why so serious?

David Cox's attack on The Dark Knight hits on all the things that make Nolan's Batman a brilliant deconstruction of the superhero myth, and yet he remains well in the dark (hey, cheap rhetoric begets cheap rhetoric, yeah?). Mr Cox is clinging to the myth, looking to superheroes to keep providing us with what Nolan suggests they no longer can, nor should. The Dark Knight is the anti-superhero, the only kind of moral spirit possible for us in our increasingly ambiguous times. i'm sorry to say you're right, Mr Cox. the time of superheroes, as you know them, as you still wish they could be, has passed.

details at 12.


The X-Files: I Want to Believe

directed by Chris Carter
written by Frank Spotnitz and Chris Carter
starring David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Amanda Peet, Alvin 'Pimp My X-Files' Joiner (i had to sneak that gag in somewhere), Mitch Pileggi (oops. spoiler?) and Billy 'You Couldn't Hate Me If I Were A Paedophile Priest Like I'm Supposed To Be In This Movie' Connolly

hurm. can't say it was bad; just absolutely inconsequential. one might argue that 'The X-Files: I Want to Believe' is meant to be a post-X-Files X-Files story, that Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz had gotten the gang* together to pull one last rickroll-style bait-and-switch on unsuspecting fans: 'here's something that will absotivolutely rejuvenate the franchise...oops, hang on, no, sorry, can't be done, you see the world has moved on since the 90s...' Scully, at least, baldly states this sentiment, and it sort of almost looks like maybe Mulder might have come around there at the end...allowing, of course, for an unexpected take at the b.o. that might rejuvenate the franchise after all.**

as cruel and unusual as that would have been for even the likes of Carter & Co., yeah, i might actually have wanted to believe that.*** instead, i'm more inclined to believe that this story was originally a screenplay for something else entirely, but which Carter couldn't sell until he slapped the X-Files label on and tweaked it so it wasn't too obvious.

that said, again, i can't really say it was bad. it might**** actually have done well straight-to-video, or if it were released in the late 80s or early 90s as a made-for-TV movie. sure, the pacing seemed a bit off, but it was never quite excruciating; the photography was sometimes pretty, if hardly brilliant, but anyway mostly plain and unobjectionable. the script might have made for wooden dialogue, but was shot through with enough of that Carterian geek-inflected, noir/dragnet-pastiche, infodump/moral speechifying to be called reasonably quirky.

the story? see above.

as for seeing Scully & Mulder together again after all this time, i wish i could say it was like watching two old friends who'd had a falling out get back together...but, well, the problem with that is it was like watching two old friends who'd had a falling out get back together. it's sorta sweet, you like both of them enough you hope it'll work out this time, but there's just something excruciatingly cringe-worthy about it all, like you could see that the reason they didn't work out in the first place had just pulled them further apart in the interim, and that this latest attempt has all the fire and passion of a pathetic, broken, resigned sort of desperation.

and, as entertaining as watching them might have been before with all that unresolved sexual tension simmering beneath the surface to bubble up into flirty bickering, these days, it's just no fun having to watch anymore.

if there is any pathos to be felt for the characters in this film, it is for the fact that every single one of them seems unmoored, as if they'd just dropped into unfamiliar territory without a map. unfortunately, the effect is hardly Wong Kar Wai.

and, most of all, there simply wasn't anything 'cinematic' about this movie. as Manohla Dargis put it in her NYT review, in Rob Bowman's 'The X-Files', the series 'supersized nicely, filling the larger spatial dimensions by staying true to its conceptual parameters.'

there's no such supersizing here, not that i could tell. 'I Want to Believe' has the pace and feel of a particularly unimportant and unexceptional filler episode incomprehensibly spread into a two-parter on the old series. actually, no, it doesn't even feel like it belongs in the old series, despite the familiar characters and aforementioned script quirks or even the rather slap-dash x-filesy (ish) twist. like i said, this feels like something else, and only serves to convince me that, sadly, Scully's right: the world has moved on; chasing down x-files just isn't their job anymore. and what are x-files these days, anyway?

oh, if there was any sort of 'filmic' moment that could be had, it was at the very end, with the sequence of visual textures that were run throughout the end credits and that, sadly, everyone else walked out on. these might, in fact, indicate that Carter had been trying to make the kind of statement i would prefer to think underlies the entire movie after all (rather than call it a complete failure, at any rate): the textures initially recall the black oil that figures so importantly in the series' mytharc; as the credits roll, the visual textures morph into something less ominous, more recognizably of this world; even friendly. soon we realize we aren't looking at black oil; it's only the ocean, just the ocean--threatening in its own right, but hardly black oil, certainly not x-filesy--the shadow of the helicopter that must be carrying the camera we're looking through crosses our view; finally, we come upon Mulder (or, at any rate, David Duchovny) all manly with his chest hair and his red speedos rowing a rowboat towards a paradisical island in the (we assume, what with those waving palms or coconut trees or whatnot) tropics, Scully (or, rather, Gillian Anderson) lounging in the tubby wooden thing wearing a bikini, her skin so luminous it is practically phosphorescent. (best. bit. of the movie. too bad it was a long shot, and slightly out of focus.)

in the end, Dana & Fox--Gillian & David--see us looking down at them. they don't seem to be bothered at all by our voyeurism; in fact, there's a hint of a smile on their unfocused faces; they look up together and wave.

fade to black.

now: what are we to make of that?

*what's left of them
**highly unlikely
***you knew that joke was coming eventually, didn't you? admit it. it's too easy. all the reviews i've read so far pulled something like that, so i thought i'd give it a go


more on The Dark Knight

i can't seem to stop picking at The Dark Knight, taking it apart in my head. something inside me keeps telling me things like

the myth of the superhero is meant to be a thing of comfort, an expression of the desire for a powerful, benign force that knows what's best for us and will do whatever it takes to make sure we get it, as most recently (and best) exemplified by Singer's embarrassingly wussy Superman; Nolan's Batman deconstructs the myth, strips it bare, and reveals just how disconcerting an idea it really is. Batman certainly seems to be a "benign force" who "knows what's best" for Gotham, and will do everything in his power to achieve it, but the result is hardly comforting. granted that Batman's position as the subversive element in a dysfunctional status quo makes it deceptively more palatable than Superman's petty meddling, there's something objectionable about the politics of the superhero as revealed by The Dark Knight, the Machiavellian, paternalistic, elite
dictator casting its manipulative shadow over a spineless majority. but what's most disconcerting about it isn't the realization of how far Gotham must have fallen to get where it is--and here the League of Shadows had it exactly right--nor how Gotham brought everything--the reign of terror, the absolute need for a Big Brother figure--down on itself; it's that despite how utterly dystopian (read: hyperbolic, fictional) Gotham appears, Nolan manages to make it distressingly immediate, even familiar

and won't stop until it gets out.

oh hey. i can actually hear myself think now.

thanks to E. Cross Saltire for pulling me back from the pits of the Marxist dialectic i was attempting (ill-advisedly) to impose on this analysis.

but if someone must be blamed, i can think of none better than Michael Moorcock.


Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog; and, a bit about the Doctor

directed by Joss Whedon
written by Maurissa Tancharoen, Jed Whedon, Joss Whedon, Jack Whedon
starring Neil Patrick Harris, Felicia Day, Nathan Fillion

http://www.drhorrible.com* helped a bit with my Doctor-withdrawal. which reminds me, i'd meant to say more about Doctor Who, but couldn't quite get my thoughts organized. maybe later.

meanwhile...now Dr. Horrible's done, too. good grief. now what? i can only watch H2G2 so often...

*edit to add: this seems relevant as i've just discovered a specific sort of divide on the internets as to opinions re:the greatness (or not) of Dr. Horrible: no, i am not a Whedonite, or whatever they're called. i did not like Buffy, or Angel, or Firefly. though i did enjoy that episode of The Office directed by Joss Whedon (that shot of Jim as Count Orlock was brilliant!), but i most certainly dug this. maybe it was Neil Patrick Harris. or the singing. or Felicia Day. i like redheads.

anyway, i liked it. i might even have loved it. that i could not say much more owes to the fact that Act III sort of knocked me down. not how i expected it to end at all.

check it out quick; it's free through the above link for a limited time only, methinks, and it may already be too late by the time you read this.

The Dark Knight

directed by Christopher Nolan
written by Christopher and Jonathan Nolan
starring Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Morgan Freeman

the Nolan Batman is as far afield from the old Adam West vehicle as you could possibly get with the same set of characters, and yet they share at least one thing in common: an obsessive focus on symbolism.

this, at least, jives with my own personal experience with the mythology, restricted as it is to the aforementioned Adam West incarnation, Tim Burton's transitional mischief and Grant Morrison's Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth--all of which have that same focus, if at varying degrees. compared with those iterations, what's unusual about Nolan's version is that the symbolism is embedded in a rich layer of realism, adhering to a system of logic that might almost be recognizable as the sort that governs our own world; i believe this was Frank Miller's approach as well, but it's fairly new to my experience of the character.

the effect, i find, is a more subtle, but also more effective, kind of surrealism.

let me reiterate: the symbolism is embedded, not buried. what the Nolans have done is deconstruct the crimefighter/superhero mythos using the fictional construct that is Gotham City as a kind of Cambellian template, each character a kind of Jungian archetype. this manifests in at least two ways in both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.

one: each character/facet acquires an appropriately (dare i say) comic-bookish two-dimensionality. every surface is flat, like the panels of the Batmobile's armor. 'Criminals aren't complicated,' insists Bruce Wayne, and they aren't. neither is Wayne himself, when it comes down to it, nor Alfred, nor Gordon (even if it is Michael Caine holding that tray, Gary Oldman behind those glasses--gasp!), nor Lucius. no, not the Joker, not Raz Al-Ghul in Begins, not Harvey Dent here.

in fact, even in terms of personality alone (character complexity/depth aside), with the exception of Heath Ledger's Joker, none of the others would be able to compete with RDJ's Tony Stark or Ron Perlman's Hellboy.

and yet the construct the Nolans have created from these surfaces is so intricate that we are presented with a convincing illusion of complexity. it isn't the surfaces, then. examine a facet of the aforementioned Batmobile's armor and you would be confronted with an uninteresting square, or rectangle, or triangle; no polygon with any more personality than that. no, not the surfaces taken by themselves, then, but the way they're put together; the flexibility, the uncertainty, the tension are all in the interactions of symbol and meaning, the ethics of their coming together, the morality.

the Nolans' Gotham is, in effect, an ideological battlefield. and what puts their Batman over other crimefighter/superhero types is that this Batman engages in ideological battles we genuinely feel he cannot win.

two: each character/facet becomes elemental; because they are all symbols, they have the power and awe-inspiring effect of symbols. one complaint i might lodge against the Nolans is the way they've crammed their screenplay with ham-fisted, ideology-ridden dialogue; when i think back to the movie, it isn't the quiet, funny moments i remember--though in fact those are the moments i personally enjoyed the most while i was watching--it's the speechifying Moments every primary character gets at one point or another in the course of the film, scored with slow, magnificent--almost irritatingly so, if only because of their ubiquity in the movie--orchestral swells.

in the context of The Dark Knight, however, such otherwise objectionable oration feels exactly right; this is an ideological battle, after all; any physical damage done is collateral.

in fact, this almost explains the cinematic choices Christopher Nolan made while making this movie, the exhilarating but almost incomprehensible explosions of violence (though not as incomprehensible as the fight sequences of Begins) punctuating and contrasting the unwaveringly lucid (even when delivered by what are ostensibly madmen) dialogue.

no, despite all the madness, there is hardly any gibbering here.

Christopher Nolan, if nothing else, has created an amazingly tight film in a class of its own, entirely confident in itself--its origins, its symbols, its meanings; confident enough to speak in its own cinematic language.


perhaps the most intriguing thing for me about this movie, apart from its deconstruction of the superhero/crimefighter mythos, is the way it resolves--or fails to resolve--the conflict it presents. The Dark Knight is very much a sequel; more than that, it feels very much like a middle film--though a particularly solid one; i find myself having to agree with the reviewers at AICN who've compared this to The Empire Strikes Back--very tight in itself, but hanging open, loose at both ends.

however, i would suggest that the hanging ending isn't the sort that requires closure the way Empire's did. what i find most intriguing is the way it feels as though the Nolans are encouraging us--without being in any way didactic--to resolve the Gotham City conundrum ourselves, that is, off-screen, or, if you prefer to be beaten over the head with it, in the real world.

a third film, while probably inevitable, seems almost a disservice at this point. The end of The Dark Knight makes the diptych of Begins/Knight an interesting exercise in the philosophy of symbols that can be extended beyond the fictional boundaries of Gotham. a third film could only be one of two things: since we already have the rise and fall of the Dark Knight in the diptych, the third would either have to be a repetition of the cycle--a new beginning or an overture, either of which would be redundant--or it would serve to close off the loop, undermining the symbolic power--what some might call 'relevance'--of the two already existing films.

besides, although i would argue that Harvey/Two-Face is the core symbol of the Nolans' Batman, i can't imagine a successful third film without Ledger's Joker. Ledger's performance was so iconic, so perfect, that to alter it by the slightest iota of a twitch of a tic would hurt the character--and the subsequent film. i feel sorry for the next fellow to step into the character's purple suit, even if it is an Arkham-issue straight jacket instead.


Fear and Trembling by Amelie Nothomb; and bits about being Lost in Translation, Ingmar Bergman & others

hell has been something of a theme for my Other Life of late: there was the Hellboy movie and the last Hellboy collection, most obviously; before that were Roberto BolaƱo's By Night in Chile and Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman. i've also been trying to 'educate' myself in film and picked up some Ingmar Bergman titles (i've seen The Seventh Seal and The Magician so far--more on the inadvisability of watching Ingmar Bergman films in succession later), on top of which i finally got to see all three Infernal Affairs movies a few days ago.

when i picked it up, i had no idea Amelie Nothomb's Fear and Trembling would fit so comfortably in with the rest, whether thematically or in whatever other way. to begin with, i only picked it up because i was thirsting for something to have a conversation with about the Lost in Translation experience--yes, the one described so eloquently by Sofia Coppola in the movie--a conversation i thought i could have with My Bloody Valentine's Loveless, or Scarlett Johansson's Anywhere I Lay My Head (which actually ended up being a conversation with Tom Waits speaking through a This Mortal Coil filter, but i digress), if only because the Kevin Shields signature shoegazer sound seemed so perfect an accompaniment for all the other sensations in that movie.

(also, i found myself strangely enchanted by Ms Nothomb in this Guardian interview. the fact that she'd written something--ie, Fear and Trembling--about the shock of being immersed in Japanese culture was serendipitous; call it synchronicity. i do.)

in the end, however,
it was Amelie-san's novella that gestured backwards, sweeping its hand over everything i'd just seen and read and pointed out the whole infernal affair (bwaha. i'll regret that later, i'm sure). or maybe i have it the wrong way round. maybe it's that context that makes me think of Amelie-san's book this way.

at any rate, i was surprised to find Fear and Trembling to be a most satisfying iteration of the 'redemption(TM)' brand of narrative arc, perhaps more successful a spin on the type than some of those other things on my list, despite being, in fact, nothing of the kind.

next on my reading list: Conrad Williams's The Unblemished. see? hell.

now, about Bergman...all signs seem to indicate i will most likely find myself agreeing with James Meek on the matter--though The Seventh Seal was heavy (and heavy-handed) on the existentialist philosophy, i actually found the ending rather celebratory, even life-affirming, if blackly so; The Magician even more so--but my subconscious doesn't seem to agree, as though it had been listening to other things, picking out other cues from the films than those i was consciously recognizing. it might not sound like it, but i've been immensely depressed of late, waking up each morning with Marvin sitting on my chest, refusing to let me up unless i let out a pointless sigh indicating my complete agreement with and resignation to his worldview.

i'll have to tread carefully through these films then; it might be a good thing that the one i have in front of me now, waiting to be popped into Pam's spinner, is The Devil's Eye, which, says the back of the dvd case, resulted from Bergman's 'need' to 'tell a joke'.

i suppose we'll see.


Hellboy 8: Darkness Calls

story by Mike Mignola
art by Duncan Fegredo

Duncan Fegredo's art is messy and hectic; he captures what i imagine must be the more Kirbyesque aspects of Hellboy (something i can't say for sure, knowing about Jack Kirby's work in comics only from than what i've read that's been said about it by people like Neil Gaiman and Mike Mignola)--the sprawling, dynamic, literally larger than life depictions of action--some of Mignola's attention to detail and stylistic anatomical excesses in character design, but little else. i tend not to enjoy Hellboy as much when drawn by hands other than Mignola's--i even have reservations about the one drawn by P. Craig Russell. the latter, however--'The Vampire of Prague' (collected in Hellboy 7: The Troll Witch and Others)--at least had a script that seemed suited to Russell's style. Darkness Calls is very much Mike Mignola writing for Mike Mignola's Hellboy, and the fit is jarringly, exasperatingly imprecise; Mignola's Hellboy has always been somewhat minimalist in both writing and art, and the combination here (Mignola's writing and Fegredo's art) is disorienting--one never ceases to distract from the other. Mignola's Hellboy, even at its most cryptic and subtle, never failed to be coherent. Darkness Calls, by comparison, is a sprawling, untidy mess.

it's a shame that i should feel the urge to leave this series just when Hellboy's destiny seems almost certain to finally catch up with him; moreover, it seems churlish to say the least to judge Fegredo's work against Mignola's so summarily and so soon after his arrival to take over the reins from the book's creator. nonetheless, unless Mignola and Fegredo can find a balance between the minimalist, almost poetical narrative style of the former and the excessively cluttered art of the latter, i'm sorry to say i might not be there to see the end.


Hellboy 2 The Golden Army

directed by Guillermo del Toro
starring Ron Perlman (yay!), Selma Blair, Doug Jones, someone's voice in a clunky, but nifty, steampunky suit, Elric and his daughter (as siblings), Jeffrey Tambor and a cast of thousands. and Jimmy Kimmel.

not as good as i had hoped it would be. i love Hellboy, but del Toro's version has always been a different creature from Mignola's. the movie Hellboy's main weakness, to my mind, is also its strength: unmoored from 'real world' myths, legends and folklore (which underpin Mignola's original), the filmic version of the big red guy lacks weight, seems less substantial than the comic book version; in addition, his struggle against his dark destiny as Anung Un Rama, which takes centerstage or, if not, at least haunts the proceedings constantly in the main series of comics, giving the comics a foreboding gravity, a dangerous undertow to the blackly (and subtly) comic antics of HB and the Gang, feels like an afterthought here; they point to it, and not at all subtly, but it feels like a bit of a pantomime, really: oh, btw, Red, you'll be responsible for destroying the world...do i hear a callback for Hellboy 3? cha-ching!

cinemacynicism aside (and if there's a 3 coming up, bring it on), this unmooring, as i said, is also the movie version's strength: paying homage only to a tradition of the fantastic going not much further back than Tolkien and thereby playing very much on the surface of fantastic fiction, del Toro gets to lord it up and bring the full force of his literally monstrous imagination to bear, throwing everything from toothfairies to trolls to goblins to an elemental, an angel of death and giant killer mecha--none of which much resemble anything from the collective unconscious--onto the screen. Mignola once said all he wanted to do was draw monsters; he seems to have found his filmic counterpart in del Toro.

while i'm grateful that the magnificently talented body actor Doug Jones has been given some much deserved extra screentime, i'm afraid the otherwise charming Abe Sapien makes a poor lead for a film, and this decision having relegated Hellboy almost to the sidelines (though not in the action sequences, of course) hurts the film immensely. this is relative, mind you; objectively speaking, i do believe the film is split fairly evenly between the two leads; still, much of Hellboy's charm is Hellboy himself, and though i do agree that that much talked about scene with the two friends (Red and Blue) boozing it up to Barry Manilow was brilliant, i can't help but feel cheated of Hellboy's salty, straight-talking charm. the movie assumes our affection for Hellboy without really reminding us why we should love him, and while i love Hellboy more than most people i know, this assumption undercuts the full brilliance of the final shot of the film, making it feel insubstantial, even, dare i say, baseless and therefore rather twee.

Selma Blair, thankfully, remains as hot as ever.

oh, and for you geeks out there, the climactic (or pre-climactic) scene with the Golden Army kicks seventy times seventy different kinds of ass out of any scene from Bayformers.

so there.