Category Archives: movies

All Crime, All the Time

Posted by Chris

Lately almost all the media I’m consuming spins around the axis of crime, noir, or mystery. Most of the books, movies, television, and comics I’m immersed in, are invariably about solving murders or committing unsolvable murders. I’ve always loved crime fiction. As a grade schooler, I remember being obsessed with the ongoing adventures of The Three Investigators. In contrast to more popular kid-detectives like the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, The Three Investigators were compelling because they weren’t just precocious do-gooders; the Three were defined as much by their individual shortcomings as much as by their talents. The fact that as adolescents, the Three struggled as much with the given mystery as they did with their own sense of self 1.

Conversely, Richard Stark’s (aka Donald Westlake) perfect criminal, Parker is a man without doubt and in complete calculated control of his every move. I’ve burned through six of Stark’s  Parker novels in the past two months, and am hooked. If all I had to read for the rest of my life were Westlake novels, I would be content (Westlake was also prolific enough for this to be a viable option). There’s a clarity to Westlake’s prose, plot, and characters that heightens the catastrophic plot twists, when disaster strikes and everything starts going pear-shaped. The Parker books are paradoxically about a master criminal and methodical workman who plans for every circumstance, who finds himself regularly dealing with intractable problems and impossible situations his planning and professionalism is meant to avoid. This is because Parker lives in a world that lacks his ruthless efficiency and logic, so despite himself, Parker continually finds himself running from a cascade of dominoes that propel him headlong into Clusterfuck City (pop. everyone).

On TV, I’ve been following Nathan Fillion’s new show Castle, about a caddish mystery author named Rick Castle (played by Fillion, natch), who assists the NYPD in solving homicides. He is paired with the attractive and flinty Detective Kate Beckett 2, in a Moonlighting-esque pairing that is self-aware and playful, without being too manipulative with the will-they/won’t-they hookup tension that can kill the momentum of similar shows. I’ve been enjoying this series a lot, because its aware of its own limits as a mystery procedural, and like all great stories in the crime genre, does its storytelling in an extremely efficient manner. The main cast is small, only about 6-7 regularly recurring characters with Castle/Beckett getting the lions share of onscreen banter time 3. There’s certainly a formula to it, and again, one that applies as much to the genre and type of show that is 4, as much as to its own particular character as a series– but the show itself is a lot of fun, and it seems like the cast and crew are having a good time making it, an intangible/unknowable quality that can actually add a lot to any performance-based show.

A regular topic of conversation on this blog (and many others for that matter) is the greatness of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillip’s Criminal. Suffice it to say that along with titles like Jason Aaron’s Scalped, there’s a renaissance in comic book noir; a fact that’s especially notable for comics’ deep ties to the pulps and the crime genre as a whole. (And in terms of the noir films I’ve been watching, I’m hoping to look at them more in-depth individually in subsequent posts.)

What’s compelling to me about crime as a genre are the essential themes and conflicts built into its fabric and fundamentals. Characters marginalized by society at large. A cruel and indifferent world. Injustice is as ingrained as the government’s bureaucracy (and often the self-same thing). Cynical worlds where the hopeful have the most to lose. I love stories about flawed individuals stubbornly try to carve out their own bit of happiness, despite the brutality inflicted upon them by the world around them. Parker is a great example of how crime stories are about assigning logic and order to a chaotic world; as often as the stories are about resigning yourself to the unpredictable, unknowable and capricious nature of the world we all live in.

1 Former child star Jupiter Jones (Detective #1) is brilliant but vain and egotistical; Pete Crenshaw (Detective #2) is athletic but cowardly; Bob Andrews (Detective #3) was methodical and would rather stay at home than stakeout; all have faults which are mitigated by each others’ strengths and their teamwork. Their adventures were formulaic, but also perfectly pitched for adolescent audiences. Plus, they’re pals with Alfred Hitchcock and would debrief him on their adventures– a random but funny hook for a series aimed at kids.

2 Who has suffered from some unfortunate hair styles or stylists, playing awkwardly with the length and look of her hair. A lot of police shows seem to have a problem balancing the idea of tough female leads having shorter and butcher haircuts to show how “no nonsense” they are while keeping them marketable as attractive and feminine objects of desire. Since these two aesthetics are generally at cross-purposes (generally, I’m not trying to get into a deep 3rd wave feminism read of relative masculinity/femininity of hair-styles right now) it usually results in a style that is mostly unfortunate for the actress wearing it. I know this is a weird thing to bring up, but watch the show and try not to notice.

3 Sometimes I feel like one can estimate how much screentime the supporting cast will get, based upon how high-profile the guest star (or guest murderer, more often) is, and how those salaries and costs factor into the production budget. It’s a well produced show, but it’s clear the crew has an eye on the budget line and that they do a very good job of doing the most they can with the resources they have.

4 I also like the show Psych for similar reasons. On its face, its central storytelling conceit conceit could be limiting:  a pair of amateur detectives fake psychic abilities in order to help the Santa Barbara PD solve a variety of crimes. In execution, the show’s sharp casting, quick pace of its pop-culture references and the self-aware absurdity of its protagonists all add to its charm.

More Craftiness…”Stitch Wars”

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This exhibit looks wonderful. I want to own one of everything.

I think my favorites are the little ewoks…or the enormous Chewy…and some of the crochet and felt work is pretty mind-blowing.

From the Flickr Set:

This artwork is part of Bear and Bird Gallery’s “Stitch Wars” exhibition in Lauderhill, Florida. Exhibition runs July 18 – August 29, 2009, for more information visit our website www.bearandbird.com

Discovered on Twitter, via @craftster…

- Jenn

Watchm–dear god, this thing is over three hours long!

My Watchmen Director’s Cut arrived in the mail yesterday. I watched it. Here are my thoughts…

Liked:

*Dr. Manhattan disappearing all the reporters and cameras, the way he did in the comic, instead of jetting right up to Mars.

*More Rorschach. His character gets more time, and he’s truer to the comic. The psych-evaluation is more detailed, and you get to see more of his weird attitude toward Laurie, and women in general.

*Hollis Mason’s death and Dan’s reaction. This scene was my favorite. Despite the terrible un-scariness of the knot-tops (they look like a bunch of pudgy middle-aged grips and dollies and best boys and whatever other sorts of people work on movie lots), the scene itself was great. When it is switching in and out of Hollis Mason’s perspective and you see that he’s fighting all his old-timey nemeses…it’s quite touching. And very beautifully put together.

*The tiny bit of extra interaction between the Comedian and Laurie in her flashback.

*Sweet holographic cover, dudes!!

*Extra blue wang…j/k guys. I don’t even know if there is more. I have some sort of a blue wang filter on my life goggles that prevents me from noticing it until someone blatantly points it out to me.

*The general feeling that the whole movie makes a lot more sense.

Did not like:

*The extra Laurie. I felt just fine about her performance in the theatrical cut because she was every bit as lame as the Laurie in the comic. The director’s cut adds some long and unnecessary scenes that try to make her out to be some sort of tough no-nonsense badass. It’s in no way true to the original character, only serves to highlight her subpar acting skills and plays like something out of a completely different movie. That said, I DID like that they focused more on her relationship with Jon as a military imperative.

*Not specifically a gripe with the director’s cut, but now that Chris mentioned it, I cannot help but notice the glaring lack of saxophone on the soundtrack.

*Also not a director’s cut gripe, but the old people makeup is still really distracting.

And finally…

Had me going, “WTF??!!”:

*”Mommy, that man in the ship, that man….IS HE JESUS?”

…IS….THAT MAN….JESUS??

I will bet anyone $10 that Zach Snyder LOVED that line. I bet he was like, “YES! YES THIS IS IT!” and everyone else was like, “Man, actually that’s kind of lame. I think we might have to leave that out.” and Zach Snyder was like, “Screw you guys, I’M THE DIRECTOR! It’s goin’ in the director’s cut!”

In closing:

lolowl

-Jenn

My Hormones Were Just Taken to Warp Speed.

I am back from the dead to say one thing:

Star Trek was awesome.

Star Trek was so awesome it is almost gross.

Star Trek ended and I was filled with an overwhelming feeling of sadness and frustration that I couldn’t just sit back down and watch it again.

I came this close to seeing Star Trek twice yesterday, but I backed down at the last minute, which is cool because it was sold out anyway.

I am not a Star Trek expert, by any means. I know what a Tribble is, and I’m relatively up on who was sleeping with whom on TNG, but in general, I am a Star Trek novice. Luckily, this movie manages to give a huge nod to the old-timey Trekkies while accomplishing a complete reboot of the whole freaking franchise. My mother–who used to record all of the original re-runs and episodes of the Next Generation, who took us to see multiple Star Trek films in the theater and who possesses a much more encyclopedic knowledge of Star Trek in general–loved it, so it must be pretty great.

The performances were extremely well-done. The actors managed to play their characters convincingly, but without resorting to cartoonish imitations of the original cast. No stilted, melodramatic Captain Kirk voice. Scotty was just a loud Scottish dude. No funny Leonard Nimoy sing-songy deadpan. And I thought Abram’s vision of Chekov as a 17 year old with a heavy “v’s are w’s” drawl was pretty brilliant.

The story was well-written and well-executed and managed to turn the entire Star Trek world on its head while staying true to 40-some years of history and tradition. Yes, I just referenced “Star Trek history and tradition”. I’m dealing.

But of course, the most important factor catapulting this film from “pretty awesome” to deserving its own seat in the HISTORIC HALLS OF CINEMATIC GREATNESS is this:

Sexy Star Trek

Almost everyone in this film is HIGHLY BEDDABLE. The people they got for this movie are so disgustingly attractive it makes me feel like puking. In all seriousness, I am not a person who watches movies just so I can drool over the bodies on screen, but DAMN. DAMN IT, INTERNET. I’M A HUMAN BEING, NOT A FILM CRITIC. You can’t expect me to sit through two hours of attractive people in skin-tight jumpsuits alternately trading witty insults and kicking the crap out of each other without having my mind (and loins) completely boggled.

You know what? I can’t even review this movie right now because my brain is filled with images of sexy sexy Captain Kirk and **SPOILER ALERT** angsty Spock with hotass Lt. Uhura all up in his grill. It is clouding my judgment! I’m not sure if I just saw the greatest Star Trek movie ever made, or if I am having my hormones shamelessly manipulated by JJ Abrams and Co.

Chris, please review this movie soon so I can make sense of my feelings. If you need me I’ll be over at Oaktree Cinemas, watching it for the second time and taking secret camera phone footage for use in the Spock/Kirk/Uhura fan videos I intend to post all over YouTube. If you go with Jane and she tells you she has no idea what I’m talking about, please know that she is a LIAR (a considerate girlfriend, but a LIAR nonetheless).

Please send help soon. Thank you.

-Jenn

Watchmehhhh (see what I did there?)

Went to see Watchmen last night and it underwhelmed in the ways I expected it to. Prior to the viewing, my friend Jenn and I discussed that potentially, this film is inseparable from its viewers’ preconceptions. Those prejudiced against its various adaptive liberties would remain so, and conversely those stoked to finally see it on the screen would probably be invigorated by the whole shebang. This seems to hold water with reviews (held up to preceding levels of enthusiasm expressed) on a few of the blogs I follow . (And with those individual prejudices guiding judgment of the film, there’s a terrible joke about viewings of the film being a viewer’s own Rorschach test.)

Jenn has been ecstatic about the movie’s opening, so much so that in making plans to see it,  I talked her down from waiting in line for the midnight opening showing. She loved it. My girlfriend who only read the first dozen pages or so of the comic and with little to no preconceptions, liked it mostly okay. Her biggest problem was a general sense of missing something about the plot and characters. Rather than getting a sense for Moore’s wrestling with uncertainty and conflict, she walked away with Snyder’s tableau of vaguery. And overall I’m pretty ambivalent about what I saw on screen, with some strong dislikes about its style balanced with some parts and performances that I genuinely enjoyed. So my judgment and assessment falls into a few different categories:

  • Watchmen The Movie™ as adaptation = Mixture of success and failure
  • Watchmen The Movie™ as action movie = Okay
  • Watchmen The Movie™ as merchandizing cash cow = What the fuck is wrong with people?

In a lot of ways this movie is like Paula Abdul’s “Opposittes Attract,” in terms of directorial choices being made, for every two-steps forward– there’s two-steps back. The visual design of the film is phenomenal. I can’t imagine a better looking adaptation of Dave Gibbons’ art, but the flaw isn’t with how it looks so much as how it moves. The slow-motion scenes were excessive and dull, that they took me right out of the scene (although I think the exception is the Comedian’s jump into the rioting crowd), that places the film unironically back into the mold of so many terrible superhero action movies.

Jackie Earle Haley (Moocher!) gives a pitch-perfect performance as Rorschach, but occasionally has to share the screen with the vacuum of personality that is Malin Ackerman’s Silk Spectre. The rest of the cast is mostly fine to unremarkable, but as a whole lacking in cohesion and consistency. It often feels like everyone is in their own separate movie with conflicting tones and feelings1.

Like just about everyone else, I like the opening credits w/ Dylan’s “Times They Are A Changin.'” The opening was indeed great, but sadly for many of my friends, it was their favorite part of the entire film. But after that, all other uses of popular song in the film were uniformly awful. The songs should’ve elevated the scenes or provided an ironic subtext, but in nearly every use, song choices deflated meaning, mood, and tension. Worse still was the original soundtrack, which telegraphed far too much and much too cheesily. There’s something to be said for restraint, and whatever that something is, Snyder certainly never heard it.

Overall, I think he got it wrong. The movie on its own terms is okay, and functions as an average to better action movie. But I was never a fan of the Watchmen for its action-movie qualities. I liked the original’s subversive themes and character deconstructions alongside layers of mystery, conspiracy, and meta-commentary. So, it’s hard to get enthused about it being an o-kay action flick, shitty thriller, and totally unsatisfying exploration of legacy/history/identity.

I know that as I’m complaining about the lack of understanding it shows to its characters, that I’m potentially falling into the archetype of wounded-nerd, hater, super cynic, etc. I like to thinks2 I gave it a fair shot, but as a counterpoint to my largely negative opinions, funny-man Patton Oswalt’s posted an impassioned defense of Watchmen The Movie™, offering that in most nerds’ eyes– no one could’ve gotten it right. And maybe he’s right, but then again he mentions in that blog post how great the show Burn Notice is and that show’s leads are possibly the only people I can imagine being less capable than Malin Ackerman of using their acting talent to escape from a paper bag. (This show also makes me incredibly sad for Bruce Campbell, and the inversion of his tendancy to appear in crappy but awesome projects, into acting in an awesomely crappy project.)

More than anything about Watchmen The Movie™ itself, the thing that’s skeeving me out the most is the attendant merchandising. Specifically the commodifying of the Comedian (aspiring rapist and nationalist stooge) and Rorschach (paranoid sociopath and racist/misogynist/homophobic triple threat) into action figures, potential Legoplaysets, and adorning the walls of both the cluelessly misguided and the outright assholes. Of course, there’s the societal benefit that anyone wearing the shirt pictured at left is easily identifiable as an unpitiable shitbird to be avoided at all costs. Yes there are other villains like the Joker that get turned into toys and Hot Topic shirts– but part of what makes the Comedian and Rorschach marketable now, is the superficial sanitization of their characters3. Like the subtle editing of Rorschach’s opening monologue4, the streamlined film versions aren’t wholly inaccurate but in smoothing over their edges and making them more palatable for public consumption– the movie misses so much of the point of Moore’s original work, that it’s hard to find much solace in Snyder’s fidelity to the dangling blue wang of the original.

1 It almost makes me wish that Haley’s castmates from Breaking Away could’ve joined him, imagine: Dave Stoller (Dennis Christopher) as Adrian Veidt, Mike (Dennis Quaid) as Dr. Manhattan, Cyril (Daniel Stern) as the Owl, and Rod could be the Comedian (b/c they’re both dicks, gettit?). Almost.

2 Originally a typo, but methinks I should try to popularize this ala the British pluralizing of the “maths”

3 In my reading, the two represent extremes of conservatism taken to its most villainous ideological ends. On one hand, the Comedian as the cynical über-nationalist, whose faith in Manifest Destiny and America’s moral certainty justifies any excess. Rorschach conversely is the extreme isolationist whose xenophobia and fear of influence can’t allow any cracks in his own moral certainty.

4 In the film, Rorschach says, “The accumulated filth of all their sex and murder will foam up about their waists and all the politicians will look up and shout, ‘Save us!’… and I’ll look down and whisper, ‘no.’ All those liberals and intellectuals and smooth-talkers… and all of a sudden no one can think of anything to say.” Whereas in the original he says:

“The accumulated filth of all their sex and murder will foam up about their waists and all the whores and politicians will look up and shout, ‘Save us!’… and I’ll look down and whisper, ‘no.’ They had a choice, all of them. They could have followed in the footsetps of good men like my father or president truman. Decent men who believed in a day’s work for a day’s pay. Instead they followed the droppings of lechers and communists and didn’t realize that the trail led over the precipice until it was too late. Don’t tell me they didn’t have a choice. Now the whole world stands on the brink, staring down into bloody hell, all those liberals and intellectuals and smooth-talkers… and all of a sudden no one can think of anything to say.”

The editing diminishes Rorschach’s sexual dysfunction and larger sense of paranoia, instead tailoring him into a more recognizable but still somewhat extreme conservative ideologue. It’s a separate question whether any editing of the dialogue would have a similar diminishing effect, but in this case the omission in subject and change of emphasis (from universal to specific) does have an impact on the overall meaning and characterization of Rorschach.

Bleary-eyed 2008 Best-Of, Blurst-Of…

This list has no arbitrary number, and no real parameters other than I’m trying (dimly) to recall all that resonated with me the most, for better or worse, in the bygone year. Plot-related SPOILERS will be discussed, because it’s hard to be specific in praise/critique without acknowledging details. Here’s my not-so-thin-line between love and hate.

LOVED:

  • All-Star Superman was perfect in almost every way. Grant Morrison embraced everything Superman inspired, assembling cluttered continuity and archetypical resonances into a heroic ideal distilled to its essence. Frank Quitely continues to be my favorite of Morrison’s recurring collaborators. While there are other artists whom I might prefer in general, Quitely’s unique style and sense of pacing just seems to fit ineffably better.
  • The Death of Captain America managed to turn what could’ve been a cheap stunt, into one of the most compelling espionage stories I’ve ever read. As a lefty and contrarian, I’ve never been a fan of the unabashed patriotism and jingoism Captain America’s represented, but Ed Brubaker helped carve out a character I cared about– before shooting him dead and replacing him with his long-lost sidekick. And of course he made me like the resurrected sidekick too, taking the new Captain America into murkier and doubt-ridden places that a stalwart, Hitler-punching Steve Rogers may not have been able to go. Brubaker’s Criminal has consistently been one of the best reads in any given month and his new series Incognito is off to a great start for the best of 2009.
  • Fallout 3 destroyed my social life by being 2008’s most absorbing video game experience. GTA IV was good, and even great at times,  and Fable 2 was fun in its own right– but nothing beat the bombed-out post-apocalyptic wastes of Fallout’s immense world. Fallout‘s mix of humor, nostalgia, cold-war paranoia, and engaging game-play has kept me glued to my 360 for the last third of the year.
  • The Dark Knight was among the best movies I saw in 2008, regardless of genre and my own geekiness. Heath Ledger’s electric performance, the epic cinematography, overarching themes of dodgy morality, and complex plotting made TDK one of the year’s best (especially in IMAX intensity).  Iron Man was fun too, because hanging out with Robert Downey Jr. would be fun, but it just didn’t put all the pieces together the way TDK did.
  • let the right one inLet The Right One In was my favorite movie of the year, its frosty Swedish setting sealing the tension within its story of nascent desire and adolescent violence. The fact that it was a teen vampire movie of sorts, puts it into immediate comparison with Twilight and Anne Rice’s libidinous stories, but LTROI distinguishes itself by its emotional naturalism and the fact that in many ways it was a purer and more loyal exploration of the vampire myth.

HATED:

  • Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was dumber than even I expected it to be. Steven Spielberg managed to crowbar in all his pet obsessions (daddy issues, alien life, and the irrepressibility of youth!) into one of the densest disappointments of the year. Even if the story wasn’t totally inane, the performances were uniformly horrible. Harrison Ford may as well have phoned it in from Spielberg’s favorite alien planet, Cate Blanchett’s horrendous Soviet accent and phallus-envy sword play were a constant irritation, and Karen Allen seemed to be reprising a role as a heretofore unknown and unhinged cat-lady. And of course, one can’t ignore that the story itself was inane. Indy 4 suffered from constant credulity-straining suspensions of disbelief (even the jungle monkeys hate Socialists!) to forehead-slapping thematic platitudes (“knowledge was their treasure!!”), resulting in a multi-million dollar turd that only Spielberg could’ve directed.
  • Detective Comics: Heart of Hush by Paul Dini was a story I can’t believe I even bothered to read. I’d generally been enjoying Dini’s run on Detective, but this storyline was a pathetic attempt to bring some gravitas to the character of Hush. Riddled with cliche’s and cheap flashbacks that attempted to give Hush some depth, this absolutely airless ugh-fest compared all the more unfavorably to Grant Morrison’s convoluted but inspired BATMAN R.I.P.
  • Mark Millar used to be a writer I enjoyed (The Ultimates, Ultimate Fantastic Four, etc.), but thanks to its big-screen adaptation, I finally read Wanted, and I truly wish I could unread the ugly, hateful, and ultimately pathetic power-fantasy in its pages. Everything of Millar’s I’ve read (or re-read) since has been colored by that story’s shallow characterizations, puerile attempts at humor, and general bigotry.
  • Guy Fieri‘s frosted douche-itude and ubiquity is quickly making the often unbearable Food Network, completely unwatchable. I can stomach Bobby Flay’s overwhelming smarminess, deal with Iron Chef America‘s tepid imitation of the Japanese original, and Alton Brown’s cornball moments in return for glimpses of culinary inspiration and opinion rendered smartly and pointedly by folks like Brown, Mario Batali, Masahiro Morimoto, and Jeffrey Steingarten. But Fieri and his chicken-fried personality represent what’s wrong with how our culture relates to food. I’m not saying we need to populate the TV with granola-fed back-to-the-landers, but I’d take anything over his constant shilling of fried mediocrity and quarter-pound diabetes burgers available at TGIFridays.
  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was yet another example of overblown cinematic stupidity. Probably the worst film I saw all year (even after I saw a stop-motion bat try to rape his college sweetheart). Worse because of its attempts to appear profound, shoe-horning Forrest Gump‘s treacly sentimentality onto a creepy, ultimately hollow love story. For something so incredibly overwrought The Curious Case… is amazingly careless. The film doesn’t even follow its own internal logic relating to Brad Pitt’s de-aging (starts normal sized baby that’s old, so it should end with man-sized geezer that’s a baby?), and Cate Blanchett gives another overwhelmingly obnoxious performance in a high-profile movie. Adding to its insipidness, the film fails to do anything meaningful with Hurricane Katrina in its backdrop, insulting the hurricane’s victims and its audience.

Late Pass Movie Review Revue

I’m not sure what it says about me that my biggest problem with Quantum Of Solace, the latest in the famously chauvanist (if not outright misogynist) Bond franchise, was the lack of a compelling female character. I know, I know, Bond movies are about super stylized machismo, over the top chase scenes, and liberal use of bikini babes. So what sort of dolt am I to expect a serious female presence in the film? The jury’s still out on that one, but from Dame Judi Dench’s ineffectual nanny to the attempted heroine slash perpetual victim Camille (Olga Kurylenko) to the four minute cameo of Agent Fields as a token sexual conquest slash plot device (although the meta-reference to Goldfinger is sharp); never is a lady given anything meaninful to do but wring her hands as Bond methodically grinds everything in the world (friends, foes, lovers) to a bitter dust. There are plenty of other things to criticize like the incoherent action sequences and the weightless villains, but to me the most unforgiveable sin of this latest 007 outing was the lack of a sufficiently interesting and alluring Bond girl.

The Incredible Hulk suffered from an all-around lack of charisma, a deficit seemingly highlighted by commercials saying that it’s “Just as good as Iron Man!” That’s some great ad-copy there, I mean selling the movie as, “JUST AS GOOD,” is basically equivocating your product with the sort of cut-rate bargains found at outlet malls. Designer looks at half the budget! Quality film-making if you don’t like quality! The casting of this movie just failed in every aspect. While I’ve liked her in other flicks, I’ve seen tissue paper with more presence than Liv Tyler in this movie and for something he wrote a draft of, Ed Norton really doesn’t seem all that sold on his role. Everyone is phoning it in, from William Hurt to Tim Roth (possibly the most impossibly miscast individual in this entire sorry affair). There’s just something so half-hearted about the entire enterprise, it’s almost hard to criticize because it feels too easy. Instead of “JUST AS GOOD” they meant, “SORRY, WE DID OUR BEST.”

And carrying on the movie bummers was, Hellboy 2: The Golden Army which happened to put me to sleep, make me happy that I fell asleep rather than catch the stupid end of a stupid movie, then make me angry that I wasn’t sleeping the whole time. It’s some sort of paradox that Guillermo Del Toro can make movies like The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth using supernatural elemants poignantly and artistically to deal with themes of war, regret, aging, love and revenge– while simultaneously being responsible for the all around horrible Hellboy movies. Del Toro doesn’t seem to understand or care about what makes Hellboy and his stories unique. Everything about his film appearances have turned the impossible to encapsulate story of Hellboy (well seeee he’s the devil or a devil conjured by Rasputin to bring about to end the world but he didn’t and was adopted by the Army….), into a terrible romantic comedy where the wrong people are trying to make their romance work. I’m not against adaptations taking liberties with source material, as long as those changes make the story better– but changing the basic tone of Hellboy’s relationship to every single character in the source story (not to mention cudgeling the idiosyncratic supporting cast into hackneyed stereotypes) has not made the film any better. Hellboy deals with all of Del Toro’s pet themes and subjects, but his lack of regard for the characters undermines the story to a degree that his otherwise inventive visual imagination, can’t hope to compensate for.

While I sat through a lot of stinkers, I did manage to see one really great movie in the past few weeks, the eery and tense Swedish vampire movie, Let The Right One In. Following the relationship between an ostracized boy and his budding attraction to a seemingly young vampire, all the anxiety of adolescent desire is laid bare without ignoring traditional vampire lore. Abandoning the velvet boudoir seduction of other vampire films, Let the Right One In is about  affection borne of friendship and shared alienation. Genuininely creepy and squirm-inducing at times, the film avoids the cheap jump-scares remembering that there is often enough horror and fear to be found in simply being an isolated and lonely kid.

Catching Up On Some Sleeper

So I recently burned through Ed Brubaker’s *ahem* slept-on Wildstorm superpowered spy series, Sleeper. It has all the great plot twists and shoot-em-up action of say, Milligan’s Human Target and the high-wire tension of films like Infernal Affairs. Sleeper follows deep cover agent Holden Carver who’s been rising through the ranks of an international criminal organization to determine its ultimate plans. Placed by International Operations’ (I/O) chief, John Lynch (the Nick-Fury-also-ran you may remember from Gen13), Carver is slowly gaining the trust and attention of the organization’s leader Tao (the test-tube-baby that became a super-genius villain in Alan Moore’s WildCATS run). On the cusp of entering Tao’s inner circle and having access to his plans, all knowledge of Carver’s deep cover status gets lost after Lynch is shot in the head and goes into a coma. And the mastermind behind Lynch’s attempted assasination is, of course Tao– casting doubt as to how good Carver’s cover really is.

As far as the government and his former fiance is concerned, during Carver’s last I/O mission, he betrayed his country and stole the alien artifact he was sent to retrieve.This artifact bonded to Carver’s body (killing his teammates in the process) making him a sort of pain-battery. He’s not invulnerable but he doesn’t feel pain, and can actually absorb it and retransmit it to others by touch. And while he’s doing all the dirty work to gain the trust of his villainous overseer, Carver gets intwined with one of Tao’s other enforcers, Miss Misery a chain-smoking redhead who gets physically stronger for every bad thing that she does.

Overall, Sleeper is a sharply paced and entertaining whiplash of a story with some cleverly conceived superpowers placed on some deeply desperate and conflicted characters. The story begs to be adapted for the big screen, it clearly draws on a lot of cinematic pulp and TV influences, even titling the two 12 issue runs as “Season 1″ and “Season 2.” Enter buzzkill via The Hollywood Reporter: Tom Cruise set to star in Raimi-adapted film of Sleeper. And aside from Tom Cruise being a loon, Sam Raimi really isn’t that good a director. I love the Evil Dead stuff as much as the next geek but those Spidey films stank. There were some decent performances but overall Raimi’s strengths lie in humor (and awkwardly shoehorning in 9-11 flag-waving), but he’s pretty dull when it comes to actually shooting an action sequence and only so-so at handling the romance and drama.

And I really, really, really don’t want to see Cruise in this movie– we’ve seen him do various (the same) interpolations of his shark-grinned super spy hanging off buildings, cliffs, trains Anthony Edward’s nipples, motorcycles, etc…  For the record, I didn’t need to know he was a batshit Scientological believer in alien lava souls to dislike his acting, I just needed Cocktail. If Cruise opts to take the more challenging and off-type role of say, Tao maybe this movie has hope but, if he predictably takes the lead as Holden Carver… I’d say stick a fork in it, this turkey is done for.

Meanwhile, in a CBR interview Brubaker mentioned he’d like to see Cate Blanchett take the role of Miss Misery, while the Scotsman blogging over at Bad Librarianship, says Sleeper artist Sean Phillips favors, “Rachel Weisz, but… ‘they’re all too skinny.'” I think Blanchett would be interesting and Weisz could certainly pull off a damn flinty stare, but Mad Men ‘s  zaftig bombshell Christina Hendricks would be my pick. I mean sure, Blanchett has got a whiff of Veronica Lake as Brubaker pointed out, but Hendricks has a lock on noir-apropo smoldering sass and not to get too crude, but she is like damn! And  ka-pow! By that I mean, the sound of your girlfriend slapping you for ogling AMC’s Emmy-nominated original series just a little too much. In addition to being a fine actress, she’s a handsome lady is alls I’m saying.

“Why So Serious?”

The language of critical theory, the words that describe what art does to its audience is largely taken up with the idea of movement. Good and great art can move us, transports us, beyond ourselves and into the work. Not to exaggerate or get too high-minded here but after watching The Dark Knight on the IMAX-sized screen, it took me a while to collect myself and readjust to reality. During the car ride home I had a hard time describing how glad I was that such a profoundly bleak film was made at all. I’m sure that part of it was the sensory experience of having six stories of Gotham city projected into my consciousness (in 12k watts of surround sound no less,) but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t genuinely transported out of my seat and into the movie drawn both from the Batman of my childhood and more recent comic storylines in spin-off series like Gotham Central* cast large.

Comics have had a spotty history of mostly mediocre film adaptations, despite the fact that on a more fundamental cognitive and interpretive level they actually have a lot in common compared to other mediums. Reading comics is based on the idea of interpreting the action both in and between panels, and movies are a trick of the light in which we read multiple independent frames into a moving cohesive whole. Suspension of disbelief in the static image, whether fooled by our synapses or imagination (and who’s to say the difference?) are fundamental to both, which perhaps makes it all the more disappointing when mediocre movies are made of what our imaginations made so vivid.

In watching The Dark Knight, I was taken with how American cinema, mainstream American cinema has rediscovered the bleak, nihilism, and a sense of the sublime–  an appreciation for a force that can destroy oneself separate of morality or rationality. A world without a God, or worse an indifferent one. I think about movies like No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood, where despite the best efforts of its protagonists something fundamental and primal, some force natural and singular can’t be fought off, and it will ultimately overwhelm and consume the individuals in its path.

***More after the jump…. Continue reading