Monday, July 30, 2012

#444. Updates, Pulp Fiction, Other Movies

Some reminders about activities playing out around my blogs:

Epistles from the New Fade hit one hundred last week, and has thusly concluded, my fifth blogged poetry cycle...The "Star Trek '12" project over at Sigild V is likewise finished as of last Friday.  The whole point of that was to explore the Star Trek timeline via significant historic moments and characters, from the twelfth year of the centuries spanning 212 to 3112, which was a gimmick to catch this year, and also meant that I was cut off from visiting any of the TV shows or movies directly.  These were all short thought pieces, but together they combine for the essential Star Trek tapestry of hope for the future, even when things seem hopeless...At Fan Companion, I've started doing episode capsules again, in case anyone was wondering why there hadn't been activity there in weeks (I finally noticed a rash of comments sprinkled through these efforts, so I know there's been some interest).  It was mostly because I was focused on the above projects.  So now there'll be more work done here.  I'm still working on the first season of Deep Space Nine (the highlight from this recent batch is "The Nagus"), but my schedule will soon move along to the fourth and second seasons of Enterprise.  If there's a season of a series you specifically want looked at, sound off in the comments.

Anyway, now on to our regularly scheduled extracurricular activities here at Scouring Monk, meaning talk about movies!

The lead film was in the title of this post, Quentin Tarantino's best-loved effort, Pulp Fiction.  Released in 1994 and famously featuring John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, and Uma Thurman, Pulp Fiction rewrote all the rules, being loud and violent and completely remorseless, not to mention endlessly memorable.  Part of what helped it reach this status was its unorthodox to the series of vignettes that make up the overall experience.

Every vignette features Travolta in some fashion, and his appearances are the key to figuring out the twisty timeline.  While he and Jackson are the last characters we see, it's important to note that chronologically that would be impossible, because Bruce Willis guns him down somewhat unceremoniously somewhere in the middle.  While Travolts ties everything together emotionally, thematically that role belongs to the perennially underrated Ving Rhames, the only actor besides Tom Cruise to make an appearance in each of the Mission: Impossible flicks.  Rhames is the crime boss who sets everything in motion.  It's his briefcase that Travolta and Jackson retrieve at the start of their adventures, and his wife that Thurman portrays, and the guy who makes things ridiculously complicated for Willis.

I'll still bet almost no one associates Pulp Fiction with Ving Rhames.

Anyway, Jackson is the one who steals the show, even though he only appears in segments with Travolta (and one glimpse of Willis and yes, the great Harvey Keitel).  He's got the best role, and it's the sole and the whole meaning of the movie.  Willis actually plays Jackson's arc out for him, but still, that's why we end with Jackson and Travolta and not with Willis.

Jackson is a bad man trying to make good.  He's got the soul of a philosopher and the patience of a saint.  He also has a really good shot.  Slowly, he's realized that people are what he does best.  He's good at talking them down, even if for most of the time he's proceeded to shoot them dead.  He has recently realized that he does not want to be the punchline of Thurman's joke.

Travolta doesn't learn any of these things.  In fact, he falls all the way down the Jack Rabbit Slim's hole, thanks in large part to Thurman, who reminds him of all the things he likes about his job, even while Jackson has tried to talk him out of it.  It's said that everyone in this movie talks about everything except what matters.  They don't need to because they've been living it for so long, and it's left them grimy, like the watch that has seen the inside of too many butts.

It's not so much that these are bad people as that they've been prone to make a lot of bad mistakes.  Willis makes the best decision of the movie by choosing to save Rhames's life when he could just as easily walked away.  As thanks, all Rhames does is exile Willis.  That's the self-imposed fate Jackson elsewhere envisions for himself.

For all that, Pulp Fiction is a deeply conventional film that now looks like it was shot twenty years ago (which it was).  It's a classic 1970s dark-side-of-everything experience, a European art film, made notable by Tarantino's eccentric touch and some of the most memorable characters and scenes ever committed to film.  Put in their correct order, the vignettes end on a far less bombastic note, Willis and his girl squealing away on a chopper.  As awesome as Willis looks with a samurai sword, his whole episode is the least memorable element of the film.  No one talks about it except maybe for the gimp, an utterly throwaway visual quirk, another play at subversion for a story that concludes with the cheery thought that there's a happy ending out there and all you have to do is walk away to get it.  For a macho movie, that's the complete opposite of what you might have expected.

I've never quite gotten around to admiring Pulp Fiction in the same way some film fans do.  I will admit that it's infinitely memorable for any number of reasons, but it's the work of a director who's still trying to figure out his style, and everyone says it's his best movie.  He dances around his story rather than embraces it, as he does in Jackie Brown, Kill Bill, or Inglourious Basterds.  If you think of Tarantino as a hipster, it's because of Reservoir Dogs, because of Pulp Fiction, not because his every conversation is about his great love for pop culture.

I watched it last night along with Big Trouble, one of the great ensemble comedies of the past decade or so (based on a book by Dave Barry and starring all the coolest actors possible, including Tim Allen before he lost his mojo as a movie star, a very young Zooey Deschanel, and Dennis Farina, among many, many others), which is basically the Florida version of Pulp Fiction; and Joe Carnahan's Smokin' Aces, which throws a dozen psychopaths at the screen (including Chris Pine) and lets Ryan Reynolds try to make sense of it, basically The Godfather on steroids.  It was a good night of films.

Wild Wild West keeps playing on TV, giving me an endless number of opportunities to try and figure out why it was Will Smith's first real misfire.  I mean, I'd give up on it, too, if all I knew of it was that Kevin Kline is the immediate predecessor to Robert Downey, Jr.'s unfortunate drag show in the latest Sherlock Holmes.  I mean, yes, Wild Wild West throws Smith into yet another, well, wild scenario, but it's the first time he's the lead character, which I think was part of the problem, because the movie itself puts Kline on equal footing with Smith, but he's obviously second banana.  It was his last lead comedic role, and I have no doubt more than a few viewers were resentful for what it said about the state of his career.  Yet for all that, it's an entertaining movie, worth at least multiple looks on TV, if not a shot at outright redemption.  Smith eventually figured out that he could star in his own movies without having to pretend otherwise, and his career was better for it.  Also, Kenneth Branagh is a riot as Arliss Loveless.  I never saw the point of overlooking that.  He might have had a more interesting acting career if this role hadn't been lost.

Friday, July 27, 2012

#443. Pop Culture/Ashen Culture

With the recent release of The Dark Knight Rises in theaters, there's an easy way to see how culture is perceived by a mass audience.  Yes, it's a comic book movie that led to a real scene of mass murder.  We all grieve what happened in Aurora, CO.  It was unfortunate and tragic, but it also provided us with a real-time example of how different people react to the same stimuli.

Many fans were quick to ask the media for a little leniency, begging pundits not to paint the killing spree as a direct correlation to the movie whose midnight showing happened to be the stage for it.  Sure, this was a selfish gesture, designed to soften a blow that was going to happen no matter what journalists said, even though the most unfortunate thing was the casualty count in the theater.  There was no way most people were going to stay away from a blockbuster event like the conclusion to Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy. The problem is, there's always a part of a given audience that can be dissuaded to stay away from something that's worth their attention for completely arbitrary reasons.  Unfortunately, this bad word-of-mouth would be one of the more justified expressions in modern pop culture lore.

Before the shooting, the buzz for the movie centered around two geek elements: speculation on how and whether Nolan could top the massive success of The Dark Knight, and if Dark Knight Rises would make more at the box office than the hulking hit Avengers from earlier in the summer.  The latter of these is partly to do with the disparate approaches to the two films, already destined to make a lot of money before they ever reached the big screen, for much the same reason: heavy expectations from a considerable amount of momentum.  Where The Avengers is classic comic book storytelling (and based on a Marvel property), Dark Knight Rises seems to subvert every comic book expectation (and is based on a DC property).  Whether or not Nolan's film can be viewed as a product of the comics it is derived from may be entirely up for debate, but there are fans who would pit the two films against each other based solely on the publishers of their source material.  Historic grosses for one mean that the other needs to somehow outdo it.

Well, right?  There has been surprisingly little backlash to the success of The Avengers, which is a little unusual, given that when a movie like Avatar does that kind of business and achieves that level of ubiquity, the skeptics will start popping out of the woodwork saying how vastly overrated it is.  That's exactly the kind of reaction big success normally yields.  You'll definitely see it in reviews for Dark Knight Rises.  The bigger they are the harder they fall, the saying goes.  Sometimes the momentum takes a while to ebb.

When it comes to awards, it's more likely that Dark Knight Rises will be named, even though Avengers will probably have made more money.  The awards shows are the opposite of popular opinion.  They tend to go after the movies you've never even hard of, much less made any kind of money Hollywood will take notice of.  The Artist, for instance, won Best Picture at the Oscars earlier this year.  Say what?

Of course, success isn't to be judged solely by the number of people who enjoyed it, but by the most passionate response.  That may mean The Avengers actually does have a good shot.  It's practically a live action Pixar movie, and the Oscars love Pixar.  Passionate responses can go either way, of course.  Sometimes a movie that deserves a better reputation is sunk if it's met by apathy by either the mass or critical audience.  If The Avengers performed more like Michael Bay's Transformers franchise, this wouldn't even be a question; Dark Knight Rises would unquestionably rule 2012.  There are a lot of ways a movie can become a favorite, or the reverse.  There's always aesthetic taste to be considered, and certainly the particular way it needs to satisfy.  If it hits all the marks it needs to hit, then Avengers really is no different from Dark Knight Rises, or even The Artist.

A problem occurs when someone refuses to admit that a movie did exactly what it set out to do (a movie, or anything else you want to consider).  If, suppose, you reject The Avengers simply because it isn't Dark Knight Rises (or vice versa), you're not being fair to either one.  If you dismiss The Artist for not being like a comic book movie, or because it didn't make a lot of money, or because it was made by the French (it's true!), then you're not only not being fair, you're just not trying very hard.

We do live in a world where bad things happen, and people will make decisions based on these unfortunate events, and for any number of other reasons that don't have anything more relevant to a possible experience than they happened to have an associated event.  Here I'm bringing to mind one very sensational occasion, but there are a thousand more mundane things that cause people to have the very same reaction.  What I'm saying is, maybe give it a little more thought next time.   

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

#442. Ashen Culture

I think I've finally figured out what's wrong with American culture.  Everyone's obsessed with themselves.

I know, big revelation (and a little fishy, considering the person who just write that maintains many different blogs devoted to his spurious opinions).

But what I really mean is that most people seem obsessed with a subjective rather than objective perspective of the world.  This is to say they're reactive rather than proactive.  That is to say they're destructive rather than constructive.  That is to say they consume rather than produce.  That is to say they don't much care about other people, but they won't mind if other people agree with them.

Okay, so let's try clarifying.  I'm as guilty as anyone of joining the Message Board/Instant Messaging/Myspace/Facebook/Twitter Generation, devoted to providing total strangers with opinions that must be vehemently shouted and considered the only possible way to view something.  It's the way American politics have been from the beginning, so it's no surprise that American culture has finally come to reflect this national mentality that you don't try to build anything up so much as either support or denounce it.  There is no sense that anything has anything meaningful to contribute, so much as it amuses us and we can use it as a tool to demonstrate our superiority over others.  If something is not popular, that's taken as a matter of exclusive status.  If something is popular, that's taken as evidence that it can't possibly have any worth.  There is no middle ground.  There is no rational examination.  There is no objectivity, only relentless, mindless subjectivity.  Hence, everyone and everything is dispensable.  This is is a horrible joke, because even those who have fashioned themselves to be martyrs of just causes will only say of the opposition that there's no way anyone with a tiny smidgen of intelligence could be among those ranks.

The future will always be doomed in this context, in this mindset.  Even when the subjective view gets its way, it assumes that next year all that hard work will be undone unless the same bludgeoning of the opposition is repeated.  There is no prospect of development in an environment that assumes the basis of every single decision will produce either a right or a wrong outcome.

I am not talking about opinions, but rather the way that Americans have the ability to subject everything to a nihilistic interpretation of quality, so that instant gratification will subvert any appreciation of something's actual worth to a kneejerk illustration of an agenda, or some comfort that otherwise accomplishes nothing.  There is room for agendas and comfort, but at the end of the day, quality should be defined by an objective contribution to the national dialogue.  Subjective contributions are useful, too, but they tend to ignore the prospect that anything productive can result from a conversation.  They will only ever have a negative connotation.

This is to say, freedom of speech is terrific, but being humble in the face of this is a far nobler virtue than the right to say whatever you want.  Restraint and logical consideration are key to this.  It is very hard to be altruistic, but it's far easier to be holistic.  Assume that your words are not necessary, and that if you choose to share them, that you have something worth saying.  You will find that most of what you think you can contribute has already been done better by someone else, and that if you embrace the challenge of expressing something new, you will have not only improved yourself, but everyone else around you.

That's the bridge between subjective and objective thought.  Subjective thought is an impulse, while objective thought is a measured response.

If we thought a little more along these lines,we might shake loose the dust from our own culture.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

#441. Raw 1000

Now, it may come as a surprise to the A-to-Z set, but this blog has seen a lot of chatter on professional wrestling over the years, and if not strictly for tradition then out of continuing interest, I will do more of that...

Last night was the 1,000th episode of Monday Night Raw.  I have hardly watched every episode, but my practical experience does date back to 1993, the year it all began.  By the summer of that year, Samoan/"Japanese" star Yokozuna was the champion of WWE (then known, of course, as the WWF), and everyone was trying to figure out who would finally beat him.  The original answer was Lex Luger, who had been competing in WCW for years, but made his debut for Vince McMahon as the Narcissist, and then was quickly repackaged as the All-American.  He slammed Yokozuna on the deck of the Intrepid, and later that year led a patriotic team over so-called Foreign Fanatics at Survivor Series, the first PPV I ever saw.  At 1994's Royal Rumble, he and Bret Hart both emerged as the champion's competition for WrestleMania X.  Hart had been champion the previous year, lost the title to Yokozuna (who promptly dropped it to Hulk Hogan, and then won it back at King of the Ring thanks to a fireball, because even in his last WWE appearance before 2002, Hogan could not lose face in front of his fans, tough he could have it mildly scorched).  It may not be everyone's favorite era, but for me this was truly a time of magic, when anything was possible.

Raw hit the popular landscape when Stone Cold Steve Austin became champion in 1998 and started a hate-hate relationship with McMahon that stretched on for a couple years.  This was also when The Rock became a sizable commodity.  In 2001, the last Nitro from WCW ended with a simulcast that was a WWE promo, and after years of Monday Night Wars, Raw sat alone as the premier wrestling program, a distinction it holds to this day.  Many people still refuse to accept wrestling as anything other than low-grade drivel, a position that seemed to be vindicated in 2007 with the massive controversy that followed Chris Benoit's murder-suicide rampage, yet I have always embraced it as some of the most innovative art possible.  (Roger Ebert agrees.)  It is at once theater and athletic competition.  These guys (and gals) need to learn how to do this stuff, and then how to do it effectively, and then create a character people will actually care about.  Add all that together, and you will end up with The Rock, or CM Punk, or even Austin Aries.

Aries just became TNA champion, the latest ROH veteran to earn such a distinction in a major promotion.  Punk did it, and so did Daniel Bryan, who continues an unexpected run as a major figure in WWE thanks to the unlikely popularity of the mantra "Yes!"  Aries may not be on par with Punk or Bryan (or Brian Danielson, if you will), but he already has more momentum than Bobby Roode, the guy he beat for the title, who had a whole tournament last year dedicated to establishing his credentials, but still had nothing to speak for himself at the time he challenged Kurt Angle at TNA's WrestleMania, Bound for Glory, and so with some controversy didn't win, at least right away.  Roode did capture the title, of course, and held it for about the same length of time Punk has been champion in WWE, and developed a very ROH-like champion's ego, even though he had never competed in the promotion, and probably never will.  Aries, meanwhile, is like a Chris Jericho, a guy with something to prove, and the skills that will back him up.  He may not be the biggest man in the room, but he has tenacity.

Punk has more than that.  He has undeniable charisma.  WWE should know.  It tried denying that charisma for a number of years, even after he was champion a couple of times.  It wasn't until everything solidified for his career, repeating a move he'd made in ROH, last year with the infamous Pipebomb speech, that WWE finally realized what it had.  And so last night he made the biggest move of the biggest Raw ever, executing his finishing maneuver on The Rock to end the show, which was shocking, because both were supposed to be good guys.  If you didn't know CM Punk before, chances are you will now.  He has solidified himself as someone worth paying attention to.

At its best, wrestling is masterful storytelling.  It's certainly a different form of storytelling than most people will be used to, but for moments like this, it becomes a little easier.  Earlier in the show The Rock announced that he would challenge the current champion at next year's Royal Rumble.  He famously headlined this year's WrestleMania with John Cena, who had tried for years to make this match happen, sparking some private thoughts that became fodder for the buildup to the occasion.  Punk has been rumored to be resentful that someone like The Rock can be away from wrestling for years and stroll into the main event of the year's biggest show.  Cena used a version of this while hyping his clash with The Rock, but Cena is someone who refuses to be a bad guy.  He's classic passive aggressive.  Punk will likely improve on what you might have seen in the first few months of the year, and remind everyone of the Pipebomb he gave a year ago.  It is not unreasonable to compare the prospect of a match between Punk and The Rock to Raw's heyday, when the loose-cannon Steve Austin ran roughshod over predictability.  No, The Rock will not be on the show every week, but Punk will be able to channel his thoughts into other opponents the way Cena never could.  Punk has been champion since last fall.  For most of this reign he has simply be a competent champion.  He's just become a lightning rod.

Anyway, I think it's a good time to be a fan of this stuff.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

#440. How The Matrix Gave Birth to Modern Superhero Movies

The Matrix changed just about everything when it was released in 1999.

Let's start with the obvious.  That summer was supposed to belong to Star Wars.  The fact that The Matrix happened probably goes a long way to explaining why it was so easy for Star Wars backlash to happen, the first of several blockbuster movies to steal the thunder from the original escapist blockbuster.

But rather than dig into that thorny debate, let's just have a look for the moment at The Matrix itself.  At the time, everyone was impressed by three things about that movie: 1) Keanu Reeves was actually cool again, 2) philosophy in an action movie, 3) the action.

The first point explains itself, and Reeves has settled back into a nice little near-anonymous groove, reliable in a Hollywood-several-strata-down kind of way.  The second point is the reason the sequels could never have captured the same level of approval as the first one, because everyone assumed that all they really needed to know or care about was the idea of claiming destiny in the face of a massive existential crisis, a crisis the audience was invited to share.  The moment the sequels took everything and moved it forward to an actual conclusion, the Matrix became an intellectual quagmire to anyone who just wanted their big ideas delivered with minimal investment.  (Lesson learned: in pop culture, keep your thoughts to a superficial level.)

The third point, oddly, gains considerable steam in the sequels, especially the final one, when everyone flat-out said that final Nero-Smith fight was the Superman brawl that never happened.  It famously didn't happen three years later in Superman Returns, either.  It was the fulfillment of the promise from twenty years earlier, when Superman battled General Zod.  In short, The Matrix helped make the modern superhero film genre possible.

Previously I've gone into detail about the evolution of the genre in film.  The short of it is this: by 1999 you did not believe that a superhero could be taken seriously.

Almost directly after The Matrix, Bryan Singer's first X-Men effort was released.  It was a spectacular example of first steps.  Three years after The Matrix, Sam Raimi's first Spider-Man effort was released.  Here's where the Wachowski effect was really felt for the first time (other than in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but that's a story for a different time).  After the near disaster of Spawn, this was the first time superheroes benefited to a considerable extent from CGI animation, so that their reality might actually feel realistic to audiences.  Audiences came out in droves.  Batman, who had helped usher the second wave of superhero films and had helped sink it, wouldn't be seen again for a few years.  This was no longer his world.

Marvel's brand of superheroes started to take over.  Marvel is known in comic book circles as the House of Ideas.  It famously ushered the "Marvel Age" of comics in the 1960s, and didn't even let bankruptcy slow it down, still enjoying a considerable amount of success with the same basic formula today, infusing sensational characters with classic monster movie origins and a healthy dose of human pathos in essentially stereotypical superhero adventures.  This is what it brought to movies at the start of the third wave of the film genre.

Yet it wouldn't have been possible without a movie that isn't really a superhero movie, but might as well be.  Audiences might have themselves been confused, especially when Neo flies off at the end of The Matrix, which might be interpreted as a superhero origin story all its own, separated from those pesky sequels that leave him in that same world with the same problems, rather than letting him zip around, using his awesome new powers in more conventional stories.  Superheroes, especially Marvel superheroes, always start out like that, before going into patently conventional stories.  They never stick around with the shock of the new that inform their origins.  (Ah, and never mind that Neo has the most conventional superhero stereotype of them all, a recurring foe in the form of Agent Smith, fighting him in some climactic fashion each film, because there's something to be achieved, rather to simply be done, each time.)

I'm not saying any movie derived from a Marvel creation is completely worthless (although The Avengers is absolutely the culmination of what suddenly became possible because of The Matrix, without being much more than that).  You can believe that superheroes can look realistic now.  That's how Batman ultimately came back, because he took that realism to a completely new level, thanks to Christopher Nolan.  Perhaps it's telling that superheroes have become the new action heroes, as they were when they first appeared in comics, and not just costumed characters who come from a source most people don't respect.  The Matrix may have been the last great action movie, and like the films it inspired, it was more than that, but most fans didn't like to be reminded.

Well, maybe you're convinced by this, and maybe next time I'll have to make another, perhaps equally tenuous argument about Agent Smith being the next logical step from Quentin Tarantino (and maybe now I've got someone saying, "I want to read that!"), and maybe I've got you wondering what you missed in those other Matrix films.  Sometimes expectation is its own reaction.

Friday, July 20, 2012

#439. The Dark Knight Rises

For the record, Christopher Nolan finally succeeded in turning Batman into something other than a comic book character.

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is the story of a revolution, and Nolan’s Batman has become a legend worth remembering.  The story begun in BATMAN BEGINS is most definitely concluded here, and the ominous portents of THE DARK KNIGHT fulfilled.  The wonderful thing is that Nolan has succeeded in setting different but complementary tones to each of the films in this trilogy.  The first one was about psychology, the second was about the law, and now this one is about justice.

This is now the definitive Batman story.  It has a beginning, a middle, and an end.  I made the first statement in this paragraph referring to the trilogy, but it might as well speak directly to DARK KNIGHT RISES.  This may be the rare threequel where you don’t need to have seen the first two films to understand what’s going on, much as clearly most viewers of DARK KNIGHT hadn’t come to the party with the first one.  DARK KNIGHT was a meditation of chaos, and its mayhem was its own kind of spectacle.  Yet now, you can begin to see it in reference to the rest of the story.

Nolan’s central concept has always been of duality.  Nearly every character in these films has two sides to them, obviously Batman/Bruce Wayne, but even seemingly neutral ones like Jim Gordon and Alfred Pennyworth, who are trying their best to adhere to systems that don’t come naturally to them.  The villains all have split personalities, whether obvious like Two-Face or Henri Ducard/Ra’s al Ghul or subtle like The Joker, whose apparent lack of history is its own kind of history, something he’s free to make up as he goes along.  I won’t go out and spoil the one in DARK KNIGHT RISES, but that continues.  But even more than in the other two, this one puts a heavy weight on Batman’s.  This is Nolan’s concluding thoughts on what it all means, so you know the exploration is juicy.

The reason I say this is not a superhero story is because there’s meaning and consequence to every action, in exactly the way these things are only played at in, say, THE AVENGERS.  It is not escapism for the sake of escapism, though Nolan protects Batman from even his worst defeat, knowing that his message would be tarnished if the full effect of Bane’s presence were felt, the way the comics did in his original appearances.   There is not violence for the sake of violence, but rather so that you know these characters are forced to make life-altering decisions, which is something that has been another theme of the trilogy.  This is not to take away from Bane or to say you don’t worry for Batman, but it’s enough for both that this is the first time in a movie with costumes where the fighting feels real and momentous.

All of the characters in DARK KNIGHT RISES have something to say and add to the story.  You know the new names (Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt) plus those who’ve been with us since the beginning (Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman).  As with the earlier films, there’s very little overlapping between performances so much as specific pairings, so each actor and their respective role gets a chance to achieve full impact without stepping on each other’s toes.  More than its predecessors, DARK KNIGHT RISES has definitive arcs for nearly all of them, like how Nolan mapped out Batman in the first one.

I love finding little quirks in films that speak to a greater film experience.  Hardy’s Bane, for instance, is similar to his role in STAR TREK NEMESIS, and it’s something of an odd coincidence, because Bane’s story is most definitely Bane’s story.  There’s also a vast improvement over the weakness that ultimately sabotaged ANGELS & DEMONS, the key moment of DARK KNIGHT RISES (hopefully now that I’ve pointed that out, you will be able to identify it for yourself without my needing to spoil anything here; as a hint, it involves Ewan McGregor’s character in the former and a certain vigilante in the latter).

DARK KNIGHT RISES is about a revolution that might have taken place in the wake of Occupy Wall Street, had there existed a legend like Batman.  In these films, strongmen attack Gotham because it is a symbol, and the city is in turn protected by a symbol.  Nolan asks us if the ends justify the means, and there may be a suggestion of his own answer here, or perhaps just the only one that makes sense for this story.

If nothing else, this is the best of the Batman films.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

#438. General Updates, The Hustler

I haven't really done this in a while, but I thought I'd provide some general updates from around my family of blogs:

At Fan Companion I've transitioned from an extended look at a few seasons of Star Trek: Voyager to the first season of Deep Space Nine, which may be one of the most misunderstood in the franchise.  Most fans know that there was a standout episode called "Duet" near the end of it, but to underestimate the rest of it because of a few bad apples or because it seems a little irrelevant compared to the Dominion-heavy later seasons is a little short-sighted, so it'll be fun exploring the show's first season.  It's my favorite Star Trek, besides, so you know I'm going to have some fun.

I'm accelerating the "Star Trek '12" project at Sigild V, and today passed any era seen in film or television in any regular capacity, with a story involving the Nexus ribbon last seen in Generations.  I have seven installments left to go in this cycle, with appearances by Future Guy, Captain Braxton, and Daniels coming up.  Congrats if you know who those characters are!

I'm also wrapping up Epistles from the New Fade, less than a dozen poems left to go before I reach a hundred, all of them part of the concluding "Alone with the Myths" cycle.  I hadn't recently posted at this blog very regularly, but I've plotted the rest of it out, and so will finally finish it, and have one less thing to worry about.

At Comics Reader I've been talking about new comics, including the conclusion of Scott Snyder's Court of Owls arc in Batman, plus the launching of DC's ambitious and controversial Before Watchmen project, plus getting back into the Quarter Bin column, whose title is a tad misleading.  Check out the comments in the most recent entry if you want details on that.

I'm still reading books, and so still writing about them at Hub City.  Lux the Poet from Martin Millar was pretty amusing.

Also, as you know, I recently launched my writer's blog, Tony Laplume.

Last Saturday I saw Paul Newman's classic The Hustler for the first time.  It concerns a pool shark who bites off more than he can chew, running into Jackie Gleason, who's better than he is, at least as far as keeping his cool.  Col Powell apparently referencing the opening act, in which Gleason embarrasses Newman in an all night game, in his new book, which my sister recently picked up, and that was the reason she knew about any of this.  The best part of this film, as he is in all his appearances, is George C. Scott, whose look may have inspired Quentin Tarantino in Reservoir Dogs.  Newman is about as impressive here as he is in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, which to my mind is: not very.  He seems to have been Hollywood's effort, at least in the early part of his career, an attempt to trump Marlon Brando with a somewhat similar but more conventional acting presence.  He's Marlon Blando, in effect.  I'm glad he got better with age.  And started marketing salad dressing!  Still, The Hustler is worth a look.

Monday, July 16, 2012

#437. WRiTE CLUB and new blog

Hey, so I'm going to be participating in DL Hammons' WRiTE CLUB.  DL's one of those inspirational bloggers who's also one of those aspirational writers, and he's been doing this WRiTE CLUB for two years now.  I figured I was already doing Martin T. Ingham's Shootout and had just released Monorama and have no idea how to promote myself, so I'll just get myself out there with stuff like this and see how it goes.

I've also launched a new blog, and it's called Tony Laplume and yes, it will be totally about me as a writer and I hope that will help solve some of the problems I've been thinking about recently.  Maybe yes maybe no but Blogger doesn't charge for these things, so it can't possibly hurt.

It's also worth noting that Michael Abayomi is participating in his own writing challenge.  Have a look at that.

Anyway, saw the movie Evolution last night, which was something I was interested in when it was originally released in 2001, but never got around to it.  Yes, I sometimes support things I have not technically personally supported.  It's directed by Ivan Reitman (and yes, was dismissed at the time as a poor effort to recapture his Ghostbusters mojo) and stars David Duchcovny, Julianne Moore, Orlando Jones, Seann William Scott (and actually features the onscreen origin of his bird imitation that amused me so much in The Rundown), and minor roles for Dan Ackroyd and Ethan Suplee (whom you might remember from My Name Is Earl).  As I thought back then, I was amused by it.  Evolution is no great contender for the greatest film ever, but it's worth a look, definitely.  It's basically a spoof on the scientific community as well as the academic community (and yes, it was also dismissed at the time as Duchcovny's half-hearted attempt to cash in on his X-Files fame without actually doing X-Files) and could possibly today be mistaken for a spoof of Prometheus, some ten years early.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

#436. Books

Not to be upstaged by Michael Abayomi, I want to reiterate (because as someone noted on his blog, if not here where?) that I've got a new book of short stories available.  The cover looks like this:

It's called, as you can see for yourself, Monorama, and collects a number, as you can read for yourself, of short stories, including a showcase novella called "Leopold's Concentration," as well as an introductory, bewildering "Lost Books of Tomorrow" section of thirty-two shorter works, and then five other stories besides, including "Lost Convoy" and "Quagmire," which ties in with Space Corps, which is the sci-fi universe I'll be writing about in my next book.

Anyway, I also want to remind anyone who might care that I maintain a reader's blog, Hub City, where I write about the books I've been reading.  I'm thinking of using it for some other book-related topics as well, perhaps noting books I don't have yet but foolishly want to add to an already bloated library I have not read 25% of and perhaps even notable efforts from bloggers I follow.  You can find a link there and here and everywhere to my Austen Paradise bookshop, which is my example of one writer's immense contribution to popular culture, and sometimes I'm tempted to justify its existence by writing about it more.  If you like, you can also visit a skeletal Facebook page devoted to it.

Also, for the record, there's a list of links at the right side of this blog explaining some of this on a more regular basis, including covers to all of my books (anthology included), in case you wanted to have a look.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

#435. A Stroll Around My Head

If you poke around this blog enough, you may stumble on the fact that I've got a couple of books in print, each of them self-published (as well as a short story in an anthology).  I haven't plastered Scouring Monk with images of the covers, mostly because the covers aren't terribly exciting, and I guess I suck at marketing, much less providing a coherent direction to readers trying to figure out why they should bother reading the blog in any effort to know who Tony Laplume is, besides someone who loves movies and stuff.

I published The Cloak of Shrouded Men five years ago, and have sold maybe half a dozen copies (and that's probably being generous), and in that case can it really be said to be published at all?  I'm not really good at promoting myself, and really not good about networking, because the people who really inspire me are creators who aren't looking to make friends with some anonymous bum in Colorado.  My favorite social activity is watching movies in the dark with strangers, and I'm otherwise a comedian whose only stage has been a bookstore, torturing the ears off coworkers, and besides don't really like talking so much as writing, and mostly about the things I'm passionate about.  I don't do conversation well, even at the exchange of a computer screen.

My writing tends to feel a little exclusive.  I don't write so that you can immerse yourself in a narrative so much as in someone else's mind, their experiences as they think about them more than how they actually experience them.  I wrote Shrouded Men as a superhero story where the superhero tortures himself over his failures, bad relationships, and nihilistic revenge against those who didn't share his crusade, destroying everything around him, basically, and then calling it a day, hanging up his cape, and letting the reader decide what the hell just happened.  I wrote in a number of parallels to stories I love, or were influenced by at the time, and besides family members the one outside reaction I got said it reminded him of City of Heroes, an online game that I didn't and still don't see any direct relation to in the pages of the book other than the fact that they both feature superheroes.  I wonder if he even read the book.  I'm not kidding when I say that it's basically Watchmen as an internal monologue from Rorschach (with more complete sentences).  I should note that it isn't literally Watchmen, because at the time I started writing it, I had never read Watchmen, and by the time I finished writing it, there's no way I was writing about anything else but the mad crusade of Cotton Colinaude, the Eidolon (a name I came across in a Hart Crane poem, "Legend," which should one day rightfully take its place in the book's pages), who gains and loses scores of allies, but most of them are already in his past by the time the story begins, with only glimpses of his erstwhile glory days sprinkled throughout.

Last week I published Monorama, and unless I start learning, I will probably sell as many copies, and maybe by the time Yoshimi is published, if Hall Bros. Entertainment ends up liking what it reads, I will start selling a few more books.  Monorama is a collection of esoteric short stories, mostly in a science fiction vein, but in the same basic style as what can be found in Shrouded Men (this is exactly what I referenced a few weeks ago, when I went out of my way to potentially alienate some of the folks who might have cared from my time writing here at Scouring Monk).  I figured I might as well make it available, in case more digestible chunks of this kind of writing may go down more easily.   

I've been a lot less active in my blogs the past couple weeks than usual, even here, certainly since the grind of A-to-Z, perhaps because all that activity is finally catching up with me, or I'm more depressed about being jobless again than I thought I was, or I'm depressed that I still don't really have a significant amount of readers, even if I keep telling myself that I don't care, that the act of writing does not demand the act of reading, because I want to be able to make a living on my own terms, especially as it seems increasingly that I maybe can't do it on anyone else's.

Act of writing does not demand the act of reading...?  I'm an eager reader, maybe not a fast one, but an eager reader all the same, and I have been all my life, and I still feel as if I've only read a quarter of what I should have by now.  If I could make a living reading, I would.  Some people do that, and they do so grudgingly, either as submission readers or as reviewers, and because almost no one actually reads and most publicity is self-publicity in this version of the world, most readers never really know what anyone else is reading.  I guess that's one reason to care about Good Reads, or wish that I was back at least in the break room at Borders, where some people still did this crazy thing.

If I had the ambition, I would absolutely transform this blog into a record of everything I find interesting and would love to share with everyone, and perhaps that's something I will still do, or perhaps create a new blog and try to have a go at it (this one currently mixes "mouldwarp" in the URL and Scouring Monk in the title, and never the twain do they meet).

Anyway, as a writer and as a person and as a blogger, I guess I may have some improving to do, not the least figuring out how all those identities merge.

Monday, July 09, 2012

#434. The 7 Story Beats of the Star Wars Saga

Before I proceed, let me clarify that I only consider the six films (A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith) to be part of the official Star Wars saga, so I will not include anything referenced in the expanded saga (books, comic books, video games, TV shows).

I read an article a few weeks back that kind of tried to reverse the traditional logic about who the good guys are in the saga.  I guess I should have made notes or something, but alas I cannot reference that article here beyond saying that it concluded that perhaps the Rebel Alliance was a reckless cause dooming the galaxy to anarchy with the fall of the Empire.  As to why, well, I will simply get on with the seven story beats of the Star Wars saga:

  1. Darth Plagueis begins the Sith plot against the Jedi.  In Revenge of the Sith, we overhear Palpatine explain the legend of this dark lord to Anakin Skywalker, who mastered the Force to such a degree that he was able to cheat death, until his apprentice betrayed him.  I understand that in the expanded saga there's a different version of what I'm about to say, and I don't care, and that's essentially the difference in philosophy I have with the fans who do care.  The suggestion in this momentous conversation is that Palpatine is that apprentice.  In my vision of this first beat in the Star Wars saga, Palpatine betrays his own master and begins all of this, and essentially spends most of his life in exile on Naboo.  He's already an established figure, and an old man, in The Phantom Menace. Considering that no one cares too much about questioning the establishment in the days before the Separatists and the Rebellion, it's not too hard to imagine that Palpatine could have easily carved himself a posh life for an extended period of time.  Yoda, who's been around for nine hundred years, is one of the most complacent Jedi around, as comfortable in exile at the Jedi temple as he would later be on Dagoba.  One of his closest contacts outside of this insular world is with the Wookiees on Kashyyyk, who also have extremely elongated lives (for this reason, it would not be inconceivable to assume that he knows Chewie better than Han Solo ever could).  Anyway, the suppression of the dark arts (a common theme with Harry Potter that J.K. Rowling didn't really settle) was essentially the motivating factor of this whole conflict, something for those who practiced them to hold as a mark of superiority over the established Jedi, who ruled like kings over countless worlds, and the rise of Darth Plagueis and his apprentice the first step toward years of war that would reshape the galaxy.
  2. Palpatine marks Anakin Skywalker as his next apprentice.  The idea of power is something the Sith value above all else.  The Jedi take so much for granted, they've grown to overlook this.  Palpatine makes a show of valuing democracy in public, but is secretly manipulating variations factions against each other, without any of them realizing what's happening.  He's so successful, it doesn't matter that the Jedi have been using the excuse of diminished powers for years to explain their growing ineffectiveness.  He was no doubt aware of Anakin from the moment of his conception, attuned to the Force as no other practitioner, always one step ahead when everyone else was busy ignoring what was happening.  The Trade Federation marks Naboo, whose only mark of distinction seems to be its influential politicians, which just happen to include Palpatine.  But Palpatine's intricate plans are already starting to unravel because he makes the classic mistake of outsmarting himself by allowing a young idealist to meet the very boy he has invested all his hopes in, when Amidala travels offworld and insists on accompanying a pair of Jedi to an unremarkable world (which they only visit by accident).  The key detail here is that Amidala is as skilled in subterfuge as Palpatine, perhaps even learning these instincts from him, and that's how the whole meeting happens in the first place.  He never even considers that something like this might happen.  He only marks the Jedi as his enemies.  He assumes everyone else will act as mindless pawns.  In some ways, Amidala does exactly that in her obstinate reaction to the Trade Federation's blockade.  And then she meets Anakin Skywalker, who will forever be ruled by his heart...
  3. Anakin Skywalker goes back home.  As Yoda predicted, bad things happen to Anakin because he's not in control of his emotions.  He has already developed an obsession with Amidala, which is strictly against the code of the Jedi.  (It's worth noting that for all the differences between the Jedi and the Sith, neither seems all that interest in romantic relationships, except for Anakin.)  First, an assignment to guard her chambers provides a convenient reunion, in which he learns where he stands with her, and won't accept that as an answer.  Then the situation with the growing Separatist movement against the Republic causes them to swap political views, and remarkably enough they're not so different.  Anakin then gets a chance to check back in on Tattooine, a development Amidala encourages, only to discover that his mom has been royally screwed over in the galactic jackpot, right after it seems like not only he got the future he deserved, but she did, too.  He goes a little nuts and slaughters Sandpeople.  Amidala, who has already heard his frustrations about justice, decides not to condemn him.  She's remarkably okay with his violent behavior, perhaps because she's already decided that she's throwing her lot in with the Separatists, and not the Republic, which she's currently serving as a senator.  The Separatists, it might be added, are currently fronted by Count Dooku, who is also the current apprentice of Palpatine, who has managed to turn a respected Jedi to his cause, one who is perfectly okay with the kind of duplicity necessary for the job.  Anyway, bolstered by a budding romance that quickly turns into a secret marriage, Anakin rushes into the kind of Jedi he thought he already was, even if he doesn't quite have the nerve yet.  He's hiding things now, too!
  4. Palpatine forms the Empire.  The exact same thing as the Republic, but with far fewer senators, the Empire serves as the permanent seat of power for Palpatine, who believes he's achieved everything he wanted, including the destruction of the Jedi order.  Except the one thing he didn't count on, much as the switch of the clone army from a force for good into a force for evil, was the Separatists giving birth to the Rebellion.  It's the same as the oversight of allowing Anakin to have allegiances to anyone but him.  He was able to sway the young Jedi to his line of thinking, and even eliminated Amidala without realizing it, but all of this confusion was already starting to affect his plans.  Anakin is maimed and nearly killed, and Palpatine (according to my version of events) didn't learn the secrets of Darth Plagueis well enough to preserve his life without needing an elaborate artificial apparatus to sustain Anakin's life, thus hindering his further development.  Yes, a powerful practitioner of the Force, but not a successor to himself.  In many ways, I'm sure he was glad of that, in a way, but his age was starting to become something he could no longer hide.  His duel with Mace Windu unraveled the bulk of his efforts in that regard, revealing the monster he truly was.  And without direct control over the Separatists, they were able to finally function as they would have, as he'd allowed them to, from the start, as a true rebuke to the establishment.  As a Rebellion.
  5. Luke Skywalker rescues Princess Leia.  The subtitle A New Hope has long been assumed to reference the rebirth of the Jedi in the form of Luke Skywalker, but there's another possible interpretation: Leia has been working as an operative for the Rebellion for years, and this is in fact a major problem that meeting Luke Skywalker (and with him, Han Solo) fixes.  To be blunt, no matter how spunky or sarcastic she is, Leia does not have the skills necessary to be the hero the Rebellion needs to succeed.  Luke is an outsider who was going to join the Imperial fleet, training at the academy just like his old buddy Biggs, not to mention Han Solo.  He's only vaguely aware of the conflict between the Empire and the Rebellion.  The fact that he becomes a Jedi is secondary to the fact that he can be motivated to great acts, once certain obstacles are removed from his path.  He does tend to succeed by accident, at least at the beginning, much as Leia did for years.  It's Luke who drives all the heroics at the Death Star, the rescue of Leia and its eventual destruction.  Yes, he receives a lot of help, mostly from Han, but discovering that message from Leia motivates him to reach his fullest potential.  Still, by the end of these initial adventures, the Empire is still strong, still in control, because the only thing lost is one weapon, no matter how powerful, one only the Rebellion even knew or cared about.
  6. Darth Vader goes to Cloud City.  This one happens completely by accident.  He follows a lead from a bounty hunter while tracking down Han Solo, who he hopes will be the lure Luke can't ignore. The thing is, it's a huge tactical mistake.  Lando Calrissian is emblematic of the establishment that still exists in the galaxy, the apathy that allows the Empire to dominate, just so long as it doesn't bother business.  (Funny enough, the radicalized Separatists no longer care about the concerns they once attempted to safeguard, instead fighting for basic survival, as they now see it, because they've lost their voice and have been essentially repudiated, totally excluded from the establishment.)  By Han visiting this old friend of his, at first so ruthless in pursuit of his own self-interest that he sells out his own buddy, Lando has the chance to see up close what the Empire is all about.  It's the first time fresh blood has been introduced to the Rebellion since the creation of the Separatists.  Many things have changed, but it's only been a matter of decades.  This is the second generation finally finding a voice, and notably, this reincarnation is learning to build on associations and listening to each other, even when it seems they shouldn't.  Also, the Rebellion doesn't ken with bounty hunters, unlike the Separatists.  When you remove the cancer, progress really is possible.
  7. Jabba the Hutt is eliminated.  The Hutts were long established as a disinterested yet dangerous wildcard of power.  Tattooine may not be the most strategically important world to the Empire, but it is to the Rebellion.  This is where Anakin Skywalker was born, and where Luke Skywalker had to return in order to retrieve one of his key allies, and in order to do that, he had to tackle a seemingly insignificant obstacle that had nonetheless arbitrarily dictated the course of corruption that caused pretty much everything that built and destroyed Palpatine's plans.  The opposite of Lando Calrissian, Jabba was a self-interested gangster who never saw the bigger picture and didn't care to, ignoring the threat of the Empire because he never understood how it affected him.  Yes, he got his revenge on Han Solo, but at fatal cost, unleashing the full potential of Luke, who used both his prowess with the Force and his array of allies against him, toppling him in a fashion that would have appeared more unlikely to the Hutt than a race of primitive Ewoks helping to defeat a legion of Imperial troops.  Jabba's oversight directly parallels Palpatine's.  The Empire falls, the Rebellion wins, and everything that's been learned since the blockade of Naboo leads to a Jedi knight who can fight dirty but won't give in to his weaknesses and people who understand the value of cooperation.
I've heard nothing, since the release of the first prequel, but remarks that suggest George Lucas had no idea what he was doing, and that this was something everyone started to suspect with the underwhelming Return of the Jedi.  Lucas himself only seems to encourage the belief that you shouldn't think too much about these films, that they're made for children, but I have long held them as one of the greatest standards for storytelling that I've ever experienced, and this is a belief that held true for the three films I watched well after they were released in theaters, and through the three films I saw upon original release.  Everyone was pleased as punch when the saga was strictly about sensationalism, the shock of the first movie, and the bigger shock of the second one.  They loved Star Wars in a vacuum, and once that vacuum was removed from the equation, they assumed it was the fault of the nutty creator who somehow had the temerity to tinker with his own creations.  I suppose this isn't such a unique phenomenon, because fans of The Matrix started making the same decisions about the second and third films in that franchise, and I disagree with those conclusions, too.  There's a million things to love about the Star Wars saga, and for me, I guess my favorite is the story that thrived for six films, in ways most fans have never really appreciated.  

Monday, July 02, 2012

#433. Films of Tarsem

India has given Hollywood some of its best directors in the past decade or so.  Shekhar Kapur, who did two Elizabeth movies with Cate Blanchett as well as the most recent version of Four Feathers (otherwise known as Heath Ledger's Lawrence of Arabia), is a favorite of mine.  M. Night Shyamalan, who became everyone's favorite director after The Sixth Sense and then least favorite soon after (even though he's still brilliant), has been the most successful of them.  But the best of them may yet prove to be Tarsem, a visionary on par with Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam, and Guillermo del Toro, whose handful of movies have managed to skirt the mainstream ever since the release of The Cell in 2000.

I just saw The Cell for the first time today.  I was certainly aware of it since its original release, that movie with all the interesting visuals and Jennifer Lopez back when she was only known as an actress, and a critical favorite at that (times change).  Turns out it fits nicely in the canon as I've come to know it, even featuring those accordion stilts most recently featured in this year's Mirror Mirror (this time with more dwarf action!). It's a serial killer story at the dawn of the serial killer age on TV, before everyone and their mother was able to figure out what messed up freaks were up to.  In The Cell, tortured Vincent D'Onofrio has daddy issues that result in his kidnapping of unsuspecting women and turning them into dolls (this would be solved in one episode of Criminal Minds today, and actually was), while Vince Vaughn is tasked with finding his last victim after D'Onofrio is found in a comatose state.  To accomplish this, he turns to Lopez, who has been developing basically the human version of the Vulcan mind-meld.  All of this is an excuse so Tarsem can treat us with his astounding visual storytelling; in fact, most of that storytelling is done without dialogue, and it still works.  It's a treat to see actors like D'Onofrio and Vaughn take center stage, too; the last time D'Onofrio has gotten to do anything interesting, people actually grew bored of him being awesome all over Law & Order: Criminal Intent, and Vaughn has retreated into a string of comedies.  Lopez, meanwhile, is the exact opposite of everything critics began calling her in the movies after her singing career took off, and she does most of it while letting Tarsem turn her into the ultimate vamp.  It's a revelation.

The Fall (2006) is his opus, his masterpiece, meanwhile, the epic vision of a man on the edge and saved by a little girl, whom he regales with a fairy tale that is really a tragedy.  It's everything The Cell promised the career of Tarsem to be, but with a story that matches the visual splendor with heartbreaking precision.  I've been championing this movie since its original release, and I doubt I'll ever grow tired of doing so.  The people who know about it define Tarsem by The Fall; the people who don't still identify him with The Cell.  I guess it's not bad either way, but if you have to peg him by either one, choose The Fall, which stars Lee Pace, at that time known for the quirky TV show Pushing Daisies.  He's the only name star of the bunch, but the movie was a passion project for Tarsem, shot over the course of years and on his own dime.  I like to consider The Fall to be the adult's Wizard of Oz.

The problem with Tarsem's career is that he either takes an incredibly long time to make a movie, or releases them in quick order.  That's what happened next, and I think that confused the perception and reception of his subsequent projects.

First came Immortals last year, which was quickly dismissed as imitation 300, even though it has Tarsem written all over it, spare in its storytelling, rich in its visuals and vision, perhaps his most expansive to date.  One of the signatures of Tarsem is that he deals with heightened reality, and the time of Greek myth is about as literal a heightened reality as you can get.  Only, as always he doesn't just do the myth, he brings it down to a human scale.  In The Cell, Jennifer Lopez ends up crying over the tragedy of Vincent D'Onofrio's life.  In The Fall, the whole audience is doing it.  In Immortals, it's the gods.

Immortals was quickly followed by this year's Mirror Mirror, which follows that tragedy streak with the sad tale of Snow White, who follows in the pattern of lost innocence in the prototypical model, as Tarsem returns to the realm of fairy tales, trying his best to conform to mainstream standards.  His sad fortune is that Snow White and the Huntsman was due for release months later, and so everyone focused on the duel of projects and forgot that there's a filmmaker working his own brand of magic, modifying it for a wider audience, for the first time opening courting families with a twist on his usual whimsy, this time making it actually whimsical.  There's a fair bit of gravity to Lily Collins has a face for melancholy, and though a lot of her material is either withering before Julia Roberts or swooning around Armie Hammer, not to mention making fairly heavy-handed political metaphors, she shows a great amount of strength while looking the picture of innocence.  Innocence is another trademark for Tarsem, individuals thrust against situations that cause them to confront the limits of their innocence without breaking it, finding ways to affirm rather than shatter it, and that's a rare message for any storyteller.

His next project is Marco Polo, which seems exceedingly natural for Tarsem's instincts.  His is a career I will continue to follow with great interest.

Other directors with similar ambition include Terry Gilliam, as I suggested earlier (highest personal recommendation being The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus); Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who has done such films as Amelie and The City of Lost Children (neither of which I've seen); the late Ken Russell, whose Altered States is considered to be an ancestor to Fringe; Julie Taymor, lately infamous for the Broadway show Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark, but also responsible for the exceptional Beatles homage Across the Universe; Michel Gondry, who shined with The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; and Darren Aronofsky, whose closest work to Tarsem's to date is The Fountain, which was his The Fall.  I recommend viewing any or all of these films.  This is what the movies were always meant to be.


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