Saturday, June 30, 2007

Brad Winderbaum's Satacracy 88.9.2

The second part of the ninth episode of Satacracy 88 is up at This series is getting major buzz, now that it won the Emmy. There is also a report about it on the New York Times, and all major newspapers, I think.

In this episode Calloway (Marc Cittadino) recruits a recently brainwashed Arial Zim (Adrain Zaw) to the cause. A lot of information is thrown at the viewer in a big block, which should not work. But it does, because we identify with poor wounded Zim in the first few moments, and are entertained by how overwhelmed he must be.

Live Free or Die Hard Review

I have not seen the first Die Hard in years, but I remember it being one of the best -- maybe the best -- action movie ever. I seem to have blocked out Die Harder and Die Hard with a Vengeance, but I vaguely remember there was something about an airport, and Samuel L Jackson, and the brother of the guy from the first film. I went to see Live Free or Die Hard because it looked like an old fashioned action flick, I love Bruce Willis, and the complaints of the reviews centered on zeitgeist (McClane is like Rocky, and Rambo; Willis and Ford are still in stuff like this in their 50s), and on theme (a movie about tech being bad uses CGI) -- things I do not care about for a film like this.

Also NYC buses featured one of the best ad campaigns I have ever seen -- the side of the bus has a long black rectangle and in over-large block letters that threaten not to fit it says "YIPPIE-KAI-YAY MO" and then it cuts off, as if the curse word simply will not fit. At the bottom, in small letters it says "John 6:27" a parody of a biblical citation that replaces chapter and verse with month and day. Half a quote, and a very common first name that is the name of the main character is all they need to remind me about Die Hard. That kind of stuff gets into your lizard brain. They programed me for this back in 1988. I am only human, for Christ's sake.

The dialogue in Live Free or Die hard is not great, especially at the beginning; many of the "quips" would best be deleted. There is nothing approaching the iconic "Yippie-kai-yay Motherfucker" (Slate had a whole bad article on the phrase, by the way). Also it seems to get a PG-13 rating no one can even say "fuck" which seems absurd, especially as the film wants to allude to this famous line. And the plot and the main bad guy -- whatever, lame Bond stuff. There is a lot of "implement phase 1" stuff and "Do you want to break into the Pentagon? Double click yes" that Eddie Izzard makes fun of. And the cameo (is it a spoiler to say who?) felt unnecessary. Also the film has the black vulcan from Star Trek Voyager in a minor role, which was distracting.

But the film basically does a great job delivering bang-em-up action sets often enough to be satisfying, and fun enough to inspire round after round of applause. The film also smartly ratchets up the audacity (man vs man, car vs helicopter, man and car vs kung-fu chick, Semi Rig vs fighter jet) and the stakes (save a stranger, save a friend, save a daughter). Bruce Willis is such a bull, and the action is all old-school. This film will not, and should not, take on Kill Bill and the Matrix. It smartly stays on its own turf. There is a great line where Willis fights a girl who knows Kung-fu and says "Enough of this Kung-fu shit" and then runs her over with an SUV. That's exactly it. That's what Die Hard is supposed to be about.

One of the complains in the reviews was that McClane was such a relatively regular guy in the first film -- he feared flying, and had a real vulnerability in the famous broken glass scene -- but here he is an indestructible superhero. But to me, this makes sense. The first film, almost 20 years ago, is legendary. McClane can only be a superhuman legend now. The second complaint I heard coming out of the theater follows the same logic -- that Semi-Rig vs Jet fighter was just too much. But it should be too much -- the stakes have to be raised, and the audacity has to go though the roof: you are going to have to do something genuinely ridiculous toward the end of your forth installment. Yeah, its a little dumb, but it is Bruce Willis and I am watching Die Hard, so knock it off.

Also Mary Elizabeth Winstead -- the cheerleader from Death Proof, and the villain in Sky High -- is lovely, and spunky and fun.

Friday, June 29, 2007

FreeForm Comments

Say whatever you want to in the comments to this post -- random, off topic thoughts, ideas, suggestions, questions, recommendations, criticisms (which can be anonymous), surveys, personal news, self-promotion, and so on.

For my part, too much Kill Bill, Avatar, and a deep love for the new The Immortal Iron Fist comic book have planted a bug in my brain I cannot seem to get rid off. I think I should learn Kung-fu. I think it would go well with my doctorate (I should have a date of my final examination within the month). I am twenty-eight. Is this an awful idea? It feels like a good idea to learn a sport, one without a team, but it also seems a bit like a mid-life crisis.

I found out on wikipedia that "Kung-fu" does not necessarily mean martial art; it just means skill. So the casual use of phrases such as "I am going to break out all my computer-fu and fix your lap top" are not wholly inaccurate, which is kind of funny.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men 1

[I do not know if I am going to stick with this, but trying it seemed like the right thing do to after the Morrison run. I am not committing to a whole issue by issue thing, but I at least want to do this one, and try the next one. Then we will see. Astonishing has the blogging virtues of being 1) not by Morrison (I focus on him too much), 2) related to what we just finished, 3) simple and relatively short, 4) of mixed quality (so I am not just simply complaining, or enthusing).]

Joss Whedon and John Cassaday's Astonishing X-Men #1 can only be properly appreciated in the context of Morrison's New X-Men run. I have mentioned this before, but it is worth noting again -- Morrison and Whedon have a subtle antagonism. Whedon took over Morrison's X-Men, Morrison was thinking of Whedon's "Hush" episode of Buffy during his "silent" New X-Men issue (which ends with the same words Whedon's "Hush" did), and his Vimanarama could not be more Whedonesque if it was fan-fiction.

Whedon's Astonishing opens up with a horror scene of a demonic monster and a little girl. Of course it is primarily just an exciting hook. Formally it features two twist reveals on the same page -- first, the horror turns out to be a dream, then the child's bedroom turns out not to be in a house, but in a facility with two way glass, and a dark figure watching. Whedon always finds the way to turn the screw one more time than you think he will. But this prologue also serves to create continuity between this work and Whedon's Buffy, which was all about little girls and monsters. As in Buffy, the monster and the little girl's relationship is not what it seems. But, twisting that screw again, Astonishing is more than a continuation of Buffy: it is also a return to Buffy's roots, as by his own admission Kitty Pryde, who re-joins the X-Men in this issue, was the inspiration for Buffy (girls who kick ass); I would add she is also the template for the tough girl geeks no Whedon show would be without: Willow (from Buffy), Fred (from Angel) and Kaylee (from Firefly).

Morrison's wild experimentation -- including making a biting commentary that the X-Men franchise is incapable of change -- needed to be reigned in, and so Marvel made the dramatic hire of the high profile Whedon to fix the insanity, and make it stick. This issue is the counter to Morrison's first issue.

Morrison's first line of his first issue was Cyclops telling Wolverine "You can probably stop doing that now." The narrative point was that Wolverine had probably busted the sentinel enough, but the line also served as an announcement of Morrison's initial aim -- the X-men should stop repeating themselves, stop doing what they have been doing, and aim for something new. Compare this to Whedon's first (proper) line. After the prologue the first words of Astonishing #1 are Kitty Pryde returning home and thinking "Nothing has changed." She remarks that the mansion has been rebuilt (from Morrison's Magneto attack) just the way it was because Professor X would want to "give everyone a sense of stability, of continuity." Instead of radically redesigned costumes we get visual representations of memories, scenes from old comic books, just to make sure we understand Whedon's double meaning on the word continuity -- this is about comic book continuity. Morrison, Whedon implies, changed too much, ignored the continuity of, for example, the current design of the Beast.

Morrison's first issue featured classic sentinels being destroyed and redesigned ones being created; Whedon has classic sentinels appear to attack the school, but they are only danger room illusions. What Morrison does in his first issue, Whedon deftly counters point by point.

In his first issue Morrison had the X-Men meet in a virtual place (Xavier's mind-scape) and discuss their new costumes and the fact that they never were superheroes (both excellent examples of Morrison's major revisions). In Whedon's first issue he has the X-Men meet in a virtual place (an illusory Danger Room landscape) to discuss the opposite -- getting back into their old outfits and being old-fashioned superheros again. "All the black leather is making people nervous" Scott says of the Morrison uniforms. (Were they making Marvel nervous because Morrison's NXM was not selling as well as they wanted?). Where Morrison gave us stylized fashion spreads, Whedon gives us a drab locker-room with Kitty and Emma changing clothes realistically -- no pop sexy here. "The spandex goes on one leg at a time, just like everybody else" he seems to be saying.

As much as Morrison put his stamp on the book, Whedon does too, as much as he can. Kitty apologizes to Emma for being late with "I'm sorry. I was busy remembering to put on all my clothes." As Scott and Wolverine fight over the memory of Jean, Emma says "Superpowers, a scintillating wit, and the best body money can buy, and I still rate below a corpse." Standing in a miniature Hawaii Kitty just blurts out "Now I have cloud hair." Emma makes fun of Kitty's many code names. Whedon counters Morrison on many points, but he embraces fully the auteur status Morrison had.

Cassaday is great, though he uses photo-realistic elements, such as carpet patterns, to poor effect, and he fails to sell the key moment in the book -- The X-Men in costume. I do not understand the purpose of placing them so far back in the frame, and at an angle like that. Ord and Dr. Rao I will save for later.

Whedon's first issue is solid on its own merits, and his run stands well against Morrison's run. But in this issue he fails by taking on Morrison's incredible first issue so directly, and comes off as more stodgy and conservative than he deserves. To be fair Whedon may be bowing to editorial pressure to put the X-Men back in uniform, for example, but once he takes on the book we get to blame him for stuff like that, as surely as a soldier is fair game to shoot at, even though he did not start, nor does he control, the war.

Comics Out June 27, 2007

Matt Fraction, Ed Brubaker and David Aja's The Immortal Iron Fist 6. This ends the first arc and it is just flawless -- perfect on every front -- art, story, dialogue, concept -- including the fact that it ships without delay. I have never in my life wanted a comic book to be able to say "motherfucking." The line is the best one in the book, and there are more than a few great lines. I have not mentioned Matt Hollingsworth, but the colors on this things are just fantastic. "More kicking" (a line from the issue), Heroes for Hire, good jokes about gay marriage, cute girls with swords. Perfection, in comic book form.

Mike Mignola and Duncan Fegredo's Hellboy: Darkness Calls 3. I feel thie same way about this as I feel about every Hellboy comic -- the art is great, the character is too passive. Mignola just has him wander around in mythological stories he has read.

Mike Carey, Humberto Ramos and Chris Bachalo's X-Men 200. Yeah, whatever. This was super boring, and Bachalo only drew 12 pages of it (though they made the wise decision for him to draw one whole subplot so the art was not just random). It is supposed too kick of some big new thing, but it was just old people showing up, very vague allusions to some big bad, and traitors (lame). Bachalo is always great, I do not care what people say. The backup story is supposed to lead up to the next big X-Men event, but it was also super lame.

In Comics News: Newsarama has a preview of Matt Fraction's The Order, an interview with Barry Kitson (the artist), and interview with Matt Fraction.

Review, recommend, and discuss this week's comics and comics news.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

From Patricia T. O'Conner's Woe is I (Commonplace Book)

"English is a glorious invention, one that gives us endless possibilities for expressing ourselves. Grammar is there to help, to clear up ambiguities and prevent misunderstandings. Any "rule" of grammar that gets in the way or doesn't make sense or creates problems instead of solving them probably isn't a rule at all. And, as this book's whimsical title hints, it's even possible to be too correct. While "Woe is I" may appear technically correct (and that's a matter of opinion), the expression "Woe is me" has been good English for generations. Only a pompous twit -- or an author trying to make a point -- would use "I" instead of "me" here."

[I bought this book because I saw myself in the Garrison Keillor blurb on the cover: "You forget so much about English as you go along being profound in it, like who a gerund is and where adverbs go, until one day you stand up to receive your honorary LL.D. and children snicker at your grammatical errors. Woe is I can save you from that."]

Monday, June 25, 2007

Grant Morrison's New X-Men: This Issue by Issue Recap Overview and Summary Judgement

114: Morrison and Quitely have redesigned the X-Men as weird post-human pop sexy bad-asses! Awesome!
115: Cyclops is actually cool! Casandra Nova is scarring the crap out of me! This is great!
116: Humanity is dying out. Xavier shot a woman with a handgun. This book has edge. Plus a Camel-toe cover. I am finally being surprised by a mainstream superhero book.
The Annual: Did Cyclops sleep with Emma?! Wow. Did the X-Men just bomb a Chinese facility from the air? This Xorn guy is cool. This is not my father's X-Men. I am having a good time.
117: Where did Quitely go? Freaky Beak has replaced sexy X-Men. VanSciver fails to sell a key moment. Xavier was not cool when he shot Nova, he was possessed, which is disappointing.
118: VanSciver is painfully literal. The new Angel is gross. Morrison's ending beat is very off.
119: This art is horrifically ugly, messing badly with the core concept. Mr. Sublime is a lame villain. Morrison's ending beat is once again very off. And did Jean Grey really call the cops?
120: These U-Men look cool but are just a bunch of lame jerks. Mr Sublime's defeat is extra humiliating because he has a toupee and Jean Grey makes people up-chuck and poo themselves. Where did the guy who wrote issue 114 go?
121: Oh here he is. This issue is silent and Morrison and Quitely shine in a weird psychic landscape. This is AMAZING on every level.
122: Quitely is awesome, but Morrison needs to stop highlighting mutant philosophy, since he has none, and figure out what Nova is about. I cannot keep track of what she is supposed to be.
123: Oh, Morrison should NOT be writing mutant philosophy. Nova is still cool, but Van Sciver is only so-so.
124: This is the worst art I have every seen and the storytelling is a total failure, as the super-tough imperial guard turn out to be the worst fighters ever. My sister could kill them all.
125: Oh, this art is bad. And Nova is just like fucking Onslaught, which is weak. The Beast is gay? Nova's nano-sentinels have something to do with the U-Men? What? Really? This is bad.
126: Quitely is back and Morrison can write again: Xorn and Cyclops are great together, and the defeat of Nova is brilliant, interesting and new.
127: Xorn goes through the most cliched mutant story ever. Pathos becomes Bathos. Boring.
128: It turns out Kordey can draw, given time. Morrison builds strong tension with X-Force. Fantomex -- my favorite superhero ever -- is introduced. This is good stuff.
129: The stuff with Animal is lame, and there seem to be little storytelling glitches, but Fantomex is the best, and there are some great ideas and lines.
130: Fantomex, who was already great, now has a living flying saucer; now he is even better. Wow.
131: This art is hot and cold in this one issue, which is randomly plotted in a very bad way. It ends with a great moment -- the Scott-Emma affair.
132: A 9-11 tribute issue, with weird plot glitches, bathos, and an attempt to stir our hearts with people standing proudly but sadly with a girl wearing a waist length jacket and no pants. This does not work well.
133: The 9-11 pendulum swings the other way: Wolverine slaughters Afghanis, Xavier brainwashes airplane hijackers, and he is shot at with a sniper rifle. This does not work well. But Dust is introduced and there is a great line about Bollywood.
134: The Beast is being gay as performance art? Really? He is also just mean for no reason. A fashion designer is dead a teenagers does drugs and gets a haircut. OK. I guess?
135: Quentin squares off with Xavier and it is hard to know with whom to sympathize with the least. These guys are idiots.
136: The "riot" plot is so thin we spend this issue with Xorn. The U-Men suck -- they are so weak -- but Xorn, after a lot of peace-love-sheep stuff, suddenly acts like a badass. Interesting. As for Quentin he acts like a jerk and hits Xavier with a baseball bad. Lame.
137: The "riot" is literally hot wax tossed out of broken windows, and these guys have no plan. Even with no plan, all the X-men can come up with is "everyone calm down," so someone else ends it. Even Quitely cannot save a story this lame. Morrison has an point to make (teenagers are idiots), but it causes his story to suck.
138: Quentin Quire ascents to a higher state of consciousness? Really? And Xavier is pleased with this? Really? Then he quits the school? Really? Then Jean walks in on Scott and Emma in a compromising position, even though Scott was just about to end it. Cliche!
139: One great page with Wolverine and Emma cannot save an issue with everyone acting like teenagers. Cyclops storms off like a 14 year old girl. This is worse because all the teeth is taken out of the affair. They never actually "went-all-the-way." We are all middle-schoolers now.
140: A golden age murder mystery with Bishop as Miss Marple. One of the worst ideas ever, in part because he just questions everyone, which makes no sense in a world with psychics. And did the guy from the Riot just get thrown in human prison to be abused while Nova, who killed 16 million people, gets rehabilitated? I do not get this.
141: Morrison has written a murder mystery in which the victim comes back to life and the person who killed her gets away without being identified. The low point of the series. Where did the guy who wrote issue 114 go?
142: Oh, here he is. Bachalo is great, and brings out the best in Morrison. Everything is beautiful and fun again and will be for 4 issues. Here everyone drinks, and Bachalo has a great sense of humor.
143: Fantomex is awesome, and the art here is great. Morrison is in great form: artificial evolution is great. Plus Weapon X turns out to be Weapon 10 which is a great little spin on an old favorite.
144: Weapon 15 is hilarious -- a faceless robot killer who talks like a poet and has extra thumbs because he is SUPER-EVOLVED. I love Assault on Weapon Plus (issues 142-145)!
145: Some great little clues here for the rest of the run, plus Wolverine learns the truth about everything. This is a great issue. I know everyone hates the last page, but Bachalo is funny and I love him.
146: Everyone just gets their planes blown up? That is weak. Dust was a great idea for a character completely wasted. And XORN WAS MAGNETO THE WHOLE TIME!?! That makes not sense. At all.
147: Morrison's Magneto is a drug addicted old man. Morrison has an intellectual point to make (the X-Men are in a rut) but it ruins his storytelling. Also Morrison has decided to replace characterisation with mind control in the case of both Magneto and the special class.
148: Jean and Wolverine dying as they fall into the sun is simply amazing on every level.
149: Morrison's Magneto is simply awful. Morrison wants not to repeat McKellen (the definitive Magneto), but makes his story grotesque in the process.
150: A haunting ending to a weak story with strong moments. Morrison is very uneven, but can do emotion when he tries. I miss Morrison the super-genius, with all the crazy sci-fi madness.
151: This story is genius, with all kinds of crazy sci-fi madness. He canonizes his own run, by giving us twists not on core X-Men plots, but on his own run. This is awesome.
152: What a weird but brilliant line up. This is everything I want. The old and new are just smashed up. I should hate the art but I love it. The Beast as Apocalypse should not work, but does.
153: I stopped caring about Morrison's larger theme about the old and the new a long time ago; it does not make any sense anyway and I am distracted by the BEST NEW SUPER VILLAIN IDEA EVER. This story rawks.
154: Issue 150 was a beautiful end to an uneven story arc. 154 is a similarly beautiful ending to a uneven run. Morrison goes out with a bang, and real heart. I wish he had paid that kind of attention all along.

SUMMARY JUDGEMENT: the highs are super high, some of the best, most ingenious, imaginative work Morrison has done. The lows are super-low, with basic storytelling failures anyone with a screenwriting guide could correct in one pass, and are some of the worst comics I have read by anyone. And there are about as many bad comics here as good. Something this uneven should not be called a classic, or even great. Casanova, Dark Knight Returns, Dark Knight Strikes Again, WE3, and All Star Superman, are not like this, and it messes up everything to put this in the same category with those, even though the highs are just as high as anything in those books. Morrison's New X-Men should be recommended to others but not without a warning that there is a lot of shit to sift through to find the gold.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Lifetime Movies on Today

[Less people read this blog on the weekend so I have decided to use weekend posts for more silly stuff. Feel free to let me know if you think this is an awful idea.]

I have written two books in front of the television, mostly the Lifetime Movie Network and similar fare. Made for TV thrillers are just perfectly trashy, and almost always unintentionally hilarious. Also you can write in front of them because it is very easy to follow without paying much attention -- someone always comes in and recaps the whole film at some point, often right before the climax.

Today's selection on the Lifetime Movie Network:

4:26-6:13. On the Edge of Innocence. 1997. Teens flee psychiatric ward with a hostage. Starring Kellie Martin and James Marsden [CYCLOPS!].

6:13-8:00. Baby Monitor: Sound of Fear. 1998. A woman hires assassins to kill her nanny. Starring Josie Bissett.

8:00-9:45. Between Truth and Lies. 2006. A psychiatrist tries to protect her daughter from an obsessive psychopath. Starring Mariel Hemingway. [I love Mariel Hemingway, I do not care what anyone says.]

9:45-11:30. The Babysitter's Seduction. 1996. A police detective probes a case in which a baby sitter is implicated in the murder of a man's wife. Starring Stephen Collins, Keri Russell [Felicity!] and Phylicia Rashad [the mom from The Cosby Show!].

My favorite part about Lifetime Movies? That you can just interchange half the titles: You could easily switch "Baby Monitor: The Sound of Fear" with "The Babysitter's Seduction" and you could change "On the Edge of Innocence" with "Between Truth and Lies" and no one would notice.

Also, one little thing Sara noticed about Lifetime -- their new movies are called "Lifetime Movie Network Original Premieres." How many people think the sequence of starting letters "L-M-N-O-P" is intentional?

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Music and Lyrics -- yeah, the movie

I recently saw the film Music and Lyrics, starring Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore. Sara and I wanted something without teeth, after Children of Men and Pan's Labyrinth.

The movie, which is bad of course and we did not expect otherwise, is an interesting case study of why conflict is necessary for a good film. One of my in-laws, who has children, complained that Finding Nemo was awful because it was far to intense -- every scene is some major conflict. She wanted to know why there had to be so much. Maybe there could have been less, or at least a pause, but given that all screenwriting books emphasize the need for conflict you can understand why movie-makers err on the side of terror. Go the other direction, and you end up with something like Music and Lyrics.

Hugh Grant plays a has-been 80s pop star -- basically the other guy in WHAM -- who is hired to write a song for a new pop star, basically Britany {edit -- this was spelled wrong the first time I posted}; he needs someone to write lyrics and finds Drew Barrymore, the girl watering his plants. They fall in love.

The main problem with the film is that Hugh Grant is such a great guy: he is kind, tries to make his old fans happy, has accepted that he will never be a superstar, plays Dance Dance Revolution with Barrymore's niece and nephew. He has NO problems as a result of his previous stardom. The whole movie I kept expecting the barrier to his relationship with Barrymore -- this is a romantic comedy after all -- will be that he wants to date women half his age, or was afraid of commitment, or cheats. But the film does not introduce its main conflict until well into the third act -- it turns out at the end that his character arc is that he needs to learn to be ambitious, he needs to stop accepting his has-been status. The romance is secondary -- she cannot accept him until he tries to be more than a has-been. The problem is that his has-been status is not a problem for him -- show him humiliated on a show where he has to box Dustin Diamond (he turns down the chance to be on a show like that actually), something. Otherwise you spend the whole film watching two nice looking people meeting, writing a popular song together, having sex, falling in love and then retroactively learn there was a conflict in the film moments before it was solved. This would be like a murder mystery that just showed people getting along for the first hour and a half and then suddenly they find a dead body and figure out who killed him moments later.

Or as a friend of mine put it about Good Will Hunting: "I am not paying money to watch the story of a boyishly good looking super-genius and his supportive girlfriend and teacher."

Friday, June 22, 2007

Free Form Comments

Say whatever you want to in the comments to this post -- random, off topic thoughts, ideas, suggestions, questions, recommendations, criticisms (which can be anonymous), surveys, personal news, self-promotion, and so on.

For myself, let me put a random question here. Best rhyme you have heard, in a song lyric or poetry. Give me the pair of lines of whatever.

My entry: Biggie Smalls has a song where he is listing off all the fancy things he can get with his money, all the fancy food he can eat. The list ends with "escargot" and then he continues with "my car go swiftly, hundred and fifty." Also Jay-Z has a song where he rhymes "audience" with "nonchalance," which should not be possible, but is, apparently. I thought of this last night listening to a song by the Weakerthans with the lines "thank you for the flowers and the book by Derrida, but I have to be getting back to dear Antarctica." (my menory of that line might not be exact).

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Satacracy 88.9.1

The new episode of Brad Winderbaum's Satacracy 88 is up at And some big things have transpired since I last posted about the series. First, Satacracy 88 won the Webby Award / People's Voice award for best drama, online film, and video. Then it also won the Emmy award for outstanding broadband drama, a new category.

As for the new episode, it features some great stuff, including my favorite effect in the series so far -- the teleportation out of the storage facility. It is also fun to see 88 square off against a guy (Martin in back) who looks like he is out of 24. The episode ends on a great beat, as Angela puts a tape -- yes a cassette tape -- into the car stereo as she drives off with a handcuffed girl next to her.

Expect this series to get big now that it has won big awards. It will be on TV before you know it, and you can say you saw it when.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Comics Out June 20, 2007

Brad Meltzer and Ed Benes's Justice League of America #10, the conclusion of the JLA-JLA-Legion crossover. Turns out the resurrection of Lightning Lad was a red herring -- they were after someone else. I guess it was ok -- it was his predecessor who Batman thought they were bringing back though, right?

Art problems do not help this messy issue: at the bottom of pages two and three close-ups of Power Girl and Sensor Girl look too much alike to tell apart. I first thought Power Girl was Sensor Girl with her mask off since they are both blonds wearing red and white with gold cape-holder medallions; this was not helped by the fact that Power Girl on page three has much shorter hair than Power Girl on page two. Also Karate Kid's costume fixes itself magically on the same page at the end of the issue. And is it supposed to be obscure who Karate Kid is talking to when he says "I ducked?" What is going on in the final panel? Weren't there some villains getting a woman at a hospital a few issues back -- who were they and what where they about? This thing lost me.

Still, this had a lot of superhero crazy. I did not hate it, but I am glad Metzler's run is ending soon. I would stop getting it if it had no end in sight.

HUGE news week: Frank Miller is adapting Raymond Chandler for film, Martha Washington will be back for a one shot, Skrulls are everywhere (Marvel is building its next event), we get hints of the next X-Men event (I will get all the Bachalo parts), Mark Waid is coming back to the Flash in an issue that has the WORST cover I have seen in a while, the suit for the Batman film is revealed, and here is some smart stuff: Terry Moore, of Strangers in Paradise, is taking over Spiderman Loves Mary Jane. I wish he was drawing as well as writing. AND Travis Charest, my favorite artist next to Quitely and Bachalo, is coming back after a 7 years absence.

Review, recommend and discuss this week's comics and comics news.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

From Richard Rorty's Contingency, Irony, Solidarity (Commonplace Book)

The American Pragmatist philosopher Richard Rorty died on June 8. I was a philosophy major at NYU when I read his Contingency, Irony, Solidarity, a book that changed my life. Eventually I had to stop underlining all the good passages because I was just underlining the whole book. It was so good it answered ALL of my philosophical questions to the point where I became totally uninterested in philosophy -- I never even read more books by Rorty. I was double majoring in English and philosophy, and though I competed both majors, I threw myself into English literature and really never looked back as a result of this book. Here is a passage from it, sort of the core argument:

"We need to make a distinction between the claim that the world is out there, and the claim that the truth is out there. To say that the world is out there, that it is not our creation, is to say, with common sense, that most things in space and time are the effects of causes which do not include human mental states. To say that truth is not out there is simply to say that where there are no sentences, there is not truth, that sentences are elements of human languages, and that human languages are human creations. "

"Truth cannot be out there -- cannot exist independently of the human mind -- because sentences cannot so exist, or be out there. The world is out there, but descriptions of the world are not. Only descriptions of the world can be true or false. The world on its own -- unaided by the describing activities of human beings -- cannot."

"The suggestion that truth, as well as the world, is out there is a legacy of an age in which the world was seen as the creation of a being who had a language of his own. If we cease to attempt to make sense of such a nonhuman language, we shall not be tempted to confuse the platitude that the world may cause us to be justified in believing a sentence is true, with the claim that thew world splits itself up, on its own initiative, into sentence shaped chunks called "facts." But if one clings to the notion of self-subsistant facts, it is easy to start capitalizing the word "truth" and treating it as something either identical with God or with the world as God's project. Then one will say, for example, that Truth is great, and will prevail."

Monday, June 18, 2007

Grant Morrison's New X-Men 154

[This post is part of a series looking issue by issue at Grant Morrison's New X-Men run. For more of the same, just click the New X-Men label at the bottom of this post.]

What I discussed last time in the context of the previous issue is expanded upon here in the opening pages -- Sublime is a 3 billion year old bacterial colony hidden in man and mutant, infecting them with aggression and mindless conflict so that they would fight each other and not Sublime, who was behind the U-Men, the Super-sentinels, the nano-viruses and Kick. I know I already said this, but that is just amazing. It is a great idea, though it is also a poor cop out for issue after issue of bad characterization ("Magneto and Quentin Quire are supposed to be lame idiots because they were being controlled by blah blah blah..."). In the context of the run, not great. In the context of this story -- fantastic. In the context of superhero comics generally, one of the best ideas for a villain ever.

Tom loved his sentinel Rover and was crushed that Rover thought he was ditching him for something new, EVA, a story that plays interestingly with the old versus new dynamic that Morrison has been playing with all along. Wolverine says cynically in this issue that we've seen it all before. The series ends with severe thematic ambiguity -- Morrison is at his most imaginative, and also repeating and revising everything -- which I am fine with.

Two reveals in the final issue for people who have been with Morrison since the beginning: No-Girl -- someone mentioned in the Special Class as a mutant invisible to ALL forms of detection, the class imaginary friend basically -- turns out to have been a cartoon character invented by Martha. And the Cookoo's turn out to have been Weapon 14 all along -- they were the Sleeper Agent mentioned by Dr. Sublime, and somewhere along the way they were converted to Xavier's cause, which is nice to think about.

In the end the Sublime bacteria is isolated and destroyed by the Phoenix -- "did you think you would live forever, little speck?" is one of my favorite lines in the book.

Apollyon takes the Beast's head off with a flying disk, as his mythological counterpart did. Morrison's point in "Planet X" was that this story just plays again and again, in cycles of meaningless violence. Here, 150 narrative years later, Beast, like Magneto attempting genetic perfection, dies just as Magneto did.

Another little reflexive moment: Fantomex cries out; turn the page and a dying EVA says "Fantomex?" (actually she says "Ffzzzzzannnttommzzzk???? Izzi That U ? I thought / heard I / thought / heard / I thought"). It seems the cryptic allusion to "what happened to Fantomex" was referring to his transformation into Apollyon. The details of what happened are less important than the formal gesture of Morrison bringing his creations all back for the finale, and offering little twists on all of them. This is why Quentin Quire is a Phoenix. It is not supposed to make sense; it is supposed to provide closure, which is more about form than content.

In the end Jean amputates the future, and goes back to the moment it all went wrong -- when Cyclops abandoned the school and Emma after Jean's death. She gives him permission to love Emma and changing that detail changes the whole universe. All of this has been about one man and a decision to soldier on and change his life, or just give up. It is a tremendous note of heart to end the series on, something to ground all the madness -- the higher-than-highs and lower-than-lows and about the same amount of each and very little in between -- this series has been running for five years.

I will post a final summary judgement on Morrison's New X-Men shortly, where we can talk in overview about the series.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Imaginary Biographies: Misreading the Lives of the Poets

My second book, Imaginary Biographies: Misreading the Lives of the Poets is out in the US. The Amazon link is on the right. It is a $125 library harcover; obviously I do not expect any person to pay $125 for the book, but I would appreciate it if you would go to a library you can get to, college or otherwise, and request that they order it; that is what they have budgets for, and this is a normal price for a book like this. You have my name, and the title of the book -- I have pasted further information below from, including the publisher, ISBN numbers, and the number of pages. It is awesome.

Product details

* Hardcover: 288 pages
* Publisher: Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd.
* Language English
* ISBN-10: 0826428029
* ISBN-13: 978-0826428028

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Pan's Labyrinth and Children of Men (Major Spoilers)

[I missed both of these films in the theaters, heard all the buzz around them, and just now got around to watching them. I can understand the excitement over both, but wanted to write about why they both bothered me.]

Children of Men is a science fiction film close to Soderbergh's underrated Solaris, in terms of keeping both the world realistic and believable, and focusing on characters, rather than philosophical ideas and special effects, a welcome relief. It is also exquisitely directed -- the single long take for the attack on the car in the woods is the showcase, and deservedly so. Pan's Labyrinth creates a unique tone, expertly moving between a weird fairy world and fascist Spain in 1944; the character design is a major point of praise, again deservedly so.

Pan's Labyrinth director Guillermo del Toro and Children of Men director Alphonse Cuaron -- both Mexican -- have directed mainstream American sci-fi and fantasy films: del Toro did Hellboy and Cuaron was responsible for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Uzbekistan (Azkaban, whatever). Both Children of Men and Pan's Labyrinth gain power from the same source -- they take traditionally escapist genres -- science fiction and fantasy -- and ground them in as real a world as can be thought up.

It is how both Pan's Labyrinth and Children of Men link the real world to escapist genres that leads me to the conclusion that they are both overrated. Both films are rooted in a deeply pessimistic world view -- most people in both films are sell-outs, brutalizers, and ideologues. Importantly, after two hours of almost uninterrupted unpleasantness, both films have happy endings (in both an infant is ostensibly saved) that are undercut by all of the previous scenes. The boat arrives to save the first human born in 18 years -- but haven't we seen in the course of the film that most people are monsters? How much hope do we have that the people on the boat at the end of Children of Men will be better human beings than everyone we have left behind? Ofelia is reunited with her parents in a beatific fairy heaven where she is a princess at the end of Pan's Labyrinth -- but she has died horribly, possibly believing in some kind of delusion. The guerrilla's will raise her half brother -- but do we really think they are better people than the regime they have just toppled? As adults they are as cut off from the child's ability to perceive magic as surely as Ofelia's mother was (it is not just Nazis that cannot see magic). And of course Franco died peacefully in his sleep long after the film takes place -- this war is nowhere near over. The film does not address this point directly either, but fairy worlds, if you believe the fairy world is real (and I think that is best) are usually very bad for children -- as in Labyrinth with David Bowie, the girl is supposed to save her brother from the fairly creatures of the Labyrinth (as Ofelia does), but it is no place for a little girl to live. An old woman in the film -- and old women in these films always know what is really going on -- even says that fauns are not to be trusted; and the faun does not seem at all trustworthy. You could argue whether the end of either Pan's Labyrinth or Children of Men is supposed to be ironic but to me the endings feel very much like the end of Kafka: The Musical, a spoof in an episode of the television show Home Movies -- as Kafka is raised to heaven a booming voice declares, in a super-friendly but faux-stately voice "Hello Franz Kafka! My name is God! I think you are going to like it here!"

Both Children of Men and Pan's Labyrinth have their story to tell -- the hero's journey to learn to love again, to care about a cause again, and to get a child to safety; the little girl who saves her brother and makes her way to her proper destiny as a fairy princess. But both Children of Men and Pan's Labyrinth are disingenuous. As Slavoj Zizek points out in his commentary on the DVD, the hero's journey in Children of Men appears to be the point, and the world he travels in secondary, but it is the other way around: what Cuaron is really interested in is holding a glass up to nature, as it were, and showing us our own ugly face in the "background" -- the world -- of the film; the hero's journey is merely an excuse. This is why his story is so dully told -- the story structure of Children of Men has an obstacle-1-obstacle-2-obstacle-3-and-so-on structure; it could be much shorter, or much longer, which is not the right way to tell a story. Similarly it is the depiction of fascist Spain that is delToro's aim in Pan's Labyrinth -- the fantasy elements of Ofelia's story serve only to bring home the brutality of Spain under Franco more starkly than a fully realistic film could -- these monsters are not just killing children, they are killing the very spirit of imagination itself. This is why, if you have seen DVD box, or a commercial for the film, you have seen all the amazing character designs -- there are only two.

I was disappointed to discover in each film a pedestrian design, a subordination of the imagination and storytelling to a crummy point about a world that is ugly, and a people that are sad.

That monster with the eyes in his hands sure was cool though, and Children of Men had a hell of a tracking shot.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Free Form Comments

Say whatever you want to in the comments to this post -- random, off topic thoughts, ideas, suggestions, questions, recommendations, criticism (which can be anonymous), surveys, personal news, self-promotion, and so on.

I will have a post up tomorrow for my weekly film and TV post; in the comments to that post you can review the Fantastic Four movie, which I will not be seeing (my post will be on Children of Men and Pan's Labyrinth).

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Grant Morrison's New X-Men 153

[This post is part of a series looking at Grant Morrison's New X-Men run issue by issue. For more of the same click the New X-Men label at the bottom of this post.]

As I keep saying over and over again: Morrison is great at naming things. Bumbleboy is a great name for a superhero. He should have been in Seaguy, also a great name.

A hilarious little detail, for people who have read all of Morrison's run and have been paying attention: Nova says to Martha "of course you can still call me Ernst my dear." Casandra Nova was little Ernst in the special class the whole time -- the child who looked like an old woman, a character who appeared only after Nova was trapped in a alien shapeshifting body for re-education. At first (NXM 126) it looked like Nova was going to be rehabilitated in a virtual classroom, but it was in the Special Class that she would learn her real lessons.

It is in this issue that we get the major coup of Morrison's X-Men run -- really one of Morrison's BEST ideas. Adumbrated here, and expanded upon in the next issue, is the idea of the Sublime bacterial colony, which has existed since the beginning of organic life on earth. This bacterial colony has been fighting for survival, killing off rival species as early as 530 million years ago. It has now infected the Beast, just as in the main narrative it used Magneto, and Dr. Sublime (creator of the Weapon Plus program), and John Sublime, from way back in "Germ Free Generation." The mutants are Sublime's real enemy; this is Morrison's most audacious move, absolutely brilliant beyond measure: Beast says

"The diverse, the strange ones, the crooked masses of Megamerica, forever breeding and multiplying into new and more lethal forms. Swarming millions, each faster, stronger, more adaptive, more immune than the last. Giving birth to creatures like [the Phoenix] introducing cosmic strands into the global genebase. The mutants might have become immortal, unstoppable supermen if left unchecked. I had to make them fight. I had to protect myself somehow. I refuse death! I deny extinction!"

The Beast -- Sublime -- fights for total genetic perfection, an end to evolution, so that the X-Men and mutants will no longer be a threat. Morrison has taken the basic motivation of the goofy X-Men villain Apocalypse and revised it into this -- The Beast (of the Apocalypse) and Apollyon (from the book of Revelation) fighting for genetic perfection at the end of the world. And much more than that: he has posited Sublime as THE opponent in the Marvel Universe, the narrative explanation for decade after decade of meaningless punch-em-up comics. Morrison's point in Planet X was that the X-Men are caught in a cycle of meaningless violence they cannot escape from, from which they cannot grow or evolve. Morrison's metaphor for the franchise has a narrative explanation, a fascinating one.

In Planet X Morrison is deeply pessimistic about the future of the X-Men -- he started with something new and strange at the beginning of his run, but they just cycled back again to beating up on Magneto. In Here Comes Tomorrow possibility opens up again: the X-men are a threat to Sublime because they keep evolving, maybe faster than Sublime can keep up with them. The defeat of Sublime opens the possibility of change without handicaps. Morrison gets it both ways: he tries to do something new with the X-Men at the start of his run (E for Extinction), he demonstrates why the form will not allow him to succeed (Planet X), then he imagines removing the obsticle (the defeat of Sublime in Here Comes Tomorrow), and then he stops. Whedon's Astonishing X-Men, a book that picks up just after this leaves off, is thus in an impossible position: how to continue from here?

(Whedon goes conservative, and hopes that solid storytelling will save him, and it sort of does; I may tackle this book next).

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Comics Out June 13, 2007

Matt Fraction and Ariel Olivetti's Punisher War Journal #8. This book is just absurd and embraces the absurdity. It works pretty well. Case in point: this is a book where the Punisher -- gigantic killer Frank Castle -- can doodle a complex costume design on a note-pad like an FIT student and five pages later, be wearing it. You just don't ask how it got made, and you don't question the fact that he designed it himself. Cause he will shoot you if you do.

Greg Pak and John Romita Jr's World War Hulk #1. I am reading Marvel's Next Big Event -- just the core book -- because I like John Romita Jr and I like the Hulk. I did not pick up Planet Hulk, but this thing fills in new readers. It is not the most elegant exposition, but it is there, at least. Might have been handled better by a text box page in front of the issue. I do not have a strong opinion on this book, because my expectations are low. All I want is the Hulk smashing stuff and John Romita Jr drawing that so I guess I am satisfied.

Review, recommend, and discuss this week's comics and comics news.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

From Bill Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words 10 (Commonplace Book)

Utilize. In the strictest sense, utilize means to make the best of something not meant for the job -- he utilized a coat hanger to repair the car. It can also be used to mean making the most practical use of something -- utilize every square inch of the land. In all other senses use is better.

Venal, venial. Venial, from the Latin venialis (forgivable) means excusable. Venal comes from the Latin venalis (for sale) and means something that is corruptible (capable of being bought).

Viable does not mean feasible or workable or promising, as is often thought. It means capable of independent existence.

Wean means to be parted from something no longer needed, as babies are weaned from their mothers' milk. Often the word is used wrongly to mean "raised" (Today's teenagers weaned on rap music...). If you are not following wean with from you are doing something wrong.

Weather conditions, weather activity -- just stick with weather.

Whether or not. The second two words should be dropped if the phrase is being used to mean if.

Whet one's appetite. Not wet. Whet has nothing to do with increased salivation; it means sharpen, and is the root of the word whetstone, used to sharpen knives.

Wound, scar. Not interchangeable. The scar is what is left behind after a wound heals. It is wrong, even figuratively, to speak about a scar healing.

Zoom. Stricltly speaking, zoom should be used only do describe a steep upward motion, and not just speed. It is too late to do anything about zoom lenses, and probably cars zooming around a track, but avoid using the word for fast downward movement (the plane zoomed down on the city), especially when swoop is available.

And that's it. I have more grammar books around here -- should I continue to find stuff in those books to blog about?

Monday, June 11, 2007

Grant Morrison's New X-Men 152

[This post is part of a series of posts looking issue by issue at Grant Morrison's New X-Men run; for more of the same click the new X-Men label at the bottom of this post].

The last of John Sublime's 3rd Species U-Men is seen here for the first time -- he works for the Beast, calls himself Apollyon the Destroyer, and may be Fantomex (which we will talk about in two more issues). We have a reader here doing a thesis on Morrison's New X-Men: he noticed that in The World Fantomex and EVA are like Adam and Eve; here, if this is Fantomex, he has gone from being a figure at the beginning of Christian time, to one at the end -- Apolloyon is a figure from the biblical Apocalypse.

I have come around to liking Mark Silvestri's art on this book, but occasionally it does not work; here it is just too self-serious for drawing something like a mutant who has a magic flying car. Morrison needs an artist who is fun for his fun ideas.

When Tom tells the children that the good guys always win, and one of them replies flatly that current statistical thinking suggests otherwise -- that is one of my favorite little lines in the book. I really don't know why, though. Tom is a great character, and playing his connection to a giant old school sentinel and his attraction to EVA as a love triangle is great fun, a great twist on an old formula.

The three remaining Cookoos describe the horror of the Beast taking over the world: "Evolution will grind to a halt. The future will belong to mass produced biological conformity." In terms of Morrison's little meta-story, this is his condemnation of the X-Men franchise that he simply cannot do anything with -- the future of superhero fiction is mass produced conformity.

And just another note on Morrison being great at naming things: Panafrica and Extrailia.

The highlight of this issue is a great two page spread of the team going off to fight the Beast -- Beak, Nova, Martha, Wolverine, EVA, Tom, and Rover. It will turn out that the Cookoos, working from home base, are Weapon 13, which means that half of the team consists of sentinels (the original sentinel, and Weapons 10, 13, and 14). Given that Wolverine is a mutant and Weapon 10, Martha is just a mutant brain, Tom is a human, and Nova is whatevertheheck she is supposed to be (mutant, free-floating emotional energy in an alien body, a Shi'ar legend) we can see the final legacy of Beak -- his grandson is the only straight up mutant left on the X-Men. The image of the team has another important detail -- Wolverine is wearing jeans, his old yellow top, a leather jacket and a cowboy hat, and Silvestri has drawn him with sultry female almond eyes: it is like some kind of weird parody of the fashion model stuff in the first issue.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Ocean's Thirteen Review (minor spoilers)

Ocean's 13 is a very good movie, but not a great movie -- it is the weakest of the three films, but not by much. It has some excellent sequences and scenes, but some of the pop and magic from 11 and 12 are missing, leaving you with the feeling that the whole thing is a little phoned in. Phoned in by geniuses, and so still pretty damn good, but phoned in nonetheless.

There is a sub-plot about a revolution at a Mexican factory that makes dice, infiltrated by one of our gang to rig the dice, that is quite fun. Ruben has a nice arc in which he rediscovers his old self -- with giant glasses and a ridiculous tux. Al Pachino is fun, and Elen Barken is an interesting addition; a single economical scene of her firing an employee over weight is all that is needed to establish her as someone who needs to be punished. There is a brilliant bit with Oprah that makes the whole film for me. The CGI building is a marvel, and a scene in which we quickly see shots of the inside of the building goes by too fast to take in, but the rooms are stunning. The overall plan to ruin Pachino by letting all the patrons win is a nice differentiation from the earlier two films. David Holmes's score is great, as it was for the first two films -- the score is a good percentage about what makes these films work, what really sells all the ridiculousness.

But some important aspects of 11 and 12 are missing. Julia Roberts and Catherine Zeta-Jones, for one thing. The cameos for another: earlier films had Topher Grace (easily the best scene in 12, and a great moment in 11), Bruce Willis, and Eddie Izzard. Here Izzard is promoted to a bigger role; he was only ever funny because he was playing himself. In this film he has more lines -- and this is completely absurd -- than Pitt does, most of them early on, when the audience needs to be sucked in, not thrown back on themselves; the fact that Izzard is a ham and a bad actor works for 12, which short circuits actors and characters; it works much less well in 13. The banter Casey Affleck and James Caan's son (I cannot remember his name and Sara keeps calling him Kahn Jr) was great in 11 and 12; there is only one good exchange between the two in this movie, and I wanted more. 12 had great meta-dialogue about, for example, Clooney's age; the meta dialogue about Clooney's weight and Pitt's kids seems forced at the end of this film. There are some jokes that revolve around the word "Wang" that are less than great. The third time around, you can feel the twists coming.

While the weakest of the Soderbergh Ocean's films, Ocean's 13 is part of a series of summer blockbuster films that are the third in a series -- Spiderman, Pirates, Schreck, Bourne. I have an inchoate feeling that Ocean's 13 is playing games with its position as a blockbuster (something Slate wrote about). It is a less that perfect Ocean's film, but a great summer movie.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Ocean's Twelve (reprint)

Back in April of 2006 I wrote a short piece for the Oxford Student Newspaper on why Ocean's Twelve is my favorite movie. That is no longer part of their archives online, so I will reprint it today, before reviewing Ocean's 13 tomorrow.

People I know cannot reconcile my usually excellent taste in movies with the fact that my favourite film is Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Twelve. But it is. And this is why.

I love genres. I wrote a book on superhero comics and Harold Bloom, and my doctoral dissertation at Balliol argues for the existence of an unrecognized genre of poetry. Genres are fun because we get to watch clever writers squirm to invent variations on well-worn themes that must appear, but appear differently to for us to care.

Soderbergh alternates between making popular stuff like Erin Brockovich and experimental stuff like Full Frontal. His Ocean’s Eleven puts charismatic actors in a tightly plotted, fun and likeable movie: it’s a flawless heist film in no need of a sequel. What makes Ocean’s Twelve so tricky is that it is an experimental film meant to follow a popular one.

Ocean’s Twelve, hilariously, destroys its own plot. The heist of Eleven takes up virtually the whole film; the main “heist” of Twelve is a single scene in which our heroes stage a fight so they can switch bags with a guy on a train. At every turn we are directed away from plot, toward watching movie stars on vacation. This is a lot more fun than it should be because Twelve, directed with easy confidence and lazy grace, is floated on a frightening (almost disturbing) level of star charisma from the whole cast, especially Clooney and Pitt.

Big stars don’t give the impression they are playing characters: saying “the George Clooney character” is accurate but emotionally wrong; “George Clooney robs three casinos” is the only description that does Eleven justice. Ocean’s Twelve jacks up this short circuit between big stars and their characters: the first film has Brad Pitt teaching poker to TV actors playing themselves; the sequel makes a “plot” point out of Julia Roberts’s Tess pretending to be Julia Roberts. The plot doesn’t matter because the actors are clearly having fun – debating, for example, whether George Clooney looks his age – and we are invited to have fun with them.

Ocean’s Twelve subversively and paradoxically reinvigorates the heist film by breaking it, by taking the Hollywood maxim that acting is a kind of confidence game to its logical extreme.

When I posted the link on my blog I added a paragraph, so readers here would get more than the readers of the student newspaper:

Because of space limitations I had to pick a scene to stand for a device the film used over and over: I mentioned the silly heist, but there are two more (one by our team, one my a competitor); I mentioned the way actors play themselves, but didn't have space to mention the fantastic Eddie Izzard cameo (where he basically plays himself), or the Bruce Willis one, in which he does play himself (and has to endure Matt Damon saying he figured out the ending of The Sixth Sense); I implied the way the movie puts style over substance, but did not have time to mention the way the meaningless thieves' cant scene, the holographic egg and the Capoiera laser-dance scene stand in for the film as a whole in this respect; and I didn't get to mention the wonderful meta-narrative detail -- not unlike the "actors play themselves" thing -- that the whole "plot" of Twelve is set in motion by an "American businessman" on a boat -- played by Ocean's Twelve producer Jerry Weintraub (who also has a cameo in Eleven).

Ocean's 13 review up tomorrow.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Free Form Comments

Say whatever you want to in the comments to this post -- random, off topic thoughts, ideas, suggestions, questions, recommendations, criticisms (which can be anonymous), surveys, personal news, self-promotion, and so on.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Grant Morrison's New X-Men 151

[This post is part of a series of posts dedicated to an issue by issue look at Grant Morrison's run on New X-Men. For more of the same click the New X-Men label at the bottom of this post.]

In the essay I wrote for Reconstruction years ago I noted that a writer's run on a title was like the translation of canonical poetry -- a new version of old things for a new generation of readers. Just as "Assault on Weapon Plus" was Morrison's take on the Weapon X program, "Here Comes Tomorrow" is his take on "Days of Future Past". What is important is that he chooses to end his run by jumping in the far future -- a future with Wolverine still around doing his cool Wolverine swagger, a future where the Beast still alive (as a version of the X-Men villain Apocalypse -- he is the Beast of the Apocalypse obsessed as Apocalypse is, with genetic perfection), a future with an original sentinel is still around, a future in which Phoenix is back (again) dressing slutty (again), and a future with warhead shaped boobs drawn by Mark Silvestri. Morrison's point with Magneto was that the X-Men are stuck in a cycle. In "Here Comes Tomorrow" it turns out that the future looks a lot like X-Men comics in the 1990s. The cycle goes on for as far as the eye can see.

And yet "Here Comes Tomorrow" is also the freshest thing in the run since Fantomex and Cassandra Nova, because in the future -- outside of the X-Men franchise, in a space that need not effect the tenure of any future writer -- Morrison gets to break out and just have the fun he should have been having all along. What makes the tone of "Here Comes Tomorrow" fascinating is that stale and fresh slam together -- Morrison can do whatever he wants, invent ANYTHING and play crazy games: and he remaps the world, giving us Tranatlantas, and Megamerica (Morrison is great at naming things). But is this world new? His final four issues, rather than being straight ahead inventive, invoke ideas from his previous thirty-seven -- Casandra Nova is back, E.V.A. is back, Fantomex may be back (I will talk about this in issue 154) the U-Men are back (well, one of them), John Sublime is back (in an odd form), the Cookoos are still around, the grandson of Beak is still around, Martha the human brain is still around. Morrison, like all X-Men writers, had to re-translate the canonical X-Men stories in his run; his run ends as he re-translates all the elements he introduced, a kind of reflexive micro version of the whole project. Just as his 41 issues revised X-Men history, his final four issues revise his own run.

It is an amazing way to end things. Morrison is very good at endings.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Comics Out June 6, 2007

Joss Whedon and Georges Jeanty's Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 #4. This issue wraps up the first arc, "The Long Way Home". Here is my question: if Whedon wrote this as a television show how many episodes would these four issues be? One? Two? These four issues read very well together, and provide the satisfying hook for the "season" I wanted from the first issue and would want from the first episode of a good television show. We learn that the dramatic final pages of issues one and three, while still relevant, will not be the main focus of the season, thankfully. (Their "inside baseball" quality got on my nerves a little). Now that I have more of an understanding who the Big Bad is for this season is, I have more confidence that this series is going to be excellent.

Nothing in the news jumped out at me, and I did not pick anything else up this week: review, recommend and discuss this week's comics and comics news.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

From Bill Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words 9 (Commonplace Book)

Substitute should only be followed by for. You substitute one thing for another. If you find yourself following the word with by or with or anything else, get another verb.

Successfully often creeps unnecessarily into sentences, for example "scientists have successfully developed a semi-conductor chip small enough to fit in an iPod." They could hardly have unsuccessfully developed one.

Thinking to himself. You cannot think to anyone else, so you should just write thinking. Also redundant is the phrase "in my mind" when you use it in a sentence like "I could picture in my mind where it was."

At this moment in time. Replace with now.

To all intents and purposes is a tautology. Use to all intents.

Total. Two things to note here. 1. Total is often used redundantly to qualify something already total, such as total annihilation. 2. Total of is common but often useless: a total of six houses should just be six houses.

Translucent is often wrongly used as a synonym for transparent. Translucent material is one through which light passes but images cannot be clearly seen, as with frosted glass.

True facts. Redundant.

Turbid, turgid. Turgid means inflated, grandiloquent, bombastic. It does not mean muddy or impenetrable, which meanings are covered by turbid.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Grant Morrison's New X-Men 150

[This post is part of a series of posts looking at Grant Morrison's New X-Men run issue by issue. For more posts like this click the new X-Men label at the bottom of this post.]

"Have your eyes grown back yet" is a great first line for any comic book; you knew Wolverine and Jean were not dead, but this is such a cool way to announce it.

Meanwhile, the Beast and Emma's ship, after it blew up in mid-air, crashed in the ocean and floated; the Beast and Emma survived somehow and have been sitting on it for three days. The combination of a lack of imagination and missing information here is maddening. Emma's response to Jean's dramatic rescue on the other hand -- "Bloody Jean showing off again" -- is wonderful.

Some nice foreshadowing: Magneto says he always suspected there was more to Ernst than meets the eye, and Esme knows who Weapon 13 is -- both of these details will lead into the true identity of these characters in the next four issues.

Fantomex's "You and whose knees" is a great little quip, and his retort "is everything you say a cliche" is great -- that actually makes Morrison's theme here fun.

Scott gets genuinely angry at Xorn for not being Xorn -- he is the voice of the reader here, angry that Xorn was never real -- but then lamely backs off after blasting him in the face: "I didn't mean to...". He almost changed, but Morrison's unpleasant little point here comes back and comes back -- he will always be weak and stifled because the X-Men, like Magneto, are in a repetitive cycle, a metaphor for the franchise (Morrison makes this point explicitly in a popimage interview a while back). That is why Morrison has Hank attack Magneto just like Hank attacked Nova, jumping on him with needles. We are already cycling back, and Morrison is not even done yet.

In "E for Extinction" Morrison introduced the idea that humanity is going to die out because of a genetic trigger. Hank has solved it in this issue, scratching on the wing of the plane. So there ends that little plot, which started the book off with so much edge. Morrison is angrily ending the things he introduced because he is finished writing this book, not because the story itself demands that they end here. It works with his theme, but it makes him a bad storyteller in these issues.

Magneto just kills Jean with an electromagnetic pulse, giving her a stroke. Again, not great storytelling, but Morrison is just fucking done here, and so he ends it. Wolverine cuts Magneto's head off; no more of the mutant justice Morrison introduced in his early issues, in which a genocidal maniac gets rehabilitated in the robot body of an alien. Heads roll like the French Revolution.

The issue, against all odds, ends beautifully, hauntingly. It is a wonderful end to a pitiful story, which is such a strange thing. Morrison can tell a story, he just does not want to in much of "Planet X" because his theme is that these repetitive superhero stories suck. As Jean dies a crack in the universe is created -- Jimenez just draws a simple tear in the page and zooms in on it, rather than do some cosmic shot of the multiverse or something more inhuman and Crisis-like. Scott in tears calls for Xorn failing to remember Xorn is not real until he says the name out lout, which is heartbreaking. The panels shrink into nothingness and break apart, and Jean calls Scott her best friend, tells him (in the voice of the Phoenix) to Live, and then (back to Jean's voice) says in small letters "All I ever did was die on you." Morrison can do wonders, when he wants to.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

TV Week in Review

In free form comments, Mitch made a good point -- maybe it is unfair of me to stop running my weekly TV in Review post just because the only new show that I watch is done until January. If you want to talk about TV this week -- and let's make it anything you watched this week, including movies and re-runs and DVDs -- do it here. If people use this space, I will keep putting it up; if not, not. Review, recommend, discuss.

For me I watched all of Frisky Dingo on youtube. If you do not know it, it is an Adult Swim cartoon in 15 minutes blocks about a supervillain (Killface) and a superhero (Awesome X) From the people who brought you Sealab, it is a good version of the standard Adult Swim logic in which the plot is driven by more and more surreal diversions, although instead of one-off bytes, there is continuity between episodes -- a girl reporter is introduced in one episode, as are computer keyboards that are also ant farms; later she falls into tanks of radioactive waste used to destroy the keyboards and radioactive ants infect her brain; she becomes an evil ant queen supervillain (Ant-igone), who robs banks; later we just drop this whole plot and the girl reporter gets rid of the ants by eating ant poison.

What really makes the show fun is the jokes on pacing. When Killface gets wounded he spends a good deal of time on a hospital payphone trying to get through to his insurance company -- who re-direct him through New Delhi -- before discovering that the company is owned by his billionaire nemesis, Awesome X.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Free Form Comments (For Real This Time)

I put up the call yesterday for free form comments, but the topic that was on my mind took over, generating 38 (often massive) comments so far. That has been great fun to read, but it also discouraged anyone from posting the random thoughts Free Form Comments is supposed to be home to. So here are the actual free form comments for the week.

Say whatever you want to in the comments to this post -- random, off topic thoughts, ideas, suggestions, questions, recommendations, criticisms (which can be anonymous), surveys, personal news, self-promotion, and so on.

For my part, thanks for making yesterday's post the most interesting thread we have had here in a while.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Free Form Comments (Growing Up and Art)

Say whatever you want to in the comments to this post -- random, off topic thoughts, ideas, suggestions, questions, recommendations, criticisms (which can be anonymous), surveys, personal news, self-promotion, and so on.

For my part I want to talk about this blog post, which I found this week through doublearticulation, about falling out of love with art. (You should be warned that this guy wrote a post about how great X3 was and how bad Lost Season 3 was -- [though some of his smaller points about Lost do make a landing]). He says this:

"Once you can no longer use loans from Mom and the Government as a crutch without loosing your dignity? What then? Suddenly making sure you don't have holes in your run of whatever comic, or making sure that you tape every-single-episode of every-single-show you that like, it starts to loose its importance. It starts to seem utterly trivial. It is replaced by things like acquiring food, shelter, and a job." He concludes with "Growing up is just as horrible as I always thought it would be."

It reminded me of something I read on Slate about Watchmen -- the author said that "No adult has time for aesthetic 'difficulty' or 'self-consciousness'". Then in response to my Matt Fraction Geek Speak appearance a guy on the CGS forum had this to say:

"This episode was torture. I've never enjoyed Fractions work, including Five Fists of Science, Punisher War Journal and Casinova [sic], and listening to the discussion with Klock was like going to Design & Film school all over again. If there's one thing I can't stand, it's people that are full of themselves."

"Was I supposed to be impressed by the amount of pop culture they have taken notes on? I'm sorry that these pretentious blow hards would consider me a philistine, but between fixing my gutters, working master control at a TV station, freelancing my Photoshop skills, and changing my sons [sic] poopy diapers, I just don't have the time to care about unsung action movies from the 70's."

This subject is now officially bothering me, and I would like to hear some chatter about it.