Monthly Archives: May 2007

Once Upon a Time in the Caribbean

The one moment of pure unexpected joy I felt during At World’s End was when the embassies from the pirate fleet and East India navy meet each other on the narrow atoll before the sea battle.

Suddenly a fuzzy electric guitar stabs the air plucking a near duplication of Frank’s theme from Once Upon a Time in the West and is immediately joined by an imitation of Harmonica’s theme, replicating the music of the final showdown in Leone’s film (listen to Zimmer’s “Parlay” here). Dutifully, the camera focuses on the backs of boots and fronts of faces before the six main characters enter negotiations.

Though in some ways the worst of the trilogy, this film moreso than the first two is a celebration of influence across genre, heralded boldly by a sequence of the most Daliesque imagery since, well, X-Men 3.

For a director that, like Alfonso Cuaron, has been systematically mastering genre after genre, it’s about time he exploited his most playful franchise for all its intergeneric worth.

More later.

Don’t be sad, I’ll never be far away

Skeleton of Husband and Father Lies Undiscovered for 22 Years in Garage Loft while Family Lives in Adjacent House.

Prosecutors said they weren’t treating the death as suspicious.

Are you kidding me?! Unbeknownst, my eye!

Local media reported rumors among villagers at the time that he had been in trouble with the East German secret police, the Stasi, and that he had been a critic of the Communist regime.

I dunno of whom I’m more suspicious, the family or the authorities, but there must be more to this story (HT to Matt). I hope the fact that it’s “old” news doesn’t allow it to be swept under the carpet — or conveniently forgotten in the attic, wrapped in a blanket, next to a bottle of Schnapps and some suicide literature.

And speaking of the Stasi (and their very thorough ways) go see The Lives of Others, one of the best films of 2006, or get it on DVD if you missed it.

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One seriously haunted house

Ain’t It Willis?

This is ancient news for the internet, but two weeks ago many of the posters on an AICN message board — irate upon hearing that Live Free or Die Hard has been rated PG-13 — naturally didn’t believe a movie-defender’s claim to be Bruce Willis until he invited anyone to iChat him and post the vidcaps, but he spent the night answering their questions about the movie (and the rest of his filmography) anyway:

The first DH was the most fun, because it was all very new, and at that time I had no idea it would become a quartet of Films spanning 22 years.

The second was my least favorite, and the least fun. Far too self-referentially precious, the story was all over the place, and suffered from severe un-claustrophobic-ness.

This last one was the most draining, physically, and mentally. I will have been working on this Film for an entire year by the time it opens, but most definitely the most rewarding from an artistic standpoint. And I have already gone on record as saying it will be as good, if not better than the first Film.

Walter B’s posts are fun to read, and among other reflections on his career, he says of his line “Just the fax, ma’am” in Die Hard 2:

I can seldom sit thru DH2 long enough to get to that line, but it seemed cute enough at the time. But yes, now, cringe-able.

Willis is honest about which films of his were stinkers (Striking Distance, Sunset) and he even talks about recent failures:

Perfect Stranger was ruined by the producers.
. . . I was disappointed with that film, and I agree with you opinion of it. Everyone tried hard, worked hard, but it was not to be.

So I was glad to see that he isn’t embarrassed by the unfairly reviled Hudson Hawk:

Even though I got lambasted in the press for that film, I still stand by it, and btw, bad reviews or not, that movie is in profit now.

He also answered more questions in a second thread, including his assessment of Unbreakable:

Night and I both feel we should have started with the 2nd episode, which would haver been the Battle movie, not the origin movie, which is really the movie we made. But I stand proud with Unbreakable.

Iron Deco

For your viewing pleasure, here’s the beautiful cover just released for the first issue of Iron Man: Enter the Mandarin with art by Eric Canete. Have a fun weekend, kids!

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Hollywood Confidental

Corrie Pikul believes Ms. Dunst played up her teeth in Spider-Man 3 with a bit more than usual scene-chewing:

Every time Mary Jane appeared on screen, I’d find myself ogling her teeth. The jagged incisors peeped out from between her lips when she smiled, and she seemed to talking and pouting around them when upset. I wonder if she was working her choppers extra-hard?

Pikul observes a widespread internet phenomenon of Dunst’s teeth inspiring disproportionate hatred, and quotes as an example one of my least gentlemanly comments in support of the grassroots movement to kill off Mary Jane.

Though the cited post makes no reference to her teeth, I can hardly claim misrepresentation since this blog has admittedly produced its fair share of anti-Mary Jane propaganda, which on a couple of occasions have referred to Dunst’s pebbly hamster teeth.

Pikul analyzes the source of the outrage:

The teeth-haters are furious that Kirsten Dunst hasn’t succumbed to the pressures of Hollywood, because they have . . . .

She doesn’t even seem to be aware that her crooked choppers — LOOK AT THEM!– sometimes protrude when her lips are touching. The nerve of this woman! How dare she! She’s not perfect — she’s not even beautiful. She doesn’t deserve the average person’s money or attention or affection.

Fair enough, but I don’t begrudge Ms. Dunst for making it as an actress — I liked Marie Antoinette actually — just the portrayal of Mary Jane as a model. As I’ve said before:

I wouldn’t criticize an actress just for her looks except that in the movie MJ is not only an actress but, in Spider-Man 2, a MODEL whose face is plastered all over New York. Genetically enhanced spiders and an alien parasite are plausible, but it is the concept of Dunst as a perfume model that strains credulity beyond the suspension of disbelief.

Indeed most of my dislike for the character of Mary Jane is due to her generally unkempt appearance in the second and third films. Her teeth are only the tips of the iceberg that could sink a thousand ships.

The Biological Connection Between Male Psyches

You can see where the enthusiasm for Hot Fuzz came from in my favorite scene from Spaced at 6:00 minutes in:

The Raimi Code

Unfortunately I’ve realized where Sam Raimi & Co. have been getting all their ideas for the Spider-Man movies. They’ve been pretty much copying everything from the original Superman films.

Superman: The Movie / Spider-Man

This pair differs the most but they both end with the hero facing a “sadistic choice” between saving the lives of many or saving the life of his best girl. But still sufficient plausible deniability on the part of Raimi.

Superman II / Spider-Man 2

Here’s where things get obvious. Hero faces the dilemma of duty vs. personal fulfillment in the form of romance. For a while he thinks his own gratification is more important than his responsibility to the world but he soon comes to his senses and realizes that he can’t put his own interests above others. Along the way he loses his powers but gets them back when he realizes he was being selfish.

Both films also feature mini-Passions, when Clark Kent becomes human and gets the crap kicked out of him (“Blood?!”) and when Spider-Man temporarily expires in a cruciform pose while saving tons of people, followed by a reverential “deposition from the cross”.

Superman III / Spider-Man 3

With the Christ allegories out of the way, it’s time to look inward for an existential crisis. Here the hero becomes exposed to a substance from outer space which encourages him to indulge his inner bastard. The hero starts hitting on chicks and generally being a jerk, accompanied by new hair (5 o’clock shadow or emo-Hitler) and a darker colored suit. Ultimately he confronts and defeats his evil doppelganger.

Superman III gets maximum points for its Fight Club-style rumble in the junkyard, but Spider-Man 3 was a giant missed opportunity. While Evil Superman causes environment-devastating oil spills, Evil Spidey makes an ass of himself dancing down the street. Also, Superman III’s image of a drunk Superman flicking peanuts at beer bottles made me cry and frightened to see the movie again until I was a teenager.

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace / Spider-Man 4

Now that we’ve broken the code we can accurately predict what would happen in Spidey 4. The short version is we cannot allow the Raimi/Maguire/Dunst triumvirate to make a fourth installment unless we want to see Spider-Man condescendingly lecture the United Nations about nuclear disarmament and witness the beginning of the Clone Saga on film.

SPIDER-MAN 3: A Study in Syrup and Molasses

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The syrup is provided by Christopher Young whose score nearly ruins the movie. At the beginning it’s annoying but excusable, but near the end when one character forgives another, the would-be poignant moment is ruined by the emotions-dictating music intruding right on cue.

The molasses is provided not just by the sticky alien symbiote but by the editor and probably the screenwriters, who keep the movie as slow and boring as possible. This effect is produced despite the first few minutes randomly cutting from character to character like a soap opera that keeps tabs on multiple characters without logical transitions. (The first act of Batman Begins is still a clinic on maintaining continuity between short scenes that aren’t even chronological.) Thus it establishes a three-ring circus’ lack of focus from the beginning, long before Eddie Brock is even introduced in the second act.

The best part of the movie, undoubtedly, is the first emergence of Sandman like the creation of Adam formed from the dust. It deserves appreciation as a short film in its own right that, without a word of dialogue or human acting, conveys more emotion than the rest of the film put together. Too bad it’s over within the first fifteen minutes.

The character best served by the film is Harry Osborne, whose dedication to the franchise has finally paid off in the form of more screen time after his disappointing role in Spider-Man 2 was made worse with one-note acting. But finally James Franco has been given a chance to demonstrate his breadth as his character doesn’t merely return to his personality in the first movie but shows a completely new side of him.

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Unfortunately Kirsten Dunst doesn’t halt the trajectory of the last movie but is, impossible though it may seem, actually less attractive than she was in Spider-Man 2. In the first sequel she merely looked like a drowned rat, but in the new one there’s no doubt her groomers were instructed to make her look as unattractive as possible in order to heighten the contrast between her and Gwen Stacy, most obvious in the scene at the French restaurant.

Words are insufficient to describe Gwen. Among the movie’s stars Bryce Dallas Howard is simply the sun: whenever she’s in view you can’t even see them.

The movie ought to be called “Peter Parker 3” because Spider-Man is rarely in it. I know everyone says the Spidey movies are so good because they focus on characters first and action second, however Spider-Man 2 was not only dramatically superior to 1 and 3 but it also had two of the best superpowered fights ever filmed. Spider-Man 2 retained the visual brightness of the first movie, which I used to feel were collectively just a bit too colorful (unlike the carefully limited palettes of Batman Begins and Superman Returns) but now, when compared to the visual darkness which makes the action so difficult to follow in the new film, the action in Spider-Man 2 remains superior simply because you can see it.

The result is that the best action sequence in Spider-Man 3 doesn’t involve him fighting any villains but only rescuing a falling girl early in the film — simply because it’s during the day. It is exceptional because most of the film takes place at night, which achieves both a thematic and a practical: visually it reflects the hero’s psychological descent into darkness assisted by the black alien symbiote, but it also helps to disguise the extensive digital effects employed in the action sequences.

The first two acts of the movie are the most fun, if only in contrast to the tedium of the last act. The final obligatory fight between all the characters is both huge and a huge disappointment, and venerable Los Angeles anchorman Hal Fishman’s incredibly un-Fishman-like delivery as a New York newsreader adds to the cheese rather than the tension of the proceedings.

Therefore (for me) the battle royal achieved interest primarily as an image of metacinema, in which an audience like us of entertained bystanders watch the fight which is itself filmed and televised for the world to see on screens, reflecting the movie’s global same-day release. However both X-Men 3 and Superman Returns already depicted similar images of theater more subtly and innovatively.

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I don’t necessarily look forward to a fourth installment by the same filmmakers because I doubt they have another Spider-Man 2 in them, but since Sony is intent on milking their spider to death (so to speak) we can only hope that the Lizard will finally rear his ugly and much-teased head.

But I don’t think a Spider-Man 4 would be the unqualified financial success that Sony seems to think it would be, because in franchises the first weekend’s box office is always a reflection of the public’s approval of the previous installment: thus the record-breaking hauls of The Matrix Reloaded and Pirates of the Caribbean 2.

Accordingly I predict that The Dark Knight will double the opening box office of Batman Begins, but Spider-Man 4 would be lucky to earn half that of its predecessor. After achieving practically instantaneous saturation point, expect a huge second-week drop-off for Spider-Man 3 as ambivalent word of mouth spreads.

Top Ten Spider-Man Covers of the 1980s

The Eighties experienced a serious drought in draftsmanship, so nothing in the decade compares to the figure drawing of Gil Kane and John Romita (Sr.). Selecting ten covers from this era was particularly difficult, not because of too many great choices, but because most of them were mediocre.

In fact, only three or four on this list would survive against covers from the 70s or 00s, and I easily could have exchanged a few on this list with comparably OK covers by the same artist or another. Consequently, because there was no undisputed king of Spidey illustration in the 80s, this is a very diverse list comprised of nine different artists, compared to five in the last list (with one, John Byrne, common to both).

So once again, in order of publication:

1. This cover by Frank Miller (he wasn’t the interior artist) doesn’t look any more three-dimensional in person, thanks to the prison bars being flat black strips rather than given any kind of roundness by hand, resulting in a disconcerting feeling of optical illusion. But the potent image of Spider-Man is one of the best of the decade regardless. (On a personal note, incidentally, given the publication date my dad must have bought this issue for me second-hand.) Amazing Spider-Man #219 (August 1981), by Frank Miller:

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2. I love images that are black, white, and red all over, and Milgrom manages to achieve a feeling a three dimensions with simple lines and fills, but the contrast of Doc Ock’s tentacles are the coup de grace. Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #79 (June 1983), by Al Milgrom:

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3. This isn’t Frenz’s most flattering image of Spider-Man (his best might be #269), and the Hobgoblin’s left glove is too undistinguished from Spidey’s costume, but it is an undoubtedly dynamic cover — perhaps the perfect splash page — and it’s a rare instance of the cover actually depicting a scene that takes place in the story inside. The fact that this blog derives its name from this issue played no part in its inclusion. Amazing Spider-Man #260 (January 1985), by Ron Frenz:

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4. This is possibly my favorite image of Spider-Man, ever. Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #101 (April 1985), by John Byrne:

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5. I have no idea who the depicted villain is, but I like how Morgan puts the reader in the vulnerable position of the Rocker Racer but also gives us that crucial piece of information unseen by the sniper. Though I usually prefer covers that are iconic or figurative rather than particular, this is a great example of a tease that shows us an entire situation the second before something exciting happens. How could you resist opening this comic? Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #104 (July 1985), by Tom Morgan:

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6. Admittedly generic, but one of the better depictions of Spider-Man. And I love images of Spidey running up a vertical wall. Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #114 (May 1986), by Keith Pollard:

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7. Not much needs to be said for this image of the criminal-nabbing web-spinner caught himself in the hunter’s net, which also happens to kick off one of the most famous story arcs of the decade. Web of Spider-Man #31 (October 1987), by Mike Zeck:

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8. Two issues in a row by the same artist may seem indulgent, and in any other case it would be, but this is one of the most memorable comic book covers of all time. Web of Spider-Man #32 (November 1987), by Mike Zeck:

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9. With issue #134 this series lost “Peter Parker” from its title, the same month Sal Buscema (son brother of John) began a prolific six-year run, for most of which he provided both pencils and inks. For my money he was the best and most distinctive draghtsman since Romita, and the rough line of his unmistakable pen keeps his work simultaneously raw and refined.

I like most of Sal’s covers just because I love his artistic style. But his cover for this issue (another one I own) is particularly attention-grabbing, not to mention compositionally efficient. While the covers of most comics often feature silly if momentary confrontations between heroes — how many times have we seen Wolverine vs. the Hulk? — seeing CAPTAIN AMERICA of all people giving Spidey a roundhouse to the jaw (and looking like he means it!) is undeniably compelling. Spectacular Spider-Man #138 (May 1988), by Sal Buscema:

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10. I hesitated including anything by McFarlane in this list because the truth is that he’s basically a fraud as an artist. Browsing his covers is not only uninspiring but actually depressing, especially when juxtaposed to Buscema’s contemporaneous work on Spectacular. But I thought this cover, depicting Spidey’s point of view, is just interesting enough — and buttressed by an absence of human faces. Amazing Spider-Man (January 1989), by Todd McFarlane:

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