Friday, December 26, 2008


Dennis Cozzalio has posted his traditional Christmas quiz, and, once again, it's kinda extraordinary in its genius. Dennis has one of the best blogs on the interwebs, and, with this year's quiz, he has outdone himself. It is only in the classes of Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule University that you will be asked to choose between Ida Lupino and Mercedes McCambridge, but not before you create the main event card for the ultimate giant movie monster smackdown.


Here are my answers:

1) What was the last movie you saw theatrically? On DVD or Blu-ray?

The last movie I saw at the cinema was The Day The Earth Stood Still. There is a scene at a McDonald's where Keanu Reeves meets with James Hong, also an alien pilgrim (SPOILER!), and the two start having an interplenary tête-à-tête in Mandarin. It’s supposed to be a pivotal scene, but all I could think of was Wayne's World 2 where Mike Myers and James Hong also start conversing in Mandarin – the latter is played for laughs, the former gets them gratis. I half expected Keanu to take out a katana blade. Not that katana blade.

I finally saw Thank You For Smoking on DVD last Sunday. It’s a very entertaining film, subtle yet powerful, and, at times, incredibly funny. Aaron Eckhart carries the film – without him, the film might, just might, have floundered a bit.

Sod it. I cannot tell a lie. After Thank You For Smoking was over, I realised I had time for another film before I hit the sack. My choice? The Wedding Date, with Debra Messing (who is one of the most photogenic actresses of her generation), and, er, that guy.

You know?

Always wears a shirt?

Him, yeah!

I usually enjoy tripe, but this was tripe mixed with saccharine: an equally egregious combination as food and as metaphor.

2) Holiday movies— Do you like them naughty or nice?

I like them nice. It’s A Wonderful Life is Capra’s best film. Bell, Book and Candle. Die Hard!

And it’s not just Christmas, either. I just love holiday flicks. Groundhog Day! Trains, Planes and Automobiles!

I even enjoy Jingle All The Way. What? WHAT?

You didn’t ask, but here's my favourite sequence from an Arnie film:

3) Ida Lupino or Mercedes McCambridge?

Mercedes McCambridge. Her voice had amazing range, and was almost as distinctive as that of Orson Welles. Didn’t they have a thing?

4) Favorite actor/character from Twin Peaks

Michael Horse as Deputy Hawk. He was also in a great episode of The X-Files, too.

5) It’s been said that, rather than remaking beloved, respected films, Hollywood should concentrate more on righting the wrongs of the past and tinker more with films that didn’t work so well the first time. Pretending for a moment that movies are made in an economic vacuum, name a good candidate for a remake based on this criterion.

The Princess Bride. Here is why.

6) Favorite Spike Lee joint.

25th Hour.

It’s not the most obvious example of his oeuvre, but it’s one that has resonated with me the most over the years.

A few months ago, almost a year ago actually, I saw Jungle Fever for the first time. There is a scene where the women sit around a living room, and talk about men, society, race – but mainly men. I read that the dialogue was mostly improvised, and it turns almost musical accompanied with Stevie Wonder’s dulcet score in the background. It’s one of the greatest scenes in cinema.

7) Lawrence Tierney or Scott Brady?


I love Tierney for a lot of things, but, mostly, for his work as Cyrus Redblock and Joe, er, the Gangster (I so wanted to type Plumber), in Star Trek: TNG and Reservoir Dogs respectively.

And Scott Brady? Dude! Gremlins! Come on!

8) Are most movies too long?

No, but most questionnaires are.


Anyway, no. Only the bad ones outstay their welcome.

9) Favorite performance by an actor portraying a real-life politician.

Micheal Sheen as Tony Blair in The Deal and The Queen. I am so fricking psyched for The Special Relationship. And, while we are on the subject of British politicians, I also like Ian McKellen’s John Profumo in Scandal (though it’s John Hurt who steals the show, overall, in that flick).

Finally, I am also a fan of Martin Sheen’s prescient performance as Barack Obama in The West Wing.

10) Create the main event card for the ultimate giant movie monster smackdown.

I have to go along with Rob Reiner here: Kramer vs Kramer vs Godzilla.

11) Jean Peters or Sheree North?

Viva Josefa Zapata!

12) Why would you ever want or need to see a movie more than once?

It’s most definitely not true what they say. You can’t have too much of a good thing.

(If it were true, life would not exist)

13) Favorite road movie.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

Again, you didn’t ask, but, I’ll tell you. Favourite actor whose name starts with an M and ends with icheal McKean: Michael McKean.

14) Favorite Budd Boetticher picture.

Ride Lonesome. In fact, that’s the only one of his pictures that I’ve ever seen, I think.

15) Who is the one person, living or dead, famous or unknown, who most informed or encouraged your appreciation of movies?

My dad.

Others: Roger Ebert, Jim Emerson, Matt Seitz, and Dennis Cozzalio.

16) Favorite opening credit sequence. (Please include YouTube link if possible.)

North By Northwest.

17) Kenneth Tobey or John Agar?

John Agar.

18) Jean-Luc Godard once suggested that the more popular the movie, the less likely it was that it was a good movie. Is he right or just cranky? Cite the best evidence one way or the other.

He is being cranky. There’s a Robert Graves quote about Shakespeare: “Despite the fact that everyone says he's very good; he really is very good.”

Though, this summer, most people were wrong. The Dark Knight is bollocks.

19) Favorite Jonathan Demme movie.

The Silence of the Lambs (see above quote on Will).

20) Tatum O’Neal or Linda Blair?

Both; at the same time, thanks.

21) Favorite use of irony in a movie. (This could be an idea, moment, scene, or an entire film.)

A Mighty Wind. Harry Shearer’s character, Mark Shubb, has had a sex change and he’s talking about it to the camera, sitting next to his bandmates, Christopher Guest’s Alan Barrows and Micheal McKean’s Jerry Palter. He goes into a bizarre rant:

“It was like a great big door opening for me... Town Hall... after that concert, I realized I wanted to spend as much of the rest of my life as possible playing folk music with these gentlemen and I wanted to spend all of it as a woman. I came to a realization that I was - and am - a blonde, female folk singer trapped in the body of a bald, male folk singer and I had to LET ME OUT or I WOULD DIE.”

Jerry Palter breaks the uncomfortable silence: “When you put it that way, it's almost poetry.”

Alan Burrows, after a beat: Almost.

22) Favorite Claude Chabrol film.

Not a big fan of his work. I remember not disliking Madame Bovary.

23) The best movie of the year to which very little attention seems to have been paid.

The X-Files: I Want To Believe and Swing Vote were both considered duds – critically, and financially. They’re both excellent.

Also, Forgetting Sarah Marshall was as good, if not better, than the admittedly wonderful Pineapple Express.

24) Dennis Christopher or Robby Benson?

Dennis Christopher.

25) Favorite movie about journalism.

Broadcast News.

26) What’s the DVD commentary you’d most like to hear? Who would be on the audio track?

Orson Welles doing live commentary on his film version of Arthur C Clarke’s Childhood’s End. While drunk.

(There is a script of this project somewhere in LA – if you find it, send it over please)

27) Favorite movie directed by Clint Eastwood.


28) Paul Dooley or Kurtwood Smith?

Paul Dooley. Love him in Curb. Love him in A Mighty Wind. Love him in everything.

29) Your clairvoyant moment: Make a prediction about the Oscar season.

It’s going to be wank.

30) Your hope for the movies in 2009.


31) What’s your top 10 of 2008? (If you have a blog and have your list posted, please feel free to leave a link to the post.)

Not finished yet, since there is so many films that have yet to open here in Turkey.

BONUS QUESTION (to be answered after December 25):

32) What was your favorite movie-related Christmas gift that you received this year?

A shot of Dolores Madeleine Haze, taken by Jim Emerson’s Blackberry, in his back porch. He calls it his Let The Right One In shot. It’s glorious.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Thundercat's Whiskers

The cardinal sin of many a recent comics or cartoon adaptation is the pomposity with which the filmmakers approach the source material. It’s not really their fault – they are only in it for the money (show me a director burning with the creative desire to make a Denver, The Last Dinosaur flick, and I’ll show you a weirdo) , and they realise how much the core group of fans have invested in the trials and tribulations of, say, a garbage truck that can metamorphose into a triceratops. Early bad buzz from otherwise rather laggard interweb folk can turn a blockbuster into a dud before it even has a chance to screen for the press (case in point: The Spirit – though Frank Miller and his EGO seem to be responsible for the brunt of that backlash). So Hollywood has been taking the sequacious nerds, and their beloved robots, knights, whatever, as seriously as they do themselves. I have written about this before, but just to recap, it’s a relatively recent trend. It started with (a kiss? No) Bryan Singer’s X-Men, and like an avalanche in tights, it picked up speed and debris along the way, culminating in the bloated juggernaut that is The Dark Knight (Aside: I recently read a comment somewhere that compared Nolan’s film to Bergman – I weep tears of blood for the youth of today). Albeit devoid of éclat, élan, and joie de vivre, three qualities that define superhero comics of yesteryear, the film massacred at the box office, and third-rate knock-off copies are already in the pipeline. Fingers crossed for a Power Pack film with the team made up, solely, of victims of child abuse!

Anyway, Devin Faraci at Chud, whose Top 15 films of 2008 piece is – as always – a brilliant read, has posted a hilarious fanmade live-action trailer for Thundercats. I, too, thought it was an excellent piece of satire, demolishing a wide variety of recent Hollywood mainstays, such as the fustian blockbuster, in one fell swoop, but reading some of the comments by the video’s creator WormyT, I have the vexatious feeling that it might have been a more serious attempt than I originally assumed.

Who cares? Trust the art, not the artist. This is priceless!

Monday, December 15, 2008

"But they'll never take..."

I have a few posts planned for this week and the next. But, more importantly, I am writing a mammoth “year in review” piece for 2008, which should go live early next month (or year – it really depends on your philosophical perspective).

In the meantime, enjoy this glorious clip that will pick you right up this fine Monday morning.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Death of Supermen

I used to love comic books when I was growing up. And especially super hero comics. In Ankara during the early eighties, there simply wasn’t a wide enough variety of titles for me to choose from, which was a problem for a chubby child whose footballing talents made him the laughing stock of the local kids (it might have had something to do with my mother dressing me up as a girl until I was fourteen, but probably not).

There were a few Turkish titles making the rounds, all of them historical tomes taking place during the glory days of the Huns or the Ottomans. Most of them were reprints from the seventies, and had the feel of newspaper serials than full blown comic books. Some were pretty awesome, mind: I doubt if Spider-Man ever battled the Romans as well as an army of Chinese vampires simultaneously, but Tarkan did, and it was pretty fucking cool (Aside: Tarkan was also published in the UK at one point, and Lew Stringer has provided a scan right here).

We also had a whole bunch of European (continental) comics. Two of the most popular ones were Italian, I think, and old, too, from the late fifties/early sixties, and being reprinted again and again. Their post-war continental quaintness was offset by how dreadfully dull they both were. People here still go on about how wonderful those books are (one takes place during the American War of Independence, the other in the Wild West a century or so later) – horses for courses. Anyway, I wasn’t into them.

Nor was I into some of the more recent Italian crap like Zagor (no idea why all these characters with European origin were set in the US), or Lee Falk’s Phantom or Mandrake, both of which had healthy runs in this country (they might still be in print, but life’s too short to find out either way).

So, when I say I used to love comic books when I was growing up, what I really mean is I used to love American comics. And those bad boys were difficult to come by.

Conan The Barbarian, Spider-Man and Superman were the only three that were regularly published. My favourite was Conan, and I still think John Buscema’s and Roy Thomas’s run on The Savage Sword of Conan books during the late seventies is still one of the finest pieces of sequential art in the history of the medium. I suppose Conan is more of a pulp hero than a superhero per se, but the Marvel Comics version of the character did tilt more towards the latter. The way the stories were constructed, or characters defined, had more in common with 1970’s superhero comics than Robert E Howard’s original pulp novels (and I think fans of those books would agree).

But I was into Spider-Man and Superman almost as much as I was into Conan. They used to come out every month in black and white, pocket-sized formats, each issue containing about three or four separate stories (some of them carrying on from the previous one). But that was it. No crossovers, no eight hundred different titles to follow in order to get why Superman was fighting a plague of Martian marmosets, no sense of a larger comics universe. I look back now and realise that was a good thing, but, at the time, the lack of all that used to piss me off endlessly (and random references to, or arbitrary appearances by, other heroes were equally frustrating). By the end of the eighties, characters like The Incredible Hulk and The Silver Surfer had received their own titles, and the company that used to run them (called, imaginatively enough, Marvel Turkey) started to include one-off stories from other comics – a few X-Men stories here, a few Defenders (eh, indeed) there.

That was also around the time when original books from DC and Marvel started hitting the shelves. They were prohibitively expensive, and I managed to collect a few, but my full on immersion did not come until a few years later when we moved to Germany, and I was finally able to spend all my pocket money on crap like The Infinity Gauntlet or Quasar. By the time, I’d had my fill, and decided it was a more venerable waste of my time chasing girls and failing, instead of chasing a first edition of Superman #75 and failing, technology had finally started to catch up with what was on the pages of any given issue of the forty-seven different titles of the X-Men.

But I still have a predilection for superheroes. Especially superhero films. Thinking about The Dark Knight this summer, however, I came to the conclusion that their end is nigh. Or, at least, the end of the modern superhero genre.

Now, the modern superhero film does not have its origin in the late nineties, naturally. But, the first four Superman movies, or the first four Batman films, were still different sorts of movies from the type of comic book flicks that came in the wake of the first X-Men movie’s success. Due, mainly, to technical difficulties, or the concrete set of boundaries the studios drew between the comics and their on screen counterparts, most superheroes were treated as separate entities from the larger universe they’d inhabit within their comic books. I remember watching a Stan Lee interview in 1994 or 1995 when he was talking about how Marvel was trying to resolve the issue of rights between them and Sony, and, if successful, their director of choice would be Jim Cameron. What was interesting was the name Lee was championing for Peter Parker: none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger. Even the companies themselves treated the film incarnations of their characters as totally separate properties.

I am also not naïve enough to suggest that after X-Men, the films and the comics were completely congruous, all part of one complete whole, but the films have been, more often than not, set in a sort of reality that has much more in common with the comics than just costumes and special powers. Bryan Singer’s X-Men was an anomalous turning point when studios, and filmmakers, realised that sticking closely to established superhero lore, at least as closely as possible, did not have to turn a film inherently unprofitable by appealing to close knit cadre of nerds. If anything, the opposite was true.

Like Silver Surfer to Galactus (NERD!), Singer’s X-Men heralded the coming of the serious superhero movie, and almost all superhero flicks that came after it have stuck to that particular modus operandi, some more so than others. I have to qualify the seriousness I suppose, because I don’t just mean it in its literal sense but the way it alludes to a link with reality. This turned out to be a slippery slope for superhero films. Being grounded in a recognisable, or at least relatable, reality sent the superhero genre towards a dark place where its central, most important tenet - being fun, and having a sense of wonder - was ripped from it by market forces and a vociferous bunch of angry fanboys.

Bryan Singer’s X-Men was the first stop on the long road leading to the enervation of the superhero films. Relatability to reality was key in the way that film was formed – just like in the comics, the mutants worked as a metaphor pretty much any minority you can think of, and their prosecution was made all the less subtle by making the chief villain of the piece a Holocaust survivor. The problem here, of course, was that the benevolent intentions of such a construction was lost in the general movie going populace – or at least the crowd of kids the film was aimed at. In the mutants ongoing fight for recognition, the teens saw their daily tribulations against their parents, school, society – whatever was pissing them off that day.

And this interpretation of the film’s central theme paved the way for pretty much all other comic book films to come in the following decade. Angst, melodrama and pomposity, coupled with the tendency permeating through all blockbusters to be longer, and more excessively violent, eventually transformed the superhero film into a mish mash of half-baked ideas.

The most recent example of this was The Dark Knight, about which I write in more detail in my previous post. The obvious problem is that Batman is a terrible character to begin with. When asked why the Batman in his two films never really made mention of the childhood tragedy that befell his parents, Joel Schumacher said: “I thought he should have got over it by now.” And that is actually a more realistic approach to the character than the supposed realism of the modern Batman mythos. It also offers deeper insight. The realism championed by The Dark Knight, and many a modern superhero flick, is not so much realism but a gray, emo world of banality and bathos, all pandering to the annoying thirteen years old of this world, in age, or in mentality.

(Updated: 23/12/2008): It must be pointed out this is not purely a creative issue since movies like the dreadful Fantastic Four were financial successes despite their awfulness. It boils down to money. People will pour money into a superhero picture no matter how bad it is if it has something (or someone) that appeals to them.

A few astute readers, and Troy in the comments section, have identified this piece as a bit of a cop-out, one friend arguing that "it takes a punk ass look at things, refusing to blame the real reason these movies have gotten so dark and 'realistic.'" And they are kind of right, since most of the blame should go to comic book readers. In a typically arts-major maneuver, comic books started attempting to grasp for respectability when none was required nor expected. They suddenly became overarching "graphic novels." Some are good, like Watchmen and The Crow. Many are not, such as most of Frank Miller's work.

Hollywood, by virtue of looking at what these graphic novels depict, is playing what the people like. And it should be mentioned that only a lack of interest from paying customers will derail the superhero movie train. It's all about money. People love money. That's why they call it money.

Anyway, I can’t name a single straight superhero story since X-Men. There are only so many different ways to approach the characters in order to make them interesting, and the well seems to have been run dry. But let’s take a look at the different ways Hollywood has been approaching superhero stories. Now these “issues” are prevalent in the actual comics themselves, too, but they are never the primary reason for the stories unlike in the films:

The Superhero Movie as Coming of Age Metaphor

The dean of this illustrious school is, of course, Spider-Man. And here I suppose I have to cut the first Spider-Man movie some slack because, in the comics too, the character’s origin was as unsubtle a metaphor as they come. But the comics, as did Peter Parker, outgrew this phase.
The Spider-Man comics, the first fifteen – twenty years, had, what now appears to be, a formulaic set up, even though, at the time, it was revolutionary. The day-to-day tribulations of the eponymous hero’s alter ego were shadowed by the latter’s punch-ups with his super-powered enemies. It was a refreshing approach, but, as the character grew and developed, it got old. Thankfully, the comics moved the fuck on. The films, alas, haven’t (so far). They reached their apex with the second entry, and their nadir with the third.

As a sub-genre, like all the others I shall presently get to, this is a cul-de-sac. Creatively, it’s a vicious circle treading the same ground ad infinitum. Its sole purpose, apart from allowing me to mix metaphors like a whirling dervish moonlighting as a bartender, is to make teenagers (of all ages) feel content. There will always be a market for it. Then again, there’s always a market for crap like the Jonas Brothers, too. Market potential and quality are mutually exclusive.

The Superhero Movie as Issue Metaphor

This sub-genre also has its roots in the comics. The X-Men books, originating as they did in the mid-sixties, were all-too-obvious allegories to the civil rights movement. The films, too, used the mutant cause as a metaphorical tool to link their risible core with world affairs (as did Superman IV, but let’s ignore that for the time being).

The problem is this approach has also hit a major creative roadblock. The X-Men films or The Dark Night are thematically so amorphous that they can be construed as winks at pretty much anything the viewer wants them to be. Gay rights, War on Terror, Iraq… You name the issue, the films can be stretched to cover it. This was also the case with Apocalypto or 300, too: Postmodern and metatextual commentary so blatant, yet so insipid that any critical charge can be countered by a defensive shrug. “It’s only a movie.” Well, yes. But it is also incredibly cowardly to take a stand against an issue, and then dismiss it when the stand being made is asked to be accounted for. Superhero movies these days are all too happy to make blanket statements about this issue or the other. That’s not the problem. The problem is the lack of a cohesive core.

I am interested to see how the sequel to Iron Man is going to deal with Stark’s alcoholism, for example, without actually dealing with his alcoholism.

The Funny Superhero Movie

This approach has a few faces (like Man-a-Faces from the old He-Man cartoons). It can be a spoof, like Mystery Men (great). It can be a meta-comedy like Hancock (not). Or it can be a serious superhero movie masquerading as a comedy masquerading as a serious superhero movie like Iron Man (I loved Iron Man, by the way). I am not decrying their existence, and a funny superhero film like The Incredibles can be much better than a super-serious one. But, either way, everything that needed to be done has already been done. I am sure there will be some hilarious superhero films in the years to come just as there will be some kick-ass “serious” ones. The fact remains, however, that the approach has aged.

The Revisionist Superhero Movie:

Great example: Batman Begins.
Terrible Example: The Dark Knight.

There are of course other avenues in which a superhero film has been approached lately. The Superhero movie as an exercise in style or the superhero movie as just another blockbuster, for example (Fox has been treating its superhero properties with the same sort of disdain Hollywood used to do in the eighties).
But the genre is done. At least creatively.

Until, at least, the world is ready for a straight Superman flick. Or Watchmen ends up deconstructing the super-serious comic book movie the way the source material deconstructed superheroes.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Holy Hiatus, Batman!

Hiatus is such a lovely word. Say it once, and it brings up images of ninjas and dwarfs. Or ninja dwarfs. Anyway, it’s a nice word.

And it’s as good a word as any to describe my rather long sabbatical from blogging. Given its voluntary nature, I really should not have to explain myself, but I feel like I do, and not just because I received three wonderfully written hate mails bitching about why I hadn’t updated the site. Well, it’s a fucking hobby, laydeez (they were all from laydeez – I wish I knew what a laydee is). I haven’t sketched for a while, either, even though I love it, and I don’t hear people bitching about that. And, you know, they would, if they only saw how brilliant I am at it. I am like the Michelangelo of sketching. Not the renaissance painter, you understand, but the Ninja Turtle. Oy. Again with the ninjas.

Anyway, apart from personal grounds I prefer not to get into, there were a few incidental reasons that prevented me form updating. First of all, holidays. I had a bizarre leave schedule this summer, where I had a week off at the end of each summer month (and September, actually), and I explored the delights of the Aegean littoral. And, by that, I mean I stayed at my parents’ summer house, and read an inordinate amount of books lying under the sun(I finally read Freakonomics, and I seriously don’t know what the fuss is all about; Midnight’s Children, on the other hand, is still as great as ever). I also cruised round the Greek islands (Leros is paradise). And, you know, given the choice between the beauty of the Aegean, and writing about how dreadful The Dark Knight really is… Actually, that’s not even a choice at all.[1]

Secondly, I was inundated with work this summer: it’s been incredibly busy. So busy, in fact, that I have not had the time to properly frequent my favourite haunts like Jim’s Scanners, The House Next Door, Dennis’s Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, Nathan’s The Film Experience, Ed Copeland on Film… Well, pretty much any site you see on the list of links at the sidebar. This is as good a place as any to mention that the inimitable Roger Ebert, our fearless reader, also started a blog this summer, and I urge each and every one of you to check it out. Ebert’s blog acts as a brilliant companion piece to his main site.

Anyway, it was a pretty hectic summer. I write my pieces in my own time, and never at work (if I were a gladiator, I’d be Scrupulous). [2] But I simply haven’t had that much free time outside of the office, either, which brings me to my final reason. I usually leave work at around eight, and it used to take me a good hour, hour and a half to get home, by which time, again, the lure of a cold beer and Jay Leno far outweighed my desire to share with the world why The Ting Tings' Shut Up and Let Me Go is the best pop song of the decade so far.[3] Which is why I looked for a new place closer to work for the latter half of the summer, and finally moved into my shiny new apartment last week.

So, after almost five months, I am finally ready to unleash upon the world (and by world, I mean the three people, including me, who read this blog) my views once again. Anyone who might have stumbled upon this place by accident should know the deal by now. I write petulant, longwinded rants mostly, but not exclusively, on film and television. I say not exclusively, because the recent spate of films I saw at the cinema has not really warranted all that much discussion.[4] Still, there was one film this summer that I would like to talk about: The Dark Knight.

Or, in the words of Don Corleone, “how did things ever get so far?” Watching the DVD extras of Batman Begins, I had got the unsubtle hint that Christopher Nolan took pretty much everything in the world, from doing laundry to clipping one’s toenails, Very Seriously, but nothing could have prepared me for the haughty monstrosity that was The Dark Knight. And I love Batman Begins. I think it’s not only the best superhero origin tale (the first Superman is not an origin story), it’s probably the best superhero film ever, and definitely one of the best films this decade. To say I had high hopes for its sequel is putting it mildly.

And that’s one of the key points. The Dark Knight is not a sequel to Batman Begins. The actors are the same, sure, and, thus, the characters, but they inhabit two completely different universes. A shadowy organisation of ninjas (none of them diminutive, alas) called The League of Shadows, run by a foppish Frenchman, and intent on razing Gotham, would feel completely out of place in the latter film. The Dark Knight doesn't just have a different tone, it plays a totally different instrument.

Gotham, too, looks different between the two films. In the first one, it has a reddish orange hue; it’s claustrophobic, and, even though I don’t want to use the word, gothic. In the second film, it just looks like Chicago. I know the first film was mainly shot on a soundstage, and that a big deal was made of the second film’s use of Chicago, but still, one would expect some sort of consistency.

Batman Begins is a superhero film that pushes its boundaries to the extreme. The Dark Knight is a film that obliterates those limits in the hopes of becoming a crime noir. And that would be a laudable intention, if it weren’t for the fact that it’s still a film about a guy who dresses up as a fucking bat and fights crime. It is because of its very essence that the film is inherently unable to make that leap towards serious crime drama. Batman Begins succeeds by remaining a superhero movie, The Dark Knight flounders by trying to abandon its roots.[5] And it’s not a pleasant sight.

Also not a pleasant sight: the acting. Apart from Gary Oldman’s Police Commissioner Ned Flanders, and Michael “Maybe, it’s because I’m a Londonah; aw’ight, guv” Caine, the rest of the cast can’t decide what sort of movie they’re making. Christian Bale snarls, and growls, and helpfully shows us what constipation would sound like if it could talk. Similarly, Aaron Eckhart is just a foreshadowing tool, and the late Heath Ledger a cautionary tale to all aspiring young actors on how not to do it. In fact, the principles are not fleshed out characters defined by habitual action, but, instead, concepts. It reminded me of an acting class I took once, where we were all given an emotion, and only that emotion, to act out. Good to see Mrs Beasley carrying on the good fight in Hollywood.

I am not saying that a superhero film cannot, or should not, be serious – in fact, most superhero films swing laboriously from juvenile angst to melodrama and back that a superhero film rooted in some sort of reality is usually a welcome change (case in point Batman Begins). But The Dark Knight takes itself so seriously, that, by the time Gary Oldman was giving his nonsense speech about how Batman has to run, and they have to chase him (long speech at the end of a long movie spelling out its main theme is so The Two Towers), I found myself giggling. The Dark Knight is like David Caruso in CSI: Miami; pompous, supercilious, and utterly ridiculous.[6]

[1] Word’s Grammar Check is suggesting beauties instead of beauty. Good old Microsoft, and its lofty yet unrealistic expectations of my love life.
[2] If I were a carpenter, and you were a lady; would you marry me anyway, would you have my baby?
[3] It is, by the way.
[4] I finally saw Galaxy Quest 2: Tropic Thunder last weekend, enjoyed it very much.
[5] Also, it doesn’t deal with issues so much as just mentions them (this facet of the film was discussed this summer at Scanners, too). Saying that we don’t live in a black and white world is not particularly insightful, nor is it original. Nor does it make a movie complex.
[6] But, thankfully, not a ginger.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Blog-a-thon Nexus

The nexus was never an artifact (read: MacGuffin) that Indy was ever compelled to seek, but it should have been. Post your links at the comments section, or email them to me, and I'll put them up here. Laters skaters.

Update (28/05/08) - Thanks to everyone who took part in the blog-a-thon last week. It was a great laugh, and I received some wonderful feedback (not to mention my first ever hate-mail - yay) from people all over the world. Blog-a-thon Hotwash and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull review coming soon. Laters.

24/05/08 -

- Drake Lelane knows the score.

- The Mad Hatter reviews Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

- So does Dan.

- And Jason Bellamy.

23/05/2008 -

- Jim Emerson puts The Temple of Doom in its historical context.

- An introspective look at the films by Rob Humanick.

22/05/2008 (Enjoy the film, folks) -

21/05/2008 -

20/05/2008 -

- Peet Gelderblom knows exactly what Georgie Boy likes...

19/05/2008 -

18/05/2008 -

17/05/2008 -

16/05/2008 -

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Doctor Jones, we've heard a lot about you

It’s almost time. The long promised – and pimped – Indiana Jones Blog-a-Thon starts tomorrow, and will run for a week until 23rd May. I have already heard from a few people who have written some excellent pieces. If I were the punning kind, I’d say we have top men working on it. Top…Men. Whaddayaknow? I am the punning kind.

Here is how the whole thing will go:

- Put up a piece(not that piece) on your blog, and send me a link.

- Fine, I get it, you don’t want to email me for fear of catching a disease. That’s OK, too. There will be a nexus on top of the page for the week of the blog-a-thon. Add a comment to it with the link to your piece, and I’ll update the list accordingly.

- You have a life, which is why you don’t own a blog, but you wanted to write a few paragraphs on the ways Short Round is a better character than Data. Send it to me in Word format, and I’ll put it up on the main site with credit to you.

What can I say – this is all very exciting, and I am looking forward to the fun and frolics.

Important: Please note that I am in Turkey, and there is a 7-10 hours time difference with the States.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Why meme?

I like memes, and not just because the word meme means breast in Turkish. Peter Nellhaus at Coffee, Coffee, and More Coffee, one of the great blogs out there, posted one recently, which piqued my interest. The rules are simple:

1) Pick up the nearest book.
2) Open to page 123.
3) Locate the fifth sentence.
4) Post the next three sentences on your blog and in so doing…
5) Tag five people, and acknowledge who tagged you.

The nearest book around me is Philip Pullman’s The Amber Spyglass, the final part of the His Dark Materials trilogy. I read it about six months ago, but it’s just been sitting here on my desk, waiting to be returned to its owner (thanks, JC – ironic that the person who lent me this atheistic fable shares his initials with Hay-zeus). I am a fan of the book’s ideas – the parallel evolution angle has been justly celebrated, and the story is a fine latter-day homage to Paradise Lost. But I find the final book lacking in drama, which is usurped, instead, by the subtext. I see what Pullman’s getting at, I appreciate the world(s) he’s created, but I just don’t feel any immediacy to the two main characters. Pullman’s affinity for dangling modifiers, and needlessly complicated imagery of the locales (his descriptions of the Citagazze seafront in the second book are all over the place) don’t help matters, either.

But enough of my yakkin’ – let’s boogie:

“So each side was aware that the other was also making its way towards the cave in the mountains. And they both knew that whoever got there first would have the advantage, but there wasn’t much in it: Lord Asriel’s gyropters were faster than the zeppelins of the Consistorial Court, but they had further to fly, and they were limited by the speed of their own zeppelin tanker.

And there was another consideration: whoever seized Lyra first would have to fight their way out against the other force.”


And, finally, tag you very much:

Jonathan Lapper’s CinemaStyles
Dennis Cozzalio’s Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule
Kevin J Olson’s Hugo Stiglitz Makes Movies
Zach Campbell’s Elusive Lucidity

Friday, May 2, 2008

Summer Movie Preview: Part I

There is a bulbous whitehead growing on the side of my nose. I noticed it this morning in the lift, and it’s been bugging me ever since. Why do bad things happen to good people? I ask myself that same question quite often during the summer months, and it’s not just because I crash and burn like the Hindenburg at every single beach party. No, it’s because, nine times out of ten, I leave a summer blockbuster feeling hollow, less fulfilled than before I went into the cinema – if such a thing is possible. One can’t blame Hollywood – it’s its nature. The fault lies not in our stars, but in ourselves – like Kevin Bacon’s Chip, I keep getting pounded on the ass by summer blockbusters, and yet I still ask for more.

There are various reasons why I keep going back to the whooping well. I need to see moving images, especially after dinner – that’s the first thing. I also like it when things explode – that’s the other. But the most important one is hope. I hope that the next film I see is better than the previous one; I hope for wonder and awe; I hope for a revelation. Watching a Hollywood blockbuster is like a stagecoach ride in the Old West. When you start, you are hoping for a pleasant trip. By the halfway point, you just hope to survive. And before I get going, I hope I got some brownie points from the more refined lovers of art frequenting this blog for working in Shakespeare, Day For Night, and Animal House in the same introduction.

I dealt with Iron Man yesterday and you can read that piece by scrolling down to the previous post. I see on Rotten Tomatoes that it got great reviews from many of the respected print critics out there, which is terribly impressive for a movie like Iron Man. As long as the film has a huge opening weekend (which it still might not – and not because of GTA 4), Paramount might greenlight a sequel before the week is out, it seems. Please, please, please call the sequel Iran Man. The possibilities are endless.

Everyone bitches about summers’ being full of sequels – everyone should shut the hell up. Sure, original product is preferable than retreats, but an offhanded dismissal of all sequels/remakes/relaunches is reductivist horseshit. That hardly any sequel is ever good, let alone as good as the original, has absolutely nothing to do with the price of fish. I don’t see people bitching about The Odyssey, The Merry Wives of Windsor, or, in fact, The New Testament (though, to be fair, even that got its fair share of detractors at the time for toning down the original’s violence).

The first sequel of the summer is Prince Caspian, the follow-up to 2005’s Narnia, and to type out the full names of both is an invitation to carpal tunnel syndrome, so you will just have to live with my arbitrary, and ever changing, epithets. I can safely say that this film holds absolutely no interest for me. As a kid, I used to be a huge fan of sword and sorcery, and mythology, and fantasy, and all that geeky crap. While children my age were kicking the ball around outside, I was in my room, reading Roy Thomas and John Buscema’s excellent run on The Savage Sword of Conan, or devouring books on Greek and Norse mythology, or just simply fantasising about worlds with knights, dragons, sorcerers, all reasons that have contributed to my somewhat shaky relationship with the fairer sex. But for a few titles here and there – uninspiring fare like Dragonslayer, or Krull, or, yikes, Willow – fantasy films were hard to come by then, and I longed for the day when what’s on screen would match at least the magnitude of what was on the pages of my favourite comics or books. It’s ironic that my interest in wizards and witches faded round the time when the technology to properly realise the worlds they’d inhabit was finally developed.

That’s not to say I won’t see it, because I probably will. The only film from last summer that I didn’t catch at the cinemas was the Fantastic Four sequel, and I still haven’t seen it (I doubt I’m missing much). If they build it, I come. Having said that, Caspian just looks dire to me. The Christ-metaphor angle has always made me rather uncomfortable with the Narnia books anyway, and in the previous film, it was amped up to eleven. Everyone is trying to recapture the magic of the Harry Potter and Rings films (no pun intended), but Narnia lacks the human elements of the former, and the grandiosity of the latter. The trailer betrays a more sizeable effects budget this time out, but it still looks lacking, and small.

Come back Monday when I take the other summer sequels to task…

They mostly come out at night... Mostly.

A bunch of us have a weekly game of footy on Saturday afternoons, and even though I have been sparing the wider world the sheer awesomeness of my footballing skills of late, I still partake in the post-match sessions. The one we had a few weeks ago was particularly harsh. The next morning I woke up with the mother of all hangovers, who turned out to be a particularly unwelcome houseguest, not leaving right away, asking me to cook her breakfast – the whole shebang. Well, the only way one can banish such unpleasantness to the fiery pits of hell from whence it came, I find, is to go for a comfort run, sweat it out, have some greasy comfort food, and slouch in front of the telly, watching a comfort movie. My choice was Gremlins, which I followed with its sublime sequel. The inimitable Dennis Cozzalio has been covering the great Joe Dante for the past few weeks in a traditionally spectacular fashion, and you can see why watching just those two movies.

Dennis writes:

For this reason, not nearly so many people as should tend to understand that movies like Gremlins 2: The New Batch, Explorers, The ‘burbs and his HBO film The Second Civil War are masterpieces of design, effect, satire and social commentary that far outstrip most of the movies that august bodies tend to crown with awards. Dante's movies are firecrackers, ones you shouldn't hold in your hands for long. They snap, crackle, pop and outright supernova with the kind of exuberance that most directors half his age can’t muster. Don Mancini’s Seed of Chucky is about the only movie that can stand anywhere near Gremlins 2 as an acid-blooded, tear-the-roof-off-the-joint studio sequel that makes the very idea of a sequel its radically funny foundation, a foundation from which a virtual house of mirrors explodes and plasters the walls of the cinema with a thousand different angles on creative cannibalism.

The following clip brightened up my morning. Just hearing that theme tune again…

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Summer Movie Preview Preview

Yeah, yeah, I know. I haven’t updated this blog for a while. In my defense, I have been extremely busy at work. Also, I was away for a while in April, which also precluded me from sharing my wit with the world. I wish there were a definite article that started with a w, so that the last part of that sentence could be perfectly alliterative. I think Hemingway had the same problem.

First thing’s first: The Indiana Jones blog-a-thon is coming up in a few weeks, and I have heard from a fair number of people that they are looking forward to the blog-a-thon more than they are looking forward to the film itself. That’s only a slight exaggeration. The next instalment of the Indy franchise, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (aside: the Turkish translation is Indiana Jones ve Kristal Kurukafa Kralligi - ve is and in Turkish: see how unfortunate that translation is?), got off to a very shaky start. When it was first announced that Spielberg, Lucas and Ford had all agreed on a script, and they were definitely making a new film, scout’s honour, the world, or the part of it that gave a shit (read: 17 middle-aged nerds who still live with their parents, and can’t get over the fact that Starbuck is a chick in the new Battlestar Galactica – which, incidentally, is the most overrated piece of garbage on telly right now), collectively rolled its eyes as it realised that the elusive promise of a new instalment was much more fun than a rigid announcement (on the other hand, nothing can be more fun than MY rigid announcement, aye!). The buzz was fricking dire. As the months passed, and photos started to trickle from production, including an excellent one taken by Spielberg himself of Ford in his Indy get up between takes, the buzz started to build, and reached somewhat of a fever pitch just before the debut of the first trailer. Which, unfortunately, was pants, and interest started to vane once again. Right now, it’s almost back to its original abysmal level – at least among fans and the online blogging community (not to mention scoop sites). So much so that there has been some rather unsubtle damage control, which seems to have had the opposite effect. I call this the The Phantom Menace Levels of Disappointment Prevention Syndrome, or TPMLODPS for short.

All of which got me thinking about this summer’s crop of wank that’s about to be unspooled on us. Everyone seems to be chiming in with their opinions on this year’s big blockbusters, and I decided to take a bite of that shit sandwich myself and do my own summer preview – after all, this is the product we will have to live with until the awards season starts in mid-Autumn. We might as well enjoy it. And by we, I mean me, and the eight other people who live in my brain (the very people who are more excited about the blog-a-thon than Indy).

The summer movie season officially starts tomorrow with Iron Man – some have questioned if he hasn’t lost his mind, if he can’t see or isn’t blind. Apparently, nobody wants him, he just stares at the world. I hate myself. Right, got that out of the way, back to the subject at hand: Iron Man. Apparently, he’s planning his vengeance – kidding, kidding, don’t leave.

Iron Man is interesting for a number of reasons. The character might not necessarily be one of Marvel’s second-tier heroes like Ghost Rider or Daredevil (Blade is eighth-tier, by the way), but he is not necessarily in the same league as Spider-Man or The Hulk, either. I was talking to my great friend Phil the other day, and he said what most people with lives, who reside outside of the States (and quite a few in the US, too, I’d imagine), must be thinking: “Iron Who?” The character is just not that well known – which is why they seem to be selling it as “Forget about the fact that it’s based on a comic book, here is a story of a guy with a jet pack who blows shit up good.”

Which is doubly important when considering the talent that’s launching the film. I think Jon Favreau is a talented director with a keen eye for commercial fare, not to mention an enthusiastic cineaste (his Dinner for Five interview with, nay, paean to, Scorsese is overwhelming in its enthusiasm - I mean that as a compliment), but he ain’t Michael Bay or even Stephen Sommers, you know (with regards to making commercial flicks). And eclectic as it is, a cast fronted by Robert Downey, JR, and including Mrs Chris Martin (almost wrote Steve Martin), Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges, and err, Shaun Toub, is not going to sell too many tickets on its own. But put all that together, throw it in a pot, add some broth, a potato - Baby, you've got a stew going.

The buzz has been excellent on the film for months now – and the early reviews, almost unanimous in their praise (but let’s wait for the print critics, too) seem to indicate a comic book film in line with Dick Donner’s hallowed Superman, or Raimi’s equally excellent Spider-Man 2. Which I am all for. A comic book film is supposed to be fun, first and foremost. Even Batman Begins is a fun film, slightly more edgy, but still FUN, and still a comic book film (I will deal with Batman soon enough).

Come back tomorrow for the next part of my summer preview.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

V to the A etc, etc.

If LOL Cats represent the zenith of human civilisation, than Star Wars gangster rap parodies are the total opposite of that magnificent achievement - dire, humourless, fratboy crap, executed with the panache of a retarded Bonobo monkey dry-humping a dead armadillo. Having said that, I thought this was quite funny - especially the Lando and Obi Wan bits:

I am away on business all next week, but I will put up a few slightly more substantive pieces(read: more than two measly paragraphs, and a crappy viral) before I go.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008


No one has a clue what the hell is going on:

Wednesday, April 2, 2008


Cartoonist Evan Shaner at Exploding Moose recently answered that most perplexing question, which has plagued fanboys the world over for decades. What if Charles Schultz created the Watchmen? Well, here it is, and it's brilliant:

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Jumping Jack Flash

Flash, Flash I love you. But we only have fourteen hours to save the earth.”

So yells Dale Arden (Melody Anderson – nice parentin’ calling your newborn Melody) to the eponymous hero (Sam J Jones) in the 1980 campstravaganza Flash Gordon. Symphonies should be written to the banality of the line, sure, but I just love the way it sounds – it encapsulates the trite dullness of the whole enterprise by bringing it down to earth. It’s like saying “Flash, Flash, I love you. But if you don’t save the earth, I’ve got men queuing at the door mate!” The world might be on the brink of total apocalypse, but let’s get the human emotions out of the way first. The juxtaposition of the grand (intergalactic destruction) with the bizarrely regular (fourteen hours to save it) defines the film. That’s what makes it fun. But, also, once you’ve seen the film, there’s pretty much no way you want to revisit it ever again. At least sober. So, thank you, whoever submitted this to The White Elephant Blog-a-thon.

Straight out of Tolstoy, the plot follows the misadventures of Flash, Dale and their hirsute companion Dr Zarkov (played by Topol – the character is meant to be Presbyterian, I think) as they try to save the Earth from the apocalyptic intentions of the evil Ming The Merciless (Max von Sydow). Like any intergalactic dictator with a serious manicure problem, Ming is bored, y’see, and he’d like to play with things for a while. Unlike the rest of us who can think of playing with only one thing when we’re bored, Ming’s mind wanders elsewhere. It turns out, when he’s alone, and life is making him lonely Ming always goes to his Grand Vizier or whatever that Vader knock-off dude is called, who, in turn, offers his master a new planet to destroy. That planet happens to be Earth, and it is up to Flash Gordon and his two new BFF’s to stop Ming in his tracks. The rest of the movie develops in the way one might expect from an Edgar Rice Burroughs knock off – Hawkmen with wings in one scene, then a football game in the other; huge rockets attacking floating fortresses, and rudely interrupting a wedding. It’s as if the screenwriter, Lorenzo Semple, got fired up coming up with an incredible set up, only to be interrupted by his wife to take the trash out – when he came back, he’d lost all his concentration, and just let his fingers do the typing. Kind of like what I am doing right now.

But I am being purposefully glib. Which is unfair because the film is meant to be trash, a cheeky little wink at the old Flash Gordon serials. Sample Dialogue:

Prince Barin: Do you know where you are?
Flash: Up the creek.

It has no pretensions, and is closer in tone to the Pirates of the Caribbean flicks of the past few years. In fact, I am surprised they decided to remake Flash Gordon as a late summer TV show on SciFi instead of a big budget summer movie extravaganza. God knows they revisit enough tripe.

Nonetheless, there is something slightly cynical about the film, too. It opened around the same time as Popeye in the US (the inimitable Odienator reckons it opened on the same day, and that IMDB has it wrong – who am I to argue with his OdieTude), and both films tried to cash in on the crowd who had grown up with the originals, as well as their children who had been watching the reruns on the telly. Unfortunately, Flash Gordon was subpar entertainment for anyone old enough to remember the old serials, and not hip enough for the generation who had, that very summer, found out about Cool Handless Luke’s parentage. So the film failed.

Even though there are moments of pure joy – any film that has Tevye, James Bond, and Death’s Chess Partner (looking like a cross between The Wizard of Oz and Mr Miyagi) can’t be dismissed completely – eventually, it falls flat. If you can get a hold of them, watch the old serials instead. If not, there’s always Flesh Gordon.

Note: No review of the film is complete without mentioning the soundtrack by Queen, which is reason enough the band should never have foregone their “No synthesisers” rule. It has a few good tracks – Football Fight, for example, the tune that launched a thousand HR training videos in the eighties, is brilliant not just in itself but also in the context of the scene – but, on the whole, it is a mess. Kind of like the movie.

This review is part of the second annual White Elephant Blog-a-thon hosted by Ben Lim at Lucid Screening.
Update: Here is the infamous Football Fight sequence:

Monday, March 24, 2008

A Short Sabbatical

I am inundated with work these days. So busy am I that I can’t even find the time to reply to friends’ emails, visit my regular blog haunts, and wax poetic about film or TV. Things should calm down soon, but until then, you should check out the sterling work at the links provided on the right. Keep well, and regular updates should be back within a week or so.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Arthur C Clarke 16 December 1917 - 19 March 2008

In the postscript to one of his masterpieces, Rendezvous with Rama, I think, Sir Arthur C Clarke talks about a modern day epiphany that he and a friend of his had in early 1940. Trekking around Buckinghamshire at dusk, conversing about the future (what else), the two came across a small hill. As they cleared its crest, they were confronted by a view that would haunt both men for the rest of their lives. There, in the distance, illuminated by the dying beams of a crimson sun, and ripping through the thick evening fog like Excalibur, were giant barrage balloons. Forgetting for a moment the destructive war the blimps heralded, the two men imagined a future with spacecraft punctuating the sky, signalling to the universe that man had set aside all his differences, and was ready to take that next step.

One of my favourite authors, and arguably the greatest visionary of the 20th Century, Sir Arthur C Clarke is dead. I am at a loss for words, and I must turn to him once more. How does The Nine Billion Names of God end, again? Ah, yes:

"Overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out."


Monday, March 17, 2008

Paradise? Lost!

The current season of Lost is proving to be the best one so far. That is a major feat for any network show, but it’s an even more impressive achievement for Lost, which has struggled with long bouts of mediocrity in the past (actually, I am being nice, most of the episodes from the second season, and the first half of the third season, were flat out terrible). It’s not that the show has been providing a lot of answers to any of the original mysteries, or even the newer ones (Then again, the revelations are incidental to the show’s true purpose anyway, and coming to terms with that point makes Lost an altogether more enjoyable show). Instead, it has built on the game-changing, and excellent, third-season finale, and has developed a concise and fairly tight-narrative with a constant array of surprises and cliffhangers in almost every episode. That they have a definitive end point has obviously helped the producers tremendously – not every episode is great, but the course is set. Even during its less accomplished episodes, the show no longer feels like an interminable ramble through sci-fi and TV drama clichés. For the first time since its debut in 2005, I actually love the show.

Which is kind of surprising if you know me. I am a fan of sci-fi and mystery and all that geeky crap. When I first heard about the show in early 2005 (as I was doing my military service at the time, I had missed out on all the up-front presentations in May 2004, as well as the initial reactions when the show first debuted in September), I could barely contain my excitement. A plane crash in the South Pacific – a ragtag group of survivors on a desert island – weird shit abound: SPLENDID! Just the kind of nerdy set up that gets me all giddy inside. Yet as I sat down to watch the first episode in September 2005, a year after its US premiere, I was underwhelmed. I liked the show, but it lacked that final oomph to arrest me fully. That first season did have a few excellent episodes, such as Walkabout aka Locke’s first flashback (even though it telegraphed the final twist), Solitary aka the one where they all play golf, Numbers aka the one where a math genius helps his detective brother solve crimes with the cunning use of algebra (oh, wait…), and Exodus Part II, featuring Michael’s infamous cry of “WAAAALT,” which, to this day, reverberates in my ear drums. It wasn’t a special show or anything – definitely not the best show on network TV like most of its fans claimed it was – but it had potential to develop.

The creative indolence that would plague the show had a lot to do, however, with one element introduced in the first season: the fricking hatch. My memory of the second season is hazier than that of the first, probably because I was bored shitless throughout most of it. That whole plot about pushing the button, and Locke’s lugubrious transformation from crazy island-nutjob to desk-bound, humourless douchebag, and his subsequent man of science/man of faith nonsense-a-rama with Jack were dull to the point of anesthesia, not aided by the second most boring sub-plot in the history of the show, the survivors from the tail section. I don’t know how you can go wrong with such a fount of untapped crazy, but the producers managed it with aplomb. Even though Ben’s Faux Henry days of captivity, and Michael’s gun-totin’ return, brought the show home for a while, Lost fizzled into an incongruous heap of pointless twists and turns by the end of the second season. “We have no idea how we are going to wrap this up, so here’s a giant statue with four toes (I never understood why this is so weird – it’s like looking at Guernica and saying, ‘wow, the guy who painted this must be an alien – look at the bull; it has two eyes on the side of its head’).”

And if the sophomore slump was bad, then the first ten or so episodes of the third season were truly abysmal. The demystification of The Others (probably inevitable in the long run), which had started in the latter part of the second season, continued with the revelation that they inhabit a suburban pleasantville in the middle of the fricking island – complete with book clubs, jungle gyms, and Tesco’s (probably). This domestication was offset in the later episodes of the season by the introduction of the Hostiles, or whatever they were called, but at the time, it felt like the worst creative decision ever. But it was nothing compared to the monotonous Jack/Kate/Sawyer crappola as they remained captives of The Others, doing nothing but eating bear biscuits, and looking stinky. It was only after the show came back from its ratings-killer mid-season hiatus that things started moving. Desmond went mental and travelled through time (or did he?), Charlie found out he was going to die, some other unforgettable crap happened to other characters, and, one of my favourite moments ever, the two random castaways who were awkwardly introduced at the beginning of the season, Nikki and Lauda (I might have the names wrong), got buried alive by their friends. Looking back, it was that very moment (Billy Dee Williams was in that episode, for god’s sake – BILLY DEE, BILLY DEE, BILLY DEE, Billy Dee Klump) that marks the turning point of the show. It was probably then that Damon Lindeloff and Carlton Cuse, showrunners and uber-geeks, threw up their hands in disgust and resignation, like a pair of pentecoastal cannibals, and said: “Fuck it! Let’s set an end date, and go all out mental.” The rest of the season was fast and fun. That was the one thing that had been missing in the show: fun. And the latter half of the third season provided that with style.

And then came the third season finale, Through The Looking Glass, which was probably the show's best episode since Exodus Part II, the penultimate episode of Season 1 (the two-hour season finale was shown as two separate episodes here, as Exodus Part II and Exodus Part, wait for it, III). It was suspenseful, action packed, and, at times, rather moving. The back-to-basics feel to the episode, with all the Lostaways finally together on some – probable – fool’s errand, and finally an interesting – and pertinent – parallel-plot elevated the show above the levels of most other mainstream dramas. Not just that, but it was also unsettling in a way few shows ever dare to be.

First of all, I had always liked Charlie, and that had a lot to do with Dominic Monaghan’s pitch-perfect performance throughout his run. Even though it’s a shame he had to die, I think it was understandable from a story-point of view as there was nowhere his character could go from there. His final self-sacrifice was very moving: a testament to the character’s growth while on the island, as well as underlining the show’s overall theme of redemption/damnation.

In fact, that Yin-Yang relationship was made more obvious than ever before in the latter part of the third season as demonstrated by, for example, the developments in Locke and Sawyer’s respective characters. Locke’s inability to kill his father, or himself, or, in fact, Jack showed that he might not be the hunter/hero that the Island seemed to have molded him into. This subtle emasculation was contrasted by Sawyer’s transformation from a joker/con artist to a murderer. Whereas he was haunted by the memories of killing the man in Sydney, he did not seem to show any remorse for strangling Anthony Cooper, as attested to by his shooting Tom even after the latter had surrendered. Locke’s confrontation with Jack and Sawyer’s with Tom in the episode three finale were linked stylistically (of course), and thematically. The Others probably wanted Locke to kill his father because they wanted to see if he would be able to kill one of his own men should it ever come to it. Obviously he failed – but Sawyer would not have. Sidelined for most of the second and third seasons, Sayid, too, had a return to form as a very, very dangerous man – it was moments like these that formed a coherent whole around the episode.

The redemption/damnation motif also forms the basis of Jack’s story. I know that he is despised more than any other character (apart from Charlie, I suppose), but Jack is one of my favourites. It’s an old caveat of – good – comic book writers that it is far easier to write Wolverine than Cyclops. Similarly, Jack - an uneasy leader whose decisions usually produce ambivalent results - with all his genuine goodwill, heroism, altruism as well as his almost psychotic obsessiveness, sins-of-the-father issues, and, err, voice-control problems, is a much more complicated character than many others on the beach. His arc is the show’s arc (if I have to use the horrible “a” word) – damnation or salvation. And Matthew Fox’s performance, which, admittedly, comes and goes, was fantastic enough in the last seven or so episodes to rise to that larger challenge. So it was a combination of all these factors that made the final revelation in his flashforward that Jack was not redeemed all the more shocking.

Oh yeah – the flashforward.

I can’t say I didn’t see it coming. When, last spring, we were talking about the show on an internet board, my good friend Graydon mentioned that he would like the series finale to be a slowly-revealed flasforward that would “flash back” to how the Lostaways escaped the island. I had entertained similar convention-defying possibilities before (not like that, you filthy heathens), and, albeit slightly similar to the Voyager finale, Graydon’s idea was great. A few days afterwards, I accidentally saw an avatar on another board of Leonidas/Jack, and, remembering the leap-in-time approach of the Battlestar Galactica third season finale (this is probably the geekiest post ever), I entertained whether a similar idea would be introduced in Lost. There were also a few tell-tale signs in the episode as well. The first one was the deliberate obscuration of the date of the paper, and the identity of the person who committed suicide. Another sign was Jack’s mobile, which was a Motorola Razr, and not released until 2005 (or, maybe, 2006) – having said that, I thought it might have been just an error (it obviously wasn’t, as proven by Jin’s bulky mobile in the most recent episode). Even though Jack’s mentioning his father threw me off at first, I thought it was too obvious a red herring, and that, if confronted, the producers could just write it off as Jack’s being high as a cloud at the time. Still, I was flabbergasted when Kate walked out of the shadows. It was such a bold, and imaginative move - setting up a great avenue to explore for the three seasons ahead. The fact that Jack had not been redeemed after all they went through (a line of Jack’s at which I raised an eyebrow) was an incredibly powerful way to end the show. It was like the producers’ saying: “Right, so you want answers? Here’s one: Kate and Jack get off the island, but they end up estranged, and, even better, Jack is more fucked up than ever! Happy now, bitches?” In one single episode, the show had managed to undo most of the effects of introducing The Others as regular characters, or the hatch, or, well, all the creative missteps of the past two seasons. Unlike the end of the second season, we were left with genuine questions. Who’s in the casket? What makes Jack go nuts? Whose boat is it? How do they get off the island? Why do they have to get back?

And it was with that new-found love for the show that I found myself counting the days to the fourth season premiere. Come back tomorrow for the second part of this post, where I’ll be reviewing the latest season so far, analysing the show’s technical aspects, and considering what might be in store for the last thirty-odd episodes…

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Here Hare Here

Like most of my contemporaries who were just a tad too young when it first came out, I first saw Withnail and I during my second year at university. I can’t say I instantly fell in love with it. My good friend Steve had just rented it at the local video store, but my other good friend Phil (with whom Steve shared a house) and I had other ideas. We were all into film, and used to spend Tuesday and Thursday nights watching at least two films a night, accompanied by a ritual consumption of delivery pizza. Not surprisingly, the end of the year saw our combined weights’ approaching that of a hippopotamus.

Anyway, it was two against one, and Phil and I just weren’t in the mood for British comedy, which did not have its best decade in the eighties. Eventually, though, we sat through it, protesting that it was not what people had made it out to be. That half-drunk halfwits in pubs all over the land would quote (and misquote) lines from the film did not help matters either. I remember thinking about the film a lot during the next two days, and watched it again the following week. Slowly, with each viewing, I got more and more hooked. It wasn’t love at first sight, but Withnail and I is now one of my favourite films.

I have written extensively on the film on other blogs and forums over the years, but I wanted to write something to do with the film for my friend’s birthday. As Steve is in China, I decided to post a few frames from some of his favourite scenes. Ironically, Blogger is banned in China. It’s all very Withnail…

“Fork it!”

“I will never play The Dane.”

“Look at my tongue; it's wearing a yellow sock.”

“It's obsessed with its gut - it's like a rugby ball now. It will die, it will die!”

“How do we make it die?”

“Are you the farmer?”

“I shall miss you, Withnail.”

Note: Withnail and I was my contribution to Jim Emerson’s Opening Shots Project, which you can read by clicking here.

(Image Credits: Withnail and I Multimedia Archive )