Sunday, October 28, 2007

Return of the American Western?

[migrated from myspace blog]

Is the American Western making a comeback? Perhaps it's just perception, for two big westerns released close to the same time does not a comeback make. However, I saw 3:10 to Yuma today, and I'm excited to see The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford as soon as it gets a wide release (Roger Deakins is about the only person who can interest me in a movie just by being the Director of Photography).

As far as 3:10 is concerned, it's a remake of (or at least shares the same Elmore Leonard short story for source material with) the 1957 film of the same name. Even having seen the trailer, there were some pleasant cast surprises in the film, namely Alan Tudyk, Peter Fonda, and Luke Wilson. And like all the good westerns of the 50s and 60s (okay, probably not), the leads are fleshed out by a Kiwi and a Brit (that's Russell Crowe and Christian Bale, if you happen to live under a rock, Batman vs. Gladiator.)

In the interest of keeping this short, 3:10 is a great mix of the old-style western and modern movie sensibilities. All is not black and white, although it starts off down that road. It's rated R for good reason. It's very violent and bloody. Although it's not shot by Roger Deakins, Phedon Papamicheal (The Pursuit of Happyness) can do no wrong with the various New Mexico locations as a backdrop. The story draws in the viewer from the first 30 seconds and never allows time for his mind to wander after that. The only 2 things that even reminded me I was watching a movie were a couple of minor continuity errors where the editor chose a take on a long shot that showed two men operating the gatling gun after one had already been shot off the coach, and another where snow appears on a slope after having not been there seconds earlier.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

In the Shadow of the Moon

[migrated from myspace blog]

There are three "events" (that word isn't nearly large enough to contain them) of the 20th century that I find interesting enough to justify reading entire books on them. The Wright Brothers, World War II, and the Apollo program. We are lucky enough to have a movie theater here that specializes in films that the brand-name cinema chains won't carry. Although there are still movies that never make it to any theater in this part of the country...or at least state, this particular one has shown a couple of must-see films lately. Once and In the Shadow of the Moon.

I got to see the latter film on Thursday and it's easily better than anything showing at the cineplex right now. The story of the Apollo program is told in the words of those who are most passionate about it, the men who lived, worked, ate, slept, and even drove (or as Buzz Aldrin claims, was the first to urinate) on the moon for three days of their lives.

The film is a combination of historical footage, from the Apollo program and earlier, and new interviews with some of the 24 men to have orbited the moon (12 walked on the surface, of which 10 survive). For anyone who hasn't read a few books on the topic (and wasn't around to live through it), this is the movie to see if you want to know how things really were when, as the tagline says, "The whole world looked up." With only 100 minutes to tell the story of 9 flights to the moon, and how we got to that point, there's never a dull moment. These were men on a mission, but the awesomeness of what they did was not lost on them. Even 38 years after the fact, Alan Bean continues to try to convey what it was like to go the moon through his art, my favorite of which is this:

All the footage is real, nothing recreated digitally. Sitting there watching the gigantic Atlas V rocket lift off in slow motion, even in a modest sized theater, if it doesn't bring a lump to your throat with an appreciation of watching history, you may want to check your pulse. These people put men on the moon with less computing power than I have sitting next to my left foot. Apollo 11 even overloaded the memory available in the lunar lander. All the biggest moments from the time are there, Walter Cronkite, Neil Armstrong, Apollo 13. (For some of the best Apollo stories, though, a different source will be necessary. Either the book A Man on the Moon or the HBO mini-series From the Earth to the Moon is a good start. For example, what did the 3rd man on the moon, Pete Conrad say as he stepped off the ladder? "Whoopie! Man, that may have been a small one for Neil, but that's a long one for me.")

As one of the astronauts put it, "One day we were test pilots. The next we were American heroes...and we hadn't even done anything yet." As far as I can tell, that's the last time we really had such as a thing as an American hero at all (except maybe Batman ). No more ticker tape parades, or a million people in East central Florida trying to find a place to watch history happen. In the Shadow the Moon is a chronicle of another era, and I look forward to see the DVD on my shelf next to From the Earth the Moon, For All Mankind, and Nova's To the Moon, and Apollo 13.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Batman doesn’t hang out with Superman

[migrated from myspace blog]

I was recently reading an article in The Times UK online that listed their "top" movie-adapted comic book characters. They listed Batman way too low, but that's a different matter. The Batman section of the article mentioned the possibility of placing Batman in either a Justice League or Batman/Superman movie. The article was against it while Nolan/Bale are going strong with the franchise, but it's a bad idea altogether, even if there is no other Batman movie in the works.

Batman is my all-time favorite comic book character, so if it sounds like I'm down on him in the first paragraph, stick with me and you'll see that I'm not.

Batman has no superpowers. How can he be a superfriend if he has no superpowers? Every other superfriend I can think of can fly, while Batman is tagging along in the Batwing. In a world that has Superman, who can physically do seemingly anything, how is there a place for Batman? Superman is an alien with superpowers attributed to exposure to our "yellow sun" as opposed to the "red sun of Krypton". (I don't really understand how they can both be referred to as suns when they're both stars, and the NAME of our star is The Sun.) The point is that there's really just no need for Batman unless he's the brains of the operation, which he very may well be. As a human, his skills have always been his brain, his money, technology, and yes, his physical prowess. But if Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne are at the same place, Superman won't need Batman's help. While it may sound like I'm arguing that Batman isn't needed...well, that's actually because I am. He isn't needed in Superman's universe, but lucky for us, he lives elsewhere.

Gotham and Metropolis are the same different universes. Gotham and Metropolis are both names used for New York City. Gotham, appropriately, in the best Batman adaptations, has an emphasis on the gothic style using stone and concrete, often shown only in silhouette. (Nolan strays a bit on this point, whereas Burton probably shows it best.) Metropolis, on the other hand, is a shining beacon where all is steel and glass, bright and shiny, reflecting daylight. It's a serious stretch to suggest that these are the same city, yet they are both versions of Manhattan viewed through different lenses. One lens is blue and red, the other, black and yellow. Since Gotham and Metropolis can't co-exist as different cities in the same universe, neither can Batman and Superman.

Batman is the Dark Knight. He is and should be the versions of Batman seen since 1989 (I don't acknowledge any film made by Joel Schumacher, Batman Beyond doesn't count, and The Batman is really just how Batman would look if he were Japanese.) The dark, brooding, vigilante of the night is the reason I prefer Batman over Spiderman or...whomever. This is the Batman of Burton/Keaton, Nolan/Bale, Frank Miller, and even Timm/Conroy to an extent. This is exactly how he should be, a man alone, only Alfred knowing the whole truth. Does this Dark Knight sound like someone who teams up with friends to hang out and fight crime?

Someone knowledgeable about Batman or comics may argue that "my" Batman isn't even the real Batman. But look at the first 1939 comic. Batman was dressed in black and grey. Not blue and grey. He didn't talk like Adam West. He didn't even have Robin (who I think makes the everything a little too "Ace and Gary"). Unfortunately I'm not familiar with the 1943 or 1949 serials, but black and white actually seems like a terrific format in which to tell Batman stories...if only the Batsuit didn't look like Batman pajamas.

While there clearly is no definitive Batman, these interpretations of the Dark Knight, as opposed to 1/2 of the Dynamic Duo, is the one I want to see. A version that could have come much sooner if the 60's TV show had taken itself seriously instead of as a live-action cartoon.

What it really comes down to is a question of what's more believable, a super-rich, intelligent, martial arts student with incredible gadgets, or an alien from an exploded planet who can fly fast enough to reverse the rotation of the Earth? Yes, we in the real world would laugh at a man in a batsuit. As Bruce Wayne says, "A guy who dresses as a bat clearly has issues." But even the villains used in Batman movies are more believable than other comic book adaptations. Sure, even some of the traditional villains are a stretch, but none of the ones used in movies have required a superhuman or supernatural explanation such as Sandman or Venom...or that solar dude from Superman IV. There have been what I would consider "mistakes" in the stories created for Batman. The introduction of Batmite makes me shiver.

But I'm willing to overlook these atrocities, the completely useless character of Robin, Superfriends, Scooby Doo, Timm's Justice League and Teen Titans as long as Warner Brothers can keep Batman and Superman in the respective universes.

(Is it sad that the longest post I've written is about Batman?)

TV, Music, DVD, oh my

[migrated from myspace blog]

NBC, having broken their relationship with Apple and iTunes, is giving away series premieres for several shows through Amazon's Unbox video service. Last night I watched Chuck and was completely caught off-guard when the last song before the credits rolled turned out to be "Missionary" by The Brothers Martin (Jason of Starflyer 59 and Ronnie of Joy Electric). I'm not aware of any significant airplay for the band, so I have no idea how the Chuck producers got ahold of the song. They've only released one album under the Martin moniker, and SF59 and JE both have relatively small, but extremely solid fanbases.

The Criterion Collection has a new DVD release of The Lady Vanishes coming out. When looking it up online, I stumbled upon a Finnish region 2 DVD release of a The Lady Vanishes remake. Keep in mind, this is a remake of a Hitchcock film (bad idea 1), but the DVD cover looked really familiar. Hitchcock also directed a movie called North by Northwest. Judge for yourself:

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

And I Quote...

[migrated from myspace blog]

"[Doug] Liman says [Knight] Rider was itching to be remade because it's 'the Shakespeare of our generation'"

Entertainment Weekly issue number 958

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Bud Ekins

[migrated from myspace blog]

Random thought: As I sat today eating my home-grilled hamburger for lunch, I once again wondered, what confused person first called it that, and why no one bothered to correct him? "No sir, this one is made of beef, not pork"

One of my favorite WWII movies is The Great Escape. Probably the best known scene in the entire movie is where Steve McQueen's Virgil Hilts jumps a tall barbed wire fence on his stolen German motorcycle. And even though they let McQueen do the stunt where the motorcycle was stolen (he played the German who layed down the bike after hitting a trip wire), the production simply wouldn't let him make the jump. He was perfectly capable of making the jump, but they couldn't risk shutting down such a large overseas film production.

Enter Bud Ekins. Good friend of Steve McQueen fellow bike enthusiast, and Hollywood stuntman, including another stunt in Bullitt. The stunt certainly fooled the audience. Even in the still shot, it's hard to tell it's not McQueen.

Monday, October 1, 2007


[migrated from myspace blog]

I really, really want to like this show. When a show is marketed at "Ed" meets "Alias", what I hear is peanut butter + chocolate. Unfortunately, the reality is more like oil + water.

Yes, the show has the quirky qualities that made Ed so watchable, except the dialogue isn't as clever, and after two episodes, it isn't really that funny, so I find myself wishing it was Thursday night instead, so I could be watching 30 Rock and The Office. The show takes itself too seriously to really go for the big laugh, or even just a really good subtle one.

"Computer nerd (herder) falls for attractive CIA agent working undercover to protect him" certainly sounds like an interesting premise, but the two sides to the show seem somehow in opposition to each other. Someone should be able to pull off a story about a guy who downloads all the government's secrets into his brain (accidentally), and keeps his day job at "Buy More", while Adam Baldwin's NSA assassin character also gets a job there to keep an eye on him. I can say, though, fairly definitively, that that person is not the "director" who calls himself "McG".

If the quirky side of the show is too serious to be funny, then the action side of the show is too slapstick to be taken seriously. Despite blatantly borrowing musical themes from sources such as the Bourne series, the action sequences lack the gravitas required for us to believe there's any real danger to the characters. It really sits on the border of being a parody of an action show more than anything else.

Unfortunately, the best thing I can say about tonight's episode is that one of the secrets apparently stored in Chuck's brain is that "Oceanic flight 815 was shot down by [indistinguishable]." If you don't get it, then you won't care anyway.