Saturday, July 31, 2010

Somebody Asked Me To Be An Expert In Something Part 5: Pulp Fiction



Pulp Fiction is a film so ubiquitous that its hard to chart its impact.

Pulp Fiction drew on so much, and has been in turn so copied, that it becomes almost invisible.

This draws a problem for someone trying to talk about the film. I mean should I mention the dance sequence, that’s shown in countless clip shows, retreads, and parodies? What about the hypo scene? Or the watch speech? Or what Butch and Marsellies find in the basement of the pawn shop. They’ve all entered the lexicon. So well known that they’re almost impossible to see.

This is a fate that befalls all classic movies, but given that so much of Pulp Fiction's acclaim at the time came from how fresh it was its feels even weirder. You mean there was a time when it was considered weird for a movie to mention another movie? You mean there was a time when Tarantino wasn’t a household name? Weird.

Pulp Fiction
is a unique film, in Tarantino’s career as well as in general. Tarantino has spent the last decade doing nothing less then creating his own cinematic universe. Inglorious Basterds, Kill Bill, and Grindhouse all take place in their own pocket Tarantinoverse as surely as George Lucas’s films take place in “A long long time ago, in a Galaxy far away.” And the mythologies and rules of Tarantinoverse are no less intricate then the Jedi’s.

Pulp Fiction, despite its many flourishes...

Is still placed in something that resembles the real world. One of my favorite shots in the film is a simple one of Butch cutting through the back Alley to an apartment complex. A shot that anyone who has spent anytime in LA will recognize as it s
omehow manages to look like every single apartment in LA.

Because that’s what people miss about Pulp Fiction. The important thing about it isn’t how, modern and blaise it is. But how retro.

The critics of the time blasted Fiction as being nihilistic and glib. This seems laughably now, partly in thanks to just how many times and just how badly Tarantino’s film was imitated. You couldn’t walk into a movie theater or video store between 1995 and 2000 without being besieged by a cheap imitation waiting to show you what a glib nihilistic crime movie REALLY looked like.

The fact remains, that while Tarantino often did, and still does shock the audience into laughter with violence, he can not be accused of making it not matter. After all, the priniciple action of Pulp Fiction isn’t Marvin getting shot in the face, or Marsellus Wallace getting medival on a “Soon to be living the rest of his short life in agonizing pain ass rapist here.”

No. The principle action in Pulp Fiction is an act of mercy. Its Jules proving to himself and to the other characters that he is better then we think he is. And just because violence is easy and learned, doesn’t mean it can’t be overcome. Tarantino isn’t a scold, which is why the movie ends with Jules and Vincent triumphantly strolling out of the diner, rather then Vincent dying on the toilet seat, after failing to change his ways, the way he would in chronological time. But the message is clear. Call it divine intervention, call it Karma, call it whatever you want, the character who mends his ways walks away. The character who doesn’t pays.

Though its certainly more graphic, I’d argue that Pulp Fiction is easily the most optimistic film I’ve shown so far. The message of all the other films, is “There’s no way out.” Pulp Fiction is about one man simply and defiantly choosing one.



Friday, July 30, 2010

Stuff I've Been Reading July

Books Read

Jack London In Paradise, Paul Malmont
Sunnyside, Glen David Gold
The Illustrated Man, Ray Bradburry
The Jugger, Richard Stark
Hero Type, Lyga
Ghostopolis, Tommysauraus Rex, Black Cherry, Doug TenNapel
Scott Pilgrim Vol 6, Bryan Lee O'Malley
Heretics, GK Chesterton

(If you are Paul Malmont or his Mother you may want to not read this review.)



Of Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby famously quipped “There’s a genius born into every generation. But why did HE have to be born into mine?” Its hard to believe that those words don’t echo around Paul Mamount’s head everytime he reads a glowing notice about Glen David Gold.

Both walk the same beat. "Carter Beats The Devil" and "The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril", their respective debuts both studied the effect of pulp heroes at the dawn and death of the thirties. And their second novels released within months of each other both explore the effect of a major cult of personality studied against the looming advent of World War I, and the dawn of film as an artform. Both even use Griffith’s Intolerance as a point of reference.

The difference of course is that Gold is arguably a genius. "Sunnyside" is a marvelous book. Big, sprawling, and generous of heart. Written with a dexterity and wit of a truly great prose stylist, and the panache of a born storyteller. Meanwhile Paul Malmont strives towards adequacy.

I’ll say this in advance this will be a crueler review then is perhaps expected from me. And I’m sorry for it. While I might not care much for Malmont’s work thus far, I stubbornly like him. Any man who would write a mystery to be solved by The creators of Doc Savage and The Shadow, with help from HP Lovecraft, Louis Lamour, and El Ron Hubbard, is a man who I cannot help but feel simpatico with on a very deep level. Still, the fact that his reach extends his grasp so thoroughly time and again is just frustrating.

For starters he just makes some baffling narrative decisions. He overloaded "Chinatown" to the point of collapse in its final hundred pages. Here the problem is a bit harder to quantify. "Jack London in Paradise" starts off by following a producer director as he tracks London to Hawaii in the hopes of securing an original screenplay from him that will save his studio.

While harldy engrossing this is at least an understandable device. By the time we finally meet London a hundred pages in, Malmont has built up a real feeling of anticipation, and even dread into the unseen figure. What’s baffling is that after London appears, and we follow him for the meat (and admittedly pretty damn good) section of his story, we then switch back to Boswarth for a hundred pages of denounemet that we as readers could care less about. It is one thing to be kept out of the main event in order to build a sense of drama, its another to be senselessly tossed out again at the climax of the story.

All of this could be forgiven as merely clumsy, but what really cripples the book is the thorough Whitewash performed on London’s character. While Sunnyside is relentlessly warts and all and then more warts. Gold ends up making Chaplin all the more engrossing and lovable for it, "Jack London In Paradise" goes out of its way to avoid anything about London that was controversial. Which takes some doing.

Oh sure it mentions his love of socialism, his feelings on free love, and nietzche and all the other things that makes him oh so compatible with modern sensibilities. But it ignores his racism and imperialism, WHILE BRINGING UP THE VERY INCIDENTS THAT MADE THESE TRAITS SO VERY WELL KNOWN.

For example, they mention in passing him going to watch Jack Johnson box. And yet neglect to mention that while he was doing so he was busy writing some of the most virulently racist prose we have on record. That he invented the phrase “The Great White Hope” and spent the enterity of his writings begging Jim Jefferies to come out of retirement and “Beat the uppity something something.” We’re supposed to be very moved with the relationship that London has with his Japanese houseboy (really), which I suppose we would be, had Jack London not, you know, invented the fucking “Yellow Peril” (http://www.readbookonline.net/read/298/8662/).

Which begs the question does Malmont think his readers stupid to wrap their head around such contradictions? Or merely too ignorant to know about them? Is he not aware of the invention of wikipedia?

No one is claiming that London wasn’t a fantastic writer, or that his work should be discounted or ignored because of his ignorance. You can take him off my shelves after you’ve pryed Lovecraft and Kipling from my cold dead hands. In fact its that exact Frission between the nobleness of some of London’s ideas and most all of his writing and the sheer stupidity of some of his views, that makes London such a fascinating read even today.

By ignoring that frisson Malmont has turned in a book that can only be described as cowardly. And for all his many flaws, that was something London never was.



Man I love Barry Lyga. Like SE Hinton for geeks. Lyga has a laser citing on a particular wavelength of emotional hysteria that can be adolescence.

With a great voice, eye for character and detail, and stealth skill as an expert plotter, Lyga keeps churning out these painfully honest, emotionially generous, drop dead funny stories.

Following a young boy who inadvertandly becomes a free speech advocate when a meaningless gesture earns him the ire of the town he lives in. "Hero Type" somehow manages to not get caught up in its didactism (Hullo Cory Doctrow) or its melodrama. Instead using the grander arc as a counterpoint to a very moving story of a young man facing his dark side.

Barry Lyga writes clearly and honestly about the time in life that it is absolutely easiest to be muddled and false about. He does what he does very well, and is an author worth celebrating.





"The Jugger", the sixth Parker novel, shakes things up by placing Parker in a situation that he not only didn’t create, but doesn’t fully comprehend. In short order Parker is forced to be a sleuth.

Only problem is Parker doesn’t have a lot of sleuthing in his nature. And when he gets tired of trying to figure out what the hell is going on, he just starts killing his way out. Things get very messy very quickly.

Like all of the Parker books, Starks bone hard prose and plotting turn it into a propulsive read, and the pitch black humor evident in "The Mourner" rears its head here again (Note the perfect revelation, that Parker showed up in town not to help someone as we foolishly presumed, but to kill him.)

Still as much as I enjoyed the Parker novels, they seemed be getting a little formula bound. Apparently Westlake agreed. And after shaking things up a little in "The Score", and a lot here, he promises in the climax an even more radical change of the status quo. It’ll be interesting to see how he does. I have a feeling the next few books will be very good reads.




Bradburry is an author I’ve only been able to appriciate over time. His overly lyrical writing annoyed me when I was younger, obscuring his wonderful stories. But a "The Illustrated Man" makes a great reentry point into Bradburry’s world.

As with most short story collections its difficult to evaluate as a whole. Some of his stories showcase him at his didactic worse. Others, like The Veldt, more relevant then ever today, show him at his sharpest. I still may not always know what I’m getting into with Bradbury, but more often then not I find it rewarding.



"It is foolish, generally speaking, for a philosopher to set fire to another philosopher in Smithfield Market because they do not agree in their theory of the universe. That was done very frequently in the last decadence of the Middle Ages, and it failed altogether in its object. But there is one thing that is infinitely more absurd and unpractical than burning a man for his philosophy. This is the habit of saying that his philosophy does not matter, and this is done universally in the twentieth century, in the decadence of the great revolutionary period."


(Pimp Daddy)

"Heretics". Its Chesteron. You know the drill by now. He says some things that are among the wisest, funniest, most humane sentiments I’ve seen layed down in prose. And others that are consequences of the time he was in. Which is a euphimism for, shit that is kind of ignorant.

Still I don’t know an author other then Chesterton whose lapses I more eagerly forgive. Heretics, as it’s a direct response to some of his other work, and as it depends upon a working knowledge of 19th century English politics and literature (w00t) is hardly an ideal entry point for Chesterton. But for the admirer it’s a rewarding piece of work.

...

Oh then there was this.

...



As some of you might recall, earlier in the month I reviewed "Ghostopolis". I liked it. A lot.

Afterward craving more TeNapel I picked up two books of his I haven’t read, "Black Cherry" and "Tommy Sauraus Rex."

Black Cherry is the first TenNapel book I’ve read that doesn’t quite work. Don’t get me wrong, its got wit, verve, and personality to spare. And if I didn’t know what TenNapel was capable of I’d probably like it a whole lot more. But…

Its basically Doug TenNapel’s Sin City, with the naughty Catholic School sixth grader energy moved from the libido to the intellect with all its irreverence intact. With all the good and bad that it implies. But Doug TenNapel is not Frank Miller. And at times Black Cherry uncomfortably resembles watching your Dad try to talk “street” Lets just say I didn’t know anyone not named Hank Venture used the word “Honky” unironically anymore.

There are other weird problems, like the over abundance of gay slurs. TenNapel writes a note about the language of the book in the beginning, and he makes some valid points. But it comes to a point that’s nearly tourettes. It just gets distracting.

The place TenNapel stumbles that I didn’t expect is in the theological material. Its not that he didn’t come up with interesting stuff. He always does. But that he chooses to center his story around the conversion of his characters.

Now once again, this is something that TenNapel is really good at. Creature Tech for example is one of the most moving conversion stories I’ve ever read thanks to the way it methodically shows the characters progression. But in Black Cherry the characters are being chased by Demons. Demons Who are always talking about their deeds and goals in theological terms. Demons who are couching their discussions about God in the terms of personal acquaintance. Demons who are being defeated by Holy Water. There’s also the occasional intercession from Angels. Now look, I’m a doubting Thomas by nature. But even I have to think that my inherent skepitism would wither under a full frontal assault from the legions of hell. When late in a the book a character remarks that the “only God she believes in is the one that goes in her arm.” It was all I could do to keep from shouting “COME ON!”

Still for all it’s flaws I still really enjoyed Black Cherry. It’s got some great moments, including a killer bit where a doomed mobster tries to ward off a demon by saying “I believe in the power of the Catholic Church.” To which the demon quips “Well so do I.” One has to give credit to TenNapel for writing a book, that as he points out in his introduction, no one in any quadrent of his fanbase would conceivably want him to write. That ability to push himself, is thankfully a tenant of TenNapel. And it does him credit, even when the final product doesn’t quite come together.

Tommy Sauraus Rex on the other hand finds TenNapel right in his sweet spot. Telling a wistfully weird story of an eight year old boy who gets to live the dream of every eight year old boy and receives a sentient T-Rex as a pet.

It might not be as perfectly entertaining as the likes of Monster Zoo and Iron West. But its damn good, and has more imagination and honesty in it then 98% of “children’s” literature out there.

Its TenNapel’s most secular work, so if you’ve been worried about that being a stumbling block to TenNapel this is a perfect place to begin. And it’s not as willfully strange as some of his other work. Though it’s still idiosyncratic enough to include a cameo from the great Ray Harryhausen.

Both may not be TenNapel’s greatest work, but both illustrate that even second tier TenNapel is simply wonderful.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Summer Of Samurai: Announcement


Another month another theme.

That's right I'm devoting the entirity of August to the Samurai film. Why? Because while everyone else was doing summer of slash I thought up "Summer of Samurai" and I liked the idea so much that I wasn't going to a little thing like "other plans" ruin it for me.

Now when I say the entirety, I of course mean "most of the entirety" (kind of like when Obama promises to "end" "torture"). There are a few things like Scott Pilgrim, The Expendables, and Machete that I will obviously be writing about. I will also devote a day to the year length anniversary of a certain column.Finally there will be a day devoted to two advance review copies of books I've been sent.

Other then that, its going to be all Samurai all the time the entire Month of August.

Be here. Or else I will sick Ogami Itto on you.



And you don't want that.

(and if you want to post that "trailer" on your own blogs that'd be cool too)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Unseen #36: Scream Blacula Scream


Why’d I Buy It?: One of the twofers that MGM has released in their, “The Goddamn plane has crashed into the mountain!” fire sale was this twofer of Blackula. For those of you doing the math that’s two Blacula films for ten dollars, and that equals… Well fuck, do I even have to tell you? Is this your first time on the blog? (Disclaimer: If this is your first time on the blog welcome.)

Why Haven’t I Watched It?: I don’t know once you’ve seen one Blacula haven’t you seen them all? (Disclaimer: Statement not actually racist. Black Vampires are a varied and diverse people ranging from Jefferson Twilight, To The Daywalker, to Armond White. The Statement only refered to the question of the possibility of variety within a film devoted to this particular Blacula.)

How Was It?: Better then expected.

Scream Blacula Scream follows a rift in a Voodoo cult. The leader dies, passing over her douchey son, and naming as her successor Pam Grier, because well she’s Pam Grier and thus self evidently the best person to do the job. The spurned son decides to get revenge by resurrecting Prince Mamuwalde, which is kind of like trying to get revenge on an ex by giving yourself Herpes in the hopes that she’ll sleep with you.

Prince Mamuwalde gets down to doing what Prince Mamu-awfuckit, Blacula, does. Namely, be charming as hell, speak in a strangely hypnotic accent and eat people. William Marshall is never anything less then fun to watch. And he’s joined by Pam Grier, whose, well whose fucking Pam Grier. I mean yes she’s amazing. Water also wet, sky is blue.

Scream Blacula Scream is a bit more kitsch dependant then its predecessor. Not that Blacula was free of kitsch. It is after all, a movie called Blacula. Its weighed down by a lot of scenes involving the internal politics of Voodoo, and its intersection with the “straight” world. As well as a baffling subplot involving the Vamped son of the former leader trying to forment an uprising in Blacula’s coven. Which leads to little more then Blacula coming in at inopportune moments and pimp slapping him. These scenes could be called tongue in cheek, but that would imply consistency of tone and clarity of vision.

Still while Blacula certainly had scenes like the one that follows, Scream Blacula Scream is dependant upon them.




Now granted if a film entitled Scream Blacula Scream didn’t include scenes like that, you’d be disappointed. I’m not saying it shouldn’t feature. I’m just saying Blacula was better able to modulate its tone. Still the film does slip in a few genuinely creepy scenes. Particularly an ill advised raid by the LAPD on Blacula’s vamp infested pad.

Scream Blacula Scream is about as much fun as you’d expect a film called Scream Blacula Scream to be. Its blessed with two charismatic leads and a good sense of humor about its own ridiculous that doesn’t keep it from occasionally playing things straight.

It may not be a great film, but if you’re looking for an exploitation programmer, you could do a whole hell of a lot worse.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Unseen #35:The Young Philadelphians


Why’d I Buy It?: Came in the Paul Newman Box set I ordered (Last One!)

Why Haven’t I Watched It?: I thought It might be a little dry. When you read the below section you will realize how ridiculous that is.

How Was It?: AWESOME. There are panting Melodramas. And then there are melodramas which come with a coat and an extra pair. The Young Philadelphians is a hot tranny mess of a film (Dignity here at TTDS. Always Dignity). Supposedly about the young Paul Newman as a bright young lawyer continuously pushed into the upper crust of Philadelphia (and really isn’t being a part of Philadelphia’s aristocracy like being the smartest man in Turlock?), by his well meaning but social climbing mother. The Young Philadelphians gloriously revels itself to be one of those uber melodramas where in everything is happening all the time. Its not about anything as much as it is about packing in as much smut into a fifties picture as a mainstream audience could stand and still bare to call itself respectable.

Why the first five minutes alone feature Alcoholism, Closeted Homosexuality, or this being the fifties a rather euphemisimtastic light in the loafers lavender fellow (Portrayed by Adam West!!!!), Suicide, Sweaty Passionate out of wedlock Irish sex, illegitimate birth and other assorted awesome. And this is before a shirtless sweaty Paul Newman shows up to beat the tar out of a brute in his very first scene.

Now even Tenessee Williams would agree that’s a little overstuffed.

But the movie is, like Al Pacino before he gets the Hoo Hahs going, just getting warmed up. Before the runtime is over it will feature, murder most foul, lovers kept apart by dread circumstance, the Korean War, more suicide, adultery, more alcoholism, cougar fucking, more controlling dowagers, trials before a jury in defense of an innocent man’s life, black mail, more implied repressed homosexuality, Brain Tumors, and a little dog named Carlos.

It’s the type of movie where when the idyllic interludes do come you look greedily at your watch knowing something truly dreadful can’t be more then five minutes out.

Paul Newman is magnetic and hot enough to fry several eggs on. He’s matched by a game cast and Vincent Sherman, who is some how manages to keep this overheated mess from boiling over.

The Young Philadelphians, is one of those films like Picnic, or the films of Douglass Sirk that is as much fun to watch for the way it subliminates its subject matter as much as anything that makes it onto the screen. Not since I saw Dorthey Malone jack off an oil derrick in Written On The Wind have I seen the strength of trashiness strain so valiantly against the bonds of respectability. Repression might not be healthy, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun to watch.

Something like The Young Philedelphians carries a whiff of the forbidden that’s all the stronger because the people who made it actually did believe that some things where better left unsaid. That’s something in rather short supply these days. “They don’t make them like this anymore.” Is a phrase that’s tossed around an awful lot. And I’m as guilty of it as anyone. But in The Young Philadelphian’s the phrase is depressingly literal. No one outside of this time period, circumstances and mores could make this film. And I can’t help but feel it’s a little bit of a shame.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Alligator


Alligator is often cited as one of the last great exploitation films. Coming late in the cycle, it covers about all the basic tenets of the genre. Huge lapses of bad taste, gore, a fading star in the lead role, and an over qualified professional behind the scenes (In this case John Sayles).

Alligator is of course about an Alligator (Ramon to you). This particular reptile has the misfortune to be flushed down to the sewers of Los Angeles (Doubling for Chicago). There in, thanks to a hormone experiment (Radioactivity was so pass√© by that point. And Genetic Engineering had yet to rear its head) done by mad scientists who for some reason flush their results down into the sewer system, grows and grows. This produces a forty foot long alligator. Who after munching on utility workers, corrupt pet store owners (really), and young rookie cops on their “first week of the job.” The Alligator gets ambitious, and bursts to the surface, eating as many Angelinos as he can get his jaws on.

The Alligator himself is impressive, in the way all cheap animatronics look impressive in the CGI era. He might not look “real” but damn’d if they didn’t get it to look like a forty foot alligator wasn’t booking down Van Nuys Boulevard.

Robert Forester, plays the Alligator’s human counterpart. A hard bitten, balding cop whom the movie delights of stripping of his dignity, while forcing him to keep a straight face. Forester as always is a likable, easy going presence. He’s backed by an eccentric supporting cast, including “Frank Pentangilla as Forester’s commanding officer, and Henry Silva, doing a wicked parody of Quint from Jaws. In a performance described by one critic “As if they replaced Robert Shaw In Jaws with The Shark.”

The movie also gains frisson from the gleeful willingness with which it crosses all the lines it can reach. I mean where to start? The opening scene in which a preteen girl gets an up close and personal view of an Alligator munching on an unfortunate carny? Or the later scene in which a seven year old tot is forced to “walk the plank” into the waiting hungry maw of the titular giant beastie?

Just to give you a quick (and Spoileriffic) example of how Alligator is a smarter film then it has to be. There comes a scene where The Alligator, sociable fellow that he is, stops by a soiree of the uptown swells. This is exploitation cinema, the cinema of the proletariat’s desires. We all know how this goes, time to kick back and watch the Alligator dine on some bigwigs.

Except its not. Never fear, the alligator does eventually get to dine on the rich and famous. The first part of its attack is spent dining on the maids, waiters, gardeners, and other assorted poor son of a bitches who just happen to be there. Its one thing for a giant mutant Alligator to munch on someone at a garden party. Its quite another for him to munch someone whose being paid below minimum wage to be there. There in my friends lie the horror.

The Unseen #34: Black Caesar


Why’d I Buy It?: Picked it up for a song at a Hollywood Video Liquidation.

Why Haven’t I Watched It: I shame my family and myself.

How Was It?: To say that Black Caesar plays more like a gangster film that happens to have a principly Black cast, rather then a blacksploitation film, might sound like a tremendously dickish thing to say. But it rings true. I’m hardly one to ghettoize genre filmmaking, but the fact is that Black Caesar does not evidence the gaudy fashion, slack scripts, and general air of incompetence that one usually equates with Blacksploitation. Lets face it guys to be a cinephile is to be a fetishist. And that’s putting it politely. We get a fair amount of mileage from things that do nothing for the general populace. And when you watch a Blacksploitation film, it comes with a very specific set of criteria, criteria that does absolutely nothing for a whole lot of people. Lets face it, there’s a reason Black Dynamite didn’t become a box office dynamo.

Black Caesar on the other hand could be played as a pretty great crime film to just about any audience. This isn’t to say that it doesn’t partake in some of the garish pleasures of the genre. Its just not beholden nor dependant on them. Instead it thrums along with a genuine efficency, centers itself on a magnetic performance by Fred Williamson, and has a few genuinely awesome scenes. A stylish unexpected verite style, and more brains and style then you would think a movie called Black Caeser would have.

Black Caesar follows the rise and fall of Tommy Gibbs. An ambitious Black Gangster who after an early stint in Prison “buys” a block of Harlem from the Italian Mob in exchange for a well placed hit.

But Tommy has ambition, smarts, and a ruthless killer instinct that takes his sights far beyond the rundown block. And by the time the Mob realizes they “should” stop him, its far too late.

A lot of the time Blacksploitation is more fun in theory then practice. Dependant upon individuals scenes rather then a whole. But Black Caesar has so many great scenes that they string together, and almost by accident end up making a great movie. An execution in a nightclub segues into a great scene involving a night club singer pressed into service, which moves into a detour to California, which cuts into a great Montage of Fred Williamson strutting around Harlem to James Brown’s “The Boss.”, which leads to a stunning confrontation with Williamson’s deadbeat Dad.

The film is directed by exploitation legend Larry Cohen, who has made an entire career out of coming up with concepts far better then he can realize. But he really brings it in Black Caesar bringing the truly unexpected to play. Its by far his best directed film.

The film really kicks into high gear in its relentless final third….

(Spoiler)

In which an ambushed and gut shot Williamson struggles to find help in his Harlem Neighborhood, while the mafia, turncoats in his own gang, a corrupt police force, and the mean streets itself abruptly turn on him.

Its an intense, sweaty, and completely unexpected scene, that puts you on the edge of your seat. The entire time. An unexpected blast of cinema verite, directed by Cohen with high style.

Black Caesar isn’t perfect. It features a rape scene that is disturbingly non-chalant. And the second act between the spectacular rise and fall is the old perfunctory stuff we’ve seen a thousand times before.

Still I’d argue that Black Caesar is a must see. Not just for fans of Exploitation cinema. Not even for fans of Crime cinema, but for anyone who can appriciate a kick ass, low to the ground gangster film.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Ghostopolis


"I know alot about you. And I'm rooting for you anyway."

In a world where originality is not so much being stifled as actively strangled. I look forward to each new work from Doug TenNapel with the eagerness that a drowning man looks forward to a gulp of oxygen.

TenNapel writes stories unlike anything you’ve ever read. They crackle with wit and humor. They twist with the skill of an expert plotter, and have a real moving soul. If you’ve never experienced the pleasure of a TenNapel book, then get thee to they local comic book shoppe and grab a bundle.

"Ghostopolis" follows a young boy with a terminal disease, who is sucked into the afterlife thanks to the mistake of a semi incompetent agent of the government’s ghost monitoring police. In the afterlife he finds a world made up of bits and pieces of various eras and religions views of the great hereafter ruled over by an otherworldly despot, whom he inadvertently becomes enlisted to unseat.

In the meantime the agent who trapped him over on the other side, tries to right his mistake and the relationship he ruined with his great love.

All that and the single greatest Benedict Arnold joke I have ever seen.

The Arnold joke is a perfect example of what TenNapel does right. The joke, “Random historical figure. Lulz.” Is hardly rare in a certain segment of the indie comics set. But TenNapel doesn’t merely stop at the random and obvious jokes but builds it into a running gag, which ends up playing off not merely our knowledge of the character, but his own character’s. It is in fact the exact opposite of the usual, “Hey remember this from sixth grade history gag.” TenNapel work has the unmistakable mark of someone who cares even in the gags. Far from slapdash it’s the work of a master craftsman.

TenNapel’s line work is deceptively simple. But The amount of emotion he’s able to express with it, and more importantly the nuisance of range of said emotion, is just staggering.

Doug’s outspoken Christianity often has him accused of narrow mindedness. The proof however is in the pudding, and love and detail with which TenNapel incorporates different cultures afterlives into "Ghostopolis" speaks for itself. Narrow minded? Hardly. TenNapel’s is an imagination of boundless curiosity and warmth. And I would envy it if it wasn’t so wonderfully singular

And if Tenapel’s theology in real life is a bit more fundementalist then my own brand of liberal Catholicism, the theology in his art is warm and inclusive. Forgiveness in TenNapel’s view is infinite, but not automatic. Without effort, without penance from the side of the forgiven, it will not take root. I am always moved in art not so much by people making themselves heroic, but by making themselves decent (See also "Scott Pilgrim"). And the concentrated effort with which the principles in "Ghostopolis" strive towards that goal, gives the book a real moving weight. TenNapel writes books that are among the most breezily entertaining I’ve ever read. But they’re not larks.

"Ghostopolis" isn’t his best book (And if you’re starting out, I recommend "Iron West", "Monster Zoo", or "Creature Tech" which is his masterpiece). The narrative is split between its too leads for too long for too long. And He goes a bit broad near the end with the villain literally screaming “HHAAAATTTTEEEEE” and the hero making scatological jokes. All reminding the reader that while TenNapel’s books have all had a demented child’s sense of play, this is still the first written specifically for children.

Still I can’t help but envy the lucky child who gets this as an introduction. Just how much he has to look forward to as he grows up with TenNapel.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Unseen #33: Pocket Money

(Seldom have I so wished the poster was actually an accurate representation of the movie.)

Why’d I Buy It?: Came in The Paul Newman Boxset I bought.

Why Haven’t I Watched It?: A movie staring Paul Newman and Lee Marvin. With a script by the legendary by Sasquatch measure, Terrence Malick? I don’t know. Why haven’t I watched it?

How Was It?: Oh. That’s why I haven’t watched it.

There’s really no pussy footing around this one, Pocket Money is a fairly dreadful film. Now I know what you’re thinking because I was thinking it to. No movie starring Paul Newman and Lee Marvin can be completely devoid of entertainment value. And no movie involving Terrence Malick can be completely devoid of artistic value. And this is true, but they’re both able to get a lot closer to that vanishing point then I would have cared to guess.

Newman plays a dimwitted cowboy, conned into taking charge of a cattle drive down in Mexico, by Strother Martin, the man who Newman once had a failure to communicate with during much happier Rosenberg directed days. He enlists his partner Lee Marvin, to help him with said drive, and the rest of the movie is spent waiting patiently for something, anything to happen.

It might be philistine of me to say it, but Pocket Money is just an aggressively dull movie. The kind of dullness that arrives not merely from a lack of narrative events, or rooting interest, but kind that arises from lack of any sort of investment either onscreen or off.

Part of the problem is Newman had fantastic range, but one thing he never was dumb. His character is such a dim bulb, that he isn’t likable. And as he’s played by Newman he inspires no pity, the way a more convincingly idiotic leading man might have done (Say Victor McLaughlin in The Informer. Who did seem dumb enough to genuinely try to get away with something like that.). Try as he may Newman can’t extinguish the thought behind those blue eyes. Marvin on the other hand simply never commits to the role. I’ve never seen old Lee phone it in, in quite the same way before. Powerful waves of apathy radiate from the screen whenever he appears.

The film meanders around from one non event to the next. Failing to strike sparks with each new non incident. Everytime something fails to happen, the movie cuts to long shots of Newman and Marvin shot at magic hour with great billowing clouds in the background.

With Malick at the helm such imagery might have been poetic, with Rosenberg it is merely perfunctory. Now yes to a certain extent it is unfair to say a journeyman like Rosenberg was not Terrence Malick. A genuine transcendentalist like Malick breathes a very rarified air indeed. Indeed I, and most likely you, are not Terrence Malick either (should this in a series of very unlikely events prove false, it’s an honor sir). But while Malick makes films on the level of Bresson and Ozu, and arguably even surpasses them, Rosenberg, Cool Hand Luke notwithstanding rarely rose to above the level of competent.

This does lead to the interesting question of just how much of Malick’s ineffableness does Malick make effable in his scripts. For all the films tremendous flaws, there’s no doubt that it feels something like a Malick film. A botched malformed Malick film to be sure, but one none the less. For the true zealots of Malick, it must feel a little something like beholding an inverted cross.

Like I said, it’s an interesting question. And you had best enjoy it as it’s the only one the film deigns to raise.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Scott Pilgrim Volume 6: Scott Pilgrim's finest hour


Lets get this out of the way. It's tough for me to talk about Scott Pilgrim Finest Hour in any sense that even approaches objective.

There’s some art that just syncs up with your life. People talk about how when Harry Potter ended, so did their childhood. That particular series never had that kind of synchronicity with me. I didn’t start reading it until the middle of high school. Pilgrim though? Oh man that hit the sweet spot for maximum possible impact. I discovered that first volume the year I first lived on my own. And the last finds me at a major cross roads in my life.

I don’t know if Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour, is Scott Pilgrim’s actually finest hour. I suspect that title will always belong to the wounded and lovely Scott Pilgrim Vs. The Universe. I mean come on, last night I compared that particular piece to The Searchers and Pickpocket, and if that doesn’t suggest that I hold it in high regard I don’t know what does.

I’ve heard a lot of opinions voiced on Volume Six and can more or less understand all of them. There are moments that made me want to cheer, and artistic decisions that I just plain don’t get. It feels both as if O’Malley is running through a check list, and doesn’t have enough time to do everything he wants (and at six volumes and thousands of Pages I have to hand it to him. Never once did it look like he was running out of ideas)

Structurally speaking final volumes of anything are built to disappoint. Early installments exist in a vacuum. Their discovery is a happy accident, the closing chapters bear the weight of expectation that increases exponentially with each new chapter. The reason why that rare work of art that does stick that impossible landing become so cherished is their rarity. For every Return Of The King there are a dozen X Files Series Finales.

Still success or failure, best or worst (and I’ve heard both opinions voiced) when I closed the cover on the last page I felt as if I was closing a chapter on my own life. And its not every day that a piece of art will do that to you.

Finest Hour is a work of fiction about letting go of fictions. It's about facing who you are and what you’ve done, taking responsibility for it, and trying again anyway. It’s epic, goofy, heartfelt and funny. Bitingly ironic and blisteringly sincere (The two reach synthesis with the fearlessness with which O’Malley has always literalized his metaphors. It takes powerful faith in your readers investment to literally heal a characters wounds with the power of love). In short it’s a glorious mess, and a perfect microcosm for the series.

So to Bryan Lee O’Malley, and all the rest I can only say thank you. Of Scott Pilgrim, and his wonderful world, and their supporting cast I can only say what I can only say about the fictions I most cherish. I will miss them all terribly.

Goodbye.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Happy Scott Pilgrim Day: The Top Five Moments Thus Far.


If you live near a comic book shop that doesn’t completely suck you’re probably celebrating Scott Pilgrim day. The final volume of Brian Lee O’Malley’s slacker opus hit stores yesterday, leaving me to weep bitter tears and avoid spoilers with all my might as I wait for the stupid bookstores to get their hands on my reserved copy.

To fight off the tears I’ve decided to highlight my five favorite moments from the five prior volumes that make up Scott Pilgrim.

Scott Pilgrim for those poor bastards who don’t know, is the story of the titular hero. A slacker in his early twenties, who lives in a world where videogame logic works. Which is why nobody finds it very odd when Scott is forced to duel his new girlfriend’s seven evil ex boyfriends to win the right to date her.

Scott Pilgrim is a frothy, mix of mid twenties angst, indie rock, comic books, and video games, that goes down easy. But its also one of those wonderful and strange pieces of art that is actually much richer then it appears. Sure its still at its core a work about attractive twenty somethings occasionally sleeping with one another and more occasionally leveling entire city blocks. But it develops into a story about why we fight. For anything, love, friendship, art. What it is that makes people who don’t put themselves on the line as a matter of course put themselves out there and make a stand. And sometimes the answers it finds are kind of beautiful.

And its always goofy and fun as can be.

So without further ado, the five moments that make Scott Pilgrim kick ass.

5: Scott Pilgrim And The Infinite Sadness: Vol 3: Showdown at Honest Ed’s.

Scott has shown up to duel the new boyfriend of his rockstar ex. Who has vegan fueled psychic powers. Believe it or not, that’s pretty par for the course for Scott Pilgrim. That’s an important frame of reference for you to keep.

Because shits about to get weird.

What happens when the two run into Honest Ed’s can perhaps be described as a scene from Evil Dead II reimagined as a scene from Akira. The savings from Honest Ed’s overwhelm our heroes to the point where even hockey gloves and wrap around shades can’t protect them from the talking deer heads. Or as a secondary character puts it, “Do you know how when a baby is first born it just cries from the sheer horror of being alive?”

The effect is indescribable which is kind of the point. O’Malley for all his other gifts has the rare ability to drop the floor out from under you, and still have it be a surprise after the fourth or fifth time he’s done it. Anything can happen in an O’Malley comic and its never feels anything less then organic.

4: Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life: Vol 1: First Date:

It takes a lot to make a girl seem worth mortal combat with seven evil assholes with varying levels of superpowers. And its to O’Malley’s credit that he totally does. Ramona far from being a simple Maniac Pixie Dream girl, is sketched and layered as a very real person. But even before O’Malley started adding depth to her in some real and unexpected ways, he always made her intrigue.

The first date between Scott and Ramona takes it time. Its not so much in the writing as the way that O’Malley captures the feeling of meeting someone you think is the most intriguing person in the world, with his gorgeous sparse artwork. As the snow moves in and the world moves out Scott and Ramona’s first scene because as quietly a lovely portrait of first connection as I’ve ever seen.



3: Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together: Volume 4: Climax

Where the hell to even start?

It sometimes seems that the mythology and the emotional content of a particular piece of fiction exist on a see saw. Pile more on one end and the other will suffer for it. So watching O’Malley suddenly ramp up both in the closing pages of book four. Is like something that shouldn’t theoretically happen, happen. Call it a miracle if you want. The word’s been chucked at lesser things.

Starting with Scott being chased into Ramona’s mind, and realizing very quickly that there are dark things in there. Things that he is no where near ready to handle. It’s a stellar example of O’Malley’s skill at literalizing metaphor on a narrative level. How many times have we been confronted with something ugly in a significant other and been forced to choose fight or flight? Speaking personally I can say that twice I've looked into that "room" turned and ran in the other direction. Once I feel I was justified. The second time, I still feel ashamed of.

Things stack up out in the real world, and just when it seems that flight has won out. Scott shows a heretofore unknown depth of character, and chooses to fight past his/their issues. And also a ninja. He has to fight one of those as well. Actually two ninjas, if you count the father of his ex. And an evil version of himself.

And that’s what I’m talking about. O’Malley just has scenes like this that are running at four or five different levels. Ranging from Ninja fighting, to heavy exposition, to the emotional core of the series hitting new heights. The kind of grace with which he waltzes in between these shifts in tone, often from panel to panel, is just crazy.

2. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The Universe: Volume 5: 32:

Lets face it, a lot of Scott Pilgrim is just plain lifestyle porn. Illustrating the kind of twenties that nobody ever quite has and everybody wants.

So its shocking the ferocity with which O’Malley takes a baseball bat to the knees of the fantasy he’s so intricately constructed. Bringing every truth ugly to the forefront of his story. Watching casually as the characters rip into each other and things fall apart. Scott Pilgrim Versus The Universe ends with the world of its characters in tatters. And all hopes for a happy ending seemingly gone.

It makes the ending of The Empire Strikes Back look like the ending of Return Of The Jedi.

And it all starts here. One Page. Five Panels. O’Malley sums up the rot that can creep into even the healthiest relationships like sepsis. And he does it using the exact same iconography he used to document the original infatuation.

1. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The Universe: Volume 5: Sorry About Me.


The ending of Volume 5 is pretty devastating. But it’s the moment when one of the characters gets to prove they’re better then both we the readers and they the characters, think he is, that really breaks my heart.

I don’t want to give away to much about this scene. I’ll just say that it involves Scott and my favorite character/shameless fictional crush, Kim Pine (And the fact that she hasn’t shown up on this list should tell you just how much great stuff there is in Scott Pilgrim) as one of them leaves the other.

Though out the series, Scott, though likable, has basically been rather shallow, and really kind of a douche. This is a scene of him rising to the occasion, of him slowly making himself the better person he needs to be. And it is genuinely a moving one.

To give away the build up to what makes this scene so moving would be too much. But to describe what happens in it I’d like to turn to a quote from Glenn Kenny on a recent piece on The Searchers.

“And yet when it comes down to the wire, both characters are visited by an irresistible force. One could call it grace, as I have; one could call it the Holy Spirit. One might be best off in calling it love.

I’d say that’s a fair description of what happens to Kim and Scott at that lonely bus station.

It's an emotional cresendo that I can only hope that O’Malley can sustain through the climax. Not love in the romantic sense, but love in the knowledge that the person before you deserves better then you can give. And if you want to look yourself in the mirror, then you will have to be better then you are. Recognizing that leap, and then making it.

I think he will.

After all, as those five moments demonstrate he’s surprised me before.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Christopher Nolan Blogothon Day 8: Now With A Twist Ending

First off I want to thank everyone who participated in the blogothon. Thanks for turning this into something special. It meant a lot.

Now, without further ado, I've been working on a "top secret" (aka I didn't mention it and nobody much cared) project.

Though I'm no Matt Zoeller Seitz (and I thank you in advance for holding back your "We Know"s) I decided to try my hand at the video essay. Though it might be poor form for me to admit, I have to admit I'm happy with this, which is rare.

There were a few compromises I had to make in regards to film quality (especially on The Dark Knight clips) in order to get it out in a timely matter. I can only hope you will forgive them.

So before I talk it all the way to death, I present my essay. And if you want to embed on your own site, well that would be totally fucking cool.



EDIT: There is a content claim that might be fucking with my embedding. If you can't watch the embedded version. come here.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2qYzk-XPxBw

Just until I get this resolved. Or come to my senses and switch to Vimeo.


EDIT: Just in case.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Christopher Nolan Blogothon Day 7: Inception


Well I guess it’s a bad year for Leonardo DiCaprio having nightmares about his wife.

Inception may not quite hit the lofty heights presented. It might not be the transcendent experienced promise. But only just.

There are plenty of critics whose opinions I highly respect who are saying that Inception is nothing more then an above average blockbuster. I can’t help but disagree, Inception is too audacious a film. A blockbuster? Yes. An entertainment? Yes. Small sighted? No. The audacity (the only word that really fits) is just too stunning. Brian DePalma for all his slow motion, for all his motherfuckery, never made a moment so devilishly sustained as that forever moment in time that that van falls. Terry Gilliam for all his seductive visions has never painted a dream like this one, which drags its audience right down to the bottom with it like a millstone tied to someone’s leg then tossed into a lake.

But I’m getting ahead of myself aren’t I?

By now you most likely know the plot of Inception. A tale of dream thieves recruited to plant an idea into a subjects mind. Beyond that I will say no more except to say
It plays like the ultimate William Gibson novel as envisioned as the ultimate Terry Gilliam film.

What makes Inception so exciting is that it feels, not perhaps like Nolan’s ultimate work, but a kind of final crystallization of said work.

THERE ARE MAJOR MOVIE RUINING SPOILERS IN THE NEXT PARAGRAPH


Di Caprio’s character isn’t simply unable to move on from his trauma. His life IS Trauma he’s ensnared by it. Like a fly in amber. The personalities are not merely codependant but literally dependant upon DiCaprio believing that they are real for their survival.



END MAJOR MOVIE RUINING SPOILERS.

It’s a movie from which half of the excitement comes from a filmmaker finding the perfect instrument to say what he wants to say how he wants to say it. The other half of course comes from the sheer audacity (the word that keeps running through my mind) and grace with which he brings that world to life. There’s so many images that sent my mind reeling, things that I have literally never seen before. (Note the way that Nolan even responds to the Kubrickian comparisons with a cheeky Bathroom scene)

And Nolan anchors it all in a broken perfectly human story. Partially due to Nolan’s underrated gift at casting. Ellen Page, as adorable and vulnerable as a wet Puppy. Who is multiplied with Joseph Gordon Levitt for an event horizon of precociousness. Tom Hardy makes a hell of a heavy, Cillian Murphy brings it as always. And even Pete Postlewaith brings it with his limited role. But DiCaprio anchors it, as indeed he must, bringing a real weary soul to the film. Sometimes Leo’s reach exceeds his grasp when it comes to the hardbitten heroes he likes to play. But there’s a doomed romanticism with Cobb (A name Nolan seems to like a lot) that he’s perfect for.

This review is a bit shorter then my usual (“Thank God,” I can hear some muttering). But that is because there is some stuff I’m still genuinely unclear on. What for example to make of the ending? I think its pretty clear what’s happened but for those of you who have seen the film I think its definitely up for debate as to whether Cobb has been in the dreamstate from the beginning or fallen into Limbo.

I want to catch it on my next viewing. And I’m sure that on the viewing after that I’ll be looking for something else. And the one after that. And the one after that. Nolan makes films that don’t give up all their secrets at once, and that makes him rare and valuable.

Christopher Nolan Blogothon Day 7: Contributions


Well here we are on the last day of the blogothon, I know I said I'd post this later but I have Inception buzzing around in my brain and this proves the perfect exercise.

Instead if anyone wants to do a last minute submission I will post a sister to this column around ten o clock WST. Which should give everyone plenty of time to get in a last minute contribution.

My sincere thanks to everyone who contributed. You guys really turned this into something great. And the credit I can give isn't enough.

We're going to kick things off with Mr. Neil today. Who has contributed some of the best bits to this blogothon, and whose post to day more then lives up to the high standard he set for himself. Dig in, to him digging into, Batman.

Another favorite of mine, Andreas from Pussy Goes Grrr... also chimed back in with a take on Inception.

Not Just Movies gives their take on Inception.


Simon over at Four Of Them gives her loooonnnggg awaited take on Inception.

Steve Miller ends his tenure in the blogothon with his take on Inception

Cut The Crap ends their reign with The Prestige.

Finally ending the run of the long term contributors is Lets Not Talk About Movies. My first submission, and one who made sure I had something ever day. Many thanks. He should be called Upgraydd. The two ds stand for a double dose of Dark Knight.

The Voracious Filmgoer chimes in equally enthusiastically.

Marshall At The Movies whose been a great contributer chimes in with his victory lap. He takes on Inception The Dark Knight and The Prestige.

Long time friend of the site Shakewell chimes in, sticking up for Batman Begins. Its not gonna get sand kicked in its face any longer damnit!

The incomprable Shatnertastic Stacia from She Blogged All Night, Graces us with her presence (and I mean that in a non sarcastic way!) when she drops an excellent take of The Prestige.

Do you know what else she drops on you the gentle reader? Science. She is indeed dropping mad science.

And finally, well a real treat. Tim on Antagony and Ecstasy, is one of the sharpest, wittiest, and most unexpectedly humane writers on the blogging beat. Having him pop by is like having Sarah Vowell or Gore Vidal over to hum a few bars. And that's not just the servile ass kissing it seems. I can't thank him enough.

So what are you waiting for? Go. Why do you think I saved him for last? Once you're there you're there.

And while you're there, make sure you take some time to click the What Is This? Button on the top of his page. I'm glad I did.

Christopher Nolan Blogothon Day 6: The Dark Knight



This review was delayed by unavoidable, Inception based detours. I hope you'll forgive me.


Lets get this out of the way. The Dark Knight is a pretty terrific film that has inspired some pretty dreadful film criticism. I hardly need to reiterate the “Shut up! No You Shut Up!” tenor that the debate around The Dark Knight took. I will only note that, the old maxim that “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce.” Has proven true. And if the arguments or lack there of around The Dark Knight where vaguely disheartening, the storm in a teacup brewing around Inception has been down right depressing. Showcasing film criticism at its most solipsistic and least helpful. Less like watching a snake eat its own tail. More like watching a snake chomp down on another snakes tail only victim bite down on the attackers tail. A brutal ugly neverending loop that you just wish some sensible person would come in and stop.

Its one thing to have a considered oppositon to a movie, and I certainly begrudge no one for it. But when you build a review on posturing, and then a review of the review that was based on posturing. Well that way lies madness.

Still a movie like The Dark Knight should invoke passion, as all great works of art should. And yes I just said it. Call it fanboy hyperbole if you want but I will maintain that The Dark Knight is a legitimately great film. A superlative case of big budget filmmaking, with a grace and economy of storytelling, something real on its mind, and style to spare. Like all great movies it burns with something to prove.

There’s a lot to talk about. While Batman Begins was firmly a comic book movie, I’m certainly not the first to point out that The Dark Knight plays a lot more like Heat or The Departed then it does say Sam Raimi’s Spiderman or Bryan Singer’s X-Men. Those films for all the “realism” of their leather suits and “genetically altered” rather then radioactive spiders, take place in at the very least a heightened reality. Raimi really embraced the comic bookiness of it, and if you take a shot each time there’s a shot of a concerned citizen framed in a dutch angle, pointing off screen shouting “Look there’s Spiderman!” you will get very drunk, very quickly.

Nolan’s Gotham is a place which despite its flourishes, we can readily accept as real. Which puts us in a very different head space indeed. And so setting aside for a moment, the fantastic set pieces, The Mephistophelian dilema’s, and great character work by Gary Oldman, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Caine, and er Eric Roberts (?) and Tiny Lister (?!?!??). Lets take a look at the what Nolan does with this realism.

Over the course of my revisitation of Nolan’s career I’ve noted that all of his films revolve around two personalities who though magnetically opposed end up defining each other. The other thing that I had less formed in my mind at the beginning of the rewatch, is Nolan’s love of symbols. He loves to drop things in casual conversation, signifiers that seem small but turn out crucial. His characters carry totems, revisit places and things in almost fetishtic ways. And The Dark Knight is his grand statement on that.

In a much less long winded way, If Batman Begins was a film that featured Iconography, The Dark Knight is about Iconography. I touched on this in my Batman Begins review, but if Batman is a symbol, what does he symbolize. There are those who read The Dark Knight as an apologists case for the Bush Administration. But he’s hardly a straight up symbol of the right. Witness him beating the ever living tar out of Reagan’s America (as symbolized by Superman) in The Dark Knight Returns. Something tells me that Grant Morrison, giving that he’s a Chaos Magick practioner who advocates recreational drug use would have very little to say to Karl Rove at a cocktail party. And lets not forget that Glycon’s number one adherent himself Alan Moore penned what many consider THE definitive issue about the two.

My point is everyone from Sean Hannity to a man who worships a snake see something in Batman. He’s a big enough symbol to encompass multitudes of interpretation.


And if Batman is a big enough symbol to encompass everything. Well then that makes The Joker a big enough symbol to negate everything.

The thing that makes the Ledger’s Joker so amazing is the way he manages to encompass just about every aspect of a character who has been interpreted so many different ways its almost impossible to keep count. Is he Grant Morrison’s persona shifting chameleon (Note the way he mocks Nolan’s obsession with trauma, providing multiple choices)? Yes. Is he Jack Nicolson’s sadistic clown? Yes. Is he Alan Moore’s tragic figure, striving and failing to prove he’s not alone in his desperation? Yes. Is he Frank Miller’s great other, the unstoppable force to Batman’s immovable object? Emphatically Yes (I think if you read Dark Knight Returns, you’ll see this as the most direct antecedent). Anything that anybody has ever had to say about the character is somehow embodied in Ledger’s performance. And he does so with a hypnotic swagger.

But Its not the swagger that makes The Joker great. If Nihlisitc verve, was all there was to the film, then The Dark Knight would be as shallow as its harshest critics make it out to be. What makes Ledgers performance incredible are those two or three lone moments when that mask slips just a little, and true madness, and true desperation slip through. The way he stops mid monologue at the mafia meeting and says “I’m not crazy.” That “Look AT ME!!!” during his newscast, and most of all that look of desperation bordering on sorrow, when the citizens of Gotham make the most out of their only turn to prove him wrong. The pain that comes when he realizes that a bit of good and morality can hold sway. Well its frankly Miltonesque.

And yes, I said that about a comic book movie.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Christopher Nolan Blogothon Day 6: Contributions


Starting Day 6 of the Christopher Nolan Blogothon. If anyone has anything else they'd like to submit today would be the day. I'll probably wait a little later then usual to post tomorrows counter part, but I can make no guarantees.

So without further ado;

We'll start off Dark Knight day with Lets Not Talk About Movies take on the film that officially made Nolan one of the biggest name directors on the planet.

Marshall And The Movies drops by again with his take on Memento.

Cut The Crap Movie Reviews, returns with their take on The Prestige.

Steve Miller also returns with his take on the film.

And wrapping things up the great Dennis Cozzalio of the legendary Sergio Leone And The Infield Fly Rule, gives us his take on the backlash against the backlashers of Inception.

There's no denying the special intensity of argument that sweeps through the critical community with a Nolan release. Frankly I think its a product of scarcity more then anything. When there's only a small amount of water, the animals fight. When there's only a small amount of films worth talking about, The fights over those go up in ferocity.

Christopher Nolan Blogothon Day 5: The Prestige

I reviewed The Prestige last year as one of my ten best of the decade. And everything I had to say about it, still stands. So instead I decided to focus on the film's remarkable opening sequence which I consider a personal all time favorite. There's so much information packed into it, I see something new each time I watch it.


The opening line of The Prestige is as much a challenge as a question. "Are You Watching Closely?" So much of modern cinema is an almost aggressively passive experience, dedicated to going down as smoothly as possible. This is not Nolan's cinema, he wants you out of your default mode. Are you watching closely? You had better...


Because here comes the detail. Even in a shot as simple as this there are many layers. Look at the way it echoes the final shot. Particularly given the fact that we later learn that all these birds are being kept for death. The more times you watch The Prestige the more you find that Nolan was really being upfront about what was going on all along. The themes of doubles, is present from the beginning and echoed in about every story line in the film. Which of these birds will be "The one in the box." and which will be the one on the stage.


In his review of Inception, Ebert mentioned that Michael Caine now appears wiser then everybody else in a film just by appearing on screen. He's the perfect man to anchor such a tricky film.

If I may once again borrow from Ebert, "The Law Of economy of characters" here's the first clue you really miss. The law of economy of characters states that since actors are expensive, if an actor is featured in a shot they must be important. Therefore this little girl must be important. And yet by the time the implications of Caine sharing a scene with her should sink in. Say an hour into the film, you've completely forgotten about her. Its a neat sleight of hand, introducing the key to the whole thing, and then moving it out of sight knowing you're about to be distracted.

Our first look at Angiers. In a cruciform from the beginning. More symbols more coding. If there's a more obvious symbol for self sacrifice it doesn't come immediatly to mind. And you miss it. Again.

Our first look of the stars sharing the space. I just think that's a hell of a shot.

Our first disguise which becomes one of the main motifs of the film. Once again, a prime example of Nolan playing fair. We know Borden is a master of disguise from the beginning, and yet we just miss it.

This too is just one hell of a image.


Once again you've got to give it Nolan. I don't think anyone sees anything except precisely what Nolan wants you to see here. But when you watch the scene with context later, the same actors and the exact same reactions produce a hugely different effect. There's no cheating here.

(So now we're leaving the opening proper, but I would like to peek a head just a few minutes to marvel at the economy of The Prestige).

Seriously, that's the sequence of shots. I mean that's just down right brazen. And people STILL miss the implications of Caine with the girl.

Nolan does have true grace as a storyteller. I mean here we are in a flashback contained in a journal being read in a flashforward, and not for a second are you ever lost in that labyrinth.

And the last piece of the puzzle, the double life. Borden basically comes out and explains what he's doing. And you don't see "The Prestige" until Nolan wants you too. And I mean just look at that shot, just look at it. There's so much detail so much information. There's a wealth of detail in Nolan's shots that would make Gilliam jealous.