Archive for July, 2008

Comic-Con

Comic-Con is huge, reminding me of some ancient festival dedicated to the complex and overlapping mythologies of geekdom. The lengths at which people were willing to worship their favorite idol are really something to marvel. If you dress in a perfectly rendered, home-made Boba Fett costume in 85 degree heat, you’re clearly proving your devotion to the gods of Lucas. Thus far, I’ve counted 17 Jokers (16 like Heath Ledger, including one in a nurse’s outfit and one guy who dressed like the Jack Nicholson joker), 3 Jack Sparrows, and countless stormtroopers. Other noteworthy costumes include a couple that dressed like Shrek, two guys that turned themselves into TIE fighters by taping cardboard panels to their arms, a whole family dressed like the Incredibles, and one chick dressed in a very realistic Princess Leia Tattooine bikini.

I have to confess that I’ve never been into American comic books. Even as a kid, superheroes struck me as a bit silly. I’ve never been an especially devoted viewer of Star Trek. And after George Lucas pissed on my childhood when he released The Phantom Menace, my love for Star Wars has gone sour. You could say that I’m a geek agnostic who found himself in the Vatican during Easter mass. I suspected that I’d find little to make me fall to my knees. But I was wrong. There was booth after booth filled with indie comics. Chris Ware, Gary Panther, Lynda Barry, R. Crumb. Book upon book of beautifully bound copies of some of the coolest graphic novels around. I bought a couple tomes by Adrian Tomine who was kind enough to sign it. The geek was out.

Next I went to a panel for something else I can very geeky about, the British series Spaced. And for a series that’s just coming out on DVD this week, the line was unreal. It went down the hall, around two corners, doubled backed a few times before spilling outside and down the stairs. My press pass apparently meant nothing; I had to line up like everyone else. So I followed the line until I ran into a couple Cal Arts friends who were outside but not down the stairs. I cut in line. The guy behind me was dressed in a leather trench coat, white face paint and plastic fangs. While I was talking to my friend, I ran into Greg Mottola, who directed Superbad. He worked on a failed FOX TV show that I toiled on as a Post PA. You can always tell the quality of a person’s character in Hollywood by whether or not they talk to the PAs. Greg always did. He mentioned that he probably was going to direct Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s new movie Paul.

In spite of my fears, I did actually get a seat in the far corner. Pegg was on hand along with co-star/co-writer Jessica Hynes and director Edgar Wright. If Comic-Con is list a great religious festival, then these panels are like communion. Fan questions were detailed, affectionate and occasionally churlish; one guy with a hat that looked like a frog all but demanded that the make a movie about a reoccurring character on Spaced – Tyres. Other questions included the possibility of doing a third season. Pegg said that they all wanted to do it but were afraid of making their own Phantom Menace. Wright asked about is upcoming adaptation of half-forgotten Marvel superhero Antman. His super power? He can turn into an ant. That’s it. But if one person can make that concept interesting (and I assume funny) it’s Wright. He was cagey about the project aside from saying that he finished a draft. Pegg was asked about becoming the next Doctor Who, which he just laughed off. And of course, they were asked about Wright, Pegg and Nick Frost working together again to follow up on Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Pegg said that they all wanted to complete their “Blood and Ice Cream” trilogy.

Later after scarfing down some Baja Fresh, I walked into the end of a presentation for George Lucas’ latest assault on my childhood, an animated series about the Clone Wars. The animation was a stiff and wooden as the dialogue. I’m not surprised that Lucas turned to computer animation. Machines always captured his imagination more than, y’know, boring old human beings. And the evolution of his movies is a slow erasing of humanity from the screen. With Clone Wars, he dispenses with humans altogether.

The next panel was Entertainment Weekly’s “Visionary Filmmaker” panel, which had the unlikely grouping of Kevin Smith, Judd Apatow, Zack Snyder, and Frank Miller. Smith looked huge, wearing what looked like a sweatshirt muumuu. Judd Apatow wore a Ghostbusters T-shirt that I think was being handed out for free on the convention floor. Zack Snyder looked exactly the kind of person who liked to give swirlies to nerds in high school and Frank Miller who was clearly loaded was dressed like a card sharp.

When asked why he first got into movies, Smith was short and sweet, “I just wanted my cock sucked.” He continued through out the panel to hurl one-lined and banter with Apatow, cracking everyone up. He’s clearly a better panel member than filmmaker. Zack Snyder proved my suspicions as being someone with great visual flare but with a rather shallow intellect. His answers were consistently stumbling and halting that more often than not trailed off with, “…I don’t know.” After one painfully flubbed response, Kevin Smith chimed in, “Hey, at least you got that visual thing down.” Everyone though, especially Smith, was floored over his upcoming Watchmen footage, screened at a panel I missed to go to Spaced. Frank Miller looked generally bored and didn’t bother answering many of the questions beside a couple snarky asides about Dark Knight.

After that, I went to a party thrown by a leading internet company. The party-goers were mostly a different species than the comic-con going geek. These guys were in sales and marketing and dressed in Hollywood-slick. In the past five years, Comic con has gotten big and increasingly slick thanks to the recent attention of Hollywood. Geeks and geek buzz have made movies like 300 and Hellboy II big hits. The shift here isn’t that comics have gotten more Hollywood. It’s that Hollywood is now catering to the geek and as a result movies have become more like comic books.

Links (7/24/08)

This is a little shorter than usual. I’m rushing around preparing for Comic Con. Reports coming soon.

From my regular trolling of the interweb:

A really cool collection of photos of flood control structures in Japan.

A nice interactive chart of who might be indicted for the countless scandals/crime of the Bush administration.

And then there’s this, an excellent, and really really long, article about medical marijuana in California in this week’s New Yorker.

A great site telling your more than you’d ever want to know about Japanese art rock, started by none other than Julian Cope. [h/t Joan]

Here’s an article about that new particle accelerator which probably won’t suck all matter into a man-made black hole. On the bright side, if it does I won’t have to worry about my college loans.

And here’s a way cool gallery about Scientific Inaccuracies in Movies. I know the author. He’s really cool and a hit with the ladies.

Erotic Diary of an Office Lady (1977)

Continuing my way through Kimstim’s Masaru Konuma collection of Nikkatsu Roman Porno, I watched his Erotic Diary of an Office Lady the other day. (See my postings on Tattooed Flower Vase and Cloistered Nun: Runa’s Confession.) Compared to his other work, this film feels slight. With a couple exceptions, there’s little about it that boffo or over top. No comedic rapes at gun point or tattooed nymphomaniacs here.

Instead of surrealistic kink, the plot that unfolds is comparable to a Sundance coming-of-age flick. Asami (Asami Ogawa) is an OL — a female office worker. Like nuns and perfectly coiffed beauties in kimonos, OLs are another often fetishized feminine archetype. When she’s not operating a very unweldy Japanese typewriter, she has regular trysts with a married middle-management type. At home, she dutifully cares for her widowed, borderline alcoholic father. In short, she’s not too different from a lot of single Japanese women.

One day while out with her friends, she happens upon a mysterious young man who sells baby chicks on the street. When they run into each other again, there’s is clear romantic tension, though the guy ruins the moment by trying to jump her. Judging by movies like these, seduction in Japan is basically limited to the guy throwing himself at the girl. Later, they finally do hook up. During their fevered groping, the coop door gets kicked open and soon the copulating couple are surrounded by chicks. It’s a beautiful and memorably bizarre image, the kind that Konuma is brilliant at stringing together.

Afterwards, he asks her to run away together. She demurs and soon regrets it. Her father has shacked up with a boozy older co-worker and her subsequent encounter with her middle-management lover goes sour. She breaks up with him and he responds by (of course) raping her. Though this is more or less a requirement for the genre, it’s the film’s only false note. Whereas the rest of the film was, uncharacteristically for the genre, clearly shot from her point of view, this scene the POV shifts to that of the male audience. Only Ogawa’s skill as an actress keeps the tone of the scene from killing the rest of the movie.

The film ends with her lighting up a cigarette and staring into the distance as a hard rock ballad to freedom blares underneath. Her dad is no longer dependent on her, she dumped her middle-management manfriend (which in these sorts of movies isn’t always a given after a rape), and her chick-raising lothario disappeared. She is indeed existentially free. And this would be a great ending if the film set up that she wanted to be free to begin with. We know so little of the character and the camera is always kept at a distance that I was surprised and perplexed when the credits rolled. Did I miss something here or did the film make a left turn into a completely different narrative?

Links (7/21/08)

From my trolling of the internets:

The Chinese government, terrified of something embarrassing happening during the Olympics, have successfully embarrassed themselves. They’re forcing bars not to serve blacks or Mongolians. Link

And there’s this really depressed photo essay of the down and out Silvertown neighborhood of London. Link [h/t Ted]

More green screen hilarity with John McCain. [h/t Joan]

A really cool, if regrettably short, article about the town of Baarle-Hertog in Belgium.

Baarle-Hertog borders the Netherlands – but, because of its unique history of political division, the town is sort of marbled with competing national loyalties. In other words, pockets of the town are Dutch; most of the town is Belgian. You can thus wander from country to country on an afternoon stroll, as if island-hopping between sovereignties. [via BoingBoing]

Believe it or not, Los Angeles used to have the finest public transportation around, thanks in part to Henry Huntington. There was the Pacific Electric Railway company AKA “The Red Cars” which had streetcar lines reaching to the San Fernando Valley, Santa Monica, and Santa Ana and there was the competing Los Angeles Railway (LARy) that was also known as the “Yellow Cars.” They were ripped out in the early ’60s and soon afterwards Los Angeles became synonymous with traffic snarls and freeway shootings. Some historical background can be found here. And here’s this youtube clip from LA Curbed about the last days of the LA Railways. Sigh.

One Wonderful Sunday (1947)

Kurosawa followed up on No Regrets for Our Youth with this remarkably bleak comedy about a young couple that simply wants to have a pleasant Sunday together. Yuzo is a disillusioned soldier who is valiantly trying to maintain his dignity and integrity in the ruins of postwar Tokyo. Masako is his relentless chipper girlfriend. They are too poor to live together much less marry. They only have 35 yen between them for the day.

The day goes from one failure to another, each one underlining their yen-less existence. When Yuzo tries to contact an old war chum who owns a dance hall, the management assumes his looking for a handout. When they go to the zoo, they get caught in the rain. When they try to go see a concert, scalpers swoop in and by all the cheap seats, beating Yuzo up when he complains.

Kurosawa has dealt with postwar deprivation in movies like Drunken Angel and Stray Dog, but in neither of those films are as emotionally raw as this one. After Yuzo drives Masako away in an act of misdirected fury, he sits there sullenly in his own apartment, listening to the rain piss down. His desperation is almost unbearable. Kurosawa leaves the shots long in this scene and the camera static. It would have made Andre Bazin swoon.

For the first two-thirds of the film, you could say this is Kurosawa’s most Neorealistic film. Instead of a bicycle, these characters are wandering around a cruel and indifferent city simply looking for some relief from their grinding poverty. A lot of the movie is shot on the streets of Tokyo too, giving Sunday a documentary feel like Rome, Open City and Bicycle Thieves.

Then the last third kicks in. Kurosawa suddenly veers uneasily from gritty Neorealism to a strange mixture of Capraesque whimsy and Peter Pan-style appeals to the audience. Following yet another petty defeat, this time in a coffee shop, Yuzo regroups his shattered spirit and starts looking towards the future with an inkling of hope. When that wisp of a silver lining slips away, Masako turns to the camera and beseeches the audience to clap for our broken hero, shrilly begging “Onegai Shimasu” over and over until your eyes are as dewy as hers. Breaking the fourth wall is a movie like this is really bizarre and jarring. But by doing so Masako, and by extension Kurosawa, is pleading with the postwar audience to think about the future ahead of them and not the yawning abyss below them.

Links (7/14/08)

From my regular trolling on the interweb:

Here’s this insanely clever clip about spaghetti by PES. [ h/t Joan]

And there’s this groovy Santigold/N.E.R.D. video.

Yes! Yes! Yes! Remember Troy King, that douchebag Attorney General from Alabama who wanted to criminalize dildos? Yeah, well, surprise! Surprise! He’s gay. He was reportedly discovered by his wife. Weirdly enough, Troy King was nailing the homecoming king from Troy University.

Freddie Mac+Fannie Mae = We’re fucked. More on the banking crisis from a less excitable source.

Courts rules that it is in fact not constitutional to strip search a thirteen year old under suspicious of having Advil.

Jackass local TV reporter gets called a jackass.

Here’s an article about the logistics of sex in space aka the “Human Docking Procedure.” But here’s a passage that leapt out at me:

[Dr. Kring] believes that Nasa could learn from the operation of bases at the South Pole, where researchers who are separated from their families for months at a time take “expedition spouses” as sexual partners for the duration.

He said: “You have an exclusive relationship with them for six to nine months but when the expedition is over, so is the relationship and you return to your normal lives and families.”

I can’t wait to use phrases like “Human Docking Procedure” and “Expedition Spouse” in every day conversation.

Finally, this insanely cool new video from Radiohead. Nary a camera was used for the production and it looks like it was directed by robots. [via BoingBoing]

The Graduate (1967)

I’m not going to rehash what everyone else has said about The Graduate. It’s a brilliant film. Exceptionally well acted and directed. I was particularly struck how director Mike Nichols filmed the graduation party in the beginning of the film. Shot entirely in medium close-up, the party shows the the adults pawing and pulling at Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) like a band of zombies.

What I found interesting about this movie — in terms of script structure — is that it’s a perfect example of a reluctant hero. Your classic hero — Indiana Jones for example — has a clear goal and pushes the story of the movie along with his actions. He wants to get to the Ark before the Nazis do and the Nazis try to stop him. Braddock’s ambitions are murkier. He’s almost entirely reactive through the first two-thirds of the movie. His parents foist a party on him, his parents’ friend button-hole him about the joys of plastics, and, of course, Mrs. Robinson, that archtypical cougar, forces herself on him. Braddock only really makes one decision for himself in the whole movie, but it’s a big one. He decides he’s going to marry Elaine. And in spite of the fact that she hates him for doinking her mom and causing the break up of parents’ marriage, she’s in Berkeley and that’s she’s already sort of engaged, he relentless pursues his goal.

This makes him a hero. A lot of movies, especially coming-of-age films, try for a reluctant hero but off fall flat because the character winds up to passive, like The Wackness for example. The Graduate shows how to do it right.


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