Monday, December 31, 2007
Time to watch the ball drop.
Monday, December 24, 2007
(P.S. Go ahead and see "I Am Legend" if you're looking for something to do during the Christmas break. It's good times. And if you don't hate musicals, why not check out "Sweeney Todd"? True, they sing through almost the entire thing, but even with all that, it's still Tim Burton's best-made film since "Ed Wood" -- though I admit I never did see "Big Fish", so maybe it's only the best film since then. But remember, only see it if you like musicals.)
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
And I can't help but think that the Joker/Batcycle standoff in the middle of a deserted Gotham street is intended to bring to mind a certain Joker/ Batwing standoff in a certain other film. Hmm. I know that's massively geeky, but, you know, this is Batman.
Anyway, it all looks great, and I can't wait to see it. What do ya'll think?
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Throughout my reading of it I often closed the book and stared, dumbstruck, at its cover, astonished that such unassuming covers could contain within them such awful trash. Though it sounds like the first line of a sulking fifth-grader's book report, I feel it needs to be said anyway: "Next" is one of the worst books I've ever read. There.
The copy I bought is one of those new tall mass-market paperbacks that are supposed to be easier to read than their stubbier brethren. The mass-market edition of “Next” was printed in a variety of lurid colors; I picked up the white version, not wanting to see a blazing lime green cove, for example, blaring out of my bookshelves for years to come. The logo, as pictured, is a monkey with a bar code over it. Quite graphic and interesting. There are a couple of blurbs at the bottom of the book. The first cites the Washington Post whose reviewer apparently called “Next” “chilling.” The Philadelphia Inquirer says “Next” is “spectacular.” Inside are pages and pages of positive reviews from a sampling of the nation's newspapers. Never before has the sense that I’ve read a book wholly different from the book the reviewers critiqued been so palpable.
I picked up “Next” thinking that, with his anti-global warming screed “State of
“Nicholas Drake, head of an environmental group called the National Environmental Resource Fund (NERF), who has conspired with radical eco-terrorists to trigger a series of climate-related catastrophes. Drake believes the disasters will convince the public that global warming is an imminent crisis that can be averted only by writing big fat checks to NERF.
That’s real, folks. Read the review here. You kind of have to read it to believe it.
In my view, the fact he wrote a book in which the above scenario was handled seriously is pretty embarrassing, which is why, out of deference to the old Crichton I grew up reading, I politely passed that book right on by. Sadly, his new novel "Next" suggests that the wild-eyed, crazy-haired right-wing zealot Crichton who wrote "State of Fear" is here to stay.
As screeds go, “Next” tweaks the lizard-brain as hard and as tastelessly as the best of them, but it is not nearly as targeted as “State of
The plot, such as it is, doesn’t follow a single, or even a couple narrative lines, but rather a series of scenarios that all seek to expose injustices in the still nascent field of bioengineering. Written in his customary ultra-short chapters, the story bops from one outrage to another. In one story arc, a family in the suburbs has to adjust to life with a human/chimpanzee hybrid who acts like a precocious though unusually agile boy. (The geneticist father inadvertently created the "humanzee" at work.) In another plot thread we follow a gray parrot with human-like intelligence on a road trip of sorts. These are the most traditionally Crichton-esque of the stories and are, generally speaking, politically neutral and innocuous.
The novel’s other plotlines, however, deal with humans using and abusing genetic technology advancements for their own personal gain. These sections of the book are the most difficult to read because they are the most misanthropic. In these sections, all the characters are so one-dimensional as to be less than caricatures; Crichton uses them to make his political arguments with all the subtlety of a knife in the ribs. Crichton’s misogeny is on full display: his women are all either daft, spiteful, or plain old murderous. His male characters are all one of a dozen variants of unscrupulous bastard.
Notions that would make most people blanch and consult their consciences don’t phase these awful characters in the slightest. For example, a valuable cell line collected by the
Or how about the divorce attorney who orders his client’s spouse to have a full genetic work up, the kind of test that often reveal the disease that will eventually kill a person. In order to escape the test, which may be administered against her will, she must flee and relinquish her children to her weaselly husband. Both the husband and the divorce attorney practically twist their mustaches as they hatch their plans. I think it'd be hard to find fiction this bad if you went out and looked for it.
According to the New York Times, these stories, or some variant of them, check out. Something like what Crichton describes in the book actually happened. But in the hands of Michael Crichton, cautionary tales like this come off more like the alarmist hack work of Sean Hannity doomsaying about the coming jihadist holocaust then the firm, wonky warnings sounded by Al Gore (who Crichton, no doubt, believes is himself a demagogue). The difference between the writers is in how they view their audience. Gore believes his audience can be persuaded by a clear presentation of facts; Crichton, on the other hand, believes his readers can only come around to his way of thinking by terrifying them into lockstep.
But not all of Crichton's caricatures are merely venal; when he really wants to score a political point, he creates ridiculous straw men, which become the villains Crichton happily knocks down. Take the hippie environmentalist character Mark Sanger, heartbroken at the thought of sea turtles being eaten by hungry jaguars on
“Back at home in
“Recently, he had started to define himself as an artist, and artists did not need formal training. In fact, formal education interfered with a the artist’s ability to feel the zeitgeist, to ride the waves of change rolling through society, and to formulate a response to them. Sanger was very well informed in his opinion. He read the
Can’t you just feel the curmudgeonly hatred radiating off of those words like heat? Is it ever pleasurable to read fiction by a writer who literally hates one of his characters? In John Irving’s “Cider House Rules”, Irving presents the character of the train station agent as an idiot unaware of his own idiocy, which is harmless in and of itself. But
Crichton expresses his own intemperate hate for environmentalists by creating an illiterate, thoughtless, and reckless loser to stand in for all of them. Here’s another choice tidbit between Sanger and a Costa Rican naturalist (the italics are mine):
“No, Senor Sanger, this is always the way it has been since my father and grandfather, and grandfather before. They always spoke of the jaguar attacks in the night. It’s part of the cycle of life.”
“But there are more attacks now,” Sanger said. “Because of all the pollution . . .”
In Crichton’s view Sanger, and by extension all environmentalists, are blithering idiots who are all heart and not an ounce of brain. I don’t know if this example demonstrates Crichton’s hate for environmentalists, or if it shows his complete inability to "get inside the head" of another human being. Though I think the latter's definitely a problem for him as a writer, I think the problem is more the former – Crichton is too keen to demonize them then to try and understand them, as is made quite clear in the next example:
"Ramon Valdez said, 'Jaguars must eat, too. I think better a turtle than to take a human baby.'
That, Mark Sanger thought, was a matter of opinion."
Absolutely poisonous. Sanger's not just thoughtless and stupid, he actually believes the life of a sea turtle matters more than a human baby's. Sounds like Sanger's almost as misanthropic as the guy who created him.
But it gets worse.
Chapter “045” begins this way:
"Alex Burnett was in the middle of the most difficult trial of her career, a rape case involving the sexual assault of a two-year old boy in
Yes, apropos of nothing, halfway through the "novel," Crichton inserts an infant-rape vignette into his story about genetic research. And it’s just as extraneous to the plot as it sounds. But it gets worse.
This from the New York Times:
“But one of ["Next"]'s minor characters — Mick Crowley, a
“In a “Washington Diarist” feature that was to be posted last night on The New Republic’s Web site, tnr.com, and published in the magazine’s Dec. 25 issue, Mr. Crowley says he is the victim of “a literary hit-and-run” because of a 3,700-word article in The New Republic in March.”
I’d say “literary hit-and-run” is putting it nicely. How does Crichton expect us to take him seriously as a novelist when he’s capable of such vile and transparently vindictive juvenilia? What’s sad about this is that, despite his terrible writing, there remains the vestiges of a serious mind chugging along in that ole Crichton noggin’.
At the end of "Next", in a section entitled, “Author’s Note," Crichton states in plain language five things that ought to be changed based on research he did for this book. And here’s the surprising thing: they seem to make sense. “Stop patenting genes,” is his first suggestion. He then lays out a concise case for why this ought to be done, and, wonder of wonders, he’s persuasive! When he isn't subjecting the weary reader to political opinion disguised (loosely) as bad fiction, Crichton is on firmer ground. But even here his he begins to fail.
The fourth conclusion/suggestion is strange because, prior to his making it, he’s appeared to come down strongly against it with the full weight of the preceding novel. “Avoid bans on research," he says. Right. We wouldn't want to discourage the future John Hammonds of the world from creating their "amusement parks," now would we?
In “Next”, unfettered, unrestricted research of the kind he says he supports, results in the creation of the aforementioned “humanzee.” In all the scenes relating to it, the humanzee is depicted as a kind of lovable abomination, pitiable in that he doesn’t belong in either the human world or the ape world. Crichton’s clear implication is that the humanzee shouldn’t exist, and that the experiments that brought him about ought not to have been done.
In other scenes, an unscrupulous researcher makes an inhalant that carries something called the “maturity gene” in it. The researcher’s brother, a drug addict, takes it and suddenly grows up: he quits drugs, cleans up, gets a good job, and matures all at once. Of course, one side effect is that recipients of the spray die inside of a year.
In Crichton’s hands, all of this is just so much pabulum, but the subtext of the entire book is that as research moves us further and further onto shaky moral ground in the field of genetic research, as scientists are able to do more and more things, humanity enters into a strange and frightening world. So maybe banning research would, as Crichton believes, be ineffectual, but why intentionally depict a world of unbanned research that is so frightening? Did Crichton forget which side of the argument he was on?
There are other examples where Crichton’s novel-length propaganda doesn’t quite line up with what he actually thinks (like the stem cell issue for one), but his appeals to the intellect at the finish of the book are too little too late. He’s already insulted the intelligence of his readers with the preceding dumb-as-shit book; even his right-wing readers should feel insulted, and probably do.
And lest anyone think that this is just another example of a diehard liberal coming down hard on a previously neutral author that's dared express conservative thoughts, I'd say that's untrue. Crichton has always skewed slightly right, and I read him anyway. A little slant is cool with me. But what's happened to Crichton is of a different order. It'd be as if Stephen King, who's always skewed a little left, suddenly wrote a novel in which a group of evil Pro-Life activists devised a scheme to abort thousands of babies to end, once and for all, the "abortion holocaust." Weird, right? Off-putting right? Even to his liberal-leaning readers.
I’d say with the publication of “Next” Crichton has moved full-bore into the realm of right-wing ideologues. Writing “State of
Monday, December 10, 2007
If the film ends up being half as awesome as this Drew Struzan poster, 2008's going to be an amazing year at the movies. Click here for the official site where you may download this poster for your desktop or somesuch. Looks like there'll be more posters coming down the pike; with any luck they'll all be done by Struzan.
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
The second billing in my double feature was, inarguably, the better film. Nothing against "The Mist", but "No Country for Old Men" was a return to form for the genius Coen Brothers, easily one of their top five films, and that's hard for any movie, even a Darabont movie, to top.
I read the eponymous Cormac McCarthy novel when it came out way back in 2005 and I was blown away by it. I'd never read anything that was so satisfyingly lurid, but written in such a spare, poetical way as to suggest literature. Or at least nearly that. And, along with Judge Holden, Anton Chigurh was the literary villain I most wished I'd thought of first. You can read that dusty post here.
Briefly, "No Country" is set in 1980, and concerns Llewellyn Moss, a welder who finds a big satchel filled with two million dollars out in the desert plains of West Texas. The owners of that money hire an uncontrollable but highly effective psychotic named Chigurh to retrieve that money, and his quest and his strange but oddly consistent ethics require him to leave a trail of bodies in his wake, most of them aerated by his trusty pneumatic cattle gun. But, as we come to find, the film really belongs to Ed Tom Bell, the county Sheriff played by Tommy Lee Jones (who ought to get a Best Actor award for this film to go with his Best Supporting) who sees in Chigurh's senseless carnage the end of something essential in the world.
So why is this a "return to form" for the Coen brothers? In some form or another, nearly all of the Coens' films have dealt with crime, often focusing on desperate, but comical characters who feel driven to step afoul of the law. "No Country" is a return to form in that it's a crime movie and because, like "Fargo"(1996) takes itself and its characters seriously. But "No Country" also transcends that "form" because it represents a first for them: a straightforward crime movie adapted from a straightforward piece of crime fiction. Though there are funny moments in the film -- the humor almost always coming from the characters' sardonic wit -- the Coens never attempt to leaven the overall darkness of the film with scenes that display their signature sense of humor. They've put themselves aside for this movie, and in being so respectful of McCarthy's novel, the Coens may have made the film that, so far, best exemplifies their sensibilities as filmmakers. If "Vertigo" is Hitchcock's most Hitchockian film, and "Goodfellas" Scorsese's most Scorsesian film, then "No Country for Old Men" may prove to be the Coens' most Coensian movie. And if this turns out to be the best film they make, then it's due in large part to the work of the cast and crew they assembled.
Crew: I'd say Roger Deakins turns in Best Cinematography Award-level work here. Other DPs seem almost desperate to put their particular stamp on a film. Deakins' stamp is this: if a film seems perfectly shot, if every composition and every lighting choice seems thoughtful, if every frame is designed for maximum impact, then you're seeing a Roger Deakins movie. Another Coens stalwart, Carter Burwell, does great work here. I don't remember a note of it, but like we were told in film-school, a good film score's supposed to be unobtrusive. I'm sure the "No Country" score will prove to just as brilliant whenever I get a chance to listen to it by itself; or maybe the second time I watch the movie.
The cast: Josh Brolin, he of "Goonies" fame (he played Sean Astin's older brother), has grown up into the consummate alpha male film actor: big-shouldered, square-jawed and just as at home in a white hat as in a black. Maybe that's why he wears the grey-hat of this film so well. He's so good in this you forget he's Josh Brolin. Javier Bardem was not remotely who I imagined in the role of Chigurh when I read the novel, but he does very well in a role that would have been a homerun for nearly any serious dramatic actor. But it's Tommy Lee Jones and his character's sad arc that make me love this movie.
Jones' Ed Tom Bell is interesting for a lot of reasons, not least of which is the fact that Ed Tom is the antithesis of Sam Gerard, the character he played so perfectly in "The Fugitive" (1993) and the role that made him famous. In some respect, these films could act as Tommy Lee Jones bookends. These characters, both lawmen, are antithetical to one another in that Ed Tom has allowed himself to absorb his work, to feel it on an emotional level, and all the horror and base human cruelty that entails. The mental hardship of that absorption has taken its toll on Ed Tom, a toll Jones makes subtly clear by the gentle way he speaks and his weary, perpetually astonished demeanor. By contrast, Sam Gerard seems largely unaffected by the terrors of his work. When Kimble points a gun at Gerard's face and tells him, "I didn't kill my wife!" Gerard replies without thinking, "I don't care!" And he means it. Later in the film, Gerard has to risk a deputy's life to get a bullet into another fugitive that's taken that deputy hostage. As if to underline Gerard's emotional indifference, he expresses no regret afterwards, saying to his deputy that he doesn't "bargain" with suspects. Though these lawmen's methods may not be antithetical, their psychological capacity is, and "No Country" seems to suggest that feeling human beings in law enforcement must cut out a part of themselves to do their job over the long-term without feeling tortured by it; furthermore, the film suggests that psychologically self-limited people are the only ones who can catch the psychologically limited on the other side of the law. Gerard managed, with great success, to limit his absorption of his work; Ed Tom did not, and the years have hollowed him out.
In some ways, this notion of incompleteness of the soul suggests that the purely good, the psychologically unlimited, like Ed Tom, aren't up to defeating pure evil. Chigurh represents that evil, or Chaos; even though he seems weirdly ordered in his thinking, and though he imitates order in how carefully he goes about his business, he is Chaos. Ed Tom is Order and though Order goes through the motions, Order is always overmatched. (McCarthy highlights this duality by making their first names, Ed Tom and Anton, phonetically identical.) So as Order succumbs to Chaos in the world of "No Country", the Coens have, more persuasively than in any of their other films, managed to succinctly express their pessimistic worldview; in fact, they do it so well, that it's tempting to hope that they abandon their quirky comedies forever and continue to make movies this stripped-down and unadorned.
I'd write more but it took me long enough to come up with this, such as it is, and I've already reached my daily fatuousness quota.
Anyway, reading through that old post I wrote after I first read the novel, I saw that I included a big chunk of a scene from that book that was probably my favorite from the novel. Reading it now I see that the Coens let it stand in the film adaptation word for word, only truncating it for time. I'm just going to repost that snippet of dialogue from the book right here right now. It's just too good.
[Bell says] Do you have any notion of how goddamned crazy you are?
[Chigurh says] The nature of this conversation?
The nature of you.
Chigurh leaned back. He studied Wells. Tell me something, he said.
If the rule you followed led you to this of what use was the rule?
I don't know what you're talking about.
I'm talking about your life. In which now everything can be seen at once.
I'm not interested in your bullshit, Anton.
I thought you might want to explain yourself.
I don't have to explain myself to you.
Not to me. To yourself. I thought you might have something to say.
You go to hell.
You surprise me, that's all. I expected something different. It calls past events into question. Dont you think so?
You think I'd trade places with you?
Yes. I do. I'm here and you are there. In a few minutes I will still be here.
Wells looked out the darkened window. I know where the satchel is, he said.
If you knew where the satchel was you would have it.
I was going to have to wait until there was no one around. Till night. Two in the morning. Something like that.
You know where the satchel is.
I know something better.
I know where it's going to be.
And where is that.
It will be brought to me and placed at my feet.
Wells wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. It wouldn't cost you anything. It's twenty minutes from here.
You know that's not going to happen. Don't you?
Wells didn't answer.
You go to hell.
You think you can put it off with your eyes.
What do you mean?
You think that as long as you keep looking at me you can put it off.
I don't think that.
Yes you do. You should admit your situation. There would be more dignity in it. I'm trying to help you.
You son of a bitch.
You think you wont close your eyes. But you will.
Damn but is that some great stuff.
Finally, I have a question for those who've already seen it.
Q: On the night Ed Tom goes to the motel that was the scene of the big gun battle, Ed Tom goes into a hotel room. They cut to a shot of Chigurh in a sliver if light watching Ed Tom's shadow moving about outside. Ed Tom goes in and finds nothing. Where was Chigurh? Was he in the adjacent hotel room, or was in another part of the hotel room that Ed Tom didn't look in? Or did Chigurh just disappear?
So, you know, lemme know.
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
Sherri Shepherd says, "Nothing predates Christ", King says "Make Mine Lindsay and Britney," and Bush says, "Only Last Week."
And then Sherri Shepherd of "The View" gave it to me.
You may remember her from this very blog back when she said she didn't "know" if the world was flat. After I got over my feelings of unctuous superiority, I let it go, figuring Shepherd, who seems amiable and not unduly stupid on the show, had just got into a defensive crouch on Christianity, and lost her way during the argument with a silly rhetorical dead-end. This, from Wikipedia, seems to confirm that: "The very next day, Shepherd explained that she never had to defend her religious beliefs before, and that she became overwhelmed with the many questions that were being thrown at her. By the time Goldberg added her question, Shepherd was nervous and did not fully comprehend what was being asked. She stated that she knows that the world is round."
This clip, however, seems to contradict the idea that Sherri really does know the world is round, or, for that matter, anything else other then Jesus is the Lord our God. In her defense, she was raised in the Jehovah's Witness cult before becoming a Born Again, so I have sympathy for her, but it's still a little worrying to see such a lightless worldview spoken aloud, and to know that others share it.
Click here for the clip, and tremble.
Also, Stephen King has cast his vote for who he thinks should be Time's Person of the Year. He nominates Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan. He thinks they'd be a good choice because, "[they] symbolize the media's growing obsession with issues of personality over substance. People care more about the details of Spears' child-custody case than they do about where the billions the U.S. government has poured into Iraq have gone. It's time for a discussion about whether the news media have chucked their responsibilities and run off to Tabloid Disneyland."
This seems like a good idea. Since Time magazine has punted on choosing an actual person the last couple times, last year's choice goofy choice being "You", and a year or two before that the syrupy "the American Soldier", I think a protest Person of the Year might be good for us. Like King, I'd like the media to have a more serious discussion then they've been having about themselves, though I may be more pessimistic than Steve because I don't think that, ultimately, a new discussion on the current state of Infotainment would do anything to amp up the Info and diminish the 'Tainment.
Finally, the CIA released its NIE (National Intelligence Estimate) on Iran's nascent nuclear weapons program, and it states that the consensus among all 16 US intelligence agencies is that Iran shut down its nuclear weapons program in 2003. Bush said in a press conference today that he only learned about the NIE findings "only last week," even though there's mounting evidence Bush knew about the NIE much earlier and, along with Vice President Cheney, had been working to quash and alter its findings. If this is the case, then Bush's comments in October of THIS YEAR about a nuclear-armed Iran posing a threat of "World War III", or Cheney's comments, also in October of THIS YEAR, in which he said that if Iran, "stays on its present course, the international community is prepared to impose serious consequences," exposes these men, once again, as shameless liars. It may be that Bush's statement this morning that he only learned about the NIE "last week", may become a scandal all of its own. It's clearly a lie, but if any one comes up with hard proof of it, he may have to face the music. But then again, Bush has been confronted with so many of his lies and he's faced up to exactly none of them, so why would he face up to this one?
Oh, January 2009 seems so far away.