08 June, 2017
02 May, 2017
Or "I Lost a Lot of Friends in That Ape Movie"
Skull Island is mostly about a giant ape wrecking shit, but it also isn't a coincidence that it is centered around one of the great clusterfucks in American history-- one that we still haven't learned the right lessons from. I mean, look around you. Look at the news. You think we've learned a goddamn thing about dropping bombs on places that we don't understand in the past sixty years?
And by the same token the whole principle of socialism is concerned only with one side, namely the reality of the true existence of man. We also have a concern with the other wise, i.e. with man's theoretical existence, and make his religion and science, etc, into the object of our criticism.
07 April, 2017
Luckily, after one of my podcasting partners went blind, I managed to fall into a spare copy of Domu. Among other things. It was well worth the wait. I mean, definitely not worth Alex going blind, but here we are. What are you going to do?
|Me opening my Twitter feed.|
- Otomo is the best at drawing. He's just. . . Why the fuck does anybody else even bother?
- Man, I haven't seen this many kids killed in a thing since Logan. Not that I'm complaining!
- There is a sparseness to setting up the premise of the story that is almost invisible in how incidental it is. There is no wasted space in this comic. Both artists and writers could learn something from this dude. I know I can. So, again: It's cinematic. It's packing a lot into a little and he makes it look so easy.
- I kind of want to hunt down a bunch of single issues from the original run on Dark Horse. I kind of want to huff those sweet, old comic book pages. I know that makes me a sick person.
- Man. this comic is so goddamn good.
*And, as it turns out, Domu is being adapted into film. Along with Jordan Peele being in discussion to direct a long-awaited live-action Akira, Otomo has been having a nice little year).
10 March, 2017
19 February, 2017
|"Great kid, don't get cocky!"|
We already exist in a world full of grit. Right now, the world appears to be this incomprehensible mess that seems to gain strength vacillating between distant confusion and local horror. Over here we seem to have actual Star Wars villains running the show and, elsewhere, we have people running around committing acts that would give the Sith pause. Maybe this wasn't any different in the late 1970's. Maybe it's me. Maybe I don't know any better. Even during the height of the War on Terror, when the Prequel Trilogy concluded, it didn't ever seem this bad.
And maybe that's why Star Wars worked.
It came out at the height of New Hollywood's decadence (detailed in Raging Bulls and Easy Riders). Famously, it crushed William Freidkin's Sorcerer*, an even grittier remake of The Wages of Fear. Only in hindsight would this be seen as the death knell of New Hollywood (culminating in other high budget bombs such as One From the Heart, and New York, New York, and, most importantly, Heaven's Gate). To say that Star Wars ended the gritty, adult films of the 1970's is an oversimplification, but it does speak to the idea that good doesn't always mean "adult." This isn't to say that Sorcerer was a bad movie. I choose to see it as a statement that Star Wars was a good movie. People made their choice and they made it in droves**.
These things work in cycles. I'm sure Joseph Campbell would probably have something to say about this. . .
There's something to be said about us changing, about the fans changing, and not the series itself, though, maybe that's another issue entirely. Back to the issue at hand. . .
|"Let me tell you about the original|
Luke Skywalker. . . His name was
Star Wars is about the past. It's a reflection of both civilization's mythology and it's, most annoyingly, about our own mythology. I pity the poor daughters and sons of bitches that have to make a new one-- Especially if they want to make it good. That must be a nightmare.
As good as it might be, Rogue One is a perfect example of why you should be careful what you wish for—Especially if you’re a fanboy. The reality of the thing is not always what you imagined it to be. In short, sometimes a fantasy is better off as just that: A fantasy.
(See? Even the logo had grit!)
*Apparently Shane Meadows is working on a remake of Sorcerer. Because apparently he wants to personally torture my friend Eric Bryan, long time Sorcerer fan and enemy of Shane Meadows. And, also, appropriately, it's going to be coming out opposite a new goddamn Star Wars. Because, sure, what the fuck. Why the hell not?
**Yes, I'm aware that Rogue One has made a billion dollars world wide. I'm not arguing against that. I'm arguing about my enjoyment and the wider meaning of turning a kid's saga into a war story, and that this is something worth thinking about whether you're a big fan or not! Pay attention, you plebe!
James Kislingbury is a writer and a podcaster. He also sends harassing letters to public officials. If you'd like to support his endeavors, please check out the Patreon for his podcast production squadron.
31 January, 2017
Johnny Red falls firmly within Garth Ennis' wheelhouse as a writer. It's the story of an RAF pilot stuck behind Soviet lines and pushed into a near no-win situation against the approaching German army. As such, it involves RAF banter, Stalingrad, bad commies, good comrades, the Nazis, and at least one decent Jerry. In short: It's a Garth Ennis war comic. (Also, it might fall within Keith Burns' wheelhouse, I'm not entirely sure. It sure looks like it does, though). What impresses me is that Ennis can still tell different stories and different kinds of stories using the same setting, the same tropes, and the same basic tools.
I’ve talked about this before with Fury (and probably some other Garth Ennis comics somewhere. . . And Star Wars, come to think of it. . .), but when it comes to World War II stories there are a few distinct sub-genres* Though, that is distinctly different from sub-genres.
It's also interesting to note that, while Ennis has never been short on enmity for the Nazis or the German armed forces in general, both Enemy Ace and Johnny Red demonstrate that he's capable of portraying the enemy with some semblance of nuance (even if it involves Ennis hitting the same basic tropes that he almost always hits).
Not much more to say than that. I mean, other than to remind you that Ennis is a goddamn treasure and it kills me that he isn’t allowed to just make these stories at his own pace, at his own time, whenever he wants instead of this depressing, piecemeal situation. He does good work. His artists do good work. They’re making stories that matter more than most comics matter. He should be rewarded for that. Everyone should be.
James Kislingbury is a writer, an artist, and a podcaster. If you like this well enough, then check out his Patreon or just do whatever.
20 January, 2017
16 January, 2017
Rogue One carries on that basic concept. It also, more importantly, moves it forward in several specific ways. Namely, Rogue One is based around a very specific kind of WWII movie. This is done deliberately and understanding where Rogue One comes from is to better understand what it's trying to say. At the very least, it can give you a better appreciation for the kinds of WWII movies that don't involve John Wayne hucking grenades at the Japanese (though, those are a lot of fun, too).
Instead, it rehashes the plots of about a thousand World War II and/or Western films in which a brave squadron — a Magnificent Seven, a Dirty Dozen, a Force Five — prepares to sacrifice itself in the name of a greater cause.
One is the specific kind of WWII movie that Rogue One is drawing from. The second is that Rogue One is still about war, but it's moved forward into a different war (which is a point that I'll get into in a future entry. . . hopefully). Rogue One is a resistance movie. Even though it's science fiction, even though it belongs to a mythological saga, and even though it was created to pad out Disney's cash reserves, it belongs in the same pantheon as Army of Shadows and Carve Her Name With Pride* (though, admittedly, somewhere towards the back).
Instead of pilots or soldiers, Rogue One is about resistance agents. Just as you could switch out most of Gold Squadron with anyone from 12 O'Clock High, you could pretty much swap out anyone in the eponymous Rogue One with anyone from Army of Shadows (except for the robot and Saw Gerrera, who is a character that I'll get to in the future, as well. . . ).
So, let's take a look at what makes a WWII movie into a resistance movie, and then let's see how Rogue One compares. Come on. Don't be shy. It'll be fun.
The protagonists aren't professionals.
First and foremost, resistance movies aren't about citizen soldiers. They're about people with their backs to the wall. It's about people that are either out to survive or people that are forced into a fight (which parallels films about collaborators, which is a whole other article).
That's exactly what Jyn Erso is. She doesn't have a choice. While the rest of her team kind of does, none of them are in a position to do the right thing. They have to do it or they'll die. Or somebody else will die. A lot of somebody elses. . . Even Rick in Casablanca fits this mold. None of these people want to be here. The drama comes from the fact that, unlike the American GI in WWII, there is no rear to fall back to. They have to be here, because:
The film takes place in occupied territory.
The enemy's ascendancy is a fait accompli. There's no stopping the invasion. It already happened. This is true of movies about Denmark, France, and Czechoslovakia (you could also get into Eastern Europe, but at that point, you're talking about partisans, which is slightly different. . . I'm getting off topic again. Sorry).
In A New Hope, as much as it takes place within the Empire, the main battle is on Rebel territory (Yavin IV, which appears in Rogue One, along with the B-roll of A New Hope). It also takes place on the frontier, which has Imperial soldiers, but you never get the sense that Tatooine is owned by the Empire. This never happens in Rogue One. They're under the Empire's flag from minute one. The Empire dominates every scene. Which leads to the fact that:
The deck is stacked.
Of course the deck is always stacked. Dramatically it has to be. It also has to be as a matter of course. The bad guys hold all of the cards. They can kidnap your dad, blow up a planet, put you to work in a slave labor camp. They're the Empire, fuck you. We have Darth Vader and a Dracula (we used to have two, but anyways. . . ). What do you have? That's right. Nothing. Fuck you.
The resistance (in this case the Rebel Alliance, not to be confused with the Resistance of The Force Awakens) doesn't have their shit together enough to put up an actual fight. As a result they have to chip around the edges. They have to recruit fighters. Assassinate important Imperial personnel. And when they do fight-- if they do fight-- it's an all-or-nothing proposition. This is true of both the command structure of the Rebels, as well as the individuals that have to go and do the actual dying and fighting.
And, speaking of fighting and dying:
People are going to die.
This isn't always true (I already mentioned Casablanca). But, it's usually true. Resistance members die. It's what they do. You can't build a cause without martyrs and you can't have martyrs without bloodshed.***
Violette Szabo, a British widow that was married to a French soldier. After her husband was killed in combat, she was recruited by the Special Operations Executive to help, as Churchill put it "Set Europe ablaze." She was caught in occupied France and summarily executed by the Germans. Not exactly blockbuster material.
The same goes for other resistance heroes (and secret agents) like Noor Inayat Khan (who doesn't have a movie. Guess why that might be).
In Rogue One-- spoilers-- everybody dies. That's because of who they are. They aren't Star Wars heroes. They're resistance members. You can't beat city hall. And you sure as shit can't beat the Death Star. But that's hardly the point. Which, leads me to the last qualification:
Again, this reflects reality (or, at least, the reality of film). For a lot of the resistance, victory wasn't something that they got to see. While equating Star fuckin' Wars with the real-life sacrifices of the men and women of various resistance organizations is glib, it does at least show that the writers behind Rogue One know what they're doing. Violette Szabo was killed. Noor Inayat Khan was killed. So were many others that don't have books or movies based on them.
These people died in the hope that others would outlive them and see their wishes fulfilled. They took risks and died so that somebody else could finish the fight. Rogue One isn't about victory. It's about hope. If there is an untapped vein of WWII sentiment it is that even in the darkest night, at some point dawn will arrive.
Another quote from Winston Churchill, that speaks to the end of Rogue One (and the beginning of Star Wars):
So, go watch some of these old movies (and some of the new ones) and let me know what you think. Or just skip over me and go watch Rogue One with a slightly new appreciation of the movie. Or, you know, the biggest war ever fought for human liberty.
There's another quote I saw today. It doesn't quite fit into all of this. Maybe it's the wrong place for it, but I couldn't pass it up. Because it has to do with how fiction can give us a key into wider experiences. We'll never fight in WWII, but maybe watching movies-- even fantasy films like Star Wars-- can help us understand what that's like. Even a little. That's important. That, arguably, is what art is about.
So, here it is, from President Barack Hussein Obama:
"I found myself better able to imagine what was going on in the lives of people throughout my presidency because of, not just a specific novel, but the act of reading fiction."
*Fun fact: Carve Her Name With Pride is one of Michael Caine's first screen roles. He plays a POW. He has no lines.
**I'm not sure what the cinematic parallels are for The Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi, but I'm sure I won't have to dig for long to find something. Funnily enough, the first movie I can think of that compares to the events in Empire is Dunkirk, which isn't even out yet. Huh. Then again, we also have Atonement, which features the Dunkirk Evacuation and that of course starred-- that's right-- Queen Amadala's stunt double. IT'S EVERYWHERE YOU JUST HAVE TO LOOK FOR IT!
***Strangely enough, this made me think of the Zealots. Resistance movies are almost always WWII movies. This is a result of the fact that rarely in the past two-thousand years have white people (or white-adjacent, like the Jews) ever been in the position of being an underdog except in the case of WWII.
They were a resistance to an evil empire. And the more I think about it, the more badass I think the Zealots were. . . Not that anyone should get carried away about that sort of a thing.
Also, there's a lot of crossover between movies about resistance and movies about spies. There are also a whole of differences that goes beyond what I want to talk about here. The one main difference that I'll make-- and this might not matter with Rogue One-- is that movies about resistance are almost all
Where as spy movies can take place during any era (and just about any era can involve spies), you don't often
Speaking of related sub-genres, I mentioned movies about collaborators and movies about partisans. Again, there's a lot of similarities and saying that one isn't the other is what the Dutch would call "ant fucking." It's almost too granular of a point, even for me. Even right now. But, since we're here, I think it's important to say why these films are different (if not how). This is simply because WWII, as being one of the most dramatic events in all of world history, is a rich and complex series of world events. To lump movies about the French resistance with movies about French collaborators and to then lump it in with Danish royalists and lump them in with Belorussian partisans is to run roughshod over the actual real-world events that these people went through. As important (or self-important) as films can be, they're often our view into a world that we don't understand. So, even though most people aren't ever going to see Lacombe, Lucien or Come and See, if they do, they can see them knowing that there's a lot more to world history and the human experience than The Guns of the Navarone (which, incidentally, is boring as shit).
04 January, 2017
It was last spring and I getting hammered in a basement bar in Germany. The place was located underneath a hostel named after a Gunter Grass story I had never heard of, much less ever read. I was sitting next to this Australian guy, because I was in a foreign country and of course I was. Of course all of it. I wasn’t ever going to spend a night, alone in Germany not trying to figure out whether or not their beer was better than ours (it is).
And of course Gunter Grass and of course it’s an Australian because it’s always an Australian. I have this sneaking suspicion that if I finally ever got over there, south of the equator, I’d find the entire country emptied out except for a bunch of Aborigines desperate for you not to remind the world that Australia is there and empty. They’ve had a bad run of that before.
Then I moved on. I met up with the friends that I was looking for. I got a coffee. I saw Checkpoint Charlie and I moved on with my life and walked all the way back to Mitte to my hostel and proceded to start drinking again. Because, fuck it, I was on vacation.