Archive for the ‘Film’ Category

Wolverine himself uses Free Comic Book Day to Promote Literacy

Hundreds of thousands of comic book fans across the continent flocked to participating vendors yesterday in celebration of Free Comic Book Day.

Not familiar?  Okay, well, beginning in 2002, a panel of comic-book distributors, retailers, publishers, and suppliers got together and decided to organize an event promoting comic readership. The result was “Free Comic Book Day,” during which comic-book stores across North America would give away free copies of select comics. You can go to the official website for more information and photos from yesterday’s festivities.

As a way to encourage younger readers, Hugh Jackman invited children to take part:

My, how things have changed since the days of Dr. Frederick Wertham, the McCarthy-era crusader who lashed out against comics, deeming them a corrupting force and a danger to America’s youth.  He even went so far as to say that “Hitler was a beginner compared to the comic-book industry.” By 1954, his outrage helped catalyze the development of the Comics Code Authority, a set of mandatory guidelines to which all published comics must conform.

Now, 50 years later, grad students in the arts and social sciences are writing theses on comic books, treating them as (heaven forbid) a legitimate artform.  Titles include “The Pictorial and Linguistic Features of Comic Book Formulas,” “Comic Book Creativity as Displaced Aggression,” and “The Evolution of Social Norms and the Life of Lois Lane.”

Who knew?

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Twitter Haiku

I still don’t get the point of Twitter, but since it’s growing exponentially in popularity, I thought I’d pay tribute with a little haiku.  FYI, I coin the term “Twitt” to refer to a Twitter user.

This is done from the point-of-view of the Twitter punditry:

We shouldn’t be twits
But rather should we be Twitts
Or something betwixt

I’ve also been able to take my initial annoyance at the term “tweet” — which describes updates on Twitter and can be used as both a noun and a verb — and turn it into fun imaginary conjugations.  For example:

“Hey dude, did you send me a tweet?”
“Yeah, man, I totally twoted [tw-oh-ted] you an hour ago.”

By the way, if someone uses Twitter to remind me that I have a lunch appointment with him/her, have I in fact been “tweeted to lunch”?

Or if two opposing factions make amends on Twitter, have they in fact enacted a tweety_bird ?

Okay, maybe I’ll forget I just said those things.  I need some clarity, because at the moment, I’m hopelessly Twitterpated:

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Ray Harryhausen homage through genetic mutations

A friend of mine recently blogged about strange birth defects in animals and included a link to an eye-popping slide show. I took a glance, and I was particularly impressed with the two-faced kittens, the conjoined-twin crocodiles, and the six-legged sheep.

I experienced a little déjà vu, however, when I was introduced to the two-headed tortoise and Cy the one-eyed kitten. I finally came to the realization that I was recalling one my favorite movies growing up…

It was The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, a 1958 Technicolor adventure movie whose monsters and stop-motion animations were conceived by creature-feature ubermeister Ray Harryhausen. (Harryhausen, incidentally, was a major influence on Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings), Joe Dante (Gremlins, Small Soldiers), and Tim Burton.) The film was also scored by Bernard Herrmann — my single favorite film scorer — who wrote the music for Citizen Kane, Psycho, Vertigo, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and Taxi Driver, among others.

The following side-by-side comparisons make me think that God is a Harryhausen fan and just wanted to pay a little homage to 7th Voyage of Sinbad by creating these curiosities:

cy_kittenthecyclops3

two_headed_turtle roc

Oh, and here’s a clip of the Cyclops’s first appearance in the film. The clip is chopped up, so it would probably help to know that the little cartwheeling fireball is a prepubescent genie with spiffy magical powers:

Damn, why don’t they make ’em like this anymore?

Anyways, as if that weren’t enough, in gathering the pictures for this post, I stumbled upon this illustration from Seattle artist Robert Rini:

cy_comic

Bad kitty!

Film Review: Hunger (2008)

I thought I knew how I felt about Hunger, which won British artist-turned-filmmaker Steve McQueen the Camera d’Or at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival.  But after reading J. Hoberman’s review, I don’t feel as confident. Damn those good critics who are smarter than I! 😛

I suspect, however, that I’ll retain my position. Hoberman was enthralled with the “spectacle of violence, suffering, and pain”; however, the fact that it can indeed be thought of as spectacle makes me suspicious. His intellectual position is that the film eschews extensive exploration of the political ramifications of the 1981 Belfast Maze Prison protests, thus allowing for a more visceral, Passion-like presentation of an existential hellhole. To me, however, this was to the film’s disadvantage. It’s so easy to get lost in (maybe even enamored with) the film’s technical virtuosity that one can forget to ask what purpose the heavy formalism serves and also whether that formality achieves its objective.

I heard the director — the other Steve McQueen — speak at the IFC Center in Manhattan following a screening, and he said his goal was to portray the microscopic world of the prisoners, removed from the larger political realities outside the prison walls. Maybe, but after hearing his enthusiasm in describing the technical assemblage of several scenes (free from any political considerations), I got the impression that much of the film’s brutality exists as an end onto itself. That’s not a problem on its own, provided that such is unequivocally the method behind the madness. But here, it seems the pretension of addressing individual struggles within a larger political context acts as a veneer to conceal a morbid fascination with not only suffering and torture, but also the method by which they can be made most unpleasant on-screen.

Other members of the audience swooned over the film’s sound design and cinematography (rightfully so), but seemed unable to remove themselves from the grip of its cinematic legerdemain and examine whether the film actually had anything interesting to communicate. If it’s the importance of individual stories, I knew that. If it’s that physical suffering can be unbearably unpleasant, I knew that too. And returning to Hoberman’s argument, I’m having trouble interpreting the refusal to address greater political significance as a positive.

The film’s most conspicuous attempt at intellectual engagement comes during a massively distended dialogue between Bobby Sands, the most notable of the hunger strikers, and a wise-cracking, world-weary priest. If this scene can’t be thought of as an entire third of the film, it is certainly a protracted interlude that bridges two halves of hellacious human anguish. It’s by far the best stand-alone scene, and it’s filmed mostly in a single two-shot. But it’s also the first real exposure we get to Sands, who is ostensibly the centerpiece of the film, and by now, it’s too late to expect significant emotional investment from the audience.

As we hear Sands expound upon his philosophy, it becomes clear that McQueen is pleading with us to invest in Sands’s martyrdom, so that we’re even more moved when we subsequently see Sands writhing in malnutritive agony, his emaciated frame covered in sores and lesions. But it’s tough to feel emotional attachment to a man we hardly know, especially with all those artful sound edits, dissolves, and superimpositions.

At the film’s conclusion, McQueen can’t avoid giving us the ubiquitous post-narrative intertitles. (Why do filmmakers insist on this haphazard method of narrative closure?) There are several of these text blocks, and each made me wonder not only why we’re told and not shown, but also why they’re necessary if the film is supposed to focus solely on the visceral nature of the prison strikes.

Never mind that we don’t feel like reading after an extensive sensorial flogging.

Amanda’s doc on the web

Amanda’s final NYU documentary is now on the web!  Thanks to Neil Houghton for the web work.  It’s password protected, so if you want access, leave me a message, and I’ll provide you with the necessary info.

Here’s the link:

THE STAINED-GLASS CEILING

Some Watchmen Alternatives

Yes, the day has finally come.  The long-awaited Watchmen movie arrives today.  Reviews from my favorite critics have been lukewarm.  And I’m trying to forget the few minutes of 300 I caught on TV, which were more than enough to shake my faith in director Zack Snyder.  I suspect I’ll end up wondering what might have been had Darren Aronofsky (who directed π, Requiem for a Dream, and The Wrestler, and was at one point attached to Watchmen) ended up in the director’s seat.  I can’t really take anything away from Alan Moore’s dissociation from the film, since his snubbing yet another adaptation of his work seems more a formality than any statement of ideological or artistic differences.  At any rate, I’m still holding out some hope.

In the meantime, here are a couple of terrific alternatives (a pictorial reimagining followed by possibly the greatest video ever):

charliebrownwatchmen1

Oscar Predictions 2009

I realize I’ve done next to nothing with my blog as of late, so what better way to break the drought than by listing my picks for Oscar winners (along with my choices for “should wins”).  Many years back, I went through an Oscar boycott phase, when I suddenly realized (gasp!) that the Oscars are superficial, political, and entirely unmotivated by artistic concerns.  I also convinced myself that this “sudden” revelation was somehow profound and original.  But now, I realize that it’s more fun, productive, and ultimately satisfying to just laugh at the Oscars and try to get what entertainment I can from them (most likely from unexpected improv moments and slip-ups).  I also came to the conclusion that it’s still fun to bet on them, because you get to see how well you’re attuned to the year’s Hollywood-herd zeitgeist.

This year, it’s especially fun, because it’s damn near impossible to take any lavish awards show seriously amidst recessional turmoil.  The Academy might as well be pissing on the houses of Michigan auto workers.

But that’s a whole ‘nuther story.  Let’s get to the picks.  I’m listing the major categories first.  Here goes…

BEST PICTURE:

Will Win:  Slumdog Millionaire

Should Win (of the nominees):  Milk

Should Win (anyone):  Man on Wire

BEST DIRECTOR:

Will Win:  Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire

Should win (of the nominees):  Gus Van Sant, Milk

Should win (anyone):  Hou Hsiao-Hsien, The Flight of the Red Balloon

BEST ACTOR

Will win:  Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler

Should win (of the nominees):  Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler

Should win (anyone):  Clint Eastwood, Gran Torino

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Will win:  Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight

Should win (of the nominees):  Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight

Should win (anyone):  Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight

BEST ACTRESS

Will win:  Kate Winslet, The Reader

Should win (of the nominees):  Melissa Leo, Frozen River

Should win (anyone):   Melissa Leo, Frozen River

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Will win:  Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Should win (of the nominees):  Viola Davis, Doubt

Should win (anyone):  Tilda Swinton, Benjamin Button

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:

Will Win:  Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire

Should Win (of the nominees):  Peter Morgan, Frost/Nixon

Should Win (anyone):  François Bégaudeau, The Class

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:

Will Win:  Dustin Lance Black, Milk

Should Win (of the nominees):  Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon, Pete Docter, Wall-E

Should Win (anyone):  Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer, The Dark Knight

CINEMATOGRAPHY:

Will win:  Slumdog Millionaire

Should win (of the nominees):  Benjamin Button

Should win (anyone):  Silent Light (Stellet Licht)

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE:

Will Win:  Man on Wire

Should Win (of the nominees):  Man on Wire

Should Win (anyone):  Man on Wire (but a close runner-up goes to Up the Yangtze)

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM:

Will Win:  Waltz with Bashir

Should Win (of the nominees):  The Class

Should win (anyone):  The Flight of the Red Balloon

EDITING:

Will Win:  Slumdog Millionaire

Should Win (of the nominees):  The Dark Knight

Should Win (anyone):  Man on Wire

BEST ANIMATED FILM

Will win:  Wall-E

Should win (of the nominees):  Wall-E

Should win (anyone):  Wall-E

ART DIRECTION:

Will win:  Benjamin Button

Should win (of the nominees):  Benjamin Button

Should win (anyone):  Benjamin Button

COSTUME DESIGN:

Will win:  Benjamin Button

Should win (of the nominees):  Benjamin Button

Should win (anyone):  The Dark Knight

MAKEUP:

Will Win:  Benjamin Button

Should Win (of the nominees):  Benjamin Button

Should Win (anyone):  Benjamin Button

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SCORE):

Will Win:  A.R. Rahman, Slumdog Millionaire

Should Win (of the nominees):  Thomas Newman, Wall-E

Should Win (anyone):  Thomas Newman, Wall-E

MUSIC (ORIGNAL SONG):

Will Win:  “Jai Ho” from Slumdog Millionaire, A.R. Rahman

Should Win (of the nominees):  “Down to Earth” from Wall-E, Peter Gabriel

Should Win (anyone):  “Down to Earth” from Wall-E, Peter Gabriel

SOUND EDITING

Will Win:  Slumdog Millionaire

Should Win (of the nominees):  Wall-E

Should Win (anyone):  Wall-E

SOUND MIXING:

Will Win:  Benjamin Button

Should Win (of the nominees):  Wall-E

Should Win (anyone):  Silent Light (Stellet Licht)

VISUAL EFFECTS:

Will Win:  Benjamin Button

Should Win (of the nominees):  Benjamin Button

Should Win (anyone):   Benjamin Button

Thoughts on Slumdog Millionaire

Thankfully, it seems I’m not alone in my disapproval of Slumdog Millionaire, America’s flavor of the year for international cinema.

My friend Neil in Rochester posted the following on his blog earlier today:

“OK … so here is my point, waking up after the Golden Globes gave SM Best Pictue – Drama. It was a picture that could have made a real statement, but it missed the mark. The word “dalit” was mentioned once in the screams of the police chasing the kids in the first slum sequences. The situation in India is so incredibly sad that I found the redemption of one slumdog by winning the lottery demeaning. There was not one word of political comment in the acceptance for the Golden Globe speech of the idea that this slum is beyond anything that we in the US could even imagine. This really took the shine off an otherwise exceptional movie to me… and it took me days to figure out why I wasn’t on board the SD Bandwagon.”

My delight upon reading somewhat similar sentiment prompted the following response:

“I wouldn’t have even labeled Slumdog an “exceptional movie.” Artistically, I thought it was soulless and empty. It had none of the exuberance or fun I find in Bollywood, and it felt like a filmmaker exercise on Boyle’s part. Also, was it just me, or did they give a bunch of chimps some crack and then throw them in the editing room? After seeing Trainspotting, I expected the like from Boyle, but not to this extent. The camera placement and editing showed zero imagination. (And tying in to your political comments, the aestheticized poverty really irked me; destitution never looked so slick and cool!)

In terms of style, Bollywood never pretends to be anything other than escapism; yet Slumdog mish-moshes Bollywood’s levity and deliberate cheesiness with a kind of faux-neorealism, and it’s just a horrific mess. Someone I talked to tried to call it a “survey” of Indian cinema starting with Satyajit Ray‘s Apu trilogy from the 1950s, and while the intellectual argument made sense (and while Boyle may have casually nodded to Ray here and there), labelling Slumdog as a survey seems cursory and tenuous at best. Ray’s films are meditative and deliberately paced. They also display a highly artful and judicious use of editing and camerawork. Slumdog is the diametric opposite.

My other annoyance is that Slumdog is to Indian cinema what Crouching Tiger was to “wire-fu” and Chinese cinema. Both resulted in a nice faddy packaging for American audiences, who took both WAY too seriously. I can’t tell you the number of people I’ve talked to who blast me for hating Slumdog and think that it is has great literary value in terms of its commentary on the human spirit. Yet as you pointed out, redemption (maybe even salvation!) comes in the form of vacuous consumerism (i.e. the millionaire game show).

If you interpret the film with a sense of humor (as a professor of mine did), that part is ironic and pretty damn funny, a sly jab at the seemingly ubiquituous attitude that monetary gain is indeed synonymous with redemption. That still doesn’t change the fact that I think it’s a disaster cinematically, but at least a more post-modern, ironic interpretation gets a little bit closer to the truth. But most people aren’t looking at the film that way. They find it genuinely lyrical and uplifting, and I don’t get how people are taking it that seriously. The fact that the Globes put it in the “Drama” category is laughable enough, but to give it a “Best” is just plain sad. (Not that I expected anything less, of course.)

Perhaps I wouldn’t have hated this movie so much had I caught it before the fad hit big. That happened to me last year with Juno. I saw it before every white person in the country started drooling over it, and I thought it was mildly entertaining if ultimately silly and forgettable. As enthusiasm for the film snowballed, I started to get more and more annoyed, especially since people were willing to indulge the overly conscious, hit-or-miss “cleverness” of the dialogue and the cuteness of its protagonist while completely disregarding some serious implausibilities in the script.

I think where you and I share sentiment is in our disgust with the way Slumdog is catching on as the foreign film darling of the year among American audiences, who take the film at face value, buy the soundtrack of catchy songs, and remain completely unaware of what struggle in India is really like (and how grossly this film sidesteps addressing that struggle). And again, if the film registered as true Bollywood (without the neorealist trappings), that wouldn’t even be an issue, and I’d more easily take the film as pure fantasy.”

Film Review: Milk (2008)

If only people were as united in knocking down Prop 8 in ’08 as they were knocking down Prop 6 in ’78.  Thirty years after the assassination of Harvey Milk, America’s first openly gay elected official, intolerance and ignorance is as strong and powerful as ever.  To me, that means this film, although an effervescent celebration of Milk’s life, rings bittersweet at best.  But that doesn’t take away from its being timely and necessary.

Director Gus van Sant, no stranger to individuals and groups on the fringes and at odds with the establishment, is a natural match for Milk’s story.  His use of myriad styles captures the verve and political unrest of late-70s San Francisco, especially along Castro Street.  Van Sant’s tone is unambiguously uplifting, a call to unity.  For the most part, it’s restrained, although preachiness sneaks in every now and then, as does some maudlin tearjerking (helped in no small part by Danny Elfman’s score).

By far the most compelling thing is the performance of Sean Penn, who plays Milk as if joie de vivre oozes out of his every pore.  So often, being a “good politician” implies duplicity, but Penn’s Milk (and I have no trouble imagining the real Milk was very similar) succeeds because his charisma comes from his connection to individual struggles and his willingness to make his supporters’ struggles his own.  As a mover and a shaker, he is both literally and figuratively light on his feet.

All the supporting performances are incredibly well-cast — Emile Hirsch as one of Milk’s closest (and youngest) supporters, James Franco as his long-time partner, Diego Luna as a more mercurial lover.  Josh Brolin portrays arguably the most intriguing character, Dan White, the conservative board member whose shooting of Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone seemed driven as much by repressed homosexuality as by political motivation.  Unfortunately, the film perpetuates the urban myth that White’s deserved conviction of first-degree murder was reduced to voluntary manslaughter because his lawyers argued that the violent outburst was due to a diet abnormally high in sugar — this apocryphal argument came to be known as the “Twinkie defense.”

The conclusion of the film is a bit hokey and forced (which only means that its chances for Oscar glory go way up), but that doesn’t detract from the film’s gusto and its moments of emotional power.  If Frank Langella beats out Penn for Best Actor at the Oscars, I just want to see Langella do his Nixon voice in the acceptance speech and announce that Academy members didn’t vote for Penn because they found him “too effeminate”.

One last Palin parody — via Cronenberg!

So, with the election underway, I must say goodbye to my chances to make fun of Sarah Palin.

But before I do, I’ll conclude with something I’ve wanted to do for some time.

One of my favorite films is David Cronenberg‘s Videodrome, which deals with, among other things, the blurred lines between media and reality (very apropos) and also between the virtual and the corporeal.

So, I had this idea, and…well…here you go:

She'll turn your world backwards and forwards!!!

She'll turn your world backwards and forwards!

mccain_palin_videodrome

Hot damn! You know what Freud would say about that red dress?? Listen, I'd really like to offer you the vice-presidential nomination

The battle for the presidency will be fought in the video arena.  I'm sure I can make some use of that YouTube deal

The battle for the presidency will be fought in the video arena. I'm sure I can make use of that YouTube thingy

Give in to your hallucinations...accept us as viable candidates

Give in to your hallucinations...accept us as viable candidates

Come to me John...I need to swallow you whole

Come to me John...I need to swallow you whole

Dear God...what have I done??!  Long live the new flesh!  Goodbye to this septuagenarian body

Dear God...what have I let this woman turn me into??! Long live the new flesh! Goodbye to this septuagenarian body