Monday, May 28, 2007

The Duke's 100th Birthday

We're two days late, but let's raise a glass to John Wayne on his 100th birthday. The biggest movie star of all-time made some of the greatest films of all time, including Rio Bravo (1959), where he co-starred with the above Dean Martin, and which has just been released on a crisp new DVD by Warner Bros.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Odds and Ends

While my compatriot gallivants along the Croisette interviewing Wong Kar-Wai, I'm rubbing two sticks together, gathering second-hand info from the fine folks at Greencine and Indiewire. Even so, I've cobbled together a list of the films I'm most excited about seeing, if they ever manage to cross the ocean.

1. Flight of the Red Balloon, directed by Hou Hsiao-hsien.

Already picked up by IFC First Take, the latest from the great Taiwanese director is a tale inspired by Albert Lamorisseand 's 1956 children's short "The Red Balloon", and was commissioned by the Musee D'orsay. It's his first film in French, and stars Juliette Binoche as a stressed out single mom tooling around Paris with her son and his nanny. Receiving laudatory reviews from responsible types like Manohla Dargis and Dennis Lim, it's being compared to Cafe Lumiere, and to me that's a great sign.

2. Silent Light, directed by Carlos Reygadas (No distributor)

Let's say I was intrigued by Battle in Heaven, but not entirely sold. His latest sounds like it could put me over the top. According to Variety, it "tells a muted story of adultery and spiritual crisis unfolding amidst a modern-day Mennonite community." It's being relentlessly compared to Ordet, which, being one of my favorite all-time films, certainly piques my interest. The mentions of epically long takes of a sunrise and sunset don't hurt either.

3. Go Go Tales, directed by Abel Ferrara (no distributor)

Inspired by Cassavetes' The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, Ferrara's latest had Melissa Anderson, Dargis, and Lim doing verbal cartwheels. The finds Willem Dafoe's strip club manager defiantly attempting to keep his dive in business against the aggressive offers from a Bed, Bath & Beyond. Asia Argento mouth kisses a dog.

4. The Man From London, directed by Bela Tarr (no distributor)

No one seems to like it. But I like long takes.

5. My Blueberry Nights, directed by Wong Kar-Wai

No one seems to like it. But my loyalty (and Singer's appreciation) keep my interest above water.

6. Secret Sunshine, directed by Lee Chang-dong (no distributor)

Scott Foundas wrote a rave of it before the festival even began, and the positive responses have rolled in after it screened. I was a big fan of his Oasis (2002).

I'm sure I've forgotten some, but no matter.

Oh, and the photo has nothing to do with the festival. It's of Vicincio Capossela, the Italian Tom Waits, who I saw perform at Joe's Pub the other night. He's a hell of a performer.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Cannes Photo Blog Part 3

The view of the red carpet from the top of the Palais steps. Note to those planning on attending a big honkin' screening in Cannes: you can only get away with a long necktie if you're famous and/or pretty. Black tie doesn't mean black tie — I had one of those. It means fifteen euro white bowtie you buy from an old woman on the street as part of a scam:

When you're watching IFC's Cannes Cam, I'm standing here, in front of the monitors. The one on the right shows what's going out on the webcam live, the other monitor shows a feed from our other if you hear me pointing out someone on our "other" camera, I saw it on there.

Jude Law and Norah Jones. One of our crew has a picture where Jude and I were talking and in the shot his legs are splayed apart and he's giving this weird come hither look while I'm turning away with a tinge of disgust on my face. Too sexy! Too sexy!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Cannes Photo Blog Part 2

The front balcony of our place on the Croisette is where we shoot the Cannes Cam, but I think the place's quiet back balcony may be a little underrated in the view department:

One night we had dinner after midnight. This place might not ever close, and from the looks of the awesome flashing neon sign, it's been open for quite a long time. I kept waiting for Robert Mitchum to walk in and sock a guy in the jaw:

Another shot from U2 live from Cannes. They arrived like any other movie star and then walked up the red carpet and jumped on their instruments. Here they're posing for the paparazzi. This picture is so beautiful it seems impossible that I actually took it.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

U2: Live From Cannes! Now with Pictures!!

According to the magazine Screen at the Cannes Film Festival which you can get free in my hotel:

Rock band u2 will make Cannes history tonight by playing live on the Palais steps to celebrate the world premiere of their concert film U2-3D directed by Catherine Owens and Mark Pellington.

The live performance will no doubt set the red carpet alight —l pedestrians trying to walk past the Palais should avoid.

I can't really find any confirmation of this online — will say only that the band will be in attendance — but we're gonna be rocking the Cannes Cam nonetheless. If you want to try to tune in, the screening is tonight at 12:30 AM local time -- so if you're back in the States on the east coast, and you want to check it out, you should tune in starting around 6:00 PM. But of course you should be watching the Cannes Cam all day today, it's gonna be jam-packed, starting at 6:30 PM Cannes time (12:30 PM in the States) with the premiere of No Country for Old Men (The Coen's best in a decade!), followed by the Red Carpet for Michael Moore's Sicko (which we've heard some advance positive word on from co-workers who saw it) at 9:30 Cannes time (3:30 in NYC). Be there peoples.

UPDATE: U2 came, they saw, they conquered. They played two songs, "Vertigo" and "Where the Streets Have No Name" and it was awesome. The sound was great, the crowd was loud, and Bono even spotted our Cannes Cam during the second song and gave us a big smile and wave! Truly a unique night, I hope you got to see it; I watched some of the footage afterwards and it looked amazing. Here are some of my personal pics:

Friday, May 18, 2007

Cannes Photo Blog Part 1

How many parts you ask? As many as I can muster after a night spent watching new Coen Brothers movies and drinking wine at awesome French cafes that look like something out of a Robert Mitchum movie until 3 AM.

(Is No Country For Old Men the best movie of the year, you ask? It's an unfair question, says I, because the year's not even half over. Screw it, I says a moment later, the thing's a near masterpiece)

First up, here's a picture of the Palais while a red carpet is in full swing, from the vantage of the balcony where we film all our Cannes Cam webshows, which I'm sure you're all watching. You can click on these pics, by the way, for mega-giant versions of them.

Next, here's comedian Jerry Seinfeld in a bee costume suspended from a zip line as he swings down from the roof of a hotel, all in the name of publicity for his upcoming animtated feature, Bee Movie. If this doesn't make you want to see it, I don't know what will.

Not to name drop but, ahem, I interviewed Wong Kar-Wai. The guy is just plain cool. And funny! He needs to make a comedy.

That's all for now. But be sure you're logged on to the Cannes Cam tomorrow, Saturday the 19th, at 12:30 EST. I'll be hosting the red carpet show for No Country For Old Men (and, again, the movie is awesome) with a special guest. PLUS we'll probably also do something cool for the Michael Moore premiere later that afternoon. TUNE IN!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Watch IFC's Cannes Cam!

Every year, IFC sticks a camera on a balcony across the street from the Palais to shoot all the red carpet. And this year is no exception!


In addition, this year, I'm hosting our coverage some of the biggest red carpets -- we did 45 minutes early tonight for the opening film of the festival, Wong Kar-Wai's My Blueberry Nights. We may be back for tomorrow's premiere of Zodiac, and we'll DEFINITELY be doing Saturday night's premiere of the Coen's No Country For Old Men. But even when I'm not on it, the Cannes Cam is live 24/7 and you can turn it on and soak up the Palais atmopshere (complete with natural sound)!

As for My Blueberry Nights, though everyone seems to be tolerating to outright bashing the film, I enjoyed most of it and thought one segment in particular (led by David Straithairn and a done-up-like-Maggie Cheung Rachel Weisz) was quite strong. Norah Jones isn't the best actress but she is a gorgeous onscreen presence: the phrase "The camera loves her," applies here as well as it ever has to anything. It isn't as big, good, or ambitious as 2046, but I don't think it's intended to be. And I found it totally fascinating to see America through Wong's permanently be-sunspectacled eyes. Apparently, everyone's being very quick to write it off. I wouldn't.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Flight of The Red Balloon (2007)

New Hou! Here's the trailer for the latest Hou Hsiao-hsien film, soon to be screening at the Cannes Film Festival. It's adapted from Albert Lamorisse's 1956 French children's film The Red Ballon.

Via Anthony Kaufman's "Festival Hot List" article at Indiewire.

Idol Eve

TA resident Idol guru here.

Friendly reminder: American Idol is almost out for the season, so do tune in tomorrow night for the Top Three showdown! I must apologize for my unbearably long absence from TA, though, in my defense, as the Idol expert, I can assure you that the middle of the season is always a bit dull and I had hardly any constructive commentary to add to the slew of mediocre performances. It would not have amounted to much more than something like:

"Get outta here Haley"

"Get outta here Phil"

"Get outta here Sanjaya"

And you know, they're gone, god bless 'em.
Now we are left with the best:

Melinda, the most professional and polished of the threesome. My guess is she'll be our runner-up, but only because she lacks the grit and soul we were searching for in all of this year's divas. All of them have outstanding vocals (the late Idol LaKisha included), but none are as risky and emotional as the soul sisters of the past seasons (e.g. Fantasia). If anything keeps Melinda from winning it's her reluctant, almost sterile, personality.

Blake, whose beatboxing is both a virtue that makes him stand out, and his vice when it gets over used on bad Bee Gee's songs. He also looks freakishly seductive when he sings, and no 10-year-old text voter likes that.

and Jordin, my current vote for the winner, who has the spark and vocal versatility of Ms. Kelly Clarkson herself. No one this season has shown as much improvement in showmanship and song choice, and at 17 years, the girl's got pipes. She's likeable across the board of voters, and Simon's predicted her as the winner (that's a good indication).

Tune in tomorrow, 8/7 Central.

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I Shot Jesse James (1949) and The Baron of Arizona (1950)

The Museum of the Moving Image's Sam Fuller retro kicked off this past weekend, and I managed to catch his first two features, neither of which I'd seen before. I Shot Jesse James (1949) is his directorial debut, but he'd already been writing stories for the screen since the 1936 musical Hats Off. His Jesse James is a queasy sweaty-palmed affair that pays closer attention to the aftermath of James'(Reed Hadley) murder by his friend Robert Ford (John Ireland) than the act itself. Anyone who kills the outlaw will be granted amnesty, no questions asked, and so his closest friend, Bob Ford, itching to get hitched, shoots him in the back as he's straightening a portrait on the wall. A quote from our patron saint Manny Farber: "Fuller is one of the first to try for poetic purity through a merging of unlimited sadism, done candidly and close up, with stretches of pastoral nostalgia in which there are flickers of myth." And how!

In a story that's ready-made myth (and one in which James is presented as a flawed but noble instantiation of Western heroism), Fuller's penchant for looming moist close-ups is abundantly present, with an especially lewd example 2/3 of the way through, when a wandering minstrel sings his ballad of that "dirty coward Robert Ford" to Ford's face - until Ford keys him to his identity - and forces him to continue anyway. The look of uncut anxiety on the singer's face as he's forced to finish the tune is pure torture on Fuller's part, but credibly underlines Ford's growing self-loathing and isolation, hammered home by his extraordinary stumble outside, where shadowed statues stare holes into him as he stumbles his way down the street, only to barely avoid potshots from a jug-eared youth, one who'd gaped in close-up at Ford's failed vaudeville re-enactment of the kill a few scenes earlier.

Preston Foster fills the hero slot as John Kelley, a burly prospector/lawman/wanderer, but his character is as ambiguous as any, a fighter who takes up the sherrif's gig only because he just went broke, and who's likely to run out on the female of choice, Cynthy Waters (Barbara Britton) at a moment's notice. The only bond of any value is the love of James-Ford. To quote Howard Hawks on his A Girl in Every Port (1928), it's a love story between two men, and one that documents the dissolution after the other's death.

The second half of the double bill was The Baron of Arizona (1950), Fuller's second film, and one I hadn't heard of before, but it's certainly of interest. According to Fuller, here's how he got the idea (from his superb autobio A Third Face:

"I'd come across The Baron of Arizona during my hobo days in the thirties. I was sitting in a bar in New Mexico one day drinking whiskey with another newspaperman when a man pointed out the window at a government building acorss the street.

'See that place?' he said. 'That's where Reavis lived.'

'Who's Reavis?' I asked.

'James Addison Reavis. Fooled the U.S. government into thinking he owned all of Arizona."

And that's the film - it's understandably been dropped from auteur studies of Fuller, since it's distanced tone, spotty flashback structure, and adventure plot are miles away from his other work. Taken on its own, however, it's quite a bit of fun. This is mainly due to Vincent Price's work as Reavis. He was born to play this role: could anyone else play fake erudition better than him? His slimy dissimulations include joining a monastery in Spain, seducing a Gypsy woman, and convincing a peasant girl she's the Baroness of Spain. His favorite line: "I've known many women in my time...but I'm afraid of you." It works every time.

It eventually runs out of steam plot-wise, but Price and James Wong Howe's stark B&W cinematography are a joy throughout.

It also led me to a curious website called Mining Swindles. Here's the post on Reavis, and it contains some photos of his forgeries, including an etching on a boulder. And of course, everything else you'd want to know about mining swindles.

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Saturday, May 12, 2007

F/X (1986)

It's too bad professional assassins aren't bigger Brian Dennehy fans.

I never saw the recent movie Shooter but I did see the trailer, and it told me that the movie is about a sniper so talented that he is the only one who can help stop another sniper from assassinating the president. The sniper (played by Mark Wahlberg, at least in the trailer) is sadly too dumb to realize that because he is the only one talented enough to stop the sniper he's also the only one talented enough to BE the sniper, and he is actually framed for the assassination and then has to go on the Richard Kimble to prove his innocence.

Now, just watching this trailer, in that ninety seconds where the plot is laid out, I could tell: Shooter is going to get framed. It just sounded like a movie to me, and that's what would happen in the movie version of that story (well, obviously, that is the movie version of that story). Anyway, what I hadn't realized until tonight, when I watched the surprisingly good F/X from 1986, is that it sounded like a movie because it WAS a movie twenty years ago (and a full half a decade before Stephen Hunter wrote the novel upon which Shooter is based). They've got pretty much the exact same premise, except the hero of F/X is good with pyrotechnics instead of sniper rifles. If Shooter had been down with the Dennehy, he woulda known he was getting the shaft.

Shooter is as close to a remake of F/X as well ever get: much like Breakin 2: Electric Boogaloo or Cobra this movie could only have been made in that wacky decade of my childhood, the 1980s. It was made in 1986, right at the point where analog special effects like pyrotechnics, prosthetics, and animatronics were all coming into bloom. Nowadays, all the effects are done on computers, and the nerds can all sit at their computers and make everything right there. Back in the day, a man had to get his hands dirty. If you didn't know how to kill a man by rigging a burgler alarm to deliver a massive amount of electric energy, they wouldn't even let you in the special effects masters guild in the 80s! Man, those were the days.

Anyway, our hero is an Aussie named Rollie Tyler (Bryan Brown) an f/x guy for the movies well-versed in all those aforementioned disciplines. He's recruited to help the government's witness protection program. They have an important witness (played by a pre-Law & Order Jerry Orbach) with a price on his head. They're worried about people trying to kill him. So their idea is to fake like he's already been killed until the trial, so everyone thinks he's dead and doesn't try to kill him. Kind of an idea so dumb it's actually pretty ingenious.

Rollie goes along, probably because if he doesn't these jokers will cancel his work visa. But he gets played, framed for the murder, and so he has to go on the lamb. Now you'd think Rollie's first priority would be to prove his innocence. Not really. Nah, he'd rather just get even. So he uses his special effects to kill everyone. Like I said, only in the 80s.

Brian Dennehy plays the cop we expect to team up with Rollie in classic buddy movie fashion, but it doesn't happen (I think it does in F/X 2: The Search For More Money). Surprisingly, Brown and Dennehy don't appear in the same scene together until the finale. That's probably good for Brown because macho as he might be (like a real man, he answers the door in nothing but his briefs. No boxers, damnit, briefs!) Brian Dennehy is one manly man. Look at that moustache. He even gets a scene where he's called a loose cannon and he has to turn over his badge and gun. I love when cops become loose cannons and have to turn in their badges and their guns.

The complete and utter disregard for loose ends in this movie is so absurd it's downright charming. Rollie causes an incredible amount of property damage, plays a role in at least a dozen deaths, fakes his OWN death, leaves a guy in the trunk of a car to rot, and yet, there's no attempt to square his actions with society. At the end of the movie he's travelling abroad even though I think he's still wanted for murder. He musta used one of his prosthetic disguises to sneak through customs.

But that doesn't matter. None of it matters. All that matters is you get to see Rollie kill a man with Krazy glue and a well-timed shove. MacGuyver and Stan Winston on their best day couldn't match that. Those weenies over at WETA could learn a thing or two from Rollie Tyler. And so could Mark Wahlberg.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

MTV Has a Movie Blog

Run at least partially, by my old Slush Factory chum Brian Jacks. Good to see him doing well. But anyway, I was particularly (white) jazzed to see the very first post from the blog announcing some interesting news.

A decade after “L.A. Confidential” snagged Curtis Hanson an Academy Award, the director tells us plans for the heavily anticipated sequel are finally underway. “Just very recently, [screenwriter] Brian Helgeland, [novelist] James Ellroy and I have been talking about it,” he announced to MTV News. “Russell [Crowe] and Guy [Pearce] would love to come back and revisit those characters ten years later. But it’s all about getting the story that’s worth telling.”

As to whether “L.A. Confidential 2” would conflict with fellow helmer Joe Carnahan’s planned adaptation of Ellroy’s “White Jazz” (starring George Clooney), Hanson doesn’t think so. “Ellroy’s written many books,” he says. “‘White Jazz’ is very different from either ‘L.A. Confidential’ or what we would do as the sequel.”

Carnahan recently told MTV that despite initial talks with Guy Pearce about reprising his role in “White Jazz”, the director has now decided to go in another direction, eliminating the name Exley from his film. “We were basically required to change his name…as much as I wanted Guy Pearce to reprise that role, the minute it became something else it opened up casting possibilities,” said Carnahan.

Frankly, I'd rather see Hanson's follow-up than Carnahan's, at least after sitting through the madness that was Smokin' Aces. If they can get Crowe and Pearce back together, that'd be worthwhile...maybe a crossover with the never made Two Jakes sequel and throw J.J. Gittes in there? A sequel to two different movies combining them into one universe! Someone should really be paying me for these great ideas I come up with...

Che! (1969)

Holy poop on a plate this movie sucks.

First, note the title. It's not Che. It's Che! with an exclamation point. That, coupled with the campy dialogue, weirdo performances, and overall atmosphere of hilarity, might convince you that this film was made by the Zucker Brothers. They like making silly movies with exclamation points at the end of the titles, like Airplane! or Top Secret! But, no, they didn't make Che!. They probably wish they did. This is one funny movie.

Egyptian Omar Sharif plays Che!, but that casting seems almost lucid compared to the movie's true masterstroke: Jack Palance as Fidel Castro. Does Jack Palance look like Fidel Castro? Yeah maybe, if you stand really far away from the screen, take off your glasses, cover one eye, down a couple shots of vodka and then look at him. Sure, why not! Fidel Castro!

Look, I'm not going to pretend to be a Che! scholar. I don't know anything about Che! but that's okay because neither did the people who made this movie. Or am I wrong? Did Che, the revolutionary and guerilla fighter, really did wear this much eye shadow? This couldn't possibly be what Che! Guevarra was like. No one would follow this man. The only thing this Che! could convince me to do is rent Dr. Zhivago.

The movie begins with Che! dead on a slab. It ends with him dead on the same slab. You might wonder, "Well why watch the movie?" That would be a smart thing to wonder. The story is told in flashbacks, because otherwise it would be the story of a corpse on a slab and that would be an even more boring movie than this one. Various associates of Che's (played by actors) talk into the camera and share their views of the man ("Sometimes I loved him. Other times I HATED him! But ALWAYS I respected him!"), and then we see the scenes they're describing played out for us by Sharif and Palance in Bronson Canyon. If this technique sounds familiar, that's because it is stolen from Citizen Kane. This is the only way in which Che! is like Citizen Kane. Wait, maybe there's two — does Jack Palance play President William McKinley in that?

The movie is only 95 minutes long, but it's stretching every inch of film to get there. There's at least ten minutes of newsreel footage, and least six or seven scenes of soldiers just marching around through the jungle. No dialogue, no importance to the plot, just flat-out filler. If there was an Academy Award for Best Depiction of Mass Troop Movements Che! would be a shoo-in.

It's hard to describe exactly how bad this movie is; you kind of need to see it for yourself, and observe just how terrible the acting is, and how cheap the production design is, how poor the editing is. Not that I recommend you see the movie. I don't; this thing is so boring it's been prescribed to insomniacs. It's cinematic Ambien. Side effects may include vomiting, rash, burning discharge, and a strange urge to watch Conan the Destroyer.

There are plenty of bad movies, but there are only a handful that are incorrect, misguided, badly executed in every conceivable way. Che! may well be the textbook definition of how NOT to make a movie. It's a wonder they even remembered to put film in the camera.

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Termite (Sequential) Art: 52 1-52

Yeah it's a film blog. Guess what: I like comics too.

Another major super-hero saga, another opportunity to sound like a broken record. I recently wrote at length about Marvel's latest attempt at relevancy and smarts amidst the tights and capes, Civil War. Though I admired the project's ambition, I was deeply unsatisfied by the execution, and I find myself in the exact same position as I'm about to discuss their competition's latest big'un, DC Comics' 52.

52 spun directly out of the events of DC's last major crossover, Infinite Crisis, another book I've written about. Essentially, Infinite Crisis was a conscious return to some sort of old-school comic book style: after years of increasingly dark behavior, Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman realized the errors of their ways, and reteamed to overcome a threat that looked and sounded a great deal like the legions of nerds who read their serialized adventures. Immediately after Infinite Crisis, all of DC's regular monthly comic books instigated something called "One Year Later," whereby all stories jumped ahead 12 months in the characters lives. All of a sudden there was a new Aquaman, a new Flash, a new Wonder Woman, all without explanation. The "OYL" stunt allowed DC to shake up some stale titles while maximizing their visibility in the wake of the very commercially successful Infinite Crisis.

But what to make of that missing year of continuity? Enter 52, a 52-part, weekly serialized novel, written by four different writers working in collaboration (Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, and Mark Waid) with a host of artists (led by Keith Giffen). Using several underutilized but potential-laden DC characters (a mysterious detective named The Question, a grief-stricken super-hero named The Elongated Man, a Superman colleague named Steel, Captain Marvel's complex nemesis Black Adam, and a foolish hero for hire named Booster Gold), they would tour the universe of DC Comics, show what significant events happened in the missing year to explain the radical changes, and fully delineate exactly what changes Infinite Crisis made to the company's overarching mythology.

Before going on, let me first pause to celebrate what a remarkable logistical achievement 52 was. There have been weekly comics in the past (Will Eisner's classic Spirit insert, for example) and DC itself tried the format about twenty years ago when it converted its flagship title, Action Comics to a weekly for a short-lived experiment. But at a time when an increasing number of monthly books seem incapable of meeting their shipping dates, when some books have even taken the drastic measure of interrupting or even dropping incompleted stories from titles so that new creative teams can keep the book coming out while slower writers and artists spin their wheels, 52, a standard length comic book, came out on time, every Wednesday for 52 straight weeks. I, and many others, assumed when the project was announced that it would crash and burn. To all its creators' credit, it never did, even when the book's editor jumped ship to go work at Marvel about 2/3rds of the way through the year. That alone deserves a delicious Kudos granola bar.

The book was also an unmitigated financial success. 52 hooked readers early and never let go. According to the sales numbers on Publishers Weekly's The Beat. 52 settled into a very healthy 100,000 copies sold per week. 100K is roughly the equivalent in the comics world of a $100 million movie, i.e. a numberical benchmark for a blockbuster. But remember that even the bestselling title typically only sells 100,000 copies a month and 52 did that each week. If you go to the link to The Beat — and if you're at all interested in this topic, you should — you'll see that most comics are in a perpetual state of declining sales, a big reason why they're constant throwing new innovations like costumes and puffed up phoney baloney deaths at the reader to spike interest and sales. But 52 bucked that trend too.

Sadly, 52's creative accomplishments are a bit murkier. As I mentioned, 52's original stated purpose was to explore the missing year in DC continuity. It barely did; in fact, with a couple months left in 52, DC rushed into production a 4-issue miniseries called World War III designed to help explain all of the OYL changes that should have been addressed in 52 but weren't. In addition, as 52 progressed and began to take on a life of its own, it developed more unsolved mysteries than a mid-90s anthology series hosted by Robert Stack; after all, to keep readers coming back every week they needed an awful lot of cliffhangers. The writers piled mystery atop mystery, but their questions began to outpace their answers. Threads were picked up and dropped, ideas were floated and forgotten, characters were introduced and ignored. After week 44, comics scholar Douglas Wolk, who examined 52 weekly and in real time in impressive fashion on his blog 52 Pickup, assembled a list of 100 questions that 52 had posed and hadn't answered. The final handfull of books covered some of them, but probably no more than a third.

As the quartet of writers juggled more and more threads, the strain began to show, particularly in the pacing department. Steel's storyline, about an evil plot by Lex Luthor to give everyone in the world super-powers, including Steel's rebellious niece, dragged on with little forward progress for weeks and weeks; same for The Question's slow death via lung cancer; same for an additional storyline about a trio of heroes stranded in deep space after the events of Infinite Crisis. Meanwhile, the best storyline, The Elongated Man's, was severely truncated and wound down more than two months before 52's end. A lot of issues are only as good as the characters' chosen to feature in them.

The writers have made no bones about the fact that they were essentially commissioned to write one book, and ended up handing in another, owing to the fact that they were writing it on the fly. This is not an unprecedented publishing paradigm; novels were commonly serialized in the past, and at least according to one Dizzy, Tom Wolfe wrote The Bonfire of the Vanities in this way, every two weeks in Rolling Stone, "and you can see how certain things that seem like they'll figure big in the story fade out as he figures out what his focus should be." That sounds awfully 52-like to me.

Equally important was the relative mediocrity of 52's art. In an age when some of the most accomplished draftsmen in the industry can't complete 22 pages a month, it's would have been too much to expect any artist, or any two artists, to handle this book's workload. 52 employed a veritable army of artists, all operating from breakdowns (basically storyboards for comics) drawn by Keith Giffen. Giffen's presence kept a relatively uniform product, but McDonald's has a uniform product, and that's not fine cuisine. A few issues stood out when talented artists were brought on board for special issues — like Week 42's Elongated Man story pencilled by the Darick Robertson. The rest were notable only for their mediocrity.

In a lot of ways, 52 is the anti-Civil War. Where Civil War was plagued by scheduling delays that pushed back not only the main series, but the myriad monthly Marvel series that were affected by it, 52 came out on time every Wednesday as advertised. And where Civil War strove to be modern (invoking the War on Terror age debate of freedom versus security, willfully ignoring past bits of continuity or characterization), 52 specifically invoked the past by focusing on forgotten characters like Doc Magnus or Egg Fu (you know you want to hear more about a character named Egg freakin' Fu!!) who haven't been popular in decades if at all. Other than a few bits of mild profanity (a sprinkling of hells and asses, nothing worse than you'd get on primetime television at 8:00 PM) and some violent deaths, 52 could fit in with a lot of the decades old books that provided a lot of its inspiration. If Civil War was timely, what does that make 52? Old-fashioned? Classical? Timeless?

That's sort of a funny way of putting things, since 52 is so much about the nature of time itself. The title, which pops up in numerous clever references throughout the run refers to a lot more than just the weeks in a year, or the number of issues in the series. That, too, was a satisfying aspect of the book's conclusion; or, rather, it would have been if DC hadn't already spoiled it just that a few months ago in editor Dan DiDio's weekly back matter column. 52 is filled with missteps and bungles like that, but you want to forgive stuff like that because of the way the book accomplished its simple yet audacious goal: to just come out on time every week for a year. Of course, DC is giving its core audience no time to relax; tomorrow a brand new year-long weekly series begins. It's called Countdown. What an appropriate title. Readers are probably checking their watches against their wallets to see how long they can be satisfied by cleverness and timeliness. At a certain point you need a bit more substance too.


Monday, May 07, 2007

Dueling Maddins

My interview with Guy Maddin went up today at IFC News, but I was shocked and chagrined to find that Termite Art patron Dennis Lim had his own Maddin piece up at some lesser known publication. My poor article will undoubtedly pale in comparison to the ever-lucid prose of D Lim (and it does!), so I might as well pack it in and quietly weep on the linoleum floor of my bare apartment. And I have.

But the old gray lady would never have GM console a mother about her masturbating son and tell slimy anecdotes about Isabella Rossellini and dog tongues would they? So I've got that going for me.

Classic Trailer Theater: Casablanca

We know Casablanca as one of the most beloved movies of all time, but in 1942, Warner Brothers only knew the film as a programmer with a good cast. The trailer for Casablanca looks like most of the ones I've seen from this period, particularly in the wipes department: old studio trailers are always cut together with wipes. I wonder if this was as much a technical choice as it was a stylistic one having to do with the nature of making these things out of film instead of digital copies. That is pure conjecture on my part though, and a potential future research topic for you scholars out there.


Saturday, May 05, 2007

Max Power

To honor Maxim Afinogenov's clutch slap shot goal in the first overtime of the Sabres' stunning victory over the New York Rangers, giving them a 3-2 lead in the series, here's a clip from another clutch Max...Ophuls.

(The opening sequence from The Earrings of Madame De... (1953)

Thanks must also go to Chris Drury for his improbable tying goal with 7.7 seconds left in the game, but Chris is just a boring name, no?

And congratulations to the Golden State Warriors for their huge upset of the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the NBA playoffs. The fellows over at Free Darko have described the importance of the win - and it's much more than just the underdog making good - it's about the spirit of the game. Read their post!

UPDATE: Hear the call of the two Sabre goals by lungful Buffalo legend Rick Jeanneret here.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

My Spider-Man 3 Review

In case you're dying to know what I thought of Spidey 3 (and I'm sure you are), my review for The Reeler is up right now. Get clicking!

(You can also read R.'s review of something I've never heard of called Civic Duty over there too!)


Wednesday, May 02, 2007

David Lynch to End School Violence!

You can do it David.

David Lynch to Announce Plan to End School Violence:
Teach One Million Students to Meditate
Filmmaker says meditating students will transform schools from breeding grounds of stress and violence to centers of creativity and peace

Tuesday, May 1, 12 Noon (EDT)
Watch replay
Press should submit questions to:

David Lynch will be joined by quantum physicist John Hagelin and singer/songwriter Donovan Leitch

Filmmaker David Lynch will announce during a global webcast ( on Tuesday, May 1, at 12 noon (EDT), the David Lynch Foundation’s new plan to end school violence: Teach one million students around the world to meditate to transform schools from breeding grounds of stress and violence into centers of creativity and peace.

The David Lynch Foundation has already provided nearly $5 million to support in-school Transcendental Meditation programs for thousands of students in public and private schools in the United States and around the world to learn to meditate. (See

The National Institutes of Health has granted more than $24 million to study the benefits of the Transcendental Meditation technique for reducing high levels of stress and anxiety, improving brain functioning, and promoting cardiovascular health. Other published research shows the technique reduces depression, drug and alcohol abuse, and hypertension—while improving academic performance, creativity, intelligence, and ADD and other learning disorders.

Lynch will be joined by quantum physicist John Hagelin (What the bleep do we know?!, The Secret), and singer/songwriter Donovan Leitch (Hurdy Gurdy Man, Sunshine Superman, Mellow Yellow).

Lynch, Hagelin, and Donovan will explore the anti-violence plan in detail during a national student weekend entitled, “Exploring the Frontiers of Brain, Consciousness, and Creativity” at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, over Memorial Day Weekend, from May 25 to 28. (See Students from throughout the United States are invited to attend.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Spinal Tap Returns

This is a 4 minute preview of a new 15 minute Spinal Tap short that's been produced to commemorate the band's reunion as part of a global warming concert on July 7th. The full video can allegedly be found here, but so far here I can't find the link.

Of course, this is not the first time Spinal Tap's reunited. I saw them a few years ago at a great concert at Carnegie Hall, where The Folksmen opened (and were loudly booed off the stage by a band that didn't get the joke!) a few years before A Mighty Wind. More famously, there's also this:

That's from a full length movie called The Return of Spinal Tap (also known as A Spinal Tap Reunion: A 25th Anniversary London Sell-Out), which was mostly a concert video from their "Break Like the Wind" tour. There's plenty more clips from that on YouTube as well if you're interested.

The Quick and the Dead (1995)

Here's another uneven experience from 1995. It's primary flaw is one that plagues a lot of movies: its most interesting character isn't its main one. Sharon Stone is the star, and she plays The Lady, a mysterious vigilante who rides into a Western town on a vendetta. There isn't much more to her than that. As played by Stone, there might even be less.

But on the periphery lies a far more interesting subject and a far more interesting performance: a former outlaw turned preacher turned criminal named Cort. He is played by Russell Crowe. It is one of his first American performances (he'd already been a star in Australia for years), but he's already the most magnetic presence onscreen and sports a flawsless accent. The movie provides him a complete and satisfying story, but it keeps pushing him off to the edges of the frame so Stone can remain the focus. We keep wanting Crowe to nudge her out of the way and regain the spotlight.

The Lady's thirst for vengeance stems from her father's murder years ago and the hands of an outlaw named Herod (Gene Hackman). Now Herod reigns as some kind of dictator over his tiny Western town, everyone has to pay him outrageous taxes in exchange for his protection. Every year he hosts a contest for gunfighters: an elimination tournament where the last man standing is the victor. He's practically enticing his subjects to assassinate him — this year, Herod suspects the townspeople have hired a shootist to beat him — but the fact that he's still alive makes it clear that he reigns over the town because he is the fastest and the meanest and no one yet has been able to kill him. Herod is the pulp version of Little Bill Daggett from Unforgiven but meaner. If a railroad ran through the town, Herod would probably tie a woman to the tracks while wearing a cape.

Cort used to ride with Herod, but he realized the error of his ways and found God. Then Herod found him, and forced him to duel against his will. But as a preacher he can't kill. How can a pacificst win a gunfight? It's an interesting question and it's nice to see that while the movie offers an answer, it is not a simple or cute one.

The movie is directed by Sam Raimi, who applies his trademark frenetic camerawork to the Western. It is beautifully suited to the material, since the gunfights are about intense moments of stillness that culminate in explosions of violence, and Raimi's littany of snap zooms and trucks and rack focuses all work to extend and accentuate those moments until they're agonizingly suspenseful. Stylistically, Raimi might never have made a tighter picture.

Unfortunately he's saddled (h'yuck) with a dead fish of a star. Sharon Stone's Lady is supposed to be the male version of The Man With No Name, and like Eastwood, Stone saunters into town with a bad attitude, a husky whisper, and a collection of witty rejoiners. But where Eastwood's stoic demeaner reflected the character's inner intensity, Stone goes for stoic and looks only apathetic. Eastwood's facade was mysterious; we could tell he was hiding something. Stone's facade hides nothing, not even the actress' lack of interest in the material. Mostly she seems bored, not consumed wth a thirst for vengeance. She spends most of the second act crying and in the third act she changes her hairstyle more than her facial expressions.

Gotta love the camerawork in those gunfights though, plus the great performances by the rest of the cast, including Crowe, Hackman, a very young Leonardo DiCaprio, Lance Henriksen, Pat Hingle, Tobin Bell, and Keith David. The climactic shootout is a literal and figurative blast too, and Crowe gets some great badass moments and a nice capper on his character. Stone rides off into the sunset, but he stays behind, with a new purpose and perhaps a good future. In other words, his character would have been the focus of the sequel. So doesn't that mean he should have been the focus of the original too???