Friday, August 29, 2008

Bottle Rocket and Chungking Express on Criterion

I appreciate Criterion but am one of those people who think they are overrated.

By that I mean that I know people who don't know that much about film -- about the movies, whatever -- and yet they collect Criterion DVDs simply because they are expensive and numbered.

And, for various reasons, the Criterion laserdisc selection was much larger than the Criterion DVD collection.

So while I understand and applaud how the Criterion Collection has hipped a lot of younger people to the joys of Ozu and Kurosawa, I also realize that there are a lot of people who simply buy this stuff because it's on the Criterion label and it has a number.

I was guilty of that kind of thinking when I slavishly collected music on the 4AD label -- guilty of buying stuff for the label first regardless of quality. As if that 4AD stamp could make a band like Scheer somehow more memorable?

And the Criterion collection is by no means perfect: two Michael Bay films? the ambitious but middlebrow Chasing Amy?

But the good news is that two of perhaps my top 10 of all time are both coming out on Criterion this November: Bottle Rocket and Chungking Express.

The big news for Bottle Rocket is the amount of extras on the set -- I've seen the film so many times that I am mainly interested in the extras at this point.

The big news for Chungking Express is the transfer -- I've only allowed myself to watch the film about 3 times so as not to ruin it and, while I would have liked to have a few more extras on the set, the new transfer sounds impressive.

I don't think I'll invest in a Blu-Ray player just to get these two titles in Blu-Ray -- I've got hundreds of regular DVDs to watch first -- but it is tempting.

UPDATE: The most important thing that I forgot to mention for Chungking Express fans in America is that, presumably, there will be no Quentin Tarantino on this release! His babbling introduction on the last US edition of Chungking Express was an insult to real film fans who were well aware of who Wong Kar-Wai and Brigitte Lin were. Films of this caliber do not need his fanboy grin to sell them.

And while I'm being sarcastic, it's worth pointing out how many Japanese films Criterion has released as opposed to how few Chinese -- I'm keeping score! -- this will make it 3 Chinese films in the series, eh?

Sophie Sings Carly Simon

I'll be the first to admit that Sophie doesn't sound completely at her best on this number but her enunciation of each word still thrills me -- I could listen to her read the phonebook, I think!

This is from the party in Trafalgar Square it looks like to celebrate the 2012 Olympic Games in London (Blimey, I'm still sick of hearing about the 2008 games!)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Oasis Return

Gratuitous Beatles-lyrical reference? Check.

Foot-stomping riffs worthy of Slade? Check.

Words that Liam can sing even in an even-more-pronounced-Manchester-nasal-drawl-than-normal? Check.

Lyrics that look ridiculous on paper? Check.

Folks, it's the new Oasis single!

This sounds quite a bit like Heavy Stereo and that's a good thing by me.

But that single sleeve artwork is atrocious -- it looks like something The Coral rejected!

When Oasis stopped trying to be the Beatles and instead contented themselves with being Slade with a Beatles fix, I started to like them a whole lot more.

UPDATE: Clip of Oasis doing the song in Seattle at the start of their latest tour a night ago. Liam is quite the dandy.

Comics Round-Up

Since my current work schedule is hindering my recent movie-watching efforts -- apart from Shamo which I didn't like -- I've been reading a lot of comic books, specifically graphic novels or trade paperbacks or collected works -- whatever you want to call them -- I rarely buy an actual monthly comic book anymore.

I am as jazzed for the Black Canary and Green Arrow wedding as I was for the Tony and Carina wedding. And, since I am not reading monthlies, I'm quite a bit behind as to what's actually happening to the characters currently.

However, I did enjoy parts of this recent collection; some of Paulo Siqueira's art was quite good (at least in the early excerpts in this volume), and I was able to keep up without having read much of the recent material concerning either character. I have a soft spot for Green Arrow; I can barely remember having at least one or two of the seminal Dennis O'Neil/Neal Adams issues back in the the 1970s.

I'm now on a Frank Quitely kick -- yeah, yeah, yeah, I know Grant Morrison is a great writer but I'm still drawn to art first (growing up on Kirby did that to me) -- and I've read a few downright great things over the past few weeks.

The one-off (?) JLA: Earth 2 paperback is a fun, quick read that strikes the right mix of serious and silly. Not too keen on how Quitely draws every character -- that Wonder Woman is a bit rough -- but his Superman and Batman and Aquaman are impressive.

Which leads me to All-Star Superman Vol. 1. Well, for once the hype is pretty much deserved. This is a beautiful book that makes the Frank Miller/Jim Lee All-Star Batman pale in comparsion -- and I'm not even that big a fan of the comics Supes as it is. Just a witty and wonderful little book -- not every chapter is great but the creators manage to tell familiar tales in a new way. And, again, the right mix of somber and silly (though I would have liked some crossover with the rest of the DC Universe). The early parts with Superman showing Lois Lane around the Fortress of Solitude reminded me of something from the old Heavy Metal magazine and, while that may sound like praise, it could illustrate precisely how this could alienate other Superman fans.

And, finally, a rare non-superhero comic fell into my orbit, the magical Morrison and Quitely collaboration on WE3 which manages to pack more pathos and drama into three short issues than most films do in two or more hours. Just a touching and simple little science fiction tale that will bring a tear to the eye of any animal lover.

Now, I'll see if I can work my way through the rest of the stuff in my "to be read" pile!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Isaac Hayes

Isaac Hayes should be remembered for more than just South Park and Shaft.

I mean, the guy wrote "Soul Man" for Sam & Dave (along with other hits at the Stax/Volt label) and had a pretty good run of acting jobs (including 1974's Truck Turner and the same year's Three Tough Guys); the writing of "Soul Man" alone deserves as many media mentions as his work on Shaft.

And to someone of my background and age-bracket, the South Park work is kind of an afterthought.

And as much as I used to like the Wu-Tang Clan's "I Can't Go To Sleep" off their underrated 2000 album, The W, I obviously appreciate the original version of Walk on By performed Isaac Hayes on his Hot Buttered Soul album -- one of the few covers that has ever succeeded in completely reimagining the original song without being an insult to it.

Here is the BBC's obituary.

Here's the trailer for Truck Turner which is as good as the film itself -- the guy in the hospital shooting while bandaged head-to-toe is still funny:

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Dolls for Boys

My childhood was in a great era for action figures, or, dolls for boys.

G.I. Joe was still almost 12 inches tall and, thanks to the still fresh psychic wounds of the Vietnam War, less a solder and more an "adventure" doll -- I can still remember the Viewmaster set of G.I. Joe's adventures in Asia -- the 3D images of G.I. Joe battling jewel thieves near a huge Buddha in Southeast Asia gave me hours of pleasure.

But the kings of the action figure set for me and a few of my friends were the good people at the Mego company. Their line of DC Comics and Marvel Comics heroes were some of my favorite pre-Star Wars toys in that era.

So, judging by this link from the Mego Museum, that picture above is most likely Easter, 1975, and I would be little over 8 years old at the time. (Do I get props for having an Iron Man figure a good 33 years before the film came out and made him popular for the masses?)

The doll on the right is the old, bearded G.I. Joe and next to him is an almost forgotten treasure of my childhood: Mike Power, The Atomic Man (!) -- G.I. Joe's version of The Six Million Dollar Man, I think. Here's a link that served as a kind of Proustian starting point for me this week.

I resent Star Wars a bit because once the Star Wars toys finally came out in early 1978, I gave up on my older action figures and the industry did too -- the next generation of G.I. Joes was much smaller, matching the Star Wars figures (though they did briefly introduce a 12 inch set of Luke, Leia, and Han figures, I recall, to little acclaim).

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Michael Turner

I should go to the comic book store more often otherwise bad news like the death of Michael Turner wouldn't creep up on me; I only found out about his death from a customer review on Amazon!

I was aware that he was suffering with cancer but didn't realize it had claimed his life.

When I first got back into comics in 2000 -- thanks to the first X-Men film really making me miss certain characters -- I tended to buy reprints of stuff I was nostalgic about but the cover of one of the Fathom comics caught my eye. And that lead me down new roads to discover current favorite artists like Turner and Jim Lee and Ed Benes.

And if you are aware of his art, you know a Fathom cover catching your eye is probably an understatement as Turner drew women -- and burly heroes, for that matter -- for the 15-year-old inside all of us overgrown male nerds.

But his talents didn't end there as his painterly images drew you in; the seascapes of Fathom remain unique in the world of comic art and, as far as I'm concerned, without parallel. They are as representative of what made Turner a great artist as Jack Kirby's two-page space spreads with, for example, Galactus.

His characters had a touch of George Perez and some angular, hard lines reminiscent of mid-1970's-era Gil Kane.

I admit that I did get bored with Witchblade pretty fast. And the stories with Fathom didn't always live up to the imagery but the imagery was so good that I really could have been flipping through plotless pages anyway.

I recommend the New York Times obit, here for the link to the Fathom origin PDF.

The only good that will come of his death is that perhaps his work will be republished and, thus, reach broader audiences.

UPDATE: I just got a recent run of the Fantastic Four written by Dwayne McDuffie, he of the Justice League Unlimited TV series, and I have high hopes for it -- I always liked when the Black Panther showed up in the Fantastic Four comics when Jack Kirby drew him -- but the book is probably worth getting simply for the Michael Turner Fantastic Four covers reproduced therein -- these have to be some of the last things he did, right?

Monday, August 4, 2008

"You Couldn't Change Your Life On $100,000?"

The biggest, most glaring omission from my recent 100 Movies post was Albert Brooks' Lost in America (1985) -- a film that remains nearly perfect for me. Raising Arizona (1987) has diminished a bit over the years from too many viewings but Lost in America -- a film I try to watch once a year -- remains as biting and funny as it was when I first saw it on videotape back in late 1985 or early 1986, as memory serves.

It is easy to compare Brooks to Woody Allen and there are numerous similarities, obviously, but the big difference for me is that Woody Allen always wants to be liked; the "Woody Allen" character in each film is not that thinly veiled and always gets the best lines. Brooks' characters are not necessarily likable -- his Robert Cole in Modern Romance (1981) is quite annoying and, at times, almost pathological -- but they always seem true to life.

Lost in America is one of those rare films that succeeds as a comedy and as a deft, almost effortless satire of a certain type of American of the 1980's; it would be too easy to label this type "yuppie" or "baby boomer" as some of the traits continue to this day in many people (myself included, at times) -- white American consumer, for lack of a better term.

I think the film masterfully works as a portrait of this one couple and as a document of the era. The scene with Brooks trying to get his money back from casino owner Gary Marshall is still one of the funniest bits of comic business I've ever seen on film -- I don't laugh out loud like a moron every time I see it and that's what elevates it above the kind of nonsense that masquerades as comedy these days (the majority of the Judd Apatow stuff, for example). This is how to write a film comedy and Hollywood can't seem to handle characters with any nuance anymore.

This clip from Siskel and Ebert At the Movies provides more information on Brooks and his then-current third film, Lost in America:

Friday, August 1, 2008

All-Star Batman and Robin

When I was 15, I sold off my massive comic book collection for short-term cash and in the hopes that, long-term, I'd shed some of my nerd label and suddenly be "normal" in high school. That didn't happen. And I still regret my weakness at thinking I had to give up things I loved just to make myself more popular.

In 2000, after the first very good X-Men movie, I started reading comics again but this time mainly collected volumes; I just didn't have the drive or patience to go back to reading monthly titles.

The first big surprise was that George Perez was still drawing The Avengers; Perez' run on the Avengers in the late 1970's to early 1980's was one of my first great comics passions. He also singlehandedly revived the cachet of DC Comics for me -- I was a Marvel loyalist -- when he drew their Teen Titans in the early 1980's -- yes, the title was a shameless X-Men clone but it was a start at making DC respectable again (maybe I'm too hard but I don't recall many go-to titles in the DC library in that era).

And Perez' work from that era holds up better than John Byrne's; John Byrne was a one-man industry in that era, working on X-Men, Fantastic Four, and sometimes writing those titles as well -- yet Byrne's art looks too similar -- the characters all tend to look alike after a while and so many years later, I don't like his work as much (the Dark Phoenix arc of X-Men -- the first one -- obviously, is still a seminal work in my book despite those misgivings).

The second big surprise was this guy Jim Lee. In 2000, I devoured all the reprints of Jim Lee's run on the X-Men that I could find and watched with delight as his style evolved from an almost angular version of George Perez with more testosterone to something unique and finely detailed -- not as painterly as Michael Turner but just as good.

So, the less said about Frank Miller's writing on this restart of Batman the better. I'm not going to join the chorus of negativity on this one except to say that the dialogue is worse than you can imagine. I guess if you thought Sin City was the greatest movie of all time, then this Batman will delight you.

My short review is this: if you like Jim Lee's art, this is a MUST purchase -- his renderings of Black Canary (despite Miller making her Irish -- did I miss something in her backstory all those years away from comics?) is awesome -- the kind of thing that the 15-year-old inside me drools over. And he briefly renders Batgirl almost exactly as I'd always wanted to see her drawn -- too bad the character isn't in this volume very much.

Apparently the future of this title is up in the air. Good. Take it away from Miller and let him crank out more films. As for Jim Lee, he just keeps hitting peaks.

UPDATE:In other Batman-related news, there's footage from the new cartoon version of The Brave and The Bold series and it's interesting -- more of a retro/1960's feel to this and less of the brooding Batman of Bale and others. Could be a good thing. I didn't read many Batman comics as a child -- again, the Marvel loyalty held strong and I ignored DC -- but I did occasionally pick up The Brave and the Bold depending on who Batman was working with; the Green Arrow team-ups were always good. has the footage here along with more information.