31 December, 2011

See You in Hell, 2011!

19 December, 2011

How You Know I've Been Drinkin'

I am listening to old Irish and Scottish tradtionals. Guard my weakness, would you, reader?

Happy Afghan-mas

I don’t think the Taliban could ever come back. I mean the foreign soldiers are here now so they can’t. All they can do is blow themselves up. Let them.

--An Afghan Fortune Teller.

It's funny in a way. I'd travel to Afghanistan if it wasn't so fucked up, but that's more or less the only reason I'd ever care about the place.

14 December, 2011

Hanna: Or How To Do That Rogue Super-Assassin Movie Right

Before even finishing watching Hanna my first instinct was to compare it with Drive. There's a lot of similarities to be found-- They're both directed by Europeans who are aping American blockbusters, they both came out this year, they're both modern fairy tales, they're both ostensibly genre films with a deep well of artsty-what-have-you, both have excellent soundtracks, and both have a really stellar kill with a length of pipe. A younger version of myself that had to finish a paper would have gone along for the ride. He also might have tried to wedge something about, I don't know, realism into the mix. Also, at the time of writing the first draft of this I was pretty drunk and the whole mess got away from me. It's probably for the best, I'm sure.

Now, before I get into it, the more important argument than any of this is that you should really watch the hell out of both of them. So unless you want to indulge me in my prolonged. . . I don't know what, exactly, then leave now. Go. Go now. Gone? Good. Then it's just me and the dogs in my head that won't stop barking. The reality is that the only way I could square writing about Hanna-- or Drive-- was to couch it in film schoolic nonsense, when I should have taken a breath and realized that it should be enough that it is a very good movie.

What I like about Hanna is that it takes a pretty simple premise and manages to twist it and turn it enough so that it's a better product than the sum of its parts.

On the surface it's a rogue spy movie and underneath that it's just Red Riding Hood. Neither is a particularly complex concept, but there's a reason movies and TV and books and comics and stories told around the campfire keep on coming back to premises as simple as this is because there is something in the human brain that finds it compelling. There's a reason that operas about three thousand year old legends are still being performed and that a new edition of Beowulf comes out every couple of years and it isn't because Adolf Hitler is running an endowment for the fine arts.

On the one hand you can make a hackneyed version of that familiar story and on the other hand there is something immensely satisfying about seeing that old tale told in a new and clever way. The simplicity of Hanna is probably it's greatest flaw. Despite that it still manages to be smarter, more fun, funnier, and more touching than the majority of the high-budget action films it would share a shelf with. At the very least if you want to see a young super-assassin take out a bunch of Euro-trash, this is the movie to see.

One of the reasons this modern fairytale stands out is its European in their style and sensibilities. That probably sounds like an obnoxious thing to say and it probably is, but give me a second here, I'm going to be complimentary. That's a sort of amorphous thing to say and I also realize that calling something "European" or "American" is usually just a code word for some sort of national hostility, in this case I mean it in a positive way. Hanna just feels like a kind of an action movie that could have only been made by Europeans in Europe (though I'm willing to bet that this had no little amount of American money involved in it).

Obviously that might have something to do with the cast, the setting, and the amount of electronica in the soundtrack. Personally I'd like to think I'm a little more cultured than that.

Also, on a base level, it is fun to see a movie where the people with the European accents are the good guys and the person with the over-blown American accent is the bad guy. You don't need to go far to find the opposite is usually the case. There are worse gimmicks to be hooked by.

This is a poster. Stare at it.

Looking at the basic ingredients of Hanna you can see how a lesser director and a stupid cast and crew might have made Bourne Identity: Teenage Edition instead. The movie is allowed to be a little messy and quiet in a way that a bigger budget movie wouldn't allow and it also avoids being just a cheaper version of those films, as well. By applying some sort of weird art judo Hanna, like its titular character, manages to beat the hell out of its bigger competitors by never actually directly competing with them.

Most of the time you see a foreign production make a straight attempt on an American genre it winds up being a version that's made with less money and by someone who doesn't quite get why the genre works in the first place. It's like listening to the Japanese play rock music or the French play the blues. It's a grotesquerie and I'll have no part in it. And just to put it in perspective, do you really want to see an American studio make a Bollywood musical or a comedy of manners?

The best translations of American genres are the ones that take what's good about those films and put their own spin on it. In the case of Bande A Part, Jean-Luc Godard took the American hard boiled novel and the film noir and managed to make a fun and resisted the urge to do a cheap press-plate copy*. The best comparison I can think of is a good cover version of the song-- If I wanted to listen to somebody sound exactly like Bob Dylan, I'll just go and listen to him-- you have to do something different in order to make it worthwhile.

Hanna proves a lesson to which the studios are completely resilient to, which is that you don't have to make a fun popcorn film and make it dumb, as well. You'd think The Dark Knight and Inception especially would be good enough argument for that. As the parade of board game movies and sequels carry on shitting up our streets and making us collectively dumber as a species, it proves that these studios and executives not only aren't listening but that they hate you.

Hanna, and Drive, as well, cost a fraction of the price that the average crime or action or chase film. It also made back twice its budget, which is pretty much the most important factor in all of this. I'm not one to argue for making art for art's sake, so when you see good movies becoming profitable and yet the tide of nonsense seems to only accelerate, it starts to feel like a Kafka story. I mean, if being well made and well liked and profitable isn't enough of an argument, then what the fuck do you even want?

And another thing, if you're spending two-hundred fifty million dollars on a movie and it isn't as good as a movie that cost thirty, what is all of that money going towards? Cocaine and Red Bull can't cost that much.

I was looking at this article about Amazon dot com and there was a line I read which just kind of confirmed something I've been hearing for a while, which is "[w]hen you try to have a conversation with the new Hollywood, it quickly becomes clear that you’re talking about movies and they’re talking about refrigerators."

It makes me hope that at least at this point in history while most film studios are looking to make fridges, there might be some relict community in Europe that still want to make movies. That's probably not true, I realize. I just want to believe it is.

But none of this has to do with anything.

Arctic mountain girl assassin is a good look. I predict a trend.

Besides the genre-bending going on, there's scene in Hanna that I think all of us would recognize as a standard pillow-talk scene between two lovers. In fact, I'm positive I've seen this scene in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Except that instead of it being two lovers talking at point blank range under a sheet, it's two teenage girls.

The amazing thing is that even when one character kisses the other, it isn't creepy or weird or tinged by any sort of lechery. It's a legitimate sign of one person loving another. It's beautiful. Where this movie differs from the standard action-thriller can't be numbered, but this scene sticks out in my head the most, because while this is an ass-kicking, fuck-you-up, fugitive/chase/assassin movie, it's still about a little girl lost in the woods who found a friend.

I guess the fact that this scene is set-up in such a way and is not intended in any way to inflict boners gets me to believe that there is something greater at work. That this is so casually put in and then tossed away leads me also to believe that there's an alternative way of looking at things that doesn't involve dude boners or lady boners poking all over the place or being completely asexual.

I mean you've got people who have access to nude beaches making films, occasionally there's going to be some fissures between them and us in terms of what's normal. Or what is inappropriately titillating. One can only imagine what the Brett Ratner version of this movie would look like.

On second thought, don't.

Cate Blanchett points her weapon and ludicrous Southern accent at persons unknown.

Watching the special features, I also realize that the movie is better edited than most high budget affairs, in that, when people are fighting, I can actually tell that two people are fighting. What a concept.

Over the past ten or so years the art of editing an action sequence as gone from a coherent narrative to something akin to blurred objects fucking for a third of a second at a time. It's a shame and-- I, in no uncertain terms blame Sir Ridley Scott for all of this-- luckily Hanna manages to escape that trap. It's odd that we're at a point in our evolution where putting together a fight scene so that the human eye can comprehend it is an aesthetic choice.

Tom Hollander just straight up being a boss with his sexually ambiguous skinhead henchmen.

So what have we all learned here? I don't know, I kind of lost track of it here. I guess what I'm getting at is that if you're going to make an action movie make sure that you have a competent director who is maybe from Europe. They seem to know a thing or two about using a smaller budget and also maybe story telling. And if you're going to make a movie that could quite easily fall into the realm of cliche or camp make sure you at least pack it full of well done action and fine performances. Also, I am kind of angry with the status quo of the movie industry. Again, fifty years ago one of the biggest movies ever made starred an Egyptian and was about a Russian poet who cheats on his wife. Today it is about people who jerk off to close-up shots of cars for a third of a second at a time.

Oh, also, the soundtrack deserves a mention. Composed by the Chemical Brothers also known as "That one electronica band nobody really has a problem with" and "Not, that's the Dust Brothers you're thinking of, they also do electronica music," the original score is pretty darn delightful just on its own. When inserted into the film it gives the subject a kind of light-heartedness and a playfulness that works perfectly with what's on the screen. Hanna isn't a perfect film but there are few movies I can think of recently where the soundtrack works with the visuals as in this film.

The music comes into the frame, so to speak, at just the right moments and isn't so overbearing that it telegraphs to the audience "We're doing something, you should be impressed right now," which is maybe a voice only I hear in my head, though I'm sure it's an experience we've all seen and heard in films (I'm going to blame oh, I don't know, David Fincher for that one. Yeah. He can take it. He'll be alright). It's like a character on its own, but it's not about to upstage anyone.

Anyways--If you want a sleek European action movie you could do worse. Go and see Hanna. You deserve a fun movie and it deserves the audience. It's the kind of movie I can't wait until my niece and nephew are old enough to watch.

On that note, let's let the Drive soundtrack play us out--

Yeah. That hits the spot.

And this fun little scene--

Horse hockey, they cut out the best line in this scene!

SUB-NOTE: Seriously, the worst thing about Hanna is that the title isn't an anagram. Would it have hurt them s much to add an H on the end?

SECOND SUB-NOTE: I couldn't find a place in the essay for this, but I'd like to point out that both movies have a pretty stellar kills with a pipe. A good year for elaborate pipe kills.

THIRD SUB-NOTE: Oh shit that's the guy from In the Loop and The Thick of It! Holy shit! I thought he was just some German weirdo they picked up off the streets. I love this movie!

FOURTH SUB-NOTE: Another thing I cut out before this "went to print" (laugh to self, wipe tear away) is how because this movie was basically a version of Red Riding Hood, but with paramilitary and espionage what have you inserted into the story it therefore shared some DNA with the Japanese film Jin-Roh.

FINAL SUB-NOTE: I just recently finished Fantastic Mr. Fox. I didn't care for it at all. I'm fairly certain everyone who thinks it's brilliant is insane, but looking at the negative reviews, I can't say anything kinder about the people who didn't like it. There is a weird anti-American sentiment regarding the movie, as though this fairly inocuous movie was final straw in an Anglo-American culture war that we didn't even know existed (which I'm sure pisses these passive-agressive English people to no end). It's a crazy thing to read consider that Wes Anderson is hardly the most bombastic or American film maker I can think of. "Oh that Anderson fella, always being loud and making overweight films!" I mean, really? Wes Anderson? That's the strawman you're going to burn for bastardizing your culture? Blegh. Idiots.

*Actually, thinking about it, the film noir is one of the few American genres that foreigners seem to do just as well. Hmmm. I might have to recalibrate my thoughts on this. Westerns are another good example-- Sergio Leone took the cowboy movie and injected it with an operatic glee that his American counterparts never had. Then again how corny are the movies that are trying to copy Leone? You know what? In general: Don't go around copying people if you suck.

25 November, 2011


Finally. Somebody's been paying attention to all of my letters to the editor!

23 November, 2011

DVD Extras: Or How I Suddenly Got Bored With Things Behind the Camera

I don't know what happened, but I really don't give a shit about DVD extras any more. Or Blu-Ray extras, either.

I think maybe having to return Netflix discs so quickly is one of the factors. Plus, with so many movies on Instant or some sort of stream, I don't have access to them any more. They're all kind of disappeared from my view and now, going back, they strike me as vestigial parts of a movie. How ridiculous is the appendix, anyways?

Ah, whatever. I just don't care anymore, you know?

And to tell you the truth, I don't think the people who work on DVD extras give a shit any more. There's only so many hours in a day that you can stare at a casting director or the sub-assistant to the composer talk about what a visionary whoever is. They won't tell you anything because they want to work again. Or maybe they're nice people. Or maybe they don't know a goddamn thing. Or, more likely, they filmed 90% of this crap before the movie was even finished so they're basically only talking about a screenplay and a few dailies with the guy who filmed Batman (or whatever. I hope I don't sound like I'm picking on Christopher Nolan).

The only extras that I really hold out for are director's commentaries. That and actual documentaries-- like Hearts of Darkness (which is actually a film, but I think it's since been absorbed into the singularity that is the Apocalpse Now: Redux: Special Edition: Blu-Ray Vol. 1).

When there are good extras they're typically of older films. Nobody is looking to speak candidly about what a slave driver Christopher Nolan is or what a fool Zack Snyder is, but David Lean? Otto Preminger? Total assholes. The both of them. That's when it gets good. When you get a combination of old people with a grudge who are starved for attention. That makes for good DVD extras. That and the son from the director's first wife-- you know, the one he left for the star of his picture. That guy is always good.

There has to be some level of energy or distance between the movie and its extras otherwise, well, who gives a shit? As interesting as it might be to figure out how they did the flood sequence in the castle in Inception, if you can tell me that story in one paragraph or less I don't feel that it needs to be on the Special Features. I guess that might explain why the Criterion Collection seems to consistently have such good extras on their films. Right down to the packaging and the booklet that comes with it (which in most cases is an actual booklet, not some flimsy pamphlet with the fucking chapter titles on it). Though, as I'm sure you all know, most companies are not the Criterion Collection.

I used to literally watch every single special feature on a movie I bought. Or rented, for that matter. Either I suddenly became more cynical (possible) or I realized how fluffy most of these features actually are (also possible). I guess I also have a lot more important things to do than watch bad camcorder footage of John Travolta or whoever standing by while a scene is being filmed.

The worst I've ever heard was for The Proposition, which is one of my favorite films of all time, in which Nick Cave literally leaves in the middle of the commentary to grab a smoke.

Come on, Nick Cave, try and give a shit, will you? I only bought your fucking movie.

22 November, 2011

I Done Helped Do a Thing

It is a commercial for a Dorito's contest.

It's so good I almost don't have to vomit.

20 November, 2011

I Imagine Hell is Somewhere Close to Here

Guatemala City-- Where people make their living hunting through the "Mine," a massive heap of garbage, looking for scrap metal.

Hell Yeah

Handmade Portraits: The Sword Maker from Etsy on Vimeo.

I think I could watch old avuncular looking dudes make katanas all damn day. You hear me, deep cable? Katana Channel. Hop to it.

19 November, 2011

I don't know that I get this

But I do know this is pretty damn amazing.

09 November, 2011

I am Basically Down For Everything

This seems like a movie worth watching for three reasons: A) At one point Luc Besson was a great director, B) Michelle Yeoh [sic] is a fine actor, even when she isn't laying down roundhouse kicks, and C) Fuck the government of Burma. If it wasn't for them we wouldn't have had Rambo 4.

07 November, 2011

This Hits All the Right Buttons

The Good The Bad And The Queen - Official Promo 2009 from Stephen Pook on Vimeo.

When you wonder who knows how to rock, don't ever doubt the Sufists.

11 October, 2011

Death Be Not An Asshole

"Yeah, I know where to fucking land, Death and this is the last fucking time you're bony ass hitches a ride with me I swear to God."

(via X-Planes)

Deja Vu

It's probably treja vu by now, but I don't write here much anymore. That's because I'm working. Or I'm eating. Or I'm drinking. Or I'm writing other things that aren't blogs (no offense). Plus I'm not in a position to be blogging at work, any more. But you don't care. I know I barely care and I'm here busy being me.

What you care about are rad pictures. Like this one--


Damn. I want Fallout 4 pretty badly. I hope to hell they use the Rage engine. That'd be sick as all get out.

(pic via here.)

29 September, 2011

I am Obsessed with This Song

I reminds me of my time in Shadow Moses Island. Makes me pine for the old days of find keycards in rats and watching scientists pee their pants.

The good old days in other words.

19 September, 2011

I Won't Waste Your Time

But everyone within the sound of my voice should see Drive. Please. This is one of the good ones. This is what I got int movies for. Movies like this are why I love movies.

I would speak further on this, but I really want to make a podcast episode specifically about this movie because it is truly a wonderful film. It has everything a good movie should have. It's well shot, it's well acted, it has a good story, a good plot, and as meditative as it might get, or as slow as it might become, it injects incredible scenes of-- I wouldn't even call it action-- momentum. The movie moves.

And that's what movies should do. They should fucking move. At all times, in all circumstances, they should move.

Drive does that.

I cannot wait to see it again with my dad.

How to Dress Like a Victorian Soldier

This is incredibly useful for research, you really have no idea.

I'm obsessed with the Victorian Era as a rule anyways, but it helps that I've been writing a story that involves Victorian soldiers for about. . . oh, three years? And it feels like every other week I find out something new that I didn't know before. It's kind of depressing, the fact that you're staking your intelligence and talent on something that you don't really understand or can't understand or won't understand.

There's a lot of gaps in knowledge regarding the era and setting I'm writing about and it isn't like Vietnam or WWII or even the modern era where everything is mechanically recorded and filed away. Back then, good luck. If you've got a question about leather work or dungarees or the jackets on ammunition good fucking luck, pal.

Even uniforms are horrific to figure out. That is only because I feel like if I were British, it would be something I would know. As it stands it's a vast, goddamn mystery. I feel like a fool not knowing the most basic make-up of the Victorian soldier. My only solace is that there's some lame British kid living in Northhampton trying to write a story about the Civil War and keeps hitting his head against the wall.

I can only pray this is how life works for everyone else.

16 September, 2011

Finally, a Channel for Me

Fox is considering putting together an all-Simpsons channel.

Please let this come to pass.

(You can't tell, but I'm praying to a waffle stuck on the ceiling.)

14 September, 2011

Wake up, Time to Die

If this doesn't make you feel something, then I don't know what will.

Maybe nude photos of ScarJo? I don't know, I'm not God.

(via The Economist/War is Boring.)

08 September, 2011

The Good Life Can Never Die

MOOSE MAYDAY: A seemingly intoxicated moose was discovered entangled in an apple tree in Gothenburg, Sweden, Tuesday. Per Johansson, 45, said he heard a roar from the garden and found the moose. The animal may have gotten drunk from eating fermented apples. (Per Johansson/Associated Press)

(via the Wall Street Journal.)

06 September, 2011

The Beastie Boys Appreciate the Finer Things

HOROVITZ: We picture ourselves as being in France, recording in mansions and castles with truffle dogs sniffing around outside. Really, though, we’re just schlepping on the train in New York. I am going to be an affineur one day and make cheese, though. I’m just throwing that out there, so when it happens you’ll have had the scoop on that.

DIAMOND: Adam took a course at Murray’s Cheese Shop in the West Village.

HOROVITZ: It was Cheese 101. It was this cheese class, and they teach about the cheeses, but they put out different wines and champagne and stuff, and then me and my wife just drank all the booze first. I don’t remember what happened after that, but it was good.

You heard it here first.

25 August, 2011

It's Happening Again!

Dear Inceptors/Haruki Murakami protagonists/hypothetical older brothers, Please stop reading my dreams/dream journals/calling cowboys gay.

Prinicpal Skinner best of / Vietnam flashbacks / monologues

Skinner was a lot better when he was a high-strung 'Nam vet.

You know the saddest thing about this is when The Simpsons celebrates its 40th year, he's going to be a high-strung Afghan War veteran.

23 August, 2011

Let Me Clear My Throat

I think everything that's been said about Captain America (2011) has already been said and been said by smarter, more distinguished, or more angry people than I. There isn't anything significant for me to add-- and that goes without the understanding that, like, two people read this blog. Instead of an actual review, instead I'm going to give you a list of complaints, grievances, and nitpicks about the film-- A film which I thought was pretty damn good.

But who the hell wants to read a list about me praising a movie this profitable and critically well regarded, especially at this late in the game?

Instead I'm going to go on and on about the little things in the movie I noticed.

Agent Smith Is Not Werner Herzog
His German accent is clearly Jurgen Prochnow of Das Boot and Beerfest fame.


Listen carefully. Use your ears. Use your heart. You'll see that I'm right.

And, bonus, here is Jurgen being the voice of reason, for once. It does him no good.

Oh Jurgen, never change!

Also: I completely forgot that Black Dad, Gay Dad luminary Ian "Ian McClellan" McKellan was in that movie. Good for him.

Who the Fuck Are All These Black People?
While I'll agree that racial integration is one of the better thing to happen within the past fifty years are we really so delusional as to believe that black people were this casually included in the war effort? Or even that they were allowed into the same recruiting office as honest, decent white Americans? Apparently in this 1940's, yup.

I don't mind the scene where Captain is recruiting his seven samurai, because it makes sense that there would be POWs from all sorts of different ethnicities-- it isn't as though slave laborers were all that worried about racial integrity. That I buy-- and I even buy it in the comics, I totally buy into the fact that a maniac like Nick Fury was more concerned with putting Fritz in the ground than with who was going to marry his sister (which was a white guy and they made a horrible person that he hates**).

See? He fucked them anyways. No racial enmity there. No discrimination. He fought a whole army that wanted nothing but blonds in the world and he'll still throw them a bone.

Nick Fury is America's most tolerant murder machine.

Anyways, what was I saying?

Oh, yeah. While we weren't the Nazis or the Italians or the Japanese in terms of racial theories or actions, we did have Jim Crow laws and for the most part African Americans were relegated to the rear and to menial jobs. In only a few cases (ie: The Buffalo Soldiers and the Tuskegee Airmen) were black people allowed to actually fight in the war.

The black struggle during WWII is one of the important narratives of that period in history. It's a precursor to the civil rights movement of the 1960's. I expect to be sold a false bill of goods in regards to language or timelines or, you know, the Nazi super-science division, but when it comes to actual people and their actual struggles I can't help but feel that something is being trod upon.

What gets me the most is that the World's Fair was included in a Captain America comic and there was a point made specifically about how the Fair had a "Negro Day" during its run! (Also: Hey, remember this episode of White Guys, Square Glasses?_

Nice Slits.
This film is art designed to a T. It really is. I was listening to Jordan, Jesse, Go! and they were talking about the Art Deco as Future aesthetic and I don't quite agree with that. While there's an obvious genetic connection to The Rocketeer, this movie does exist on its own as a work of art in terms of its aesthetics. As many references as their might be-- either real or imagines-- it does exist as a well put together and original looking piece of work.

The fact that Johann Schmidtt's super-car (which reminds me of this Porsche designed Mercedes-Benz, which I means it's a Third Reich hat trick) bothers to have air-raid guards on its headlights proves to me that the people who made this knew enough about the war.

Air-Raid Guards-- or whatever the hell the actual name is-- are these pieces of metal or whatever that went over headlights during the war. They were the size of the headlight, but had a horizontal slit in the middle of the cap so as to allow a small plain of light through the headlight without illuminating the whole street. You see this a lot in English cars during the Battle of Britain, the reason for them being that you could drive at night without lighting up the whole neighborhood to German bombers.

If this movie got nothing else right, it's the art design.

Turn Off Your Goddamn Lights!
If you didn't know, I know a thing or two about a thing or two. One of those is proper flying procedures over enemy territory. Keeping your cabin lights on while flying over territory that is looking for something to shoot down is bad form. It tends to get you shot down. Shot down by Nazis. Repeatedly. And then executed because you're a "commando" in plain cloths.

So, even though it'll screw up your film stock, it's a sacrifice we all had to make**.

See? Even Predator got that detail right. What gives, Cap?

And that movie is retarded.

Choose a Goddamn Medium!
When I went and saw Public Enemies in theaters with my friend Joe (yes, that Joe), he came out of the movie complaining about how it kept on switching between film and digital. I thought he was crazy at the time. That was until I saw this film.

I don't know if it was shot entirely on digital or it switched half-way through (in order to get those sweet, sweet 3D moron dollars) or what, but it drove me nuts. One minute it'd be standard, clean film stock and then the next it looked grainy and smooth in the way that only digital film stock can look. It was distracting. It also coincided with the less emotional second half of the movie, which didn't help.

I saw the film in the proper 2D because, as I said above, I'm not a fucking rube.

The Action Figure Ruin Value.
Alright, I think at this point I was going to draw a clever comparison between Albert Speer's "ruin value" and the horrific drive to make every one of these movies into a nightmare of tertiary marketing.

I'm sure it was clever point. Let's imagine I made it.

Where are the Hobos?
I just watched The 49th Parallel, an Academy Award winning WWII propaganda film staring a cluster of British talent and is filmed and directed by the legendary Powell and Pressburger (who also created one of my favorite WWII movies, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp). There's little to no point in comparing that film with Captain America since they're entirely different kinds of films made under entirely different circumstances (also Cap has less dialogue where the Nazis stop and explain why they're better than you and I while at the same time explaining quite matter of factly why they are not).

Though, having just watched the British movie, I could not help but draw a few comparisons. While most of them are just aesthetic and kind of irrelevant to anyone but myself, one thing stood out. It's their climaxes. In Captain America (I don't think I'm spoiling anything, but in case you're a bit soft in the head, look out) they storm the Nazi super-fortress and in The 49th Parallel, a hobo outsmarts a Nazi.

There's just no comparison. In any movie where a hobo saves a country from fascism, it's the better film. That's just simple math. In what other movie does a drifter manage to defeat one of Adolf Hitler's chosen men?

My point is that as good as Cap might be, it would not have suffered from having more hobos. (There's even a train!)

Do we Really Need to Quote Inglorious Misspellings?
There's a line that crusty ol' Tommy Lee (as Colonel Tommy Lee) that reminds me of the line that Brad Pitt says to his would-be recruits. It's something about personally sending Adolf Hitler to hell. Since there's a two year gap between the movies I can't help but think that maybe that line has lost a bit of its original sting.

I'll give Cap the benefit of the doubt that it's quoting some obscure source material, but aren't you guys strong enough to admit that Tarantino beat you to it? I mean, did you do it better? Oh, yeah, probably, but a gentleman knows when he's beat. If didn't invent it, he certainly owned it. There's certainly more clever lines regarding killing Hiler- in fact this movie had a pretty good one about punching the ol' Austrian peasant, so why double dip?

And let's hope that it wasn't an homage. Christ knows we've got enough of those things bouncing around nowadays and we certainly don't need homages of homages.

Was Dum-Dum Dugan Always American?
Upon a cursory search, yes, but still- how jarring is it to listen to an American outside of a comic book convention wear a bowler hat?

Wait, Who are We Fighting?
"The Nazis."
"How do we know that?"
"I said we were. See? Nazis on the front page."
"But, what. . . what do they do?"
"They attack England mostly off screen in the second-third of the movie. Remember that? Cap was sad about it, pretty much."
"But why are we fighting them?"
"Because they want the Cosmic Cube."
"That isn't a great reason. Is that supposed to be anything?"
"Ugh, God, what are you, thick? We're fighting the Nazis because they have laser guns. And they wear black. Didn't you see them wearing black? That's the bad color."
"I mean, yeah, I guess, but, like, is that the only people we're fighting in the war."
"Oh, yeah, probably."

I'm Not Crying, I Just Love America.

--Because I do, damnit. I really do love the history of this country and I am profoundly interested in World War II. Without getting too weird and patriotic about it, that era strikes a particular chord with me. The fact that there are so many damn WWII movies, I think, goes to show that at least a few other people feel the same way. I know that at least Steven Spielberg agrees with me, for whatever that's worth.

In the case of Captain America, it managed to mix my envy and empathy for the Greatest Generation with my natural American affection for the underdog. . . one that just wants to do good despite being sensitive and severly underweight for his height.

Not that I get it, because that'd be super queer.

Who is This Bucky Fella?
Maybe I built it up too much in my mind, but Bucky's death felt like the mortal equivalent of whiskey dick. There's this whole big build-up, this big tease-- at least to me, because I'm the guy who imagines that everything is a Destroyer reference-- and then. . . nothing. It's the most anticlimactic death I've seen in a long time. It's like is Claudius had a heart attack off screen or if Darth Vader died in a traffic accident. It's so. . . lame. It's nothing.

I mean, he falls? That's it? That's not how Bucky dies. Bucky dies in a fucking drone explosion flying over the North Sea. He blows up.

He fucking explodes.

I'm not the guy to bitch about adaptations especially not when it comes to this property. My experience comes exclusively from Brubaker and Epting's run and that's hardly the definitely impression of Cap n' Bucky's journey through violent Europe. My problem has to do with how it was handled in the film. By comparing it to how it's handled in the comic (well, a dozen comics), we can see how it might have been done to greater effect.

Bucky's death is as iconic as that of Uncle Ben or Batman's parents, so to see it underdone as it was here is a bit disappointing.

Actually, now that I think about it I can't remember how Red Skull ate it at all. He got Raiders of the Lost Arked, right? That is a problem.

I Think It Stinks!

So, is it just me. . .

It is? Okay, never mind.

The Unified Gun-Wielding Secretary Theory.
I know I laughed out loud when I saw the scene where the shopkeeper went for her gun concealed underneath her desk. And like a lot of my reactions at 11 or so at night, I think I was alone. Also, I was drunk.

The main reason for this because not only was it a detail I wrote into a story, but I recognized it from two different movies--

Exhibit A.

Exhibit B.

Those two movies being True Lies and Three Days of the Condor (and I imagine that the first was a reference to the second). It's a great little detail and it's one of those thing where I could watch it in ever movie from now until the end of time and I would still think that it's a pretty cool idea.

Because of course the secretary has a fucking gun! They're the first line of defense in any war!

Why is There Only One of These?

I could honestly put up without another two of these films, at least then it'd feel slightly more cohesive and-- at best-- we'd have another two good Captain America movies. Think about it, the first film is about him finding his feet, then the second we'd have him fighting the Japanese or something or, I don't know, evil Russians, and then the third concludes with him killing the Red Skull or his clone. The world is obviously a large one and one of the reasons I love (and I love to write about) WWII is the scope of the war.

I think that this character and his group of commandos deserve the same sort of treatment. Or, at least it did. I'm not complaining, but this movie could have been cut down by 15 minutes, but since this is the only Captain America movie that we're ever going to see (at least in WWII), I figured, why wouldn't you strike while the iron is how?

Oh well. Maybe we can get a Rocketeer 2.

"Good night, sweet prince."

Lastly, the final line of the film shouldn't have been what it was-- which was (SPOILER) "I had a date" (END SPOILER), it should have been, "Did we win?" That would have tied back into the scene in The Ultimates where Captain America attacks (black) Nick Fury because, quote, "Nice try, Fritz, but the United States, never had any negro officers [or something like that]" where Cap is clearly unfamiliar with how the rest of the war went. It would also serve to tie it into the fact that Captain is a man out of time, a man without a country*** and a pretty tragic one at that.

Also, that end line can't help but remind me of the ending of Thor, which is almost the exact same conclusion. In either case they also point to, "See you in 2012, America!" It's a very shitty wink to end two pretty well done movies on.

RACIST SIDE NOTE: I thought that the Japanese-American guy that Cap recruited was the same Japanese guy as in Thor, but apparently they're completely different people. Now, before you start casting aspersions, calling me racist, what's more racist-- casting a Korean or a Chinese guy as a Japanese fellow or me assuming there was a continuity between consecutive Marvel movies? If anything, I am a victim!

SEXIST SIDE NOTE: As much noise as I made about there being completely random black people in the background of various shots, but I have no problem with what's-her-face working for Colonel What's-His-Nose and fighting the Nazis, probably because I've seen it before. It's a trope. . . and occasionally the trope gets a Tommy Gun.

*Jurgen Prochnow is the only thing I've ever typed into IMDB's search function and haven't been referred to a "Did you mean" screen.

**I can't find the documentary, but I watched a film on PBS about these pilots who flew entire fleets of planes over the Atlantic at night-- without escorts, without weapons, without lights-- in order to deliver them to the British, who were in the middle of this Hitler situation. It was an incredibly compelling documentary and I wish I could find a link to it for you. Anyways, the climax to the whole thing is one of these pilots getting yanked out of bed in the middle of the night and driven to an unknown address. When he arrived, he was told he was at ten. He was harried to a room and there he found himself face to face with Winston Churchill who wanted to know who a plane could get from London to Tehran without being detected. The Prime Minister was asking our pilot how he could fly him to the Tehran Conference without being shot down by both Nazi and Soviet air defenses. To make a long story short, he made it and we won the war.

Completely irrelevant factoids.

***Also, a "stranger in a strange land," but let's not push it.

12 August, 2011

We Beat Them (Just For One) Day

Fuck communism.

03 August, 2011

Back When Men Were Men

. . . And broads were not to be trusted.

27 July, 2011

Call This Mother Fucker Now

Life advice from a man who knows a thing or two about a thing or two.

26 July, 2011

Are We Drinking Yet?

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23 July, 2011

16 July, 2011

Had to Get Out

I'm glad this showed up on my shuffle, because this more or less sums up this Carmaggedon debacle, which more or less sums up all of the things wrong with this fucking county.

"Los Angeles" is a perfect LA song from a fantastic LA band. It had the perfect blend of enmity and affection that defines the Los Angeles resident. We hate this city. We hate all of the things that are wrong with it and that our government refuses to fix or change and yet, for some reason-- maybe a few reasons-- we stay.

Even if you don't give a shit about LA or Carmageddon (lucky you), "Los Angeles" is still a brilliant song. I have no doubts that there are people in London and Shanghai and Valenica and wherever else that love this song.

Anyways, I don't quite mind Carmageddon, because I got to talk about X and, even better, I got a date out of the damn thing.

Dear Firefox Los Angeles are words. They've been words for thousands for years and what's more is that it's been a city for about four hundred years. It's always funny to me to hear that America doesn't have history. I know it's an Eddie Izzard quip, but it still bugs me. Of course America has history. Of course we do. Los Angeles was taken over by the Spanish and a mission was set up a good four hundred years ago, but unlike Europe with its history, we have a native population. Europe doesn't have a native population because they are the native population. I realize I'm creating a strawman here, but, as stated above as much shit as I talk about my home city and my home county, I love it to death. And I won't hear an ill-informed word about it.

California is unique because it predates the thirteen colonies. We've been hear for a long fucking time. We do have history. And even if the Spanish didn't arrive we still would have our native population, which has a history as significant as any other peoples'. Sure they didn't leave statues or colossuses or temples except in rare cases, but that doesn't mean America doesn't have history. I don't know what I'm arguing for or against right now. I just know that LA and California as a whole has a history unlike the rest of the United States. I suppose shit states like Utah and North Dakota can claim this, as well, so maybe it doesn't matter that much.

On the other hand we make movies, so fuck you North Dakota. You wanna fight about it?

As crappy as the traffic is, as high as the taxes are, as on fire as the mountains are I cannot help but love this fucking place.

12 July, 2011

Me Wantee!



(Via Modern Mechanix.)

07 July, 2011

Your Garbage is Shit

Everyone who watches Transformers 3 needs to be put in a home. This isn't because I hate them. It is because they clearly need help. After two utterly shitty movies, they insist on seeing a third shitty movie with the same exact horrible talent. . . but in 3D. They clearly need help.

Donate to your local mental health organization to help these poor dumb dumb dumb souls out.

04 July, 2011

I've Only Seen This Once This Year

"Not in My Cinema"

For the second time in my life I have finished watching The X-Files film and I gotta say twenty-four year-old James enjoyed this film far less than his ten year-old counterpart, which is a damn shame because I just recently rediscovered the original show.

I remember having very fond memories of that film. In fact, I remember the theater where I saw it and that I saw it with my uncle and one of my cousins. Considering one the theater got torn down and one of those people died there is literally no way I can recreate that occasion, so I guess it's only appropriate that Fight the Future is depressingly messy.

It's not that's it's awful or anything, it's just that the critics at the time were right. Fight the Future doesn't seem to be anything more than a two hour long episode. If you love The X-Files, then you'll be happy at having a two hour episode to watch. If you don't, TS, better luck with X-Files 2: Black Oil Harder*. Now, I do love the show beyond recognizing character actors from Deadwood and stuff, I really truly love The X-Files to death. Even as a kind of creaky, sometimes incredibly boring show, it still amazes me just how radical it still is. A lot of movies fail to do this and it's even rarer that a TV show can pull this off.

The problem isn't my lack of love for the source material, my problem is that I love movies far more than I do every other Fox TV show (the notable exception being The Simpsons seasons three to eleven). There is no amount of fanaticism that can get me to ignore that Fight the Future is almost entirely uncinematic. Not only are its actors and subject televisual, but the whole damn thing is, from writing to cinematography, soup to nuts. It's all things we've seen before on the small screen and in that case, it's often slightly better than what is on the big screen. Fight the Future is a movie without an argument for being a movie.

Other than the occasional flourish of visual effects (like the federal building bombing and the core of the alien space craft), there's nothing to tell you that this isn't a very long episode of the Fox TV show (in fact, if you cobbled together one of the longer story arcs-- "Nisei" arc, for example-- you'd end up with something roughly as long as this movie).

And those handful of scenes aren't enough as the visual effects have lost a certain amount of their impact over the past ten to fifteen years. The Black Oil, as cool of a concept as it is, looks like something that might have gotten lost from a bad episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Federal building explosion not only looks like a touched up matte painting (with a few practical effects sprinkled over the whole of the thing), but even as an off-screen presence or a plot point it feels small and underwhelming.

I know it's a rarity to compare something favorably to 9/11. While watching the movie though, I couldn't help but think, "Jeese. September 11th was way more impressive than this thing." Watching this building get blown up I didn't feel anything-- maybe because I've been desensitized by the acts or real world mad men-- due to the fact that I knew that the bomb only killed Locke from Lost (I mean, maybe if it was Bishop from Aliens I might have cared a little bit more). Where's the weight? Where's the consequences? I guess the writers and the director assumed that the emotions would be filled in by the audience who were likely still worked up about the Oklahoma City Bombing. How lazy is that, though? That makes sense, but it isn't good film making. This is all speculation, though. I guess what I wanted was to feel the appropriate reaction to an act of terrorist, which would be something fleeing disinterest and running towards, you know, actual terror.

If you're going to invoke the Oklahoma City Bombings you have to have the teeth to exploit what people think and feel. Half-assing it isn't enough. To do otherwise-- have an explosion that only costs people taxes and a guy with a mustache-- is a many things, dull being the most obvious.

In the movie's defense, how the fuck is something this piddly supposed to compare with 9/11? Back when this movie was made Osama bin Laden was just some jerk with a van packed with fireworks. Wouldn't it be nice to go back to those days for just a little bit?

There's a tick in my brain that I discovered. It's probably true in general, but when it comes to watching and enjoying movies, it's especially true. What I know is that whenever I'm watching a film (or a TV show, even) and I think "I could do better than that," it is universally a bad sign for the movie. There's plenty of reasons why I might think this. One reason is that the movie is so sparse or so uninteresting that my brain defends itself against the film by coming up with a more interesting scenario. It's basically my version of people paying attention to the set dressing, because if you're paying attention to the background, it means that whatever is in the foreground just isn't doing it for you.

The second reason is that it might actually be true that I can write or director (or sometimes even act) better than whatever is on the screen. This isn't an attempt for me to brag about my talents, it's just that something very bad might be on screen and it might not take much to make it slightly better than it is. In a way that's even more frustrating than just being bored. Knowing that even you in your limited time with this film can come up with something better has to make you wonder why no one who was getting paid could accomplish this.

If there's a third reason for this it's that my expectations have not been met. In the case of Fight the Future, it is probably more guilty of this than it is of the other two reasons. There are a million reasons why an X-Files movie should be the biggest sci-fi film of the era, after all it was the biggest sci-fi TV show of the era, TV, movies, books, and comics are still trying to copy its success almost twenty years after it first premiered.

It's funny that it doesn't wind up as good as some of the other movies of the era (there's a swipe at Independence Day after Mulder gets good and drunk) and it's funny that it probably isn't even as good as some of the great episodes that Fight the Future is based off of.

Despite all of this, I still love the X-Files. In fact, if I could, I would buy one of those gimlets (but I can't. Fuck this earth). Like the show, the movie is basically better than the sum of it's flaws. There's some great stuff in there and the whole of the piece shines through. It's worth it. Plus, the concept of a sentient alien virus being the villain-- despite being supremely underwhelming of a presence-- is a pretty crazy and frightening concept. I mean, a virus? How the fuck do you kill that?

All in all, I'd like to see a third X-Files movie (if the rumors are true, this desire might change when I watch I Want to Believe), this time with a one-hundred million dollar budget and somebody like JJ Abrams or Guillermo del Toro** helming the picture. And with Doggett returning and maybe a villain that's worth a damn instead of "Old White Guy #447." Oh, and somebody with a cellphone that actually fucking works. Now there's be a movie I'd pay to see***.

(That's not The X-Files, damnit!)

SIDE NOTE: I think one of the reasons no one has ever been able to emulate what The X-Files did in the early 90's is because cellphones and the internet have basically ruined everything mysterious for us. Think about this, how could the government keep aliens a secret when celebrities can't even keep their genitals a secret? In 2011 the grand extraterrestrial conspiracy would last about five seconds because once Mulder runs into a database of DNA punch cards or a pile of alien mummies in Navajo country, it'd be twittered and flickred and Facebooked all the way around the world twice. Then again, if the show came out today, I'm sure those geniuses in Hollywood would find a great way to knock Mulder's iPhone into a puddle or a toilet every episode****.

SIDE SIDE NOTE: And, another thing, how many times can Scully be out of the room or unconscious every single time something supernatural happens? Or when something supernatural happens, she just casts it off as. . . what? A trick of the brain? How many times over six years can this happen before she's just an idiot? And, again, a camera-phone might help the case along.

THIRD SIDE NOTE: Hey, that's the Arboretum. Rad.

FINAL NOTE: I took the title from a sentiment that Dr. Mark Kermode expresses whenever he encounters something in the movies that isn't very cinematic. I also borrowed the word "televisual" from him.

*I'm not happy with myself about that joke. And the saddest thing is, this was the one I chose over X-Files 2: The Filening.

**Could I have chosen more obvious nerd directors for a nerd picture? No. No, I could not have.

***That or a Harsh Realm reboot. Somebody call the Battlestar Galactica guys.

****Jesus Christ, as I'm writing this Mulder literally dropped his fucking gun down a hole. I can't believe someone isn't paying me for this.

Happy Independence Day!

Live it up, you papist swine!

28 June, 2011

How Inappropriate is it to Plug?

Well, it's my blog, so it can't be that tacky.

Follow me twitter @Kislingtwits

Follow my podcast @WGSGShow

Listen to it at White Guys, Square Glasses.

Or follow our show's blog White Guys, Square Blog (that isn't its real name).

What else?

I guess that's about it. Enjoy.

27 June, 2011

Thrilling Tales of Consumerism!

As I've talked about on the podcast, having a job has really spun me out into a region of space with which I have little familiarity. It must be a bit like having cataracts removed, it's all new colors and shapes and really has no bearing on my former semi-ascetic existence. It's weird to be able to buy things. Most of what I've spent my money on-- besides booze and hipster clothes-- is books and comics (or "comic books" as I call them).*

I'm a better nerd than I am a son. The Saturday before Mother's Day I bought a hundred and fifty dollars worth of comic books (but on sale for only a hundred bucks). I then bought fifty dollars worth of flowers and roses for my mom and for my sisters. This also makes me a better consumer than a Marxist. There's worse things to not be, I suppose.

I bought a large stack of books over the past couple of weeks (in addition to an untold amount of liquor, tchockies, and, finally, terminally, ultimately, a massive HD TV). My shelf space is in severe danger of having to expand to the floor. One of the books (and, ideally, I'll get around to both reviewing and reading all of the books and things I've bought, making them work for me to some extent), is Chris Schweizer's Crogan's March.

Crogan's March hits a certain spot for me and as I was telling the store clerk in the line on Free Comic Book Day (if that isn't a tell for how long it's taken me to start, write, and finish this entry, then I have no tell), anything with breech loaded weaponry, I'm game for. He responded with saying that he knew what I meant and he just got into the Sharpe's series of films, which, I guess, meant that he didn't know what I meant, but I wasn't a big enough asshole to bring this up especially considering that the line was maybe fifty people long and this guy probably had better things to worry about than proper firearm nomenclature.

He was right in his own way about this book, though. It's an old school adventure tale, a great imperial adventure that simply isn't made any more. It's the kind of a story I love. It's The Man Who Would be King** is one such story, the Sharpe's series definitely fit into that mold, and Crogan's March can soundly claim to be a relative of those two sets of stories.

I remember finding out about this book at least a year or two ago (maybe back before it was even published). I think I found it while looking up the French Foreign Legion or French army uniforms on Google Image Search and through one way or another, I wound up on Schweizer's website. I'm glad I found it, because, as a result I ended up reading a delightful little war book (but don't take my word for it!)

(Here's a beautifully rendered image of a North African city.)

Crogan's March is a compact story about Imperial France's unfortunate colonial experiment in Northern Africa. While it does wind through the kind of predictable steps that an adventure story about North Africa almost has to (indifference and confusion about the mission, the hard-as-nails-sergeant-with-a-heart-of-gold, the incompetent commander, racism, sand, etc etc etc), it transcends what could have been a by the numbers plot by demonstarting that Mr. Schweizer put quite a lot of work into the research. What's even better than demonstrating that this book had a lengthy incubation is that he manages to fit these details into the story and it doesn't feel like an information dump. These tidbits about North Africa, goums, or the hunting habits of Berber sheikhs feel like they're relevant to the plot and not just garnish on a boring story. In some cases they are the plot itself.

Maybe he just made it all up, I don't know. If he did make it all up off the top of his head, then I guess that would also be telling of his talent as a writer.

Seeing this sort of thing encourages me because it deals with a lot of the same things I'm working on in my comic (ever so slowly). If it works there, I imagine it can work here.

The art is quite well done, as well, and like the writing it doesn't seem labored or crammed into the book. It has this kind of loose cartoony style and it fits perfectly into the story despite seemingly like it might be at odds with the contents (colonial warfare) and the tone (DOOM). While it isn't realistic by any means, it is representational enough of the time and the characters to give weight to the book where a lesser artist wouldn't be able to do so. The uniforms seem to be perfectly of the period and the characters in them deliver this clever and telling shorthand to the writer like good cartoons should. The mountains and deserts of Africa look great and, again, it seems like this book is in Africa and not just an adventure book that says it's in Africa.

Again, this is kind of a thing encouraging to me, because my art is probably more like a Schweizer than an artist that might seem like a more obvious fit (I mean, not just in terms of style, but in terms of talent-- not to say that Schweizer isn't a talented man, I just-- aw, jeese, I'm going to stop digging here). All I mean is that if this man can get away with putting together a fun book about a serious subject, then there's a chance I can get away with it, as well. That's all I mean.


Even if you aren't an aspiring historical war comic creator or in love with a certain bizarre and brief period of time, there's plenty to like with Crogan's March, because, its a well told story and more than the collection of eccentricities. As a final note, just about any one at any age level can read this book and at only fifteen bucks (with a hardback cover, no less), I can't think of a good reason not to-- well, maybe severe adherence to Marxism, but even that can bend for something as good as this, right?

*I probably don't have to, but I feel that I should apologize. I haven't finished a review in what feels like years. The reality is that it's probably less than a month that I sat down and acted like I had any right to review something, which is slightly more depressing. I need to get my shit together.

**I love The Man Who Would Be King, if you didn't know.

14 June, 2011

Happy Flag Day




Alright, who's the wisenheimer?

13 June, 2011


A panel and a bit of some shit I'm going to erase.

And I am well aware of the fact that the guy in the top right looks like the mouse with the sweater in Rescue Rangers, so don't even bother.

Oh, I Get College

07 June, 2011

An Excercise in Music Choice

I don't care much in particular for the Assassin's Creed series, but I'll be damned if this video doesn't get me psyched to wreck Templar ass.

And all of this is more or less a result of the "300 Syndrome." That, of course, is the principle that a trailer, especially when backed with a killer song, can not only sell you the unsellable but supersede the work it is advertising as an enjoyable piece of art. You see this with Watchmen and Terminator: Salvation in particular. You simply cannot have in your heart no desire to see films sold this well to you. You want to see it. You want to fulfil the prophecy of this amazing song against these amazing visuals.

The problem is that cinema tends to come in at 90 minutes a pop, which is sixty minutes longer than even the most ambitious or indulgent music videos out there. A movie isn't a 90 minute long (or a three hour long) music video, much to the chagrin of morons like Zack Snider.

But it isn't quite because this game will probably be pretty good. At the very least they'll understand that slow motion doesn't a film make.

God I hate Zack Snyder.

The Boys of Summer

I fucking miss having a summer.

And being perpetually broke.

No, wait. . . something got screwed up here.

The Ecstatic Truth

It looks something like this.

So good.

05 June, 2011

The Good War

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Eager to become a war correspondent, Maugerite Higgins persuaded the management of the New York Herald Tribune to send her to Europe, after working for them for two years, in 1944. After being stationed in London and Paris, she was reassigned to Germany in March 1945. There she witnessed the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp in April 1945 and received a U.S. Army campaign ribbon for her assistance during the SS guards' surrender. She later covered the Nuremberg war trials and the Soviet Union's blockade of Berlin.

(Sorry, I don't know where I stole this image form. Apologies to the Void.)

You Have My Attention

Heads up, it'll be D-Day tomorrow. Naturally, I decided that posting an article written by a German tankie would be the most appropriate way to bring this to your attention.

(via Modern Mechanix.)

04 June, 2011

"Oh, yes, the interview where I got shot."

I met Herzog once and it wasn't really a meeting. It was a book signing. But I told him that I loved his work and that I always recommended to my friends if they wanted to get a taste of Herzog they should watch the interview with him and Dr. Mark Kermode and, without pause or irritation and with a little glimmer in his eye, "Oh, yes, the interview where I got shot."

He is one of my favorite artists. Bar none.

Cinecult: Chiarascuro Chambara

[Editor's Note: I've been futzing around with this post for far too long not to post it. I'd appologize for the delay, but you don't really care, do you? Nah. That's healthy.]

Yes! Yes! Fuck those samurai up!

I just got out of Takashi Miike's 13 Assassins. I'm going to try to refrain from giving a full blown review because I neither have the time, the inclination, nor the sobriety to coherently espouse my opinions on the film. I will leave that to better men and sunnier days. Or at least until I get bored or need a concluding paragraph.

13 Assassins is from the mind of Takashi Miike, who is probably most famous for making a movie where a guy does a sixty foot long line of coke and then explodes the world, as well as a musical with an alien, along with the movie with an assassin who comes all over the people he kills with modified ice skates which sits right next to a surreal road movie where a yakuza member changes genders and eventually emerges from the vagina of a woman hand first.

He's an intermittent blast is what I'm saying.

To say the least, there's a bit of a pedigree to this movie. Maybe a dubious one-- IE: one of those pedigrees that only fucking your cousin for 400 years can create, but a pedigree nonetheless. This particular movie has a pedigree beyond that, it's a remake of a 1963 movie (Don't worry, there's a punchline coming).

They don't make trailers like that any more, do they? Thank God.

The last Miike movie I watched was Sukiyaki Western Django, which is a remake of another genre film from the 1960's. 13 Assassins suffers from the same problem, but where 13 Assassins differs from Django is that the remixed Asian Western is a mind-boggling bad composite of swill and trash and it's safe to say that the title is the best thing about it (See: I Spit on Your Grave, Hot Tub Time Machine, and Snakes on a Plane*).

If you want to know what Sukiyaki Western Django looks like, imagine a world where Quentin Tarantino did a bunch of DMT and decided to make a samurai movie exclusively staring Americans who spoke Japanese phonetically. That's it in a nutshell. It's a mess, not even the tiniest bits of the madness work together, and what's worse is that unlike Miike's uglier and crazier films, it isn't even all that much fun. It's neither as good as the Westerns it copies or the samurai films it is mired in and more than a few of the Westerns it's aping are pretty poor in the first place.

Beware the film with a blurb from Eli Roth. And, yes, that is QT himself.

It's kind of funny. I started watching the first Django movie the other day (which Tarantino is taking the name of for his new film, because I guess that mine is still paying out). It's not a great movie by any means. Apparently, at the time, it was really revolutionary from a violence stand point. Nothing went as far as that-- at least not Westerns-- before Django came along. Looking at it now, it comes off as a goofy B-movie that's plenty of fun and worth seeing if you're a Spaghetti Western completest, but I only see doom in being too inspired by it. I mean, I know I'm not supposed to bother worrying about gun mechanics in an Italian B-movie, but it still drives me crazy that. . . ah, I'm babbling again. Sorry. I've got an upcoming entry on Spaghetti Westerns coming up, I just think that the timing of all of this is funny.

Alright, alright. It isn't that funny. Bizarre? Weird? Metaphysically malicious? Who knows. In short: Go see The Good, the Bad, and the Weird instead.

Anyways, I'm not talking about 13 Assassins at all, am I? Sorry. Sorry, again. Writing and editing this going from drunk to sober to waffling between the two and back to drunk again has done me no favors. I'm sure there's a lesson in this.

13 Assassins isn't a great movie. It is an interesting one and it's rather tame by the standards of Takashi Miike (despite there being more than a few torture victims and at least two rapes that I can remember, in addition to the expected sundry of slashings, stabbings, and executions). There's some very horrific scenes in the beginning that set the stage for the second half of the movie, which plays out like a Chambara interpretation of Straw Dogs and 300 (I'm sure I could draw up a mathematical formula for this. Gimme a minute.). It's also a team movie, a sword fight movie (obviously), and ultimately, a siege movie**.

Of course the elephant in the room for all of this is one film. At the end, when you boil everything down and no matter what angle you come from, one film, above all, stands out as the specter hovering over this whole picture-- Picture, hell-- this whole genre. That film is Seven Samurai.

That isn't necessarily a good thing. Seven Samurai, as you may know already, is a perfect film. It might be the most perfect film ever made (I'm of the opinion that, yes, there can be more than one perfect thing. I mean, we got Jesus and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, you explain that).

To his credit, I don't think Miike was attempting to out Kurosawa Kurosawa, but he did try to out Leone Leone and look at the mess that got us in. There's ambition and then there's insanity.

Toshiro Mifune has no real baring on this article other than his attachment to Kurosawa. He just happens to be one of my favorite actors of all time. So, there's that.

But there I got dipping too deep into the review pool. I'll stop.

Overall I liked it, though a movie like this, with such a specific plot and result can only run up against the elephant in the the movie house: Seven Samurai.

There is no chambara film that compares with Seven Samurai. In the same way there is no mafia movie that compares with The Godfather or no detective movie that compares with The French Connection or no western compares with Once Upon a Time in the West (because I already named that other one he made. It isn't isn't fair, but I'm a film nerd and worse yet, I'm a Kurosawa nerd. It is especially unfair since, like 13 Assassins lives in the shadow of its betters (like Yojimbo and Sword of Doom and Harakiri), so too does the rest of cinema live in the shadow of Seven Samurai.

It's the statue of David, it's the Nightwatchmen, it's the 5th Symphony, it's Swan Lake, it's everything***. It's the best you'll ever get. I might be wrong about that, but I'm not far wrong.

That film one of the most venerated films of all times by critics, by fans, by nerds, by whoever. For me, it has a special emotional resonance. I borrowed my copy of it from a guy I looked up to in a coffee shop (I was twelve or thirteen, in my defense) and from there, my whole like, I'd like to think, changed. I watched it on my PS2 of all things (my parents didn't own a DVD player until years later and the only way I watched DVDs for years was on my game console) and even though it skipped, I loved what I saw. I eventually rented it from Blockbuster (haha, remember those?) to see it in its complete and unmarred form and it still hit me in a way I've never been hit before. I've described the first time I saw The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly as a religious experience and Seven Samurai isn't far from that. It hit me in a certain way at a certain time, but unlike I think a lot of movies or songs I like because of what they represent (when I was young, when I lost my virginity, when I first heard metal music, etc.) Seven Samurai stands up. I guess I was lucky in the order.

With that in mind, obviously 13 Assassins can't compare. But, it isn't quite as quick or clean cut as that. It reminds me of Seven Samurai, it isn't aping it and that's why I genuinely liked it (bringing a flask of Jameson with me and talking to the nerd to my left about Miike's works helped, no doubt). It's chock full of thrills, kills, and spills****.

I guess that's all you need, sometimes. Not everything can be the greatest spectacle in cinema history. Sometimes there's a place for just doing well. In fact, that's all art really is. It's people doing pretty well in whatever field for long enough to make a name and buy a house and maybe feed they're babies. In that regard 13 Assassins ironically fills up that water line. It's a fun movie. If you want to see an unrestrained but less well composed Seven Samurai (or any film like it), then I've got the film for you.

Fourteen year old James Kislingbury would have loved to have watched 13 Assassins in the theater, I can tell you that.

*I didn't mention Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, because it's a fantastic movie and my favorite Sam Peckinpah movie by far.

**I swear to God I'm making a list of siege movies. Some dark day there will be an entry on that. Also, maybe train movies?

***I'm not sure how to cite paintings or symphonies or any of that. I'm sure the MLA inspector would be appalled.

****That is a reference to The Simpsons. I can't find the episode in question on the internet. That is not Google's fault, I'm too drunk.