Thursday, September 27, 2012

DC's new Craftsman commercial, THE TECHNICIAN

Over at Unleash the Fanboy, I've posted some nonsense about DC's Craftsman commercial, a comic book called THE TECHNICIAN. Here's a portion:

 

Beloved intellectual properties Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, and Cyborg have contracted to appear in a commercial promoting Craftsman tools. Forbes has the story:
Fans who attend the sold out New York Comic-Con (NYCC) October 11-14 at the Javitz Center will see the first-ever print comic book crossover between DC Entertainment and Craftsman — “Craftsman Bolt-On System Saves the Justice League.” The story involves major super heroes like Wonder Woman, Batman, Superman and The Flash. Of course, this being a digital world, anyone can view or download the comic online at www.CraftsmanComic.com beginning October 1.
As of today, September 27th, if you visit the website referenced above, you will be greeted by this image:



That "click here" leads to the website for ePrize, which is a social, mobile and web marketing company. I'm not sure, but isn't ePrize a subsidiary of LexCorp?

You can read the rest here, if you want.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Should the marriage of Northstar and Kyle Jinadu be illegal?

Over at Unleash the Fanboy, I've posted a bit of irony on the marriage of the Marvel comics characters Northstar and Kyle Jinadu. A snippet:

Sadly, Michael Bloomberg, who has been on the cutting edge of protecting people from large sugary drinks, apparently doesn't care if they get crushed to death by superpowered sexual partners, as he has actually endorsed this deadly activity by appearing at the June wedding, and actually consuming what appears to be a sugary drink:


Full piece can be read here.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Some notes on Brian De Palma and his Love Crime remake, Passion

Brian De Palma is one of the most important filmmakers of my lifetime. Or, on my lifetime. One of my earliest memories is of watching his film adaptation of Stephen King's novel Carrie on HBO, with my  mother. This was back when HBO would show R-rated films only at night, and we didn't have a VCR, which at that time would have cost in the $1,000s. My mother wanted to watch the film, but she was afraid to watch it by herself, alone, at night. So I got to stay up well past my bedtime and watch it with her.

At that time, my mother had red frizzy hair, and kinda resembled Piper Laurie.



This was one of the most terrifying experiences I've ever endured. To this day, whenever I smell black cherry incense (which is actually more often than you might think), I go into conniptions.

A few years later, I watched De Palma's second collaboration with John Travolta, Blow Out, also on HBO. Damn, did De Palma know how to get your attention at the start of a movie or what? I remember thinking the ending was a little distasteful, maybe even hateful, but I was a reactionary little cuss back then. Re-watching it recently, I found a great deal of humor and humanity in it.

His remake or reboot or reimagining or whatever of Scarface, with Al Pacino, was one of the first movies I saw on video tape. (In our family, we weren't sure that home video wasn't going to just be a passing fad.) I was totally mesmerized. And appalled. What an excessive, bloated, violent, admirable, messy picture that was. It was one of the first films that I actually started to analyze on my own, without adult supervision or conversation. It was easy to see that De Palma, the same man who'd directed Blow Out and Carrie, would have put such a film together. They all shared a certain quality that I started calling "baroque," or "more is more."

I didn't have De Palma's sense of film history, not even close, so I didn't catch all or probably any of De Palma's references. I'd never heard of Blow Up, for instance. I knew that there was another, previous film called Scarface, but that was about it. Then, I saw his Dressed to Kill. Yeah, I had already seen Psycho, so I recognized the pastiche. Or, the celebration. The reference. The rip-off. I suppose there's a tension there. I don't generally feel it. Only once in a De Palma film have I ever thought his reference was a "rip off."

To me, De Palma's work is on the same continuum as Shakespeare, Sterne, Homer, Rimbaud, Michaelangelo, Leonardo, Plato, St Thomas Aquinas, Philip K Dick, Charles Willeford, Alfred Hitchcock, Stan Lee, etc. Great artists who borrowed the work of others to create their own unique works of art. So the fact that I now understood that De Palma was let's call it referencing other's works served to enrich my own experience of his work. It was one more thing to puzzle over. What was De Palma trying to establish with this borrowing of certain elements from Psycho? What did I miss from the other films of his that I'd seen?



I couldn't tell you how many times I watched Body Double. There was a movie with a hook, in particular for a snotty punk kid just entering puberty. In a way, I guess, I was helpless to resist De Palma; it was like he was growing up right along with me (again, at this time I'd only seen the five movies listed above. I doubt that, Sisters or Murder a la Mod were even available on video at that time; certainly not to a kid growing up in a small town in the midwest). For a brief period Body Double was my all-time favorite movie. It had everything: Sex, violence, twists, suspense. It was a perfect kid's movie.

I even loved Wise Guys. Another exercise in excess. Nobody made movies like De Palma. Even his comedies were violent and twisted and baroque.

The Untouchables was one of the most anticipated movies of my life. I couldn't wait to see that movie -- De Palma and David Mamet, for crying out loud, with gangsters on top of that. And that movie didn't disappoint. An elegantly constructed masterpiece, excessive in all the right ways, with genuinely powerful performances by everyone, in particular Kevin Costner, in those early days when he was really compelling (he's coming out of it now, but with a few exceptions, notably the great Tin Cup, he was just dull from roughly Field of Dreams to Dragonfly).



Around the time I saw Raising Cain, I was getting pretty seriously interested in horror movies, in particular Dario Argento's work. I loved Raising Cain, with John Lithgow's portrayal of a square's idea of a bully villain. The movie was a comedy as funny as Wise Guys, and even more excessive. And I was really jolted by the final shot of the movie. Then, about a month or two later, I happened to watch Argento's Tenebrae, released ten years earlier than Cain.

Same final shot. Exactly the freaking same.

The baby carriage on the steps scene in The Untouchables was an homage. The shower scene in Dressed to Kill was an homage. The images of the car crash in Blow Out was an homage. But that last scene in Raising Cain was a rip-off. So decided me, anyway.

De Palma is an artist. An eccentric, excessive, eclectic artist who doesn't always transcend his influences (which includes himself, by the way-- see Casualties of War and Redacted, for instance). His work might be frustrating at times, maybe disappointing, but he's never boring. So whenever I hear that he has a new film coming out, I always check it out. He is one of the most important filmmakers of my lifetime, after all.

A couple of weeks ago, the LA Times published an article about his latest effort, a film called Passion, which debuted at The Venice Film Festival.
The movie is a remake of Alain Corneau's 2010 French thriller "Love Crime," which starred Kristin Scott Thomas and Ludivine Sagnier as a seasoned executive and an up-and-comer locked into a dynamic of flirtation and manipulation that turns deadly.
When I was a kid, HBO would only show R-rated films at night. I didn't have a VCR, and even after we got a VCR, there was one video rental store. Today, I have Netflix streaming, and as soon as I read this article, I checked -- yes, Love Crime is streaming. I watched it the night I read the article. Immediate gratification.



In such a world, are remakes even necessary? At the Thrill Fiction blog, AJaye explains the artistic rationale for remakes:
[M]ovies, like hair and fashion, tend to date. Good movies that date due to dialogue, acting style, special effects, social attitudes et cetera can be revamped and remade (eg Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1978).
Love Crime is a dumb movie. Much of the action of the first half of the film takes place in the offices of a large corporation where everyone speaks in vague corporatese that the actors might have picked up from watching a few episodes of The Office. The first act relies on one of the characters coming up with an amazing and unique idea that is banal: using local consultants on a new product launch! Who knows the locals better than other locals, after all? This is the big idea that sets the whole plot in motion.

The second half of the film is so improbable that there is no tension whatsoever. It doesn't help that the scenes are composed in a listless way that actually mimics a lifeless corporate report, as opposed to a suspense film.

Another big problem is that the two main characters are cyphers. The actresses, in particular the great Kristin Scott-Thomas as the older executive, give them a lot more interest and care than the screenwriters and director. She can say more with a glance than an entire paragraph of dialogue (especially in this film), and the scene in which she and Ludivine Sagnier are riding in her car on their way to a party is a lot more moving and powerful than it deserves.

It was made in 2010, but already feels dated. It was made in France, so the social attitudes are different from those of Americans. But should it be remade?

I'm looking forward to seeing it for two reasons: One, I just enjoy watching De Palma's work. Two, for crying out loud yes if there was ever a film that deserved to be remade, this is it.


There is definitely a kernel of greatness in the plot of the film. The early scenes of corporate intrigue could be really interesting, and inform the characters' motivations (in particular the Sagnier character) in the second half of the film, if only the script had some knowledge of how corporate employees actually interact. There are individual scenes that stand out, in particular the scene in which Scott-Thomas's character plays a video of "corporate employee bloopers" at a corporate get-together. So much sinister control and vicious black humor on display in that one amazing scene, the best scene in the entire film.

Love Crime feels like a rough draft. Perhaps it was; sadly, the director of the film, Alain Corneau, was battling cancer during production, and died before the film's release. The final product might not have been what was originally intended. In general terms, it seems as though De Palma gets that. Back to the LA Times:
"I saw there were many good things about it, and I saw there were many things I thought I could improve," said De Palma, on the phone from Paris, where he has lived on and off in recent years in addition to New York, of his impression upon seeing "Love Crime" for the first time. "I think it's very difficult to, let's say, remake a classic. This had things that could be made better when you remade it."
There is tension in De Palma's work, often independent of the story: Will this be a great De Palma film, like Body Double, or a bizarre mistake, like Snake Eyes? Did De Palma choose material that suits him, like The Untouchables, or did he choose material that is so far removed from anything he should even be thinking of doing that you have to wonder if someone didn't hit him in the head several times before sending him the script, like The Bonfire of the Vanities?

Whatever the case, I'm excited to find out.



Piper Laurie image source.
Dressed to Kill image source.
Tenebrae image source.
Love Crime image source.
Rachel McAdams Passion image source.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Clint Eastwood's Republican Convention speech was the best thing he's done since Space Cowboys

I would rather have diarrhea for three days than watch a political convention. It's not just the cynicism, the deceit, the utter phoniness of them, but also the fact that all of us are paying for them. Are you a Democrat? A Libertarian? A Green? TFB, you helped pay for last week's Republican infomercial. And you Republicans et. al. are footing the bill for the Democrats to get together and tout all their "accomplishments."

And it's hard to imagine a more over-rated filmmaker than Clint Eastwood. He's been involved in some good, even great films. Those Dollars films that he made with Sergio Leone are uniformly good, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is one of my all-time favorite films. I liked The Outlaw Josey Wales and High Plains Drifter. Dirty Harry and Play Misty for Me are two fantastic examples of agitprop that retain their raw power.

I'd like to especially note the film Tightrope, a complex film about misogyny and corruption in which Eastwood gave what is easily the best performance of his career. Eastwood plays a variation on his Harry Callahan character, with the difference being that in this film, the policeman in question, Wes Block, recognizes his own inner decay and is horrified by it.

Also, there was Space Cowboys, a rousing meditation on old age obsolescence and politics.

Those are all fine films, and Eastwood has enjoyed an extraordinary career. But his later career, in particular the almost universal praise he's earned for his directing efforts, is completely baffling to me. His films are artificial and turgid. There is nothing authentic about them. His movies feel like movies, like every time he steps behind the camera he's attempting to create real capital-A Art, and the life is drained from them. And why is it that he's been using the same muted grey-blue color scheme in every one of his films? All of his movies look like the film was left out in the sun during processing.

Look at his recent filmography:

J. Edgar
Hereafter
Invictus
Gran Torino
Changeling
Letters From Iwo Jima
Flags of Our Fathers
Million Dollar Baby
Mystic River

I was only able to sit through three of those films (Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, and Gran Torino). I tried to watch every single one of the others, and couldn't make it more than 15-20 minutes. Life's too short!

Those films that I did actually sit through are tedious. Mystic River had very good performances by Sean Penn and Tim Robbins, but they're both usually very good. MDB might be the worst "Best Picture" of all time. GT is cynical phoneybaloney manipulative "emotion." None of the characters in any of these films behave like real people, but like props in a morality play. They are as staged and scripted as a political convention, draining away any feeling of real emotion and spontaneity.

And that is why Eastwood's performance at the Republican Convention was such a revelation. That thing was not scripted. It was totally spontaneous.

 

"I think, possibly, now it may be time for somebody else to come along and solve the problem."

How's that for a ringing endorsement of the Republican presidential candidate? And, did he get a convention center full of Republicans to cheer bringing Americans home from Afghanistan tomorrow? Seriously, how often does anyone with a national platform mention ending America's "nation building" imperialism experiment? And in Afghanistan, which is supposedly the "justified" war?

"I think, possibly, now it may be time for somebody else to come along and solve the problem."

Of course, there's hardly any difference between Romney and Obama on war and imperialism issues. Just as Obama has continued and amplified Bush's war policies, so would Romney. Perhaps, the occasionally libertarian-leaning Eastwood was subliminally endorsing Gary Johnson?

The talking to an empty chair was an effective metaphor, even if you disagree with the implications. Comparing the candidate Obama and everything that he allegedly stood for -- remember that he promised to close Gitmo (as Eastwood points out), he promised to be the "most transparent administration ever," he promised to not harass medical marijuana users or get in the way of states legalizing medical marijuana, etc to the president Obama reveals a person who, well, didn't really believe in any of those things he claimed to believe in. His campaign and much of his presidency has been spent decrying the mistakes of and the mess left by GW Bush, yet he has extended Bush's bailout policies, he's extended Bush's tax rates, he's extended Bush's neocon imperialism wars, he's ramped up the war on drugs.

If Bush was so bad, then why has Obama extended and amplified nearly every one of his policies? Perhaps all along it wasn't that Obama didn't like Bush's policies, it was that he felt that Bush didn't go far enough.

It's only too bad that Eastwood didn't hammer those points more forcefully. But it's clear that he made an impact. Immediately after the speech, Obama's campaign tweeted a picture of himself in a chair labeled THE PRESIDENT, with the caption, "This seat's taken."



Which only showed just how much they'd missed Eastwood's point. Yeah, Obama is the president. And he wants to brag about that? He wants to brag about high unemployment? He wants to brag about ruining the lives of medical marijuana users? He wants to brag about an escalated war on drugs that kills thousands of people all over the world every year? He wants to brag about the assassinations and the drone bombing of Muslims? He wants to brag about using terrorist tactics to fight "terrorists"? He wants to brag about using espionage laws to prosecute government workers who reveal abuses of power or otherwise embarrass the administration?

Okay, great. "This seat's taken." And just look at what you're doing with it.

But Eastwood's best point was when he said "You, me, we own this country... Politicians are employees of ours... And when somebody does not do the job, we gotta let 'em go." Obama is an employee. If more people like the indiscriminate drone bombing of Muslims, and like the harassment of medical marijuana users, and believe that the United States should rule the world, then they will vote to retain Obama. If they don't, then they'll vote to put someone else in that empty chair.

"I think, possibly, now it may be time for somebody else to come along and solve the problem."

I don't think at any point that Eastwood actually said that Romney was that "somebody else." I certainly don't think he is! (Full disclosure: I will be voting for Gary Johnson for president!) But he did say that "politicians are employees of ours." That was the message, and his spontaneous, meandering, strange, whimsical and muddled speech was a lot more exciting than Gran Torino.

And, he kinda obliquely dropped an "F-bomb," as the kids call it.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012