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Archive for January, 2009

Zack vs. the Calamari.

“I think I just have a natural operatic aesthetic. I can’t help it. People have said to me, when they talk about the graphic novel, about how it’s gritty and real, and I always go, ‘Yeah, you realize also though that a lot of that book takes place on Mars.'” By way of a friend, Watchmen director Zack Snyder talks with the NYT about the recent lawsuit, the challenges of adaptation, The Dark Knight, Alan Moore, transient cephalopods, and other matters. (I’d really skip this one if you haven’t read the book and want to go in unspoiled.) “In the end, all I would hope is that geek culture, this movie gives geek culture a little bit of cred.

Also, for the record, I could honestly care less about the lack-of-squid issue that’s riled up the purists. The squid was a means to an end (and a riff on the wildy convoluted Dr. Evil-ish plots and goofy villains like Starro one tends to find in Golden Age comics), not the actual point of the graphic novel. In fact, I’d say the absent Scouring of the Shire from PJ’s LotR trilogy is a much more glaring omission, in terms of changing the actual meaning of the story…and those turned out ok, didn’t they?

Crom, Rahm, Zom, (Info)com.

Some fun links by way of other quality blogs:

  • “‘Wonder Woman? That’s not even Marvel,’ Obama responded before storming out of the press room. ‘Who are you people?‘” According to the venerable newshounds of The Onion, purported fanboy Barack Obama is apparently having trouble relating to his new cabinet. [Via LinkMachineGo.] “Added the president, “For the love of Crom, am I the only one here who wants to keep the U.S. technologically competitive?’

    I found this exchange particularly funny: “Gates told reporters he may have gotten off on the wrong foot with the new president, citing an occasion when Obama asked him what he knew about 1984’s Secret Wars, a 12-issue limited Marvel release. Gates then handed a visibly confused Obama 1,400 classified pages on covert CIA operations in El Salvador. Later, the defense secretary attempted to find common ground with Obama by making casual references to the comic book Spawn. But the 44th president reportedly brushed him off with an abrupt laugh, saying, ‘no one in [his] administration likes Spawn.‘”

    Well, sorry to hear of the dilemma, Mr. President. Perhaps (*cough cough*) hiring some progressive-minded fanboys (fanboy-minded progressives?) might’ve alleviated the situation…

  • “The electronic signs, which usually warn motorists of traffic detours, instead included warnings such as ‘Caution! Zombies Ahead!’ and ‘Nazi Zombies! Run!!!’” By way of Liam at sententiae et clamores, some enterprising Austin wags hack the local road signs in preparation for World War Z. “The signs also instructed motorists to ‘run for cold climates.’” Well-played, y’all.

  • You are standing in a nightclub. There is a guitar here.” Also via LMG, check out the original version of Guitar Hero from 1982. (Yes, textadventure humor will always get some love here at GitM.)

  • All Your Base Are Belong to Us.

    Here’s another very good reason why it’s time to stop catering to conservatives in Washington: As anticipated by Dubya’s approval rating circa 2005, America — notwithstanding Mormon country — seems to have given up completely on the GOP. “The results, depicted in the map above, show that only five states have a statistically significant majority of voters who identify themselves as Republicans.” Five states…the Federalists and the Whigs had a better showing than that.

    Fine, We’ll Do It Without You.

    “‘There will be people in districts all over the country that will wonder why, when there’s a good bill to get the economy moving again, we still seem to be playing political gotcha,’ White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said in an interview.” Well, so much for the post-partisan era. Despite several attempts at across-the-aisle diplomacy by the new administration, the House passes President Obama’s stimulus bill 244-188 without a single Republican vote. Sigh.

    Perhaps a little history lesson is in order. Journey with me, if you will, back to 1993, the last time a new Democratic president tried to work with this same crew of jokers on a new, recession-busting economic plan. As you may remember, Clinton’s 1993 budget also passed the House and Senate without a single GOP vote. Let’s see what the Republicans had to say back then (courtesy of some old, off-line research of mine):

    Dick Armey (who, btw, made an embarrassment of himself on national television last night): “This bill would grow the Government…shrink the economy” and “will mean fewer jobs for ordinary Americans.” [Congressional Record, 8/5/93]

    Newt Gingrich: The bill will “kill jobs and lead to a recession” that would “force people off of work and onto unemployment and will actually increase the deficit.” [Houston Chronicle, 8/7/93, 1993; AJC, 8/6/93]

    Bob Dole: The bill “would take America in the wrong direction.” [WP, 8/4/93]

    Ronald Reagan (yes, they wheeled him out with talking points): The bill will “only cause the deficit to increase and will likely wreck any hopes for economic recovery.” [“Just Say No to Clinton’s Package,” NYT op-ed, 8/3/93]

    Rush Limbaugh: True to form, the GOP’s poster boy bet the DNC $1 million on the air that three of the following five things would happen by 1996: 1. The deficit would grow. 2. Unemployment would rise. 3. Inflation would swell. 4. Interest rates would surge. 5. The President’s approval rating would fall below 45 percent. [ James McTague, “Off to the Races,” Barron’s, 3/18/96]

    Well, I’m sure I don’t need to remind you of the untold economic devastation that was the remainder of the Clinton years. (If you’re keeping score, Rush went 0-for-5, and never paid up.) As it turns out, just as with Boehner this time around, the GOP had decided beforehand they weren’t going to vote for any Clinton bill. As Bob Woodward notes in The Agenda (p. 109), Dole told Clinton this three weeks before the bill was even proposed.

    Then as now, the modern Republican party doesn’t seem to understand the first thing about basic economics (their right-wing dogma precludes any grasp of Keynesianism, I guess.) They don’t seem to “get” rudimentary American history. (I’ve seen so many dumb things written about Herbert Hoover and the 1937 “Roosevelt recession” — which was caused by spending cuts and fiscal retrenchment by the FDR admininstration, not “over-regulation” — by right-wingers of late that it’s hard to even know where to begin.)They don’t seem to understand basic politics. (The American people have obviously voted for action, and a path away from Dubyanomics. Getting in the way of this bill won’t “reboot” their party in any way, shape, or form.) At this point, it’s an open question whether they can distinguish their asses from their elbows.

    So…can we please stop spoon-feeding these guys now? The GOP has proven yet again that they’re not looking to play ball. If they want to be on the wrong side of the problem as usual, let them. It’s useless to spend any more time bending over backwards to accommodate their lousy, discredited ideas and inchoate, faith-based economic beliefs. It’s time to move on.

    Do They Know It’s Christmas Time at All?

    A cancer-stricken mother. Three disgruntled siblings. A buried family tragedy. All together for the holidays. If Arnaud Desplechin’s A Christmas Tale, which I caught at the local Sunday morning Film Forum, were an American movie, it’s a safe bet to guess it’d be schmaltzy and cloying as all hell. (In fact, you could argue this premise has already been explored here several times, both decently well (The Royal Tenenbaums) and as exactly the sort of saccharine-infused claptrap one would expect (The Family Stone.)) But, no, A Christmas Tale is a French film through and through, and as such it veers far closer to the rambling and pretentious than it does to grade-USA Christmas schmaltz. This is the type of movie that introduces its acts with title cards (“Jubilation,” “Ghosts”), where any family scab worth picking at once is worth picking at three times, and where folks sometimes read timely Nietzsche quotations to each other…just like your house at Christmas, I’m sure.

    I don’t mean to be hard on the film — In fact, I mostly enjoyed it. It’s textured and novelistic and relatively engaging, if a little long at two and a half hours. But it’s also very much the kind of story that moves a certain type of film snob — I’m looking at you, Andrew O’Hehir — to overpraise, usually exclaiming something along the lines of “Finally, a film about ‘real people’ rather than costumed superfreaks!” (See also David Edelstein on (the very good) Man on Wire for this tendency at its most innocuous, or David Denby on the last Matrix for it at its worst.)

    Now, I don’t really see the two as mutually exclusive — there’re enough films to go around — and I’d like to think I enjoy both. (Would The Wrestler have been better with outer-space werewolves? I doubt it. Ok, well, maybe.) Nevertheless, while I was entertained by the film, Christmas set off my “Emperor’s New Clothes'” pretentiousness-detector relatively early in its run (It’s been finely honed over my time in grad school.) Call me a Berkman-style philistine if you will, but 140 minutes of watching the Vuillards — the clan of this particular christmas carol — wrestle with their family traumas over wine and jazz standards, often in not-quite-believable fashion, was just about enough for me.

    After a father’s speech over a gravesite, A Christmas Tale begins with a sad fairy tale of sorts. (It’s told with puppet silhouettes, as per Henry Selick or Amelie.) Abel (Jean-Paul Roussillon, marrying up) and Junon (Catherine Deneuve, still a beauty) had two children, Joseph and Elizabeth. But Joseph, it soon turns out, suffers from a disease of the bone marrow, and neither his parents nor Elizabeth are compatible with him. So, the couple has another child, Henri, but he too cannot save Joseph, and the Vuillards’ first-born perishes. A fourth child, Ivan, comes later, but the original sin of the family is set: Henri could not save his older brother’s life, and thus, for all intent and purposes, he was born a failure.

    In the modern-day, Elizabeth (Anne Consigny, the nurse of Diving Bell and the Butterfly) has grown into a melancholy playwright with a distant husband and a schizophrenic son (Emile Berline). Her brother Henri (Mathieu Almaric, also of Diving Bell) is basically a screw-up, living down to everyone’s expectations of him enough that Elizabeth eventually banishes him from her presence. Ivan, the youngest (Melvil Poupaud), is the charismatic peace-maker of the family, who hopes to bring his siblings together again. (But he has his own domestic problem, of which he is dimly aware: a potential love-triangle involving his wife (Chiara Mastroianni, looking frighteningly like her famous father and playing the daughter-in-law of her mother) and his cousin (Laurent Capelluto).) Into this fractured family dynamic, a bombshell is dropped — Junon, the matriarch, is diagnosed with the same fatal cancer that felled Joseph years earlier. And this time, irony of ironies, the only compatible relatives for a life-prolonging bone marrow transplant are Elizabeth’s son…and Henri the exile. Who’s got the hand now, big sister?

    This story, along with several other strands of interaction, slowly develops over the Christmas week, as all the various wings of the Vuillards get cooped up together, back in the nest. To its credit, A Christmas Tale doesn’t push on these narratives, but lets them unfold organically over the course of the movie. In fact, the film isn’t really plot-driven at all — It moves languidly to the rhythm of conversation, and there are a number of clever or resonant ideas buried therein. The transplant on everyone’s mind works as a great metaphor for the whole enterprise — Junon’s body could very well reject Henri’s marrow, i.e. the gift of family could well kill her, which is very far from the notion of family as an unadulterated joy that you might find in your average holiday film. (Indeed, mother and son have a grand ole time continually expressing their (feigned) indifference toward one another, although that’s clearly mostly for show.)

    Still, as the movie progresses, and the same underlying tensions simmer to near-boil over and over again, and the big issues (mortality, infidelity) get shrugged off while small ones turn into battles of bon mots or even fistfights, I began to feel quite a bit like Henri’s girlfriend-along-for-the-ride (Emmanuel Devos), who checks out of the proceedings well before the jig is up. That sure is a great family you have there, Msr. and Mme. Vuillard. Happy holidays, good luck with the transplant, and bon soir. I’m sure y’all will have a swell time with the ritualistic airing of grievances without me.

    Her Buttoned-Down Life.

    “Have you ever wished for a different life? Be careful what you wish for.” Via AICN, a decidedly creepy new trailer for Henry Selick’s stop-motion Coraline appears online. Some of that eerie seam-splitting business looks like Nightmare Before Christmas by way of the Brothers Quay.

    Shootin’ at the Walls of Heartache.

    “I’m an old broken-down piece of meat and i deserve to be all alone. I just don’t want you to hate me.” If that’s your man, then tag him in: The final and best film of last Friday’s four, Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler is a downbeat, moving, and resonant character study of a man past his moment. If Frost/Nixon was the “feisty underdog takes on the champ” Rocky movie of the day, The Wrestler captured the other half of that famous story — the aging athlete shuffling around his “real” life, looking for any place he can make sense of himself outside the ring. (Warning: At least in the violence of its fight scenes, this is more Raging Bull than Rocky.)

    Now, I have little-to-no interest in professional wrestling. (Ok, Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, and Rowdy Roddy aside, I did use to be cognizant of some of the second-tier characters and plotlines back in the day — the Four Horsemen, Nature Boy Ric Flair, etc. etc. And I did attend a WWF match in Atlanta back in the summer of ’95. But like about half of the crowd that night, I was there ironically.) Still, The Wrestler is a movie that works, I think, regardless of the immediate milieu involved. It could be a tale about anyone — wrestlers, writers, athletes, actors (not unlike Mickey Rourke) — who find themselves closer to an early death, or at best years of anonymity, loneliness, and toil, than they are to their halcyon days.

    Speaking of the glory days, The Wrestler begins with an audio montage of Randy “the Ram” Robinson at his peak. This was, of course, the Eighties, when excess was in fashion, hair bands ruled the radio, and the Ram pummeled his nemesis, the Ayatollah (Ernest Mlller), in front of capacity crowds at Madison Square Garden. (Don’t worry, they get along fine outside the ring. In fact — are you sitting down? — this movie actually suggests that pro wrestling is, well, fake. Of if not “fake” per se — there’s quite a bit of real pain involved — then “predetermined.”)

    Cut to 2008. Axl Rose has given way to Kurt Cobain, who gave way to Justin Timberlake. And, after twenty years of drugs and horribly violent beatings, Randy (nee Robin Ramzinski) has been reduced to plying his trade in high school gyms and VFW halls. His body is breaking down, his injuries — and bad habits and creditors and appetite for (self-)destruction — are catching up with him, and he’s been forced to work day shifts at a local supermarket to help pay the rent on his mobile home. And, even though his community of fellow wrestlers is far and away the friendliest bunch of jacked-up juicers you’ll ever meet — backstage, group hugs rather than ‘roid rage are the order of the day — there’s isn’t really any Adrian to soothe the days for Randy. Nor, unlike Gran Torino and The Visitor, are there any magical immigrants around the corner, soon to warm Randy’s aged heart and remind him of the bright side of life. (Ok, there is a stripper-with-a-heart-of-gold, Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), but she’s dealing with her own demons and tries to keep Randy at “customer’s” length, even tho’ she and he are kindred spirits of sorts — she writhes, and Randy bleeds, for our entertainment.)

    Amid these long days at the supermarket, violent nights in the ring, and the occasional forlorn and empty convention appearance, two events occur to shake Randy out of this complacency. One is a proposed twenty-year anniversary rematch against the Ayatollah, who’s now selling cars in New Mexico but would game for a nostalgia bout. The other, more dire occurrence is a heart attack, which Randy suffers after a particularly brutal match (and I mean brutal.) The doctors say another tussle in the ring might well kill him, and so Randy tries to go straight, as it were (and to reconnect with his little girl (Evan Rachel Wood), for whom he was clearly an absentee father.) But Randy the Ram was never particularly good at playing the part of Robin Ramzinski, and things just tend to be more complicated and disappointing outside the ropes. Chairs, headbutts, and clotheslines Randy can handle, but life? Life tends to be painful through and through. And (unlike rolling around on broken glass and barbwire, it seems), life will cut you right to the bone.

    The Wrestler was penned by a former editor-in-chief of The Onion, Robert Siegel, and at times an impish, mordant sense of humor peeks out the edges of the film. (See, for example, Randy’s boss at the deli (Todd Barry), or the scenes involving old-school Nintendo and fireman’s boots.) But, most of the time, the movie just ambles along amiably like its star — It feels honest, humble, low-key, naturalistic…and a million miles away from Aronofsky’s other, flashier films (Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain.) I wouldn’t cry foul if The Wrestler manages to pin down Oscars for Rourke and/or Tomei, and it’s too bad Aronofsky got locked out of Best Director contention this year — dabbling in the ‘rassling form has clearly been good for him. (I haven’t seen The Reader, but, frankly, the Stephen Daldry nod looks as suspect to me as your average WWE match. By even favorable accounts, that flick is literally and figuratively Holocaust porn.) In any case, The Wrestler is well-worth catching, and one hopes it lends itself to the type of career renaissance for Rourke et al that the Ram so desperately desired.

    Rabbit Rests.

    “Suspect each moment, for it is a thief, tiptoeing away with more than it brings.” John Updike, 1932-2009.

    The New Holmes: Sherlock, by way of Larry, Jr.

    “Sure, he will still be smarter than everyone within a three-planet radius, and he will retain his uncanny ability to intuit whole life stories from the tiniest speck of dust on a shoe. But he will do those things while being a man of action, a chaser, shooter and pummeler of criminals — like ‘James Bond in 1891,’ Joel Silver, one of the film’s producers, said last fall.” Uh…ok. The NY Times‘s Sarah Lyall checks in on the progress of Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, with Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law (as Watson).

    “Downey’s Holmes is darker than that of Mr. Rathbone…The new Holmes is rougher, more emotionally multilayered, more inclined to run with his clothing askew, covered in bruises and smudges of dirt and blood. This Holmes falls into modern-style funks between cases, lying on the sofa, suffused with anomie, unshaven and unkempt, surrounded by a pile of debris. He keeps his bills pinned to the wall with a bowie knife.” So, under Ritchie, Holmes has gone 21st-century emo, then. Nobody could’ve expected that.

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