Wednesday, November 28, 2012


So, some of you devoted readers (all...2 of you) might remember me nattering on about a short film I wrote and co-produced a while back called WOMEN AND MEN AND WOMEN.

Well, now that the festival submissions are all over, it's finally available on the internet for everyone to see!

It's a satire on male privilege, self-obsessed male writers, and the "bro-mance". 

Check it out here on Vimeo!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Everyday I write the book...

I know that my posting on here has been a bit erratic, but I'm assuming some people must still enjoy my blathering.

If you do enjoy my ramblings, then you might enjoy this: Midnight Symphony , an honest-to-good eBook that I've got a story in. In case the title and the Amazon page don't clue you in, it's a collection of horror stories.

There are also some pretty awesome stories by some other people I'm lucky to know, including stories about demonic English nobility and endangered Sasquatch. 

It's only 99 cents, and any money earned goes to charity. 

So check it out... if you dare!


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

"Last of the materialists. That's like last of the dinosaurs": GHOSTWATCH

Directed by Lesley Manning
Starring Michael Parkinson, Michael Smith, Sarah Greene, and Craig Charles

Among a niche audience of horror buffs, Ghostwatch stands as the British answer to Orson Welles' "War of the Worlds" broadcast. This is actually a little too simplistic, because whereas Welles' broadcast was never intended to be taken for a real news broadcast (it had been presented with the Mercury Theatre opening and credits, but station-switching audiences had missed the introduction), Ghostwatch was.

Ghostwatch was presented on Halloween in 1992 as a BBC news special, including normal television anchors and interviewers, who were investigating a haunted house on live television. This wasn't an "In Search Of" style show, where an expectation or suspicion of trickery lurks around the edges. Nor was the footage presented as pre-recorded and edited. And the anchors weren't faded TV stars or credulous mystics. These were normal, trusted BBC newscasters (imagine Mike Wallace or Stone Phillips or Bryant Gumbel perpetrating a similar hoax). The fact that this was a call-in show, that was supposed to include interviews with experts, discussion with viewers, and interviews with other people that had experienced hauntings, suggested that there was no certainty that the "haunted" house would even present any paranormal phenomenon. For the majority of the show, the anchors and reporters range from politely skeptical to outright condescending to the idea that the paranormal was even possible.

So it's no wonder that the public was shocked when the show was "interrupted" with technical difficulties suggesting paranormal activity, or that a bunch of "concerned citizens" blocked it from airing on Television in its original form for years to come.

But heading into a screening at Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theatre, I had to wonder how shocking it would be. After all, I already knew the backstory. And in an age of "found-footage" films and "mockumentaries", how ground-breaking would it really seem?

The answer is that Ghostwatch still has the capacity to scare. It's not really a gory film and the effects are rather simple (a wind machine, a lot of sound effects, a creepy figure in a costume), but the whole thing is handled to such an elegant effect that it haunted me long after I left the theatre.

To its credit, even knowing the central premise of Ghostwatch, the show was very suspenseful. The show tips its hand fairly early that there is something odd going on here, when the anchors broadcast footage previously shot in the haunted house and we see a shadowy figure that the anchors can't see, even when they slow it down and watch frame-by-frame. So the old axiom, attributed to Hitchcock, that watching two men play cards can be thrilling if you know there's a ticking time bomb under their chairs and they don't, is at work here.

Furthermore, the haunting scenario has a few twists and turns in it that will surprise even a viewer expecting to get spooked. For one thing, the theories of the paranormal investigator, Dr. Lin Paskoe (Brid Bevan), who is the only one other than the victims that believes in the haunting from the outset, turn out to be somewhat off-base. On the house's history, she's as much in the dark as the victims and the anchors. Usually in these types of films, the occult expert is usually completely right and the skeptics are completely wrong. It's refreshing to have both sides to turn out to be somewhat right in the details, but wrong on the big picture. And the scenes where she's arguing with a skeptical American researcher suggest that, for all her careful work and attempts to remain scientific, that she's a little too emotionally invested in this pursuit for her own good.

For another thing, about halfway through, the reporters capture footage on tape of a young girl making the "noises" attributed to the poltergeist. For the audiences at home, unaware of what was to happen, it must have lulled them into a false sense of security. For a more cynical viewer, it knocked me off my feet. How were they going to recover from that?

As for whether the show would hold up after years of films like the Blair Witch Project and several iterations of Paranormal Activity, the answer is that it does. Since this event is being filmed by a professional news crew, there's not a ridiculous over-reliance on "shaky-cam". And once all hell breaks loose, the broadcast has a variety of tricks to show us things going wrong.

The production design is also worth complimenting, given that the studio and house are both banal and ordinary enough to pass as normal, while taking on an increasingly creepy and ominous appearance as reality breaks down (I can't describe the effect apples swinging from string achieve, as lame as it sounds).

The performances and the writing are very sharp, with Sarah Greene showing a nice steely determination to protect the house's children even as she grows more and more terrified of the house and Michael Parkinson having a great arc from open-minded host to condescending bastard (when he believes he's exposed a hoax) to a confused and frustrated man unwilling to admit that reality is not what he thought it was.

There are a few mis-steps, mostly in the form of Craig Charles as the Odious Comic Relief who peppers his location-hosting duties with way too many jokes about how ridiculous Halloween and the supernatural are. He's a little too unprofessional to convince as a TV host and his tongue-in-cheek performance suggests there's some trickery afoot. It's a bit disappointing, given that I enjoyed him on "Red Dwarf", but he sticks out like a sore thumb here.

But despite a few laughs in the audience as Ghostwatch started up, by the end, everyone was shocked into silence. And we thought we were in on the joke.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Primer on BUILDING STORIES & Chris Ware

Chris Ware's BUILDING STORIES is out, which means its time for media coverage to begin. Since a lot of media outlets generally don't have the time or knowledge to do in-depth research into "comic books", "graphic novels" or "those things kids like". So, for everyone out there just getting into Chris Ware, he's a simple guide to Chris Ware and his work.

Q: Who is Chris Ware?
A: Most people believe that Chris Ware is a sensitive writer-artist based out of the Chicago area. What most people don't realize is that this is a lie!

Chris Ware is actually an alias for Rob Liefeld, the controversial artist who broke into comics in the '80s with HAWK & DOVE and NEW MUTANTS. The "Chris Ware" persona was hatched over a drunken bull session with Gary Groth of The Comics Journal at the San Diego Comicon in 1995. Groth said that Liefeld would never create a comic book he liked. Liefeld said if he did, Groth would have to give every book he did under the pseudonym at least a week's worth of coverage. Groth lost the bet. And "Chris Ware" was born.

Industry folks also claim that "Dan Clowes" is another alias for Rob Liefeld. That is stupid. "Dan Clowes" is the name of the studio that Marc Silvestri and Jim Balent have founded.

Q: What is BUILDING STORIES about?
A: As always, where art is concerned, it depends on how you interpret the contents. Some people say that it is the story of a lonely woman, trying to connect with the world around her. Others say that it is a narrative about post-Modern America's disconnect from itself. All I can say is, it finally resolves what Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Boy on Earth, was doing during INFINITE CRISIS.

Q: I heard that Ware did something weird with the packaging. Is that true?
A: Yes. Chris Ware had trees chopped up and the resulting wood transformed into wood pulp. He then had giant machines transform that pulp into a regular shape, upon which it would be easy to imprint different colored-inks. Those flimsy pieces of pulp were then bound between slightly less flimsy pieces of pulp, put into containers, and shipped to different retail outlets and warehouses where they could be obtained by consumers. All in all, a very previous and artistic way to disseminate art in our modern age.

Also, there are slight variations in the way those piece of pulp are organized and combined, from one printing to another. This has never happened before in the history of comic books.

Q: Does this mean comics aren't for kids anymore? Can I add "Biff! Bang! Pow!" to the headline?
A: Comics have not been printed for kids since 1970. They are mostly consumed by rocks, sentient bacteria, and the Omni-Being from the Dark Galaxy of Quadrant 5.

But go ahead with the "Biff!" "Bang!" "Pow!" to your headline. No one has ever thought of that joke before.

Q: Have you even read BUILDING STORIES yet?
A: That's ridiculous. If I read BUILDING STORIES, I'd have to pick an order to read it in, and I might pick the wrong order!

Also, I hear Joss Whedon plans to make a movie version of it.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Shadow of the Gunman and the Swordsman: Golgo 13 and Conan the Barbarian

Pop culture says a lot about a country, and the pop culture that best gives someone an idea about the country's mindset is rarely the culture that people praise. It's usually not the Pulitzer Prize winners or the Oscar winners that we look back on as time capsules of what America was like. It's the Valley of the Dolls and Dirty Harry.

Whenever people (usually conservatives) attack academia, it's for writing papers on TV or comic books or music or movies with little Harold Bloom-approved value. What's the value, your ivory tower-hating good ol' regular American pundit might say, of writing about the semiotics of Law and Order or the post-capitalist structuralism of Justin Bieber?

And I know this might seem like a straw-man kind of thing, but then again, take Naomi Schaefer Riley. Please.

Anyway, already-dated digs at blogosphere dust-ups aside, my point is, what we say in our trashy and/or guilty pleasures and what, more importantly, the public enjoys in their trashy and/or guilty pleasures tells the observer a lot about the public values. It hints at what is in their hearts, instead of what they claim to think.

Looking at Law and Order, for example, what's important is not the mild liberalism of the writers and producers. What is important is that we have the picture of a justice system that is incredibly perceptive and hands-on. The detectives, flawed or cynical as they might be, have a dogged determination and usually lay their hands on a suspect within a matter of days, if not hours. The prosecutors and defense attorneys are usually well-trained, highly-capable individuals, who fight out their battles in front of a jury, and win and lose their cases on the basis of savvy detective work and a keen grasp of the law.

You don't see the large number of cases that remain unsolved, the large number of cases that are quickly plea-bargained out, cops who are petty or mediocre, overworked and underpaid lawyers who offload a lot of their day-to-day duties onto paralegals. Have you ever seen a paralegal show up on Law and Order, or Criminal Minds or CSI: Whatever?

But yet, even at our most cynical, whatever our political background, we think that this is our ideal. This is how the system is supposed to work!

In the last couple of months, two of my trashier pleasures have been Conan the Barbarian (mostly the comics, though I also watched the first film) and Golgo 13 (the anime movies and TV episodes and a little bit of the manga). And on their surface, there are definitely a lot of similarities between the two works, at the generic level.

Conan the Barbarian is a muscle-bound, hard-fighting, hard-living quasi-Nordic warrior in a vaguely pre-medieval, post-Roman Eurasia, who wanders from town to town looking for wenches, wine, and chances to make money as either a thief or a soldier. The women he captures or rescues usually fall in love with him, for at least a little while.

Golgo 13 (a.k.a. Duke Togo) is a muscular Japanese assassin who travels around the world, shooting targets in incredibly impossible situations for money. When he's not killing people, he's usually bedding women in very manly ways.*

Both are clearly male empowerment fantasies, built around the idea that men express their manliness by killing/fighting and having sex with women. The most manly specimens are those that are paid for killing/fighting.

You don't have to look very far for other examples of this empowerment fantasy across genre and form of media. Almost all the Arnold Schwarzenegger protagonists, the Punisher, Wolverine, the Continental Op, most gangsta rappers, and so forth.**

I don't think it's necessary, at this point, to even discuss the fact that women are usually passive characters and victims, with their roles limited to mothers or whores.

But there is a deeper co-relation between Conan and Golgo 13 than that. Historically, culturally, and morally, they share a deeper kinship.

Conan was created by Robert E. Howard between 1929-1930, and his adventures first appeared in the 1930s. After Howard's suicide in 1936, his adventures were kept in print and republished by the executors of his estate, on and off, for the next three decades. However, it was not until the late sixties and early seventies that the character's success flowered with the publication of the Lancer/Ace paperbacks and the start of Marvel Comic's highly successful run of Conan comic books and black-and-white magazines.

Furthermore, post-Howard, a large part of Conan's image as a character was shaped by a series of collaborators, artists and editors with either a loose affiliation with Howard or no connection with him at all. A "studio system" aesthetic evolved, where writers like L. Sprague de Camp, Lin Carter, Bjorn Nyberg and Roy Thomas, and artists like Boris Vallejo, Barry Windsor-Smith, and John Buscema, added significant portions to the Conan mythos or rewrote other non-Conan stories by Howard to become Conan stories. Roy Thomas, in a quest to create content for Marvel's comics and magazines, even appropriated and licensed the non-Conan works of other fantasy writers!***

Though there was mercenary element at work here, the creators intended to serve Conan (or at least their vision of Conan). This was no egotistical attempt by upstart crows to beautify themselves with another's feathers, as might characterize August Derleth's appropriation of H.P. Lovecraft's work.

Golgo 13 was created by Takao Saito in the late 1960s and was first published in 1969. Though Takao Saito was Golgo's creator, the art and writing duties of the series are generally handled by a studio under his supervision. Though Saito's role in the day-to-day operations of the studio are certainly open to speculation, his name is the only one that appears in the credits for the manga.

Furthermore, the live action movies and the anime movies and TV series are under the control of others, though they draw on the comics for inspiration.

What's important to emphasize here is that the late 1960s and early 1970s was the first time either of these characters could command mass appeal. Leaving aside the gore and gruesomeness of their adventures (with extreme violence becoming more mainstream thanks to film and the TV news), both characters possessed a sexual rapaciousness that was only starting to become acceptable toward the end of the 1960s.

However, at the same time, both characters occupy a space of protest against the hippie/protest movements of the time. Their sexual appetites might seem part of the "Summer of Love", but their attitudes towards women are not progressive or feminist. Both characters are satisfied with a market economy and have no qualms with positioning themselves as commodities. Insofar as they display a political consciousness, it could be characterized as conservative, though they are rather apolitical. And though neither is racist or nationalist, their adventures and interactions usually express chauvinism towards cultures than their own.

I will deal more with these characterizations of Conan and Golgo in my next post.

I also wish to say, as a disclaimer, that I am not trying to characterize the political convictions of the writers/artists/editors working on these characters. Roy Thomas, at the very least, strikes me as a relatively progressive writer from his other comic book work. The tenor of these characters' adventures, however, definitely are on the conservative end of the spectrum, and the generic conventions work against progressive or leftist influences.

Anyway, next time: what Golgo says about Japan and what Conan says about America. Yup, I'm aiming big!

*(For a more detailed history of Golgo 13 than I would ever be capable of writing, visit Joe McCulloch's detailed write-up of Golgo here, here and here.)

** However, from my point of view, these characters are not law enforcement and they are not government agents. James Bond might be the one exception. But all of these characters, though they might have a moral system, are not constrained by law or (usually) a chain of command. John McClane, for example, is very different from John Matrix (from Commando). While both kill bad guys,  McClane is functioning as a protector of society. Matrix only cares about his daughter and enforcing his own sense of justice. McClane goes back to being a cop. Matrix rejects the idea of going back to be a soldier.

*** Norvell Page's Flame Winds, which was originally about Prester John in China, became a Conan adventure!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

On Selling My Comic Book Collection, Part 2

In my last post, which was way, way too long ago, I wrote some about the road that brought me to the selling of my comic book collection. Now I'll pick up with part 2...

When I first started entering my comics on Lonestar Comic's website, it was in part just curiousity. Were my comics actually worth anything? Or were they just random packages of paper, taking up space....

The answer is that they were worth something, but very few of them were worth anything much. A few of my G.I. Joe comics were worth between 50-100 dollars, as they came from late in the Marvel run and had not been collected. But most of the comics were worth maybe half or a quarter of what I paid for them, if I was lucky.

But I wasn't looking to get what I'd paid for them. I was just looking to free up space, to remove clutter, to have one less box to move the next time I changed apartments. And if I could pick up spending money while I did it, so much the better.

So I started the purge. First to go were a large chunk of the comics I had purchased since going off to college. I sold off a ton of Nu/New Marvel and countless DC reboots and "new" takes on iconic properties. I can't say I really felt anything at them going. I'd enjoyed many of them on the first read-through, but very few had ever earned a re-read or even a second thought.

Then, on a visit home, I started culling the old collection: the crappy to mediocre '90s comics that I had cut my teeth on: Spider-Man's clones, Wolverine without a nose, GI Joes fighting Transformers... I felt a small nostalgic twinge (and I held on to the first few comics I had purchased), but I never read them. They gave me a warm fuzzy feeling when I thought of them, but they just took up space in my parents' house and I didn't really enjoy the actual things. Goodbye to those.

At this point, I started cutting deeper and deeper. I said goodbye to reprints of stuff that had been reprinted in better editions and poor condition Silver Age comics that I'd purchased just to feel like I was a serious collector. These I felt more uncomfortable with letting go, but whatever the problems of the comic book market today, it's relatively easy to get quality reprints of everything from Ditko and Kirby monster comics to Flex Mentallo (!).

I'm not going to claim that there weren't moments of sadness as I did this. But this wasn't like the little kid in Puff the Magic Dragon saying goodbye to his imaginary friend. These were things that brought me very little joy, except in the abstract or in my memories. Other people wanted them and other people might enjoy them. And in return, I would get money to spend on creating new memories or received trade credit I used to get comics I had never read.

And as I went through my collection, I rediscovered the comics that I did enjoy. And even as I said goodbye to a large portion of my collection, I remembered the joy they had given me at the time I bought them.

Selling off my comics, strangely enough, made me more interested in reading comics than I had been in ages.

Monday, April 16, 2012

On selling off my comic book collection...

So, about a year, year and a half ago, I decided to start selling off my comic book collection.

I've been collecting comic books since I was probably about 5, starting with G.I. Joe, moving on to Spider-Man and Wolverine, then finally onto the Silver Age stuff and collecting specific artists and writers (Morrison, Steranko, Kirby, Moore, Ellis, etc.). I kept buying regularly through college and, while I lived in Chicago, I kept a pull-list at Comix Revolution, then Graham Crackers (both great stores, in their own ways).

By the time I moved to Los Angeles, I had about three long boxes and 5 short boxes of comics with me, and another 6 long boxes back at my parent's house in North Carolina, roughly amounting to about three thousand comics or so. I never really bothered counting or keeping track, though I could usually tell you where to find a specific item in my idiosyncratically organized collection.

As I was preparing to move out to Los Angeles, I started selling off old textbooks and a large portion of my music collection. I had finally realized that 90% of those textbooks were never going to be of any use to me, and even the few books that might be, for some minor point of reference, could be reserved through the library or borrowed. And I had already burned copies of most of my CDs.

I had already quit my office job in the Loop. And though I had savings, I found that you end up doing a lot more (and spending more money) when you don't get home from work too tired to do anything except watch TV. Once or twice a week, I'd go to Beck's Books or a record store near Belmont and Broadway, and usually walk out with $15-20 (at least). Anything I couldn't get rid of, I gave to Open Books, a wonderful Chicago-based charity.

I was cutting down on moving expenses (somewhat) and bringing in pocket money. By the time I moved to Los Angeles, I was down to about two full bookshelves worth of books, mostly sentimental items, important reference works, or things I hadn't read yet.

After the move to Los Angeles, I realized how much stuff I still had. I kept winnowing down my CD collection further and further (since I was still looking for a job, filling the gap with the occasional temp assignment). And I realized, after the movers delivered some of my comic boxes already opened or ruined, that I wasn't re-reading most of those floppy pamphlets at all. I'd read them once, enjoyed them, then filed them away with the other issues of GENERIC SUPERHERO CHARACTER.

It was about this time that I stumbled back across Lone Star Comic's online website, which includes a buying site that allows you to inventory your collection, as well as get a quote for the items they're looking for. And given how OCD I am, I couldn't resist the urge to verify the value (or lack thereof) of my collection, as well as the size and completeness of it. It was almost like a game...

Tomorrow: Part 2, in which I talk about parting with all these treasured possessions, and how it wasn't as sad as I thought it would be...

Thursday, March 29, 2012


I've been blogging a lot more at the Tumblr. I just posted a pretty in-depth thing about David Fincher's THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO.

I should say, I think David Fincher is a talented director. But not only does this movie have an awful attitude about sex and feminism (while pretending to be progressive), it's a long and rather boring movie.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Department of new ventures....

So I've started a tumblr blog as an offshoot to the Mr. K enterprise.

The tumblr blog will be more of a place for flash fiction and occasionally snarky images, whereas this site will remain devoted mostly to criticism, thought pieces and reviews.

Check out the tumblr now for the beginning of a continuing series called "A Tomb for Hugo Gernsback."

A little hint to you blog-fans: this first series of short flash fiction is inspired by Borges, Bolano and Danilo Kis.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Blog Department of Burying the Lede, Tyler Cowen Edition

Some of you long-time "Mr. K" fans (if such a creature exists) might remember when I blogged about Tyler Cowen's writing on arts and capitalism. It won't surprise you that I continue to follow his blog Marginal Revolution, which he co-writes with Alex Tabarrok.

While I don't agree with all of his conclusions or understand some of the headier economic material, he usually has some interesting conclusions. For example, in the midst of a post about a book by Charles Murray about the upper class and middle/lower classes diverging in America, he dropped this bomb, which makes sense, but which I'd never thought of before:

 The liberation of American women also damaged the quality of public education, by removing the implicit subsidy of so many “captive” and smart female laborers. 
 Perhaps part of the reason that the quality of public education has declined in relation to previous generations, is because the wages of public school teachers were only competitive for women when they had little hope of any other trade.

I know there are arguments that, for unionized teachers, benefits are actually pretty good, but those benefits accrue after the teachers have been there for a while and penalize entry-level teachers.

I think it's a good thing that smart people of both genders can now contribute to all fields. However, I wonder if part of the knee-jerk bias against the teacher side of the education debates is due to the fact that, prior to the "liberation of American women", teaching was often identified as a woman's job and the people holding those positions for a while were often considered "old maids".

Monday, January 30, 2012

The money will roll right in...

I went to go see "Under the Big Black Sun", the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art's exhibit of modern art from 1974-1981 on Saturday. It was a free day for most of Los Angeles' museums, so I figured I would make the most of it with a journey downtown, via train, through the barren wastelands of Downtown LA on the weekend, to Little Tokyo.

Now, with an exhibition named after an album by LA punk band X, and scheduled events involving Henry Rollins and another one involving X performing with the Dead Kennedys and the Avengers, you'd think this would be a very punk-centric exhibit.

Well, actually, if you know much about punk, the fact that MOCA is honoring the LA arts scene in the punk era with performances by two SAN FRANCISCAN punk bands would probably be a warning that we're going to get a very selective and self-serving exhibit.

And that's exactly what we get. The main portion of the exhibit is devoted to the expected modern art conceptual pieces, recordings of performance art and video pieces, strange abstract stuff, and borderline tongue-in-cheek anthropological photography.

And then, shoved into two rooms in the very back of the building, hidden behind an unrelated exhibition on Theaster Gates and Civil Rights, are the majority of the punk pieces.

Which amount to two Gary Panter pieces, some random collective propaganda art (for benefits or protests, etc.) and a wall of Raymond Pettibon art.

So MOCA has basically segregated the punk rock culture items from the rest of the modern art. And I don't totally blame them.

Because while one or two pieces of the main exhibit are "creative" or "interesting", most of it disappeared from my mind the instant I walked away. But the Gary Panter art and the Raymond Pettibon art stuck. Pettibon's pop-art/Chick-tract/comic book-damaged art especially is a million times more shocking, scary and witty than anything in the rest of the exhibit. If you put any Raymond Pettibon flyer next to a series of matches placed on top of quarters representing the Soviet armored cavalry (no, I'm not joking), I doubt you'd really care about the latter.

And, strangely enough, MOCA must realize what the real draw is, because in addition to a marketing campaign trying to springboard off of punk, 9/10ths of the gift shop is given over to punk memorabilia. You don't see any coffee table books about left-wing post-modernists who white out newspaper headlines or take blurry stills from inaugural videos. You see copies of Black Flag's discography and oral histories of punk.

I don't think there's any question that punk is an art form, not a revolution, at this point. But it's hilarious that, even as co-opted and compromised as it is, it still has more lifeblood than your average piece of contemporary art.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Quick "I'm still here post"

Just wanted to say "hi" to all you out in blogland. I haven't forgotten you, I swear!

This blog isn't going to go live on a farm with Firefly and Community and mainstream horror movies that aren't found footage.

So I'm just going to post some of the crazy search terms that get people to my blog:

"psychedelic prison" - probably because of my post on Joseph Losey's Modesty Blaise post. Or that's what the internet thinks my blog is.

"united trash" and "united trash movie" - well, there probably aren't many reviews of this movie, especially since it doesn't appear to have received any official American release, much less one with accurate subtitles.

"cornucopia wow" - either I mentioned World of Warcraft at some point, or people are just really impressed by this blog.

"galactus vs celestials" - I'm going with the Celestials, since they can hold entire worlds in their dreaming subconscious.

"it rains on the just and the unjust movie" "it rains on the just and the unjust alike" - because of my thoughts on Watchmen and my love of that quote, I guess.

"silver surfer 1970s" - well, John Buscema's art is definitely still amazing, but Stan Lee's scripts haven't held up as well.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The past is a foreign country...

I recently watched the two hour pilot of Showtime's The Borgias (I know, welcome to 2010, Mr. K) and the first two episodes of Roberto Rossellini's Age of The Medicis, which was produced as a three part miniseries on Italian television in the 1970s.

Both shows dealing with politics in the Italian Renaissance, both helmed by talented directors (Neil Jordan serving as the show-runner for the Borgias, as well as director for the pilot), and the two could not be more dissimilar.

The Borgias wavers somewhere between crime drama and sumptuous, sexy costume melodrama. It certainly has its moments (Irons is a little uneven, but he plays Pope Alexander as a charismatic, corrupt man who is utterly sincere about his belief in the power of the Church and God), but, as my Lovely Girlfriend put it, "well, at least during the boring parts, there's something pretty on screen to look at."

Which definitely sums up the aesthetic of The Borgias. Lots of beautiful naked bodies, lots of beautiful clothing, artwork and architecture, plus lots of sex and blood (which is usually deployed in beautiful ways). But also frequently boring.

And while it's never easy to figure out how accurately a pilot represents the rest of a series, you'd be hard-pressed to convince me that The Borgias is going to totally do away with the Bloody Sexy History. What's most disappointing about the approach is the way that it just sort of flattens the lechery, venery and blood-lust, when it's all sex and violence, all the time.

In contrast, Rossellini's Age of the Medicis is a much more austere and glacially paced production. Rossellini's favorite device is to stage scenes like tableaus out of Renaissance artwork, with the actors merely an element of mise en scene. Unlike The Borgias, where everyone is usually manipulating or murdering or making love, but rarely working, the majority of the action in Age of the Medicis takes place while people are going about their daily work.

Even as Cosimo de Medici is making his triumphant return into Florence, for example, someone still has to go down to the local pawn shop and redeem his supporters' goods from the pawnbrokers. At one point, the Weaver's Guild commissions an assassin to do away with someone in a nearby town who is infringing on their patents. But that only happens after a scene where they analyze what production technique is being used, who had patented it, examining the recordbooks to see who could have passed along the information, etc.

The Age of the Medicis often feels closer in kinship to one of Peter Watkins "You Are There"-style faux-documentaries, where he approaches hypothetical or historical situations with the austerity and impartiality of a modern-day documentary film-maker.

That's not to say The Age of the Medicis doesn't have beauty. Rossellini's Florence is less ornate than Jordan's Rome, but Rossellini has a better eye for detail in the positioning of groups of actors, the atmosphere of their settings, and he is more adventuresome with his camera, sending it roving through a workshop, or panning across the various factions attending a funeral.

Perhaps the one aspect in which The Age of the Medicis suffers compares to The Borgias is, oddly enough, in its treatment of the female characters. The Borgias' female characters are not given as much to do or as much depth as the male characters, and too much of their characterization depends on their sexual desires. But women are really only extras or bit players in The Age of the Medicis. My guess is that, given that Rossellini's script seems heavily based on primary sources and focused on day-to-day business, it's bias towards the masculine sphere is understandable. At the same time, given the effort put into portraying not only the power-brokers but also the common men and bourgeois, it is disappointing.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

This is the end, beautiful friend, the end...

So my talented and funny friend Brock Wilbur has just started an amazing series of reviews on movies about the apocalypse or post-apocalypse (though he missed out by not calling it the A-Brock-Alypse). You can see the first post here.

But it reminded me of how many post-apocalyptic films there are, even if you exclude zombie movies totally.

Off the top of my head, here are some interesting post-apocalyptic films I've seen:
Pulse (the Japanese version, not the American remake)
Virus (the Japanese film starring Chuck Connors and Toshiro Mifune, not that American film about a possessed ship or something)
Panic in the Year Zero (a rather fascinating '50s examination of the aftermath of a nuclear war, hidden in a B-movie)
The War Game (the Peter Watkins faux-documentary that got commissioned and then banned by the BBC)
The Mad Max films
Six-String Samurai

Here are some post-apocalyptic films I have yet to see, but want to:
On the Beach
When the Wind Blows (supposed to be really really heartbreaking)
Steel Dawn (Fistful of Dollars in the post-apocalypse!)
The Road
The Day After
Defcon-4 (though the title is misleading. Defcon 1 should be the one that makes you scared)...

Brock is going to be reviewing some 52 films in total! I'm looking forward to seeing what he reviews, as such a large number will require going beyond the usual suspects, as well as zombie films and Italian Mad Max rip-offs (I'm looking at you, Warrior of the Lost World!).