Monday, October 27, 2008

Final Crisis: Submit


Grant Morrison is great. I mean, I don't have to tell you. Everybody loves Grant Morrison, and it's almost a cliche to do so. But I still love him. I think he's got such an incredible talent for dialogue, for plot, for ideas, for themes, for everything. He's madcap and crazy, the opposite of the cold and calculating Alan Moore, but still just as talented. While
Final Crisis slowly leaks out into shops, Morrison offers us a one-shot starring the Tattooed Man and Black Lightning in an issue called Final Crisis: Submit.

This story takes place in the moments before Final Crisis 4, in which the Justifiers and evil has won. Black Lightning races to a signal from the Tattooed Man, who is holed up in his house with his entire family, a family taught to despise the costumed superheroes. So when Black Lightning arrives and demands to bring them to safety, the conflict arises between the costumed-haters and the costumed. Black Lightning has the Tattooed Man memorized a pattern to emulate on his body, which is a circuit, and this plot point is picked up later in
Final Crisis 4. At the end, Black Lightning helps the family get away, helps the Tattooed Man come to realize his foolishness, and gets the Anti-Life helmet thrown on his head. He has come to submit.

This is a great character study that doesn't waste time in the main title, and doesn't disappoint. So far, the spin-offs from Final Crisis have been of great quality. I haven't read Final Crisis: Revelations, if only because my wallet can only handle so much, but so far I'm impressed. With this issue, my theory of hyperlink cinema, which I outlined here, is justified. A scene in the fourth issue of the main title corresponds to another story in between the moments. Considering that this is done by the same author (not the same art team though, unfortunately), the continuity and flow and style is the same, and there's no jarring moments.

If this is how hyperlink comics, or event comics, will continue to go, I'm happy, even if it's hard on the wallet. I'd rather the event be self-contained within the main title and its few spin-offs, rather than crossing over into every possible title. When the event crosses over, the story can be mixed up and confused, ie too many cooks in one kitchen. The style and tone can vary wildly between authors such as Peter David and Dan Slott and Greg Pak. I'm thinking of
World War Hulk, which had terrible crossovers and a great main title. The decent crossovers were the ones written by Pak.

However, there is a problem with hyperlink comics that I complained about in my editorial, aforementioned and linked above. Why is Superman in the future with the Legion
and traipsing around the Multiverse with alterna-Supermen? This is just poor editing. This can be improved with tighter control on the continuity and chronology of the event itself.

Well, back to the issue at hand... the story's great and the art's lower than average, but I really liked it.
Final Crisis: Submit stands up as an individual one-shot and as a tie-in to the main comic itself.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Secret Invasion 7


Ah, the penultimate issue. Do you remember what my review for the previous issue was like? I spent most of the time comparing it to
Infinity War, the nineties-era Jim Starlin-written crossover that made me love comics. I concluded that the aforementioned cosmic crossover was better than Secret Invasion if only because things happen. Now, let's go back further, and see my post comparing the two big events from this summer. In this post, from way back in March, I decided that I was going to stick mostly with Final Crisis, if only because the Morrison-Jones combo was too good to resist. But unfortunately, we all know that Jones isn't able to finish it. Which means, in my review for Secret Invasion 7, I'm going to have to give it some respect for coming out on a monthly schedule, staying on that schedule, and not resorting to fill-in artists. But what about the story itself?

When we last saw the combined forces of the Avengers and the Skrulls going toe-to-toe, some people shouted and grimaced and fought for awhile in big splash pages. Now, a month later, we return to the battlefield to see... more grimacing faces, shouty dialogue and confused fight choreography. In terms of plot, Iron Man leaves the fight to repair his armor (important!) and Jessica Jones leaves her possibly Skrull baby in the arms of Skrull-Jarvis so she can punch some faces in Central Park. And the Wasp turns out to have consumed a Trojan Horse growth formula given to her by Skrull-Pym which makes her crackle with energy. We also find out that the Skrull invasion isn't about living or dying; it's about spreading the message and taking out a lot of people.

So... that's the issue. I've got a couple problems with Secret Invasion, the story as a whole, and with this issue in question. First of all, why aren't we getting the sense of danger and doom that this issue is so desperate to convey. Spider-Man comments that the Watcher only shows up when things are terrible, and then you turn the page and there he is, silently watching like a giant baby-headed Peeping Tom. It's almost a joke. Remember when the Watcher would only show up when the Earth was about to be eaten by a giant in a purple suit? Then, he showed up every week, like the time that Wolverine slipped on an icy sidewalk.

I don't want this review to end in a diatribe about the constant barrage of danger, which translates to no suspense, but come on, Bendis. That pulled me out of the story faster than a grappling hook to the cheek.

The other major problem, with story and with this issue, is the lack of forward momentum. Honestly, is there anything else we're going to talk about with this event? Every Joe Blogger and Jane Reviewer (and vice versa) are talking about how slow this event is. You know what that means? It's a justified complaint. Obviously we need the events to have better pacing.

Part of the pacing problem is the passivity of the main characters. The entire Secret Invasion
story, rather than plot, has been heroes reacting to the invasion. They stand around and let problems tumble down around them, then they get mad and become wide-jawed muscle-y madmen. Only in the sixth and seventh issue do we see the Avengers do anything other than argue with themselves. But not in the entertaining, emotional way that I predicted way back when, and then talked about in my last review. They're just going around in circles saying the same things over and over again.

I'm so disappointed with this series in the monthly format. Maybe, with a one-sitting read, I might enjoy the whole thing. Considering that the events of the main title happen over a span of a day or two, it loses its excitement when it's stretched over eight months. Unlike, Final Crisis, which seems to increase in enjoyment when delayed by five weeks. Just kidding.

I'm unimpressed, but my story might change once we're in the trade paperback format. Otherwise, Secret Invasion is a failure as a mega-event, but it got my money anyway. Here's to you, Bendis and Yu for putting out this event on time and with no fill-ins!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Final Crisis 4


I guess the big news this week is that J. G. Jones can't finish his work on
Final Crisis without terribly delaying the event. So Doug Mahnke has to do all of the interiors for the seventh issue. Which is fairly disappointing. What makes it even worse is that Jones managed to only complete 3 full issues before Carlos Pacheco was called in to help with issue 4! Now, I've tried to keep this blog free from histrionics and free from wallowing in geek-malaise, so I won't excoriate Jones from this particular pulpit. However, I will review Final Crisis 4, which came out this week.

It's been six months since I read Final Crisis 3 and I've almost forgotten what we're even reading about. Picking up a month after the Anti-Life Equation hits the world, we're shown what happens when the Justifiers and the superheroes get along. Oh, just kidding, there's a terrible fight, and the surviving heroes find a way to teleport themselves off world while leaving Ollie Queen behind to get Anti-Life Equation-ized. At the same time, Alan Scott sends a message to the five points on the globe that are still rebelling and gives them a moving speech on kicking ass and taking names. The Flashes meet with each other and narrowly escape Wonder Woman and her team of Justifiers. And finally, Dan Turpin makes his wholly terrifying metamorphosis into the great and evil Darkseid.

Yes, I can absolutely tell when one artist ends and another begins. Yes, Pacheco isn't as talented as Jones, but Pacheco is a couple cuts above the rest. And yes, this issue is fairly awesome.

With only three issues to go, it's time for Morrison to arrange all the pieces on the board for endgame, with numerous twists and surprises along the way. What we have here with
Final Crisis is a Morrison-style event that's just like any other event. Bad things happen, superheroes are momentarily defeated, they rally, they defeat and the world moves on. The formula is present, but Morrison does some exceptional things in it.

The big metaphor of this issue is that the greatest enemy we have is ourselves. The evil comes from within, which is exemplified literally in Turpin's case. The Anti-Life Equation, in Morrison's hands, seems to be about crushing the human spirit, crushing independence and free will. I suppose another metaphor running here is of hive mentality, group think, and how dangerous that is.

My complaints with the issue is this issue are small. Firstly, there's the unevenness of the art, but that's not Morrison's fault. Secondly, what happened to the humanized Monitor and Libra? Libra and his secret society were the most interesting aspect, and it seems to have been dropped.

These problems are small and slight and don't really take away from the overall issue. With four issues, I'm more impressed with
Final Crisis than any other event I've read in a long time. This is what comics are about.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Epic Catch-Up Post

Sooo... how are you? That's great. That's great. Me? Well, I've had a busy couple of weeks. Really busy. So busy that I haven't really had time to update the ol' blog. I apologize. It's been hectic. With work, and the g/f and upcoming changes in my life, things have been crazy. Today I decided to do a massive update and just catch you all up to speed on the fantastic amount of stuff that I've gotten up to. So, here we go.

1.
I went to the Manitoba Comic Con and Sci-Fi Expo, which was fairly decent. Every year I go to one of these things, I'm expecting something the size of San Diego con. Which isn't possible considering the size of our fair city. As well, every year I expect the thing to be much cooler than it ends up being. It's like I always forget that the entire place isn't loaded with fat sweaty guys talking about Brand New Day or something. This year I went with the intent to pick up any stray Garth Ennis stuff and any Avatar Press stuff and I managed to get away with:
-
Black Summer, issues 0 through 7 by Warren Ellis and Juan Jose Ryp
-
War is Hell: The First Flight of the Phantom Eagle, by Ennis and Howard Chaykin
-
Casanova, issues 1 to 13, by Matt Fraction and various
-
Avengers: Ultron Unlimited tpb by Kurt Busiek and George Perez
-
Death: The High Cost of Living, by Neil Gaiman and Chris Bachalo
-
Death: The Time of Your Life, by Neil Gaiman and Chris Bachalo
-
Mystech Wars, by Dan Abnett and Bryan Hitch
I also saw some great costumes and saw some people I knew that I didn't know were comic fans. I also saw the Ecto-1 and a Super-Tranny. Here are some pics:






2.
I saw a whoooole bunch of movies. Here's the list along with mini-mini-reviews of each.
A Bridge Too Far - I was astounded by how good this was.
The Good Shepard - boring.
Wanted - ridiculous and annoying
Get Smart - funny enough I suppose but nothing genius, although Alan Arkin is.
The Strangers - direction was strong, story was weak.
Journey To The Centre of The Earth (2008) - hilarious if you love science and hate good dialogue
The Incredible Hulk - it was entertaining but not nearly enough huevos like Ang Lee's version.

I also managed to catch
Wall-E in the theatres again. That's how much I like that movie.

3.
I watched the first two seasons of
The Venture Brothers, and I'm pretty sure that's the absolute best animated show I've seen since, well, Harvey Birdman or Justice League Unlimited. If you like your superheroes or Saturday morning cartoons and you're above the age of twelve, you're going to love this show. Highly recommended.

4.
I got out and voted in the Canadian Federal Election and I will tell you this: I only voted Liberal because I didn't want to split the vote and let Steven Fletcher win, who allegedly doesn't believe in gay marriage and probably wants to take abortion away.

5.
I read
The Collected Stories by Richard Yates. I read A Multitude of Sins and Wildlife by Richard Ford. I read The Complete WildCATS by Alan Moore and Red Son by Mark Millar.

6.
I'm currently 150 pages into
Young Hearts Crying by Richard Yates, 105 pages into Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John LeCarre and 90 pages into Fingerprints of the Gods by Graham Hancock.

Join us later for reviews of Secret Invasion and Final Crisis. Tally Ho!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Bad News: Final Crisis

From CBR, click here:
Rumored for some time, DC Comics made it official yesterday in its solicitations for January 2009 that superstar artist J.G. Jones (“52”) would not be providing interior art for “Final Crisis” #7. The final issue of the epic, seven-part saga of the DC Multiverse will be illustrated by the "Final Crisis: Superman Beyond" art team of penciler Doug Mahnke with inks by Christian Alamy.

Jones and Mahnke will each provide covers.

Via an email reply, Jones told CBR News that it was his preference not to comment “on any of this.”

Jones did however offer, “Any problems completing the series are my own. I love Doug Mahnke’s art, and he would have probably been a better choice to draw this series in the first place.”

The involvement of Mahnke comes after artist Carlos Pacheco was brought in to assist DC in completing "Final Crisis" on schedule, making Mahnke the title's third interior illustrator.

Asked if he would be re-drawing the issue for the eventual trade paperback of “Final Crisis,” Jones said, “I seldom revisit any ground I’ve already covered, and absolutely will not be redrawing any of Doug’s work. What an insult that would be to Doug, an unnecessary exercise in futility on my part.”

In terms of his next project, Jones said he is currently revising his plans for the future.

Assuming his tongue was planted firmly in cheek, Jones closed by apologizing to his “three or four remaining fans” and thanked them for picking up his work.

“Final Crisis” #4, with art by J.G. Jones and Carlos Pacheco, is on sale this week from DC Comics.
What the hell, Jones?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Mini-Reviews!

It's been a light couple of weeks for comic books, which is very good on my wallet, but not so good for the blog. In today's edition of Mini-Reviews, I'll be taking a look at a new Garth Ennis book, a terrific non-Morrison Bat-title and the issue that everybody's talking about.

Crossed 1

A new Garth Ennis comic? Excellent. Published by Avatar and drawn by Jacen Burrows? Okay. What's it about? Some sort of mysterious disease that makes people completely homicidal and the band of survivors trying to escape the nightmare. This is hardcore violence. In the Zero issue and now this issue, I've seen more blood than any other comic I've ever read, and that's saying a lot. It's too bad that Ennis isn't really anchoring it on any likeable or discernible character. Oh well. Since it's Garth Ennis, it can't be bad, but it can be average and that's what
Crossed is.

Detective Comics 849

In part five of the Hush storyline, Selina's heart is missing, Batman has gone over the edge and Hush gets more background information. Written by Paul Dini and drawn by Dustin Nguyen, this is another fantastic outing for the Dark Knight. I'm amazed that Dini could take what is a horrible one-note flat villain and make him interesting. He's still a lame villain with a boring motive, but Dini makes him work for this plot. At the end of this issue, it's revealed that Hush has changed his face to look like Bruce Wayne and that he's going to replace the original and retire the Batman. That's crazy. But super entertaining.

Action Comics 870

I reviewed the previous issue of this arc and determined that it was not very engaging and filled with boring subplots. Well, in the Brainiac finale, we get Superman busting out and beating butts and Supergirl finally doing something worthwhile. We also get the shocking death of one of the supporting characters. Spoiler alert: it's Pa Kent and he dies of a heart attack after Brainiac flies a rocket at the farm. We also get Superman releasing the bottle city of Kandor in the Arctic and thus we're set up for the New Krypton storyline running through all of the Super-titles. This issue had pretty much everything including the scary headship that adorns my blog right now. What more could I have asked from this issue? Stronger pencils from Gary Frank. His Superman looks sometimes like Christopher Reeves and other times like Richard Nixon. Inconsistent art, but terrific climax to a decent arc.

That's it for this Mini-Reviews! Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Comic Review: Top Ten - The Forty Niners


Alan Moore is the greatest writer of comic books ever. There, I said it. Are you happy? Are you mad? Do you disagree? In terms of technical prowess and structure, he's unmatched. In terms of characters and emotion, well, sometimes he's hit or miss with that. But with his series
Top Ten, illustrated by Gene Ha and Zander Cannon, he managed to balance both humour, suspense, character, story and theme so seemingly effortlessly, that the series ranks as one of my favourite comic books ever. But I had never read the prequel Top Ten - The Forty Niners... until today.

Set in 1949, the graphic novel follows the intertwined story of Steve Traynor, (the future Captain of Precinct 10) and Leni Muller, a new cop for the new police force in the science-hero city of Neopolis. While Traynor is a war hero and works with other war heroes with nothing to do, Muller is a former opponent of the States and now works with the newly established police. While Traynor deals with his personal life and his relationship to the war heroes and specifically to Wulf, his friend, Muller's story is one of vampire gangsters and murdered Nazi scientists. It all comes together in a terrific organic and suspenseful climax.

Just like the original series,
Top Ten - The Forty Niners has absolutely astonishing art from Gene Ha and tons of visual references to comic books. However, in this prequel, the comic book references are to more prototypical and early comics such as Krazy Kat and Li'l Abner. A more enlightened connoisseur of comics history will probably enjoy the easter eggs more than I did.

As well, Moore hits all the right notes with this series while still saying something interesting and new about police and superheroes. It's funny and touching and emotionally engaging with fully developed characters and a fantastic sense of structure. It's absolutely wonderful.

I prefer the original series, if only because it's more outrageous and grounded in character, rather than this prequel, which is more concerned with plot and set-up. This isn't a criticism, per se; I still enjoyed
The Forty Niners immensely, but I prefer the original.

If you've found Alan Moore to be dry or cold or more interested in form than in character, this is the series to start on. There isn't anything cold or dry about
Top Ten and its spin-offs. I highly recommend this series and this prequel.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Book Review: The Turnaround


I thought that
The Night Gardener was one of the books of the year and that George Pelecanos was the talent to keep your eyes on. Pelecanos had all the tricks so skillfully used: the misdirection, the realist dialogue, the subtle themes, and the sense that the mystery itself isn't as important as the characters' lives were. Fast forward two years and we've reached The Turnaround, Pelecanos' follow-up.

Set in D.C. (like all of his novels),
The Turnaround is about three white boys who drive into a black neighbourhood, throw a pie and throw a racial epithet, and the dire consequences for them and the three black boys who react, which leads to the murder of one of the white kids. The novel picks up thirty years later, as the boys have become men and how their lives have changed. Alex Pappas, the most "innocent" of the white kids, is now a father and running his own diner, while Raymond Monroe, the more "innocent" black kid, is also a father and working physical therapy for Iraqi war veterans. When Charles, the more dangerous of the three black men, decides to engage in a little extortion, Alex and Raymond meet for the first time since the incident and the trial.

Again, this isn't a mystery novel, per se. The central mystery isn't that obfuscating, and right at the halfway point was when I figured out the twist ending. Which isn't to say that the novel wasn't satisfying; it's just not particularily shocking as a mystery novel.

Instead of it being about the mystery, it's more about fathers and sons and legacy, some important and hefty themes. At every turn, Pelecanos examines what it means to be a strong father, and how that can affect your life as a son and as a father for ever. Pelecanos spends a lesiurely amount of time developing the back stories of Raymond, Alex and even Charles, showing (not telling) that their fathers were either great or terrible, thus leading them down their respective paths.

The father-son theme is echoed and reversed once they become older and have kids of their own. At this point, Pelecanos devlops a subplot concerning the Iraqi war and how it got Alex's younger son killed but spared Raymond's son. There isn't any major weighty political message about the war; it's just a look at how the war affects the little people. (Although, I suspect that Pelecanos supports the war, as he provides ample discussion between characters about how freedom isn't free and that standing for your country means something, etc, etc, etc).

And just like his other novels that I've read, Pelecanos takes the time to set up a parallel plot that ultimately has nothing to do with the central mystery or plot. This time, it's drug dealers getting in over their heads. Pelecanos uses an Altman-esque connection to keep the subplot tied to the novel and lets it resolve itself rather than sully the central plot.

The Turnaround is a great novel that I managed to read very quickly, as it's fast-paced and thoroughly engrossing. I had trouble putting the novel down. As mystery novels go, this is a fantastic worthy addition to the genre that puts the hacks to shame; Pelecanos is a true author and artist.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Comic Review: Shortcomings


There's an interesting line of dialogue near the beginning of the graphic novel Shortcomings that's really representative of the entire work itself. After leaving an Asian-American digital film-fest, Ben, himself an Asian-American, remarks to his girlfriend that it annoys him that every work of art by an Asian-American is a big statement on race and he asks why can't they just tell a story?

Shortcomings is a graphic novel about character flaws, hence the title, and not really about being Asian. Even though race plays an important part in the story, it's not the story itself. It's the story of Ben and his girlfriend who are on a break while she goes from Berkeley to New York for an internship. It's also the story of Ben flirting with a stereotype of Asian men wanting to have sex with white girls. It's also the story of Ben's character flaws and his defeat by his own figurative hands.

Written and drawn in a crisp, clean style by Adrian Tomine, who is also Asian-American, this graphic novel is, at times, personal and political, major and minor. There's numerous examinations of Asian stereotypes and sexual stereotypes, and finely sketched characters.

The story is told in a very realistic way, which means everything is messy, just like in real life. The relationships are messy and real and the people are confused and real. This is not a Superman comic, for sure. Tomine is playing in the realism sandbox, and doing a fine job of it. Everything on the page breathes and moves, not just in the art-sense, but also in the story-sense. It's a graceful skill that Tomine seems to have, effortlessly.

This is an extremely good comic book. I really enjoyed what Tomine is trying to accomplish here. This reminds me of Daniel Clowes, but even better anatomy and a better sense of society, rather than outcasts to an ill-defined society. Shortcomings is a terrific story with great art, great characters, and a great story.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Review: Mirrors


I thought that Alexandre Aja was the talent to watch. I thought that he was one of the few bright, talented horror directors to know how horror films work and how to create the best possible scare. I guess I was deluding myself.
Haute Tension, his first film, was intelligent and scary up until the worst twist ending ever, and his second film, The Hills Have Eyes, followed such a rigourous pattern that I was able to predict all the beats. So it was with little or no expectations that I watched his third film, Mirrors.

Kiefer Sutherland is - get this - a divorced father down on his luck who takes a job as a security guard for a burned out, abandoned mall which has hundreds of huge mirrors. As he patrols the husk of a building, he begins to see things in the mirrors that aren't really there. There's also a backstory to the mall, a mystery Sutherland must solve, and a family schism that he must try to mend. Also, he's a cop who killed a guy.

You see all the predictable bits put together? If I can think of a film it's most like, it's the American remake of
The Ring, which was fairly scary, but didn't hold up to repeat viewings, that's for sure.

Mirrors
is a mess of a film. Mirrors themselves are one of the most oft-used and simple metaphors in literature. They're portals, they're windows, they're a dark reflection, they're liars, they're truthtellers, they're a dark world. Mirrors can be absolutely anything, and what does this film choose to go with? The prison of a demon. It's an okay metaphor, but Amy Smart, Kiefer Sutherland's character's sister, spells out the other metaphors in one scene. Absolutely spells it out to the audience.

Instead of reviewing this mess of a film, I'm going to think of missed opportunities:
1. The mirrors could have shown dark alternate realities, dark reflections in which Sutherland's character and other character's little dark secrets become all too real. That way, the reflection metaphor is highlighted.
2. The mirrors could have been windows into the dark souls of others and still the ghost story would have worked the same. Instead of showing random images of death, Sutherland could have been looking into the dark souls of his family and friends and then finally - bum bum BUM - his own soul, revealing the horrible truth about himself.
3. The mirrors could have shown an exaggerated version of the real world, confusing Sutherland to the point of madness and then in a Twilight Zone-style ending, the real world is actually twisted and the mirrors correct the visions.
4. If the mirrors showed things that weren't in the real world, but they showed the imagination of people, it could have shown a serial killer's imagination or vision, and Sutherland could have tried to solve the murder, but in a twist ending, it turns out it was the future, and Sutherland was the killer, and he has to kill to keep everything quiet.
5. The mirrors are actually portals, and Sutherland accidentally breaks one, releasing a demon into the world. This one is the closest to the actual plot, but the breaking of a mirror as a metaphor isn't played up in
Mirrors, at all. Which is strange.

I can think of more, but why bother? The film that I've been presented with is a mess of jumbled images and stolen plot devices. The only saving grace? The decent scares. There's quite a few quite little scares that are more unnerving than any jump-scare that gets thrown at us. For example, Sutherland's kid is talking to his reflection and when he gets up to walk away, the reflection stays sitting and watches the mom. Ooooh, creepy.

Otherwise,
Mirrors is a pretty terrible horror movie. There's so many missed opportunities and so many ways the writer and director mixed up their metaphors. As I say, I only liked the film for its decent creepy scares and acceptable gore, but on the whole I wasn't really impressed.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Really? Isn't there anything more important?

Warning: this post is about the real world. Sorry, comic book junkies.

I don't watch Survivor and I never have. It's jsut not for me. What I do know about it is that there is generally copious amounts of male nudity. I guess the male contestants feel more comfortable showing their genitals. However, it's blurred for network television, which is fine. This week, CBS forgot to blur a second of a flaccid penis that accidentally falls out of a contestant's shorts during a physical activity, an immunity challenge, I think. Here's the text from the Washington Post, which you can click here to access.
CBS, the network that gave us the Nipple That Knicker-Knotted a Nation, now brings us the Peekaboo Penis.

The self-appointed watchdog group Parents Television Council has filed an indecency complaint with the Federal Communications Commission over the season debut of "Survivor: Gabon" -- ironically the first episode of this series to be broadcast in high-definition.

If you look closely at participants in a race, you see Marcus Lehman's little colonel "falling out" of his boxer shorts as he runs to the finish line, PTC reports. "The image was not obscured in any way," PTC notes in disgust. In fairness, the episode had a lot of pixelation -- just not of Lehman's male pride.

"Although this instance was brief, it was nonetheless shocking and purposeful," PTC President Tim Winter said in a statement.

CBS, in a statement, insisted it was "a completely unintentional, inadvertent and fleeting incident that was virtually undetectable when viewed in real time." "Fleeting" was the word of choice when the Super Bowl Nipplegate story broke, too. "In the first 24 hours after the broadcast, before freeze-frame images were widely posted online, we received one viewer comment from the 13 million who watched the telecast," the network said.

PTC had this to say about that:

"CBS's decision to hide behind excuses that the incident was 'fleeting' and didn't generate an immediate flood of complaints is the epitome of irresponsibility. The number of 'fleeting' penises we expect to see on broadcast television is zero."

Okay, but here's the thing. The penis is a part of the male anatomy. It serves many biological functions and is absolutely mandatory for reproduction and the propagation of the human species. Humans have no further need to exist other than to reproduce, just like all of the organisms on the face of the planet. So the second most crucial element of our anatomy (the brain being numero uno) isn't really that much of a surprise when it's accidentally revealed. "What in the world is that thing, honey?" "Why, I'm not sure. Some sort of second nose?"

I don't think so. It's frigging 2008 here. Ancient civilizations, geniuses of art and symbolism, and even textbooks have shown the penis without any regard to eroticism or gratuitous exposure. An accidental flaccid penis exposed during a physical activity has no erotic value whatsoever, so why is this such a big deal?

Why is Janet Jackson's breast a big deal? Why is nudity a big deal? It's the same double-standard that has been chewed over to death: why is extreme violence acceptable but nudity not? Why is the nude form so offensive? CSI and Law and Order can get away with the most ridiculous explicit violence and dialogue about anatomy and sexuality, but you can't show a breast. You can't even show a mother breastfeeding, which is not sexual (but sexual to those with that penchant, a clear minority).

Is this really a topic of debate? Isn't there anything more important in the world, such as poverty, hunger, AIDS, cancer, homophobia, misogyny and lack of education? Let's talk about that.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Review: Burn After Reading


Tell me, dear readers, do you like the Coen brothers? Are you a fan? Have you seen all of their movies except for Crimewave? Did you rejoice when they won their Academy Award last year? Since you've seen all of their films, does that mean you know what to expect from a Coen film? Yes? Then let me tell you, dear reader, you will enjoy their latest film,
Burn After Reading.

Frances McDormand and Brad Pitt are fitness trainers who accidentally come across some potentially sensitive material belonging to CIA analyst John Malkovich, who's married to Tilda Swinton who's having an affair with George Clooney who's dating Frances McDormand through on online dating service. McDormand and Pitt attempt to engage in extortion against Malkovich and things escalate and things happen. To give anything more away would be absolutely criminal.

The themes of misunderstanding and idiocy are paramount to the Coen brothers. In practically every film they've ever made, a misunderstanding leads to the chaos and hilarity of the plot. On top of that, not very many characters they've written are, let's be honest, very bright. They're ambitious but moronic, and combined with the initial and subsequent misunderstandings, the Coen brothers craft pseudo-film noir, pseudo-gangster films, and with this new movie, pseudo-spy thrillers.

Most of the characters in
Burn After Reading have some sort of tangential relation to spying or the government or intelligence, but that doesn't mean any of them are intelligent. A misunderstanding of what the sensitive materials are leads to more misunderstanding of who's tailing who and who's f*%&ing who.

Just like all of their other movies, the humour doesn't necessarily come from the situation, but rather from the characters. The result is a more dry humour, but nonetheless extremely funny. So it's no surprise that the Coens fill their film with A-list actors such as George Clooney (his third collaboration with the Coens) and Brad Pitt. They also fill the supporting roles with absolutely astonishing performances from J.K. Simmons, Richard Jenkins, and David Rasche. Everybody in this movie works their way around the Coens' dialogue with aplomb and skill, creating a rich tapestry of hilarious characters with little or no intelligence.

The little complaints I did have with the film are superficial, but still important to the overall enjoyment of the film. I've been spoiled previously in that the Coens work with cinematographer Roger Deakins, who is -in a word- amazing. In this film, they break from the standard and go with Emmanuel Lubezki, the Oscar nominated cinematographer of
Children of Men and Sleepy Hollow. The result is a toned down, flat looking gray Washington DC, and it's missing that bright liveliness of the Deakins-era Coen films. The other problem is the overly percussive score from Carter Burwell. According to Wikipedia, they sought to replicate another score from a political thriller from the fifties, but instead of being a clever allusion (that practically no one will pick up on), it's oppressing and distracting.

However, these complaints do little to diminish my overall enjoyment of the film. Perhaps on DVD the film will look better. The other problem I had was a small mark on the lower right hand of the screen, as if there was a coffee-ring on the lens of the projector. The print itself looked dirty, too, like it had been lying under my bed for a week and a half. But I can't blame the film for that.

Regardless of projection issues,
Burn After Reading is a great anti-spy thriller, a great comedy and a great showcase for some talented acting. I really liked this movie and I would definitely watch to see this screenplay nominated for Best at the Oscars. Here's hoping!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Heartbreaking not so new news:

Dave Campbell's "new" blog, Live From L.A. is absolutely terrible and it's heartbreaking because Campbell is a talented writer and an inspiration for this blog.