Monthly Archives: May 2006

I.T.J.B.

For six days I have not understood why EVERYBODY has been saying they're favorite one-liner in X3 was a possibly amusing but not particularly clever line said by Vinnie Jones — until now.

Now I get it. And I love it.

Don't know how I could have missed this little gem that took the internet by storm several months ago.

The Superman Juggernaut Continues

I can't remember a movie that has released three different full length trailers within a month's time, but the Singer (not sewing) machine is charging faster than a locomotive (to mix Superman metaphors).

Instead of the international trailer I saw before X-Men 3, citizens of the United States evidently got to see a totally different trailer in front of the sequel to Singer's ex-franchise. Download directly from one of these links:

Small | Medium | Large | Largest 

Let’s Ride

Two new trailers for Ghost Rider are now available here. I don't think it shows enough really to say whether it will be good or bad, but that's probably a bad sign because trailers are usually better than the actual movies. The question might come down to whether a skull is more or less expressive than a head under a mask.

But come February, the movie has Eva Mendes in it so I will be there in any case.

Don’t Tug on Superman’s Cape

I'm at the library so I haven't even seen this with sound yet but the new international trailer for Superman Returns (which I would guess will be attached to X-Men 3 in the States as well) makes it look like the greatest movie ever made. You can download it in four sizes from this page.

Wait till you see the last shot.

UPDATE: Wow, I take that back now that I see it with the volume up. It was edited poorly, the order didn't work, the pacing was terrible, several shots were held too long, and the voiceovers were pasted together badly.

The last trailer from three weeks ago was made way better.

…but that last shot is still pretty cool.

The Christology of Superman

My previous post got me thinking about the religious symbolism of Superman. Siegel and Shuster's origin of the character was undoubtedly a cosmic analogue merely of baby Moses in a basket escaping infanticide, so I think it is probably the Catholic Mario Puzo's screen adaptation which is primarily responsible for the "Christianization" of Superman's Jewish origin story:

Jor-el is the Father who banishes a traitor and his followers from the heavenly Kryptonian paradise into a Phantom Zone hell, then sends his Son to Earth (in Johannine language and via a Nativity Star-ship) to be its savior, who is raised by humble surrogate parents (and whose earthly father dies), and as an adult retreats to the (Arctic) wilderness before beginning his "ministry" at age 30, whereupon he reveals himself to the world by performing miracles (later including raising his friend Lois/Lazarus from the dead), is tempted by Lex/Lucifer who offers him earthly riches if he will serve him, and refues, but is momentarily defeated and placed in a (watery) grave, a death which is accompanied by earthquakes, then rises again, et cetera. (I can only imagine the metatextual implications if Jim Caviezel had actually been cast in Superman Returns, as Mike Millar famously wagered for $1000 in August 2004.)

Puzo could be accused of being over-ingenious, but once the analogy was depicted in 1978 it could never be ignored again. The miracle is not only that he managed to do it without violence to the history or personality of Superman but that it became the iconic version of the character.

Not only did Byrne draw on it for his version of Krypton in the 1986 reboot, but by his desire to make Superman an American citizen by birth, not adoption, he also (intentionally or not) diminished the Mosaic parallel in favor of the Christian nativity by making Kal-el emerge from his gestation matrix on terrestrial soil, paradoxically making him both Kryptonian by nature and a native of Earth.

In his final-page soliloquy (though actually shown in thought balloons) from The Man of Steel #6, Byrne's Superman concludes his self-reflection with an almost Chalcedonian expression of his dual nature: "It was Krypton that made me Superman . . . But it is the Earth that makes me human!!"

Unfortunately, what this revision of Superman compromised was the significance of his original status as the ultimate immigrant who chooses to stay on Earth. Being an American citizen by birth undermined the virtue — and sometimes tragedy — of his choice to personally associate with humanity. Among other things, Clark Kent should represent Kal-el's deep desire to assimilate into human culture, always an integral aspect of Siegel and Shuster's story, written when Jews — like Superman, without a homeland in 1938 — were being further segregated in Europe. Superman gives us hope that even the most alien of us can achieve integration.

Superman: For Tomorrow (Volume 1)

I've just read the new softcover of the first half of Brian Azzarello and Jim Lee's year-long "For Tomorrow" arc in Superman that began April 2004 (issues 204-215). Though the title was first given to Lee, who then picked a writer, one still can't help but think another artist would have been better suited to draw the subtleties of facial expression that inevitably make or break dialogue-heavy scripts such as this one. Even worse, the look of the cliched-90s villain Equus seems like Lee's self-parody of Image character design — a cyborg Killer Croc wearing Oakley shades — but the visual faults of the first five issues are instantly absolved in the sixth by the perverse but ingenious image of an elemental earth monster whose four heads are the actual Mount Rushmore!

Lee_Rushmore.jpg

(Sorry to spoil it but it was too good to keep to myself.)

Though I don't think its execution was perfect, there is no question that Azzarello's script is ambitious and provocative, asking a question as ancient as it is contemporary. Though I am skeptical of Jim Roeg's interpretation of Infinite Crisis as a political allegory, there is no doubt that Azzarello uses Superman to represent America's active role in the world and address the implications that accompany it. Not content with limiting its scope to political commentary, however, Azzarello extends the analogy from national superpower to supernatural power. The question "If you are able to prevent evil, should you?" is relevant as both a political and theological question, and the book seems to offer more than one answer by comparing Superman not only to the United States but to God himself.

Politically, the foreign policy of the US since JFK's inaugural address has been that since America has the ability to prevent evil around the world — including "tyranny, poverty, disease, and war" — it therefore has the responsibility to do so. Perhaps it is not coincidental that Spider-Man was invented only a year later with his guiding philosophy that "with great power there must also come great responsibility."

Theologically, the question of why a God would let bad things happen begs the further question, if God ought to interfere to prevent great evils, why shouldn't he intervene to prevent every act of minor evil as well? But if God intended to directly interfere with every human choice on an everyday basis, what is the point of history at all if humanity is not permitted to create its own?

Analogously, then, why should Superman prevent disaster only in Metropolis? Why not also in other cities or other countries, since he can? As a resident of earth he feels obligated, like the US, to do what is within his ability as the world's greatest superpower. But as a foreigner, what right does he have to interfere with sovereign nations? Indeed, as an alien, what right does he have to interfere even with Metropolis? Furthermore, as a practically divine being, what right does he have to interfere with the sovereignty of personhood and individual choice, whether good or ill?

Azzarello references both Christ and America in association with Superman, as he questions his appropriate relationship with the human world, but Azzarello's answer(s?) are yet to be revealed since this volume collects only the first six issues. I hope the next six live up to the profound trajectory established so far. I would not be surprised, however, if the soundbite-favoring format of the comic book prevents a sophisticated enough response to such philosophically complex questions.

On the positive side, since Superman is practically omnipotent, ethical issues are his only credible challenges, so Azzarello is using Superman as he is best used — as an allegorical representation of either divine or American superpower — and he is doing both simultaneously. But on the other hand, extended Socratic dialogue does not fully exploit sequential art, which is better suited to iconic than to dramatic narrative. In that sense, the title's immediately preceding arc, Godfall, was (contrary to the appearance of its covers) a superior exploration of the Superman-as-Christ allegory, cleverly depicting a condescension resembling the incarnation of God in human form. Azzarello's arc is no doubt an appropriate follow-up, highlighting the transcendent rather than immanent Superman, though its ultimate success will be dependent on Volume 2.

CASUALTIES OF WAR (1989)

In Brian De Palma’s Vietnam drama, Michael J. Fox is the only member of his five-man unit who refuses to rape a Vietnamese woman they capture, but he’s plagued by the guilt of not being able to stop them. Afterwards he believes he should charge them even though they had saved his life. Besides the improbable rarity of seeing a war movie filmed with a steadicam, and its unlikely but ingenious marriage to a soaring Morricone score that feels more like Donaggio’s classic collaborations with De Palma, Casualties of War also has one of the most interesting “messages” of Vietnam films.

It insists that right and wrong still exist even in a war full of terrible grays, yet it does so without over-simplifying the various motivations for war crimes, whether revenge (Sean Penn), sadism (Don Harvey), depravity (John C. Reilly), or intimidation (John Leguizamo). And rather than depict a cover-up driven by evil intent, it presents more than one credible reason for ignoring the atrocity, not the least of which is protecting one’s own family.

Michael J. Fox, the Lutheran protagonist, is not a self-righteous crusader but a compromised individual who faces two genuinely difficult dilemmas. The movie’s ultimate theme is finally expressed by him when he says:

Just because we could all be blown away, everybody’s acting like we can do anything. And it don’t matter what we do. But I think it’s the other way around. The main thing is the opposite. Because we might die in the next second, maybe we gotta be extra careful what we do. Because maybe it matters more. Maybe it matters more than we even know.

The result is a combination of CS Lewis’ Abolition of Man and John Woo’s Bullet in the Head. It is at the same time oppressively despairing and inspiringly optimistic. Some would say naively optimistic in its belief in justice. But I think it is for all of these reasons an appropriately philosophical film that acknolwedges both the horrors of evil and the perseverance of good.

MORONS FROM OUTER SPACE (1985)

I missed the beginning but was fortunate to catch most of this on TV last night. I had never heard of it but it made my night.

This 1985 send up of “first contact” movies is a thousand times funnier than others like Mars Attacks! because it satirizes culture rather than sci-fi. Indeed there’s very little sci-fi, given that the four aliens who arrive on earth have heavy regional British accents. The movie’s best scenes are the initial interviews with the new arrivals (“You guys will probably be interested in this. We use a narrow instrument to make marks on a surface, called letters. We call it a pen, P-E-N.”)

Its sense of humor is a combination of Dr Strangelove and the Simpsons, with dozens of jokes and references that pass without slowing down to give you time to laugh. The characters aren’t single-note caricatures either, for example Griff Rhys Jones as the Deep Throat-esque leaker (codenamed Teabag!) who is unable to leak the arrival of aliens (because somebody always walks by the phone at the wrong time) and later turns into the aliens’ Brian Eptstein-like manager wearing Phil Spector glasses.

That’s right: after escaping the military compound, the aliens — Jimmy Nail, Joanna Pearce, and Paul Brown — find celebrity and form a glam rock band (until they break up citing creative differences) while the fourth alien who had crash landed in Arizona, Mel Smith, tries to reach England to reunite with his buddies.

I’m surprised that most reviewers on IMDB seem to hate it, echoing the critical consensus upon release, because I found it a clever comedy that deserves to be considered a credit to the career of Mike Hodges, better known for Get Carter, Flash Gordon, and Clive Owen’s best movie Croupier.

X-Men Missing the X-fACTOR

Here’s a seven-minute series of clips from X3.

The good news is that the sepcial effects shown in the last minute look pretty good.

The bad news is that the acting looks pretty bad. “So what?” you ask. “The acting was pretty bad in the first two.” Well, what I mean is the acting looks pretty bad compared to the first two. It might also be that the script is a little worse.

In any case, I’m now not looking forward to this as much as I was before, and I’m now more excited about this year’s Bryan Singer movie than by this year’s X-Men movie.

Superman Returns Plot Discovery

Here's the image of the MAJOR SPOILER I mentioned in my last post. I am serious when I say do NOT peak after the jump unless you want to know what Luthor's nefarious scheme is, no doubt to be accomplished with the aid of the "alien technology" he claims to have acquired.

Or it could just be a pretty painting on a wall…

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