dialogue, or helpful narration to help the audience understand what is happening as a scene moves along, they would provide interstitials that explain what is ABOUT TO HAPPEN IN A SCENE. So you'll have a potentially suspenceful situation: The Earl of Essex is making out with the Duke of Northumberland's wife - the Duke of Northumberland is walking in a corridor right by the room that Essex and the wife are in - will he stumble in to the room and find them at their amorous endeavour? Yes. We know this, because before we even saw the Duke of Northumberland, we had a helpful title that read, "The Duke of Northumberland finds his wife and Essex in each other's arms." THEN we see the Duke of Northumberland in the corridor. Well, thanks, movie, for RUINING ANY POSSIBLE SUSPENCE. Another example - there's a scene were a fortune teller enters the palace, and predicts that Queen Elizabeth will lead a sad life, and that Essex will have his head chopped off. Do we start this scene with a sense of gay abandon ("oh ha ha ha, let's use the services of this old fortune teller, won't that be good for a wheeze") before things turn to shit, thus building tension and interest? Of course not. Before we even see the fortune teller, we are told that, "A Fortune Teller predicts that Queen Elizabeth will lead a sad life, and that Essex will end his days on the executioner's block", thus making the next five minutes of screen time utterly pointless. In fact, you could tell the entire story of this film JUST USING THE INTERSTITIALS. And like I said before, none of the interstitials are dialogue. They're all just telling you what is ABOUT to happen. Who thought this was a good idea? IT MAKES NO DAMN SENSE.

But the boringness of the film isn't the only problem, oh no. We also have the terrible acting to contend with! It may just be that I was so goddamn bored that the hammy acting looked even more ridiculous than it usually does in silent films, but god was it hammy. And how the hell was Sarah Bernhardt some sort of big star? She's fucking terrible! She moves her arms around like she's having a convulsive fit in slow motion. She was mainly a stage actress, so maybe her stardom had something to do with her voice, but Jesus Christ, based on this performance, I would say she's damn terrible. And basically no one else is any better. Hald the actors went to Scenery Chewing School, and the other half just do nothing at all.

Oh, and the camera work was static and uninspired. It wasn't really a major problem or anything, but just one more minor thing to add to the list.

This movie sucked.

This (or rather last - again) Week's Comics: Wonder Woman, Powergirl, Gotham City Sirens, Batman Detective Comics, Amazing Spider-man, Deadpool et al.

Also: Marvel Zombies 5, Secret Avengers, Amazing Spider-man Annual, Sense and Sensibility, Whatever Happened to Baron von Shock, Chimichanga.

Wonder Woman no. 44 written by Gail Simone, drawn by Nicola Scott and Travis Moore. This was alright, but nothing special. Simone does sort of seem to be floundering somewhat with Wonder Woman. Her talent is for dialogue and character, so what can she do with a protagonist who isn't fast with a quip, and has no personality?

Powergirl No. 12 written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, drawn by Amanda Conner. This was a pretty fun issue, but... ummm... about those first four pages... has... has Amanda Conner been watching a lot of Russ Meyer movies or something? Just... yeah. Oh, and I know this came out two weeks ago, but I somehow missed it earlier.

Gotham City Sirens no. 12 written by Tony Bedard, drawn by Peter Nguyen. I thought the Poison Ivy story was stupid last issue, and it's still stupid here. Why is any of that happening? It makes no sense. I liked that one scene where Catwoman's sister flipped out and murdered a cat and a nun, but apart from that, this was pretty standard.

Batman Detective Comics no. 865 written by David Hine, drawn by Jeremy Haun. God I don't care. This is such boring bullshit. It isn't badly done or anything, I just can't bring myself to care.

The Amazing Spider-man no. 632 written by Zeb Wells, drawn by Chris Bachalo and Emma Rios. This, on the other hand, was damn fine. It's just such a well told, tragic story. Normally I would be all, "fuck the Lizard. What a stupid villain. He's only one step up from the goddamn Vulture." But here, it just works. They've taken what was a really dumb idea for a bad guy and turned it in to something quite affecting. Good job.

Deadpool: Merc with a Mouth no. 11 written by Victor Gischler, drawn by Bong Dazo. This was reasonably good, there were some funny bits, but what was with the serious centrepiece? Why was the Zombie-Deadpool-Head talking about addiction?

Marvel Zombies 5 no. 3 written by Fred van Lente, drawn by M.W. Kaluta, Kano and Tom Palmer, and Felix Ruiz. I bought this book because it had Howard the Duck on the cover, and I thought to myself, "yeah, I could use some ridiculous bullshit." But what I got was something that took itself way too goddamn seriously. I mean, Howard doesn't show up until nine pages in, and before that it was just really boringly written medieval fantasy crap. I got bored with Marvel Zombies a while ago, and this really, really, didn't make me change my mind.

Secret Avengers no. 1 written by Ed Brubacker, drawn by Mike Deodato. This wasn't bad, although it was pretty wordy, and the dialogue wasn't very good. But it's a first issue, and what it sets up seems like it could be legitimately interesting. It gets a pass for promise.

The Amazing Spider-man Annual no. 37, written by Karl Kesel and Kurt Busiek, drawn by Paulo Siqueira and Pat Olliffe. There were two stories here, and surprisingly the one written by Kurt Busiek was the worse one. They were both reasonably good, but the Busiek story was so damn gimmicky. Spider-man meets Stan Lee. Kind of a dumb idea.

Sense and Sensibility no. 1 written by Nancy Butler (and Jane Austen), drawn by Sonny Liew. I picked this up largely because of the whole, "what the hell why is Marvel publishing Jane Austen" thing, but it was actually alright. It took a while to get used to (the old-timey dialogue married to some often quite cartoony drawings, and written in a modern looking font), but once I got past all that, it was actually alright. I've never read Sense and Sensibility in non-comic book form, so that might be helping my enjoyment, as might the fact that I do quite like Jane Austen's writing (especially Emma.) One thing that confused me, though, was why the characters kept randomly changing from reasonably realistic looking to weird, distorted cartoons with huge heads and tiny bodies. I really didn't understand what the hell that was about. Was Sonny Liew just getting really bored with all these drawing rooms, and just decided to screw around? Oh, well, it was alright.

Whatever Happened to Baron von Shock no. 1 written by Rob Zombie, drawn by Donny Hadiwidjaja. I picked this up because I thought to myself, "what's this? Rob Zombie has written something that isn't about hillbilly cannibals?" And, while it isn't about hillbilly cannibals, it is exactly as poorly written as if it were.

Chimichanga no. 2 written and drawn by Eric Powell. I quite like Eric Powell - he can be very, very funny when he wants to be. And he does want to be funny in this comic - about half the time. The other half is terrible, terrible 'satire' about the Pharmaceutical industry, which plays like a lame SNL sketch (I mean lame for an SNL sketch, all SNL sketches are, by definition, lame), or fart jokes. Lots and lots of unfunny fart jokes. There were some very funny jokes, like "The Amazing Randy, Man With the Strength of a Slightly Larger Man", and the image of Chimichanga eating an elephant was gold. But just lay of the fart jokes in future, alright?