Friday, February 29, 2008

bad monster party

Has it really been almost 2 weeks since the last time I posted? I've definitely got a bit of the winter doldroms going on, tired, a little depressed, generally kind of unmotivated...It seems to be going around. Pretty much anyone I've talked to in the past couple weeks has been exhausted, sick, depressed or some combination thereof. I guess it's just that time of year...

Or maybe there's just a bad case of the crazies going around. Walking home from work tonight, on 2nd Avenue and 5th street in the East Village, I saw like six cops dogpiling a guy. Whatever level of danger the guy provided, it was clear that the fuzz was really getting off on their moment of brutality. Additional officers were rushing to the scene from the stationhouse around the corner, forcefully pushing pedestrians out of their way. Another cop was asking people to back up, and while doing so physically pushed them back. One guy he put his hands on he knocked into me, so I could feel how hard the guy was pushed, and, well, he shouldn't have been pushing people at all to begin with, but he was pushing them pretty hard. That's pretty much what I've come to expect of the NYPD, basically a bunch of murder-hungry thugs, but it still upsets me.

And at the same time, I felt no particular sympathy for the guy getting arrested, even though he was clearly no match for the six to eight cops who were on top of him. One was even standing on his legs, after he had already been cuffed. The guy didn't seem to be struggling so much as yelping in pain. I didn't feel much identification with the crowd surrounding the event, who didn't seem to object too much to being pushed around, and were more concerned with making sarcastic, obnoxious comments, the likes of which seems to be what passes for wit or insight these days. Fucking people. Fucking New York. And fuck me, when did I become so unsympathetic to fucking everyone? I did happen to have a camera on me and snapped a bunch of b&w pics, so maybe I'll post them whenever I get the film developed, or maybe it's best to leave this one be. Fuck it.

Meanwhile, what I really wanted to write about was the Gregg Araki film "Mysterious Skin," which I watched last week, and really liked. But I'm tired now and not feeling especially insightful myself, so, I dunno, it was good. I generally like Araki's films, and this one was pleasantly surprising, despite the unpleasant subject matter (child rape), because while his other films like "Doom Generation" and "Nowhere" relied on over-the-top comedy and violence, this one plays it pretty serious, giving the movie a stronger emotional core and resonance. I was talking to a friend afterwards about the ending, which she found depressing, but I found really kind of uplifting and satisfying, since it really gets to the effect of the events of the film on the characters, and we see them beginning the process of coming to terms with one another and their shared emotional and physical trauma. The cast is especially strong, particularly Hal Hartley regular Bill Sage (as the child molester), and "former child star" (who I saw eating pizza once in my neighborhood, on the same corner where I once saw the Rock on a giant motorcycle, seriously) Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who between flicks like this and "The Lookout" is totally one of my favorite actors these days (adventurous filmgoers should track down his early role as Patricia Arquette's Mennonite child husband in the Leonard Nimoy directed "Holy Matrimony.")

I also finally saw "Monster," which was really just kind of so-so. I'm not surprised it was critically lauded or got some awards, it's definitely the kind of middle-of-the-road whatever that passes for whatever these days, and it certainly wasn't so bad, except when it was, namely in the killing scenes, which were so ridiculously staged as to suggest a parody of what a poorly staged murder scene might look like (arms up, hollering, "Noooooo!"). And the ending was really stupid. Not what happens, since obviously that's what happened in real life, but the way it's staged. It's like they got to the end and realized there really wasn't much of a point to the movie one way or another, so they just tacked something hokey on and then put a lame, semi-ironic 80s cheese ballad over the closing credits. In general, the attempts at creating a grimy 1980s atmosphere were pretty weak, but the acting was alright, and the story is compelling enough, though one would do themselves much better by watching Nick Broomfield's "Selling of a Serial Killer" doc, featuring the real Aileen Wournos.

Well, I guess writing has made me feel a bit better. I'm definitely still a bit exhausted and grumbly, mumbly and cursing, but it's cool, I guess, not really, but so what? It's just that homely, lonely time of year, so, yeah, I'm just going to sit here a while and wallow in it. You can join me if you want, or you can go to hell. Your choice.

Until next time...

Saturday, February 16, 2008

the kind of weird one, kind of...

I want to write a bit more about Steve Gerber and post some stuff from some of his comics, and I will in the days to come, but before I learned of his death, I was planning on posting a review of the film "The Brave One," so that's what I'm going to do tonight. Dig it?

As she approaches middle age, actress Jodie Foster has become increasingly enigmatic. There was, in the roles of her youth (Taxi Driver, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, the Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane, Candleshoe, Freaky Friday etc.) a sense of openness, I suppose coming from her characters' precociousness, and Foster's ability as an actress to give highly naturalistic performances. Since "The Silence of the Lambs," there has been a sense of distance to her characters that is, I suppose by the nature of being distant, extremely difficult to get a bead on. Foster gets a lot of mileage out of her steely gaze, and her ability to seem put upon and in control simultaneously.

For the most part, the films that Foster appears in these days aren't especially good, but are generally quite interesting. In several recent films, she has been cast as a victim, not necessarily of a specific aggressor, but of elements of modernity, which are often treated with a certain ambivalence and ambiguity. There's the titular Panic Room of David Fincher's film, which provides Foster with both a safe haven and a kind of prison. Likewise the jumbo jet of "Flightplan," designed by the Foster character in the film, representing her achievement but, again, representing a kind of prison.

"The Brave One" is similar if even more ambivalent and vague in it's representation of modernity. In some ways, one could view Foster's home/prison construct in this film as the ever-changing isle of Manhattan itself (I can sympathize), but other elements of the modern, and specifically media, abound. Foster herself is a radio personality, when she and her boyfriend are attacked in Central Park, the aggressors videotape the assault on a flash-DV camera. Television, Ipods and Cell Phones all make appearances as well. What this all represents, though, the film seems unclear of.

Actually, I was prepared to pretty much trash this movie when I started watching it. For the most part, "The Brave One" is little more than a 21st Century knock off of "Death Wish," coached in an air of solemnity and self-importance. Foster and her boyfriend are attacked in the park by a gang of Latino thugs. The boyfriend is killed and Foster becomes immobilized by urban paranoia until she gets a gun and begins taking the law into her own hands. There are very specific visual references made to the many urban paranoia vigilante pictures of the 1970s and 1980s, most obviously "Death Wish" and of course "Taxi Driver" (Foster's first shooing, like Travis Bickle's, is to thwart a bodega robbery, though here an element of domestic abuse is thrown in- the villain, oddly enough, is played by NYC independent filmmaker Larry Fessenden), as well as, surprisingly enough, Abel Ferrara's "Ms. 45," from which a few shots are copied nearly identically.

Of course, the New York City of 2007 is very different from that of 1977, or 1987 for that matter. Urban crime is way, way down, which makes on wonder what the relevance of a movie like this (eventually the film comes to acknowledge this, thankfully, when a cross-section of New Yorker's opinions on the vigilante action are broadcast on Foster's radio show). In truth, it isn't especially prescient a topic. Of course, street crime still exists, people still feel victimized at times, still feel afraid, but really our fears are on a grander scale these days, post-9/11 youknowwhati'mtalkingaboutsowhyreallybothergoingintotoomuchdetailwarterrorfearsuicidebombingsblahblahblah.

This overriding irrelevance and the general solemnity of the film, which I should note was directed by Neil Jordan, generally no slouch filmmaking wise, are its greatest flaws. The thing about movies like "Death Wish" and "Ms. 45" is that they were basically trash. Intelligent, well-made and even insightful trash, some of my personal favorite trash, but they were still pretty trashy movies. Making a film that tries to elevate this genre years after the fact just comes off as kind of silly, but "The Brave One" fails to recognize its own absurdity or irrelevance enough to do anything interesting with either. Like I said, as I started watching, I was pretty much prepared to hate this film.

About halfway through, however, the film really comes into its own as Foster shares a series of increasingly personal scenes with a cop played by Terrence Howard. Here "The Brave One" reveals its greatest strength, as an actor's picture, with Foster and Howard giving really quite amazing performances and playing off one another expertly. Though a cop, he proves to be very tender and understanding (presumably in juxtaposition to Foster's intellectual liberal who proves capable of cold-blooded murder, which of course was the entire point of "Death Wish," though this film seems to be a vigilante pic for liberals, wheras the earlier film was something of a refutation of pacifism). The friendship between the two characters provides the film with its emotional core and gives it the weight the rest of the setup is otherwise lacking. It's truly impressive to watch the two of them interact, particularly in a scene where Foster, on her way to a kill, calls Howard, who she catches reading in bed, half-asleep, and we really get a chance to see both of the character's vulnerabilities and tenderness, as well as their fondness for one another.

In the end, "The Brave One" is, performances aside, really nothing special, but it's not so bad either. One uncomfortable issue the film really fails to broach is that of race. Howard, of course, is African-American, and Foster's boyfriend is played by North Asian Naveen Andrews (well, actually he's British, but of Indian descent, you know what I mean, anyway he's the guy from "Lost" and "Grindhouse"). These casting choices seem to be calculated to offset that this is basically a film about a wealthy white woman shooting and killing mostly pretty impoverished ethnic minorities. Her attackers are Latino, and represented entirely without redeeming characteristics, and she offs a gaggle of boringly stereotypical black teens on a Subway train (shades of Bernard Goetz, and "Death Wish," as well as the 1967 film "The Incident," although in that film the punks were white and the victims black, but anyways...), also shown to be basically evil. She kills a swarthy, coked up Arab as well (a scene lifted from Ms. 45), though in doing so she saves the life of a young, smacked-out Latina. There's also the painfully stereotypical wise, older African woman who lives in Foster's building, and gives her advice about life and love and shit like that. Basically, there are a lot of stereotypes running around this film, made all the more apparent by the very unstereotypical performance and characterization by Howard. So, I dunno, there's that...To be fair the issue of race, though certainly an issue, is far less problematic than in, say, Joel Cocknocker's "Falling Down" from the 1990s, in which put upon white middle class Michael Douglas enacts violent vengeance on all the various minorities getting in the way of his getting breakfast at MacDonald's at 11:15 even though they stop serving at 11, or having to pay a dollar for a Coke in a Korean grocery, or what the fuck ever. Compared to that, this is fucking "Eyes on the Prize."

Anyway, I didn't wind up hating "The Brave One," which is too bad because I think the review I could have written calling it out on what a piece of shit it is would have been much more interesting and funnier than this kind of ambivalent one. Maybe there's just too much love in my heart, or something. But it's also kind of an ambivalent movie, so I guess you reap what you sow, Neil Jordan. (Actually, I think Neil Jordan is a pretty interesting director). Anyway, I'm at a loss for an ending here (the ending of "the Brave One," by the way, is actually kind of welcomely unexpected, by me anyway, and provides another great scene between Foster and Howard, even if it does ultimately seem to suggest that she was basically justified in going around shooting all these people, but I guess this is a Hollywood picture and we're supposed to be left feeling good about our main characters, and I guess we sort of do, or something). What was I saying? I think it's bed time. Rent this one or don't. You'll be impressed or disappointed depending on how much you care.

Until next time...

Friday, February 15, 2008

really sad news...

I was extremely sad to find out today that Steve Gerber, one of my favorite comic book writers, died on Monday. Gerber is best known for creating "Howard the Duck," one of the most innovative and intelligent comics of the 1970s, and beyond that had a long career of other innovative and intelligent work, including work on the Flash, Superman, Man-Thing, the Defenders, the Avengers, Daredevil, Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk and Ghost Rider. He co-created Omega the Unknown (with Mary Skrenes) and Destroyer Duck with Jack Kirby (both used the Howard-esque character to vent their many frustrations towards Marvel Comics). Recent work includes the amazing "Hard Time" series for DC and a current run of Dr. Fate (in "Countdown to Mystery), also for DC.
I didn't know Gerber personally, but in some ways felt I did, both from reading his comics and his blog (which is currently being maintained by Mark Evanier), which I always found to be brutally honest, introspective, insightful and otherwise the work of a thoroughly fascinating, wonderful human being. I wrote quite a bit about Gerber and "Howard the Duck" in my graduate thesis, and spent a lot of time reading and thinking about his work, and I gotta say, and again, I never met the guy, but he was a prince.
Anyway, I'm really sad now and my heart totally goes out to all his family and friends, and the comic book world in general, which is now minus one of the greats...

Friday, February 8, 2008


If I've been quiet this week, it's because nothing especially interesting has been going on. In general, I've been in a pretty sleepy, grumpy mood, but that's not really interesting either. Stay tuned next week for a review of the new George A. Romero film, "Diary of the Dead," and in two weeks for the new Alex Cox film "Searchers 2.0" I'm super excited about seeing both, as Romero and Cox are two of my favorite filmmakers, two of the filmmakers whose films have had most of an impact on my life, and two filmmakers who rarely, if ever, disappoint.
In the meantime, if you're desperate for a dose of my rapier wit, check out my radio show, Modern Products, Sundays 4-6pm on (or download the podcast). More information about modern products can be found here, here and here.