Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Insert Shakespeare joke about Yorick Part 2


In my last post, I talked about Y The Last Man, a comic book series by Brian K Vaughn and Pia Guerra about the last man on Earth, but not the last human. The series ran to 60 issues before coming to an end. Today.

I will have to stop and say SPOILERS(!) for the final issue here.

The main thrust of the plot has ended. After telling each other that they are in love, 355 and Yorick hug and she whispers her real name in his ear. Alter, the main antagonist of the series, shoots 355 with a sniper rifle. She dies and it is heartbreaking. Alter and Yorick have their confrontation which does not end the way one would expect. Yorick has grown up and become a man of honour, as Beth told him when they were reunited.

So now we come to issue 60. Bring your tissues, people, because I didn't and I was caught unawares at this. I sniffled.

It's 60 years later and the world is running decently smooth. The daughter of Yorick and Beth 2 has become president of France, I guess, and she requests that the seventeenth clone of Yorick, now at age 22, go and speak to the formerly last man, now an old man of 85. It seems that Yorick has been rather melancholy and tried to off himself. Most of the issues alternates between the conversation between Yorick and Yorick 17 and flashbacks that fill in the missing years. The issue ties up a lot of loose ends from the series, such as Alison Mann, Rose, Beth, Hero, Natalya and some others, including the death of Ampersand in one of the greatest scenes in comic book history.

But mostly, it's the story of the last man, and how he's reflecting on his life. He and Yorick 17 are in a dark room surrounded by imperfect clones of Ampersand (imperfect because they behave so well). At the end of their talk, the monkeys all jump on Yorick 17 and when he gets them off, he sees that Yorick has jumped from the window... finally offing himself as he wanted to do.

In the two final scenes, we flash back to probably the moment that Yorick and 355 started falling in love when they first started out on their journey. It's a nice little scene. The very last moment of the issue finds Yorick 17 admitting that he took his eyes off of Yorick for a moment. The president Beth wonders if he killed himself.

Yorick 17 says no. He escaped.

What a perfect f*%$ing ending. I almost don't know what to say. It's been like an hour since I read the damn thing, and my mind keeps going back to it. If I had to be an a$$hole about it, and compare it to other endings, it's certainly similar in format to the finale to Six Feet Under, one of my favourite shows ever. Y The Last Man doesn't have the same level of emotional punch in the face as Six Feet Under. The story of the last man does has a more concrete ending than The Sopranos.... In terms of comic books, it's a much more satisfying ending than Sandman. It's on par with the ending of Preacher, which will be a future blogpost, I will prognosticate.

Y The Last Man ended without any disappointments and was very emotionally satisfying. BKV and Guerra have created a very believable universe and have populated it with a huge cast of living breathing humans. See, kids, comics don't have to be about guys in capes punching each other in the face.

Oh, and another reason why this is a great series is in the penultimate issue. In Russia, on the Trans-Siberian, 355 and Yorick take on some armed goons. They frisk Yorick and find a lighter that says "F*%$ Communism" but the actual word. The lighter, of course, is a reference to the magnificent Vertigo series by the name of Preacher, by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon. When the Russians find the lighter, Yorick says, "Heh. It's from a comic". It's a great knowing reference and a good character moment - we know Yorick reads Preacher. AND SO SHOULD YOU.

Insert Shakespeare joke about Yorick Part 1

So the final issue of Y The Last Man has arrived, issue number 60. Will everything be blowed up real good? Will things be resolved, will BKV actually have a rational explanation for all that's happened? Will the internets be cracked in half? Let's take a look....

Before I do, let me first talk a little about the strengths of this series and why it's a big deal. First, it's about Yorick and his pet monkey Ampersand, the only two living males on the planet after some sort of mysterious instant death plagued all creatures with y chromosomes. Agent 355 of a mysterious branch of the government is tasked with taking Yorick to Dr Mann, the world's expert on cloning. Perhaps the three of them can figure out why this happened and how to repopulate the Earth. The series is stunning well thought-out. Every possibility of what society will look like has been shown to us.

BKV, as he's known to the fans, put so much effort into the smallest details. That is the major strength of the series. When a writer asks you to join him on a crazy "high concept" journey such as this, you're trusting that the writer knows what the f*%$ he's doing.

I trust BKV, because even in the very first issue of "Y", he shows that he does know what the f*%$ he's doing. Look at this. The main character's name is Yorick, after the deceased court jester in Shakespeare's oft-overlooked and forgotten play called Hamlet. Hamlet raises his skull and says: "Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest".

Yorick was named by his university professor father who also named Yorick's sister "Hero" after another obscure Shakespeare character from "Much Ado About Nothing". But see what BKV is doing? This is really the most superficial of things that's happening too. Yorick has a Y in his name. It's the Y chromosome that's been made virtually extinct. This is one of those SEE? SEE? moments we all have that we're guilty of. It's not like "Y The Last Man" is a thinkpiece™ or anything. It's very dramatic and epic and twisting.

We follow Yorick, Mann and the mysterious 355 as they travel the US and then the world as they seek answers for what has happened. All three of them are not stock one dimensional cardboard talking heads that spew exposition like Regan and pea-soup - I'm looking at you Dan Brown, you criminal against humanity. The major characters and a good chunk of the supporting cast are all fleshed out and grow and change and are shaped by their experiences. Yorick is a man of infinite jest, always joking. His name is the nomen omen (where the name shapes your destiny - like Oedipus' origin). But the overarching story is how Yorick becomes the hero.

It's a great tale and when I can, I will read the end of the story and tell you what I think. Okay?

Sigh

It's currently -32 degrees celsius in Winnipeg right now, and with the windchill, that brings it to a magnificent -47. Think about that for a second. Cogitate and try and imagine what that feels like. That means that your face will freeze within a minute. You will get frostbite within a couple minutes. Isn't that terrific?

Sometimes I hate Winnipeg and today is one of those days.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

And Tati's your oncle

Previously, in this post, I talked about Jacques Tati and Playtime, his 1967 masterpiece. Critics are in a huge dogpile over this movie, gesticulating that it's a work of perfect art and whatnot. I like the movie. Ir's scrumptious. However... it's not my favourite Tati. Spoiler alert - it's Mon Oncle.

Mon Oncle is not as visually rich or as deep focus as Playtime, but it certainly plays in the same thematic sandbox. Mon Oncle is the second film that stars Tati as M. Hulot, who's the tall guy on the cover there.

Let me just take a second to look at the poster there. That's the cover of the Criterion Collection release of the film, and it uses the original poster design. Unlike floating head posters that convey who is the star, this poster clearly announces the main images that you need to pay attention to. The first, and most apparent, is the lanky fellow in the centre - that's M. Hulot, with trademark pipe, hat, coat, and umbrella. On the left is Hulot's nephew and on the right is a small dog. This is a perfect poster that conveys a lot of information about the movie. We know it's fun based on the cartoonish design of the characters. We know it's about a guy and his nephew and possibly a dog.

In looking at the plot, it's true. We have a guy, we have his nephew, and we have a dog. The dog belongs to the family of the nephew, M Hulot's sister Madame Arpel, her husband M. Arpel, and their kid, Gerard. With an accent. They live in this ultra modern ultra sterile ultra ugly house with a huge automatic gate. The path from the drive to the house is winding, and goes by this absurd giant salmon that spits out water whenever Madame Arpel turns it on from the control switch at the door, which controls everything save the kitchen, but we'll get to that.

Gerard finds himself alienated from the modernity of his parents' house and finds himself gravitating towards his uncle (of the title. SEE? See? SEE?) and his lifestyle of wandering around with no cares, living in an apartment building in the middle of the classic pre-war France that we all know and love and are supposed to be charmed by.

Tati takes his time showing us the facets of each lifestyle. We have the parents and their cold sterile house, a lifestyle of success and comfort. Everything they need to do is controlled by machines - no need for a servant when the house will clean itself. This is contrasted with Hulot and his neighbourhood. There's a street-sweeper who manages to make one pile eat up his whole day. There's the sellers of fruit and vegetables and his gorgeous old truck.

My favourite bit of the entire movie is this great shot in which a fruitstand is in the foreground and a cafe is in the background. Two men are sitting at a table having a great discussion. A woman comes into the foreground and picks up a couple fruit. She selects the ones she wants to purchase, and then turns to the men at the cafe. He signals to her the price and she leaves it there at the fruitstand. This is a terrific bit showing the simplicity of the France that Tati longs for.

When Hulot is charged with picking up Gerard from school, he lets Gerard go off and play with his friends. They engage in pranks that show people for the fools they are. The most significant is when they cause drivers in cars to think they've been hit, and the drivers freak out. If I turned on my mighty critical brain here, I would hazard a guess that Tati is saying we're too obsessed with our stupid toys like cars or spitting salmon.

The key scene in the film is when the Arpels have everybody over for a dinner party. The idea is to hook M Hulot up with the neighbour of the Arpels, an extremely fashionable woman. The neighbour is such a complex joke, I would have to use an entire post to yak about her. Essentially, we know she's not a good match for Hulot because in a previous scene, she doesn't know how to talk to Gerard - she says a bunch of idiotic "adult-speaking-to-child" things. The whole dinner scene features the funniest jokes, especially that spitting salmon I have mentioned a couple of times, which you can see in the photo above.

Two other scenes are key to the film: Hulot in the ultra-modern, button-crazy automatic kitchen and Hulot in the ultra-modern, lever-heavy automatic hose factory that M. Arpel helps run. I'm not going to detail all the great stuff here, because you get the idea. Just like in Playtime, Tati is critical of the modernity that post-war France is striving for. There's some class critique going on in this film more so than Playtime. The modernity of the Arpels is indicative of the archaic class structure that needs to be done away with.

Ooh-wee, that was a lot of big words. I may have used up my word count for the day. I have to take my critical hat off for a second and mellow out. Perhaps a picture of explosions will help?
That blowed up real good! Anyway, back to business.

One final thing, and this relates to the class structure and modernity thing I babbled about before. I mentioned the dog when I talked about the poster, right? Well the dog is the central visual metaphor. In the beginning of the movie, we follow a bunch of dogs running around pissing on stuff and having a ball with life in general. They run around the old town, and then jump over a broken wall, which is another key metaphor. The wall is destroyed by the war, and it represents the divide between Hulot's France (pre-war) and the Arpels' France (post-war). So the dogs run from old town to the new town, and one dog (the one from the poster) leaves the pack and goes home to the house of the Arpels. He belongs to them. See what's happening here? Tati is hopeful and a believer in humanity. We're all running in a pack pissing on things - none of us are better for living in a fancy-dan house.

Man, all this critical thinking is tiring me out. I need a nap. Seacrest out.

Playing with Jacques Tati

I heard about Jacques Tati through Roger Ebert. I was talking to him on my criticbatphone and he mentioned this 70 mm grandiose widescreen spectacular called Playtime. Okay, no, I don't have a criticbatphone and I have never met Ebert. I heard about it through Ebertfest, his film festival. Once I wikipedia-ed Playtime and Tati, I was intrigued. This sounds fascinating. So I ordered the Criterion DVD from Amazon and watched it.

Here's what you essentially need to know about this movie and Jacques Tati. All of his films are comedies that rely on visual gags and very minimal dialogue, but sound is still very important. The major films star Tati as Monsieur Hulot, who is immediately recognizable by his tall lanky frame, hat, coat and pipe. It's his costume. Tati comes from a miming background, and worked on silent films before making his own films, so it's no real surprise that Tati has created his own French Chaplin or Buster Keaton. M. Hulot is built of the same building blocks as the silent stars, but he's much more graceful.

Playtime is the third film to feature Hulot, but "feature" isn't quite the right word. He has been reduced to a background character. In fact, the entire cast has been reduced to background character. Playtime is a film about the modern world. Architecture, technology and modernity are the main characters in this film, but they are not sympathetic characters. This is an indictment of the modern world, circa 1967. The buildings are all futuristic monoliths, imposing shadows on the streets. Everything is clean and metal and shiny and sterile.

This film is famous for its overblown budget and overblown sets (literally). The entire movie is filmed on a massive set dubbed "Tativille". In creating this entire world, Tati became a master of the detail. There is absolutely nothing left to chance in Playtime. I have only ever watched the film on my television, so I can't comment on this really, but apparently, the film is revelatory on the big screen. The canvas is so big that Tati has multiple visual gags happening at the same time, sometimes related, more often not.

In the most famous scene, M Hulot is going for... an interview? Not sure.... He is in this immense office building which is also an immense mall, and he walks past the vast sea of cubicles. He's stunned, and gets lost easily. While this is happening, two men in the cubicles talk to each other via phone, even though their cubicles are right across from each other.

The theme being put towards us in a myriad of ways is that technology is separating us, that our fancy architecture is separating us, that our ambition for the future stops us from seeing each other. In a great gag, a man on the street asks for a light of a doorman. The doorman offers the light, but there is glass between them that they couldn't even see. They have to walk to the door in order to light the cigarette.

For a mostly wordless comedy, the movie is very long at two hours. It's difficult to watch because there's so much happening that there's no way to watch it all in the first go. It's also difficult because I am a modern audience used to American comedies, not French mostly-silent satires. Us kids today, we've lost the tools to engage with films such as this. Damn kids. Get off my lawn and whatnot.

This is a comedy that isn't really laugh out loud. This is a terrific-looking engaging film about how inhuman the future is. But Tati is very hopeful. The second half of the film takes place in a futuristic restaurant on its opening night. We're slowly introduced to all these random people, the cooks, the servers, the maitre d', the rich patrons, the American tourists, the doorman, Hulot, the band, and they come together as the restaurant falls apart around them. As I say, Tati is hopeful. In the mess of the broken restaurant, everybody manages to adapt and have a great time. One great bit is when a piece of decoration falls over a couple of tables, and one ingenious characters uses it as a doorway to the drunken party he's having at the couple of tables. We can move on, Tati says.

I didn't laugh at every joke I caught, but I certainly laughed at some. I was more interested in the thematic complexity of the film. I have to admit, this isn't my favourite Tati film - that honour has to go to Mon Oncle, which is the second film to feature Hulot, and the subject of another blog post.

If you can see this movie, I recommend it.

Where the movies have no names

A couple days ago, the studio revealed the name for the newest James Bond film. It's to be called "Quantum of Solace" after a short story in Ian Fleming's "For Your Eyes Only". I have never read the story, nor have I ever read an Ian Fleming, even though I do have a really handsome boxset I got for 50 dollars:
I know I know. Why wouldn't I read these things? Especially since it's such a handsome boxset? I dunno. I have one million billion books that are gathering dust on my shelves so I stopped buying them. Honest. Seriously. I honestly have.

Anyway, the new James Bond movie is going to be called "Quantum of Solace" and according to the Wise Wikipedia, the story is a thinkpiece™ about the dramatic lives of people in contrast to the superficial spy life of Bond.

I kind of like the title. I was reading on CHUD that Devin Faraci doesn't like the title. It's too serious is his complaint. But the story seems angsty and certainly the themes of the new film will be angsty - in a completely different and more parkour way than the story. What we know is that Bond is angry and will seek revenge for the death of his loved one from the previous movie. And if it's anything like the previous movie, Bond will just walk through drywall and people to get to the evildoers. Yay!

So they released a poster, probably one not used in theatres, but a poster nonetheless.
And that's pretty cool. It uses the same typography as Casino Royale and uses the same colour scheme. However, the major problem here is the sheer amount of text in the bottom. If this is a teaser poster, then we don't need to know the name of the director or the name of the star. Or even the words "James Bond". Simply the title and the 007 and the "coming soon". Oh what's that? You can't visualize it? You can't see it in your mind? Oh, well let me fire up the PhotoShop engine, or even easier, the Microsoft Paint engine. Let it warm up... and bang:
And that's the way to do it. I removed the "coming soon" because it was redundant being alongside the November 2008. If you have a scheduled release date, why bother putting "coming soon" and the scheduled release date? Oh you crazy poster designers. Of course I kept the studio logos because I'm sure if I removed them or something, I'd have lawyers e-mailing me... Please don't e-mail me; I'm not litigious. Also, I got rid of the actor's name because everybody knows who this hunk of manmeat is and I blasted from space the director's name because nobody cares who directs a James Bond movie except for hardcore James Bond fans (and by that I mean fans who are hardcore - I don't mean fans of hardcore movies starring James Bond - although...).

I like the title of "Quantum of Solace". It's fancy-dan enough to be original. It's also keeping in line with Fleming's more... interesting titles, such as "You Only Live Twice" or "The Living Daylights" - both of which don't really mean anything, yet have a hint of respectability. According to Craig, Bond has yet to receive a quantum of solace for the death of Eva Green's character - a quantum being really really really small.

I suppose for most of the movie, Bond will be what the English called "po-faced".

Seacrest Out.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Quick, start this thing!

In 2005, I started a LiveJournal thing and that lasted, like, a week before I was distracted by such delicious things as work or "Gilmore Girls". I always meant to get it going again, but my children can't be fed on intentions. No, I'm lying - I don't have kids. Anyway, so here I am posting about whatever. And today, I shall begin by posting about Black Books, which is a terrifically awesome upbeat joyous celebration of hygiene and friends. Actually, no, I was lying again. I'm sorry, blog, sometimes I do that. It's a television show starring Dylan Moran as Bernard Black, owner of the eponymous Black Books, a dingy disgusting cluttered bookstore. He lives with his employee, Manny, and hangs out with his friend Fran, played by the stupendously nasal and eternally same-coiffed Tamsin Greig, who's also on Green Wing, a medical farce, a forthcoming blogpost I don't mind admitting (spoiler alert for my blog!) It's completely misanthropic and absurd and uses quite a bit of sparkling wordplay. The main character is a loathsome, grumpy, drunk and mean man who spends ample time berating his friend and employee Manny, played by Bill Bailey, who is essentially playing Bill Bailey.

It ran for three series of six episodes each, which is a very common number for British sitcoms, but completely unheard of in the US, where shows throttle you with 22 or 24 episodes a season, languishing and jumping a multitude of sharks like some sort of leather jacket wearing Evel Knieval.

This is a rare television show that gets plenty of hearty chortles and a bewildering amount of guffaws. I also laugh a lot.

Possibly the biggest laugh I have had at this show is in the final episode, which does not play out like a "finale" in which characters move on, reminisce, hug and bow to the audience. This episode plays like any other episode of Black Books, but with a different ending. It's called "The Party".

It's Friday night and Bernard, Fran and Manny are going to do something instead of sit around the shop drinking cheap wine that Napoleon wouldn't touch and hurling insults at each other. Instead, Manny suggests a party. Fran has just had her hair done, although even a firearm in my nostril wouldn't save me from saying it looks the same as always:


So she's keen on the party. They trick Bernard into going by hiding the wine. Manny really wants to go because there's a girl he wants to meet. Bernard reluctantly agrees to go (although he doesn't approve of Manny "seeing other girls - I mean people").

Just before they depart, Manny shouts, "Let's pa-"

Bernard turns around and roars, "Don't you dare use the word 'party' as a verb in my shop!"

At point, I am guilty of numerous "lols" and whatnots.

Anyway, they go to the party, and when we see them again, it's dawn and they are drunk as skunks, with both Fran and Bernard singing songs and dancing to Motorhead's Ace of Spades.



Manny is not in a great mood as he didn't want to leave the party that early. He accuses Bernard of not being able to love and he screams about Bernard having a shard of ice instead of a heart. Bernard reveals quietly that he had a girlfriend and that she's dead. Manny instantly offers the booze he had just been selfishly hoarding.

Once Bernard leaves to go make tea, Fran reveals the girl, Emily, is still alive and faked her death to get out of an engagement. She never let Bernard in on this factoid to spare him (and Fran) the messy explosion of anger and blame. She demands that Manny doesn't tell.

Bernard comes out with Monopoly and as soon as the board is down, Manny shouts, "She's alive! She's alive! Okay, so house rules, all fines in the centre."

Bernard doesn't believe her so Fran offers proof, all from her purse she carries. Here's the next best laugh in the entire series' run. This is perfect example of the absurd humour. She shows him Emily's phone number on her cellphone. He doesn't believe her. She shows him a photo of her and Emily at Emily's last birthday "of which she will be having many more. Because she's alive". He doesn't believe her. Fran pulls out Emily's dental records. He doesn't believe her. She offers him Emily's birth certificate and a photo of Emily is yesterday's newspaper and a t-shirt saying "I love Life!"

Bernard and Fran start revealing secrets about each other and fighting, when the girl from the party comes in. Manny awkwardly offers her tea, and they both scurry to the bedroom and mass giggling ensues.

Fran goes to sleep on the couch in the middle of the shop and Bernard steals her cellphone to call Emily. He claims he's dead and haunting her, but she hangs up on Bernard, causing him to shout, "You can't hang up on the undead!"

He sits down in his familiar chair at his familiar desk, and that's the end of the episode. In my summary, I left out some of the other bits such as Manny's excuse for calling the girl, and the reason for the girl's appearance, which is tied to Manny's excuse.

This is a terrific show about terrible people - grrrreat!

In other news, this week features, among other things, the final issue of "Y The Last Man", which is one of my favourite comics out there. I have only read up to the end of the last trade, so I'm about six issues behind. I may find some -ahem- perfectly legal ways of reading the final issues so that I don't have to wait six months for the final trade. The whole interwebs will be cracked in half by the finale, and I don't want to avoid my favourite blogs to stay spoiler free!

Seacrest Out.