Saturday, December 29, 2012

#502. Box Office 2001

Continuing our look back at the most popular movies from each year, we've now reached 2001, the start of the modern franchise era:

1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone ($317 mil)
Chris Columbus kicked off the movie franchise with child actors and a clear vision of a kid-friendly experience.  Perhaps it's worth remembering that to this point only the first four books (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was released in 2000, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix not until 2003) were in bookstores.  At any rate, it was a complete phenomenon.

2. The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring ($313 mil)
Like Titanic there was no expectation for Peter Jackson to find massive success.  I still think it's because of the fantasy craze kicked off by Harry Potter, the need for adults to legitimize their interest in the boy wizard, and there was J.R.R. Tolkien just waiting in the wings and coincidentally a whole series of films launching at the same time as Harry's cinematic adventures.

3. Shrek ($267 mil)
Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy discover the last great characters of their careers, both a blessing a curse, since audiences would apparently never again embrace them in live action, which is fine, because they continued to love this franchise for years to come.

4. Monsters, Inc. ($255 mil)
Pixar's formula is to take characters you wouldn't normally think to take seriously and make them stars.  Here it's monsters, the traditional enemy of children, and make a movie explaining their perspective, which is apparently that they're just another job sector, collecting energy to power their city the only way they know how, which is to provoke terror from kids.  I will always have a soft spot for this one because my sister named her cat after the girl.  Bonus points if you know the girl's name.

5. Rush Hour 2 ($226 mil)
Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker continue to be wildly popular in the sequel to their surprise hit, basically repeating the same exact story.  Being a fan of that story, as many others were at the time, I really enjoyed it.  One of the more successful versions of the buddy cup movie formula, because it also recognizes that the buddy cup movie formula is basically the odd couple movie formula, and this is about as odd a couple as you can get.

6. The Mummy Returns ($202 mil)
Another of the franchises that seems to have lost its popular luster, possibly because the rest the monster genre didn't return around it, even though Van Helsing certainly tried.  Or maybe they just waited way too long for the third one.  This would also count as the secret origin for Dwayne Johnson's movie career.

7. Pearl Harbor ($198 mil)
Trying to manufacture a cultural event works far better when it's Schindler's List than when you're trying to support blockbuster filmmaking.  I think everyone understands that now.

8. Ocean's Eleven ($183 mil)
Still the source of George Clooney's most reliable popular success, this is basically the frat club of Hollywood's most famous actors getting to have fun making movies, more akin to Newman and Redford than the Rat Pack who starred in the original.

9. Jurassic Park III ($181 mil)
It's true, there was a third installment in this franchise, basically dinosaurs running amok...again.  You can tell it was something of a factory model, since at least the last one had a lot more interaction from original author Michael Crichton, including a book as source material.

10. Planet of the Apes ($180 mil)
Tim Burton's vision of the material (originally a book, and not the Charlton Heston movie, just so you know) infused a strong aesthetic to the simian appearance of the actors inhabiting his landscape, as you might expect from the director.  It was also one of the first efforts to redo a popular movie, and as such invoked nerd rage and backlash.

11. A Beautiful Mind ($170 mil; Russell Crowe in another massive hit, this time with far less obvious material, and thus the backlash hit almost immediately after)

12. Hannibal ($165 mil; speaking of backlash, Hollywood dared revisit Silence of the Lambs and make a franchise out of one of Anthony Hopkins' most famous role, which some audiences thought was blasphemy for...some reason)

13. American Pie 2 ($145 mil; another big success meant this officially became a franchise, with several more sequels featuring the original stars, as well as dozens of mostly unrelated direct-to-video spinoffs)

14. The Fast and the Furious ($144 mil; launched the popular careers of Paul Walker and Vin Diesel, which only this same franchise years later could apparently continue)

15. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider ($131 mil; like the Mummy movies this was partly Hollywood redoing Indiana Jones, but let's face it, this was also all about Angelina Jolie in her most popular role)

16. Dr. Dolittle 2 ($112 mil; Eddie Murphy can certainly appreciate the success of these films, but I wonder if even he remembers how they were such big hits, other than the fact that they were made with kids in mind, which apparently he will only do so often, or in Donkey form)

17. Spy Kids ($112 mil; like Schwarzenegger before him, Robert Rodriguez apparently only has massive success when he works against type, though diminishing returns probably means he ought to switch up the formula a little more)

18. Black Hawk Down ($108 mil; Ridley Scott makes a movie out of one of the more infamous military incidents of the 1990s)

19. The Princess Diaries ($108 mil; say hello to Anne Hathaway!)

20. Vanilla Sky ($100 mil; I think this is the true source of the backlash Tom Cruise is still experiencing today, not just Eyes Wide Shut, what some people apparently interpreted as a baffling vanity project)

21. The Others ($96 mil; this was Nicole Kidman's version of The Sixth Sense and remains her biggest solo success)

22. Legally Blonde ($96 mil; behold the popular debut of Reese Witherspoon!)

23. America's Sweethearts ($93 mil; I think there was some kind of bizarre backlash attached this movie as well, which still affects the careers of Billy Crystal and Julia Roberts)

24. Cats & Dogs ($93 mil; the birth of CGI work helping animals to interact with the real world)

25. Save the Last Dance ($91 mil; Julia Stiles was almost a movie star because of this)

26. Atlantis: The Lost Empire ($84 mil; one of Disney's new returns to animated oblivion after all but giving the zeitgeist to Pixar)

27. Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius ($80 mil; the road to computer animated dominance had speed bumps)

28. A.I. Artificial Intelligence ($78 mil; the 2001 backlash effect also claimed this movie, Spielberg finishing a concept developed by Kubrick, starring the kid everyone though they'd love forever from The Sixth Sense)

29. Training Day ($76 mil; Denzel Washington officially became cool by turning evil)

30. Along Came a Spider ($74 mil; Morgan Freeman plays Alex Cross for the second time, after Kiss the Girls)

31. Bridget Jones's Diary ($71 mil; everyone thought they'd love Renee Zellweger forever)

33. The Score ($71 mil; blockbuster acting confluence of Edward Norton, Robert De Niro, and Marlon Brando)

34. Shallow Hal ($70 mil; Jack Black starts to become a huge star)

35. Swordfish ($69 mil; I could say this was the film that Hugh Jackman made to become known for something other than Wolverine, or that it also featured John Travolta, but c'mon, this one is known for Halle Berry, and if you don't know why, then just move along okay?)

36. The Mexican ($66 mil; Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt had some backlash from this, because that's a lot of what 2001 was about, or have you not gotten that yet?)

37. Down to Earth ($64 mil; back when everyone still thought they'd love Chris Rock forever)

38. Spy Game ($62 mil; this counts as one of Brad Pitt's successes, thanks in part to Robert Redford)

39. The Wedding Planner ($60 mil; the odd nature of Jennifer Lopez's millennial success was that it became harder for her to be a movie star, which was what she was before)

40. Behind Enemy Lines ($58 mil; Owen Wilson is a treasure, but this hit is better known for the direct-to-video franchise it spawned)

41. Ali ($58 mil; can we please just put aside the myth of "making films for awards season" and just admit that people like Will Smith can simply engage in making really good movies, or is this just more of that 2001 backlash?)

42. The Animal ($57 mil; sure, this stars Rob Schneider, but it also features Colleen from the first season of Survivor, the last time anyone would ever see her)

43. Moulin Rouge! ($57 mil; Baz Luhrmann being Baz Luhrmann, with Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor belting their hearts out playing along)

44. Rat Race ($56 mil; hilarious ensemble comedy that deserves more respect)

45. A Knight's Tale ($56 mil; Hollywood's effort to make a star of Heath Ledger and also the direct result of the marketing for and success of Gladiator)

47. Blow ($52 mil; Johnny Depp at his druthers, and part of the major push to make Penelope Cruz a Hollywood star)

48. The Royal Tenenbaums ($52 mil; ensemble success for Wes Anderson)

50. Enemy at the Gates ($51 mil; Joseph Fiennes and Jude Law are always trying to convince people that they're worth watching)

51. K-PAX ($50 mil; Kevin Spacey has the same problem, and here he's doing while trying to also convince people that he's not crazy just because he thinks he's a space alien)

52. Serendipity ($50 mil; add Kate Beckinsale to the list of stars trying to get people to watch her)

53. Kate and Leopold ($47 mil; this was Hugh Jackman's first attempt to distance himself from Wolverine; and you can add Liev Schreiber to that list of actors begging people to appreciate them)

55. Zoolander ($45 mil; if Ben Stiller didn't procrastinate making the second one for so long, he'd have his own Austin Powers)

56. The One ($43 mil; this is Jet Li doing The Matrix)

59. Gosford Park ($41 mil; a bunch of really great British actors)

63. Evolution ($38 mil; Ivan Reitman trying to have another Ghostbusters)

65. Jeepers Creepers ($37 mil; Justin Long could only star in a horror movie with this title)

71. Amelie ($33 mil; say hello to Audrey Tautou!)

74. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within ($32 mil; how to make a computer animated movie and have it come out creepy)

75. From Hell ($31 mil; Johnny Depp starring in a movie based on a graphic novel by Alan Moore)

76. Monster's Ball ($31 mil; Halle Berry earned an Oscar from this one)

79. Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back ($30 mil; also known as Kevin Smith either finally completely selling out or making the movie he always wanted to make, besides Clerks)

82. The Majestic ($27 mil; Jim Carrey and Frank Darabont collaborate)

85. Joe Dirt ($27 mil; Dennis Spade perhaps learns that he is not going to become the next Adam Sandler)

86. The Musketeer ($27 mil; Justin Chambers would find actual success as a cast member of Grey's Anatomy)

87. Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles ($25 mil; you're a long way from success, Paul Hogan)

88. Memento ($25 mil; Christopher Nolan's first masterpiece)

89. Captain Corelli's Mandolin ($25 mil; no matter what else they say, Nicolas Cage, you still made a movie with a really awesome title)

91. 15 Minutes ($24 mil; other than another stop in the failed attempt to make Edward Burns happen, this also featured rare film roles for Kelsey Grammer and Avery Brooks)

94. Corky Romano ($23 mil; Chris Kattan is not even the new David Spade)

97. Joe Somebody ($22 mil; ironic title, because this was pretty much when everyone stopped loving Tim Allen, perhaps another victim of 2001 backlash)

99. Joy Ride ($21 mil; written by J.J. Abrams)

108. Rock Star ($17 mil; one of the 17 million permutations of Mark Wahlberg)

110. Original Sin ($16 mil; Angelina Jolie and Antonio Banderas somehow didn't excite the interest of moviegoers)

111. O ($16 mil; innovative Shakespeare adaptation)

112. 3000 Miles to Graceland ($15 mil; people who are crazy enough to still be obsessive about Elvis are not also going to support the comeback of Kevin Costner)

113. Life as a House ($15 mil; Hayden Christensen makes his wide debut)

123. American Outlaws ($13 mil; Hollywood's idea of how to make a star of Colin Farrell)

132. The Curse of the Jade Scorpion ($7 mil; Woody Allen with wacky crime story)

133. The Man Who Wasn't There ($7 mil; Joel & Ethan Coen making one of the rare modern black and white movies)

136. Mulholland Drive ($7 mil; say hello to Naomi Watts)

137. Sexy Beast ($6 mil; the unlikely title for Ben Kingsley's comeback)

138. Town & Country ($6 mil; infamous flop and Warren Beatty's last movie to date)

140. One Night at McCool's ($6 mil; is much more mccool in its own head)

141. Ghost World ($6 mil; secret origin for Scarlett Johansson)

145. Monkeybone ($5 mil; movie I will absolutely see at some point)

148. Made ($5 mil; Jon Favreau's followup to Swingers)

149. Bubble Boy ($5 mil; let's all pretend Jake Gyllenhaal didn't make this)

156. Glitter ($4 mil; nearly torpedoed Mariah Carey's career)

157. Left Behind ($4 mil; based on a wildly popular series of Christian books depicting the apocalypse)

162. Pootie Tang ($3 mil; I'm convinced this deserves cult fame)

165. Hedwig and the Angry Inch ($3 mil; had instant cult fame)

169. Waking Life ($2 mil; artsy indy movie from Richard Linklater)

174. Sidewalks of New York ($2 mil; happen, Edward Burns, happen!!!)

210. The Devil's Backbone ($700 thou; Guillermo del Toro helps make his own legacy)

228. Donnie Darko ($500 thou; we'll pretend Jake Gyllenhaal made this)

252. Wet Hot American Summer ($200 thou; enduring cult ensemble comedy)

260. Chopper ($200 thou; secret origin of Eric Bana and Andrew Dominik)

277. Audition ($100 thou; infamous Japanese horror movie)

301. The Million Dollar Hotel ($50 thou; U2's Bono helped make this movie)

Source: Box Office Mojo

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

#501. Blogathon of Doom!!! (Part 3)

Here we are in my final round of 

after three of four intended weeks of participation.  That's okay, because I am now going to make it all better by sharing with you the story of

The Christmas Cat

Once long ago in a village somewhere in Iceland, a young cartoonist was busy writing about the adventures of anthropomorphic cats.  One of them was a serial killer.  This story is not about the serial killer anthropomorphic cat.  In fact, it is not about any of those anthropomorphic cats.  It is, as the title suggests, about the Christmas Cat.

 (the terrible image from those Flawless Kitty Logic posts
you know nothing about returns!)

The Christmas Cat had come once again to this small village somewhere in Iceland because the young cartoonist suffered from a terrible malady.  This malady is only possible on Christmas because it relates directly to Christmas, specifically in the exchanging of gifts.  Each year the young cartoonist hoped to receive among his gifts an article of clothing.  It did not matter what that article was, or even if it was an article about clothing, just so long as someone gave him something clothing related.  It could even be an old pair of socks with holes the side of neck openings in sweaters, even hideous sweaters that are only knitted to exchange at Christmas in some insidious plot to make the holiday more garish than it already is.
     Except the young cartoonist had not always received the gift of an article of clothing at Christmas, and this was how he came to know of the Christmas Cat.
     For you see, the Christmas Cat strikes at those who do not receive at least one article of clothing as a gift, even a hideous sweater that is only knitted to exchange at Christmas, or an old pair of socks.  The Christmas Cat strikes without mercy at such unlucky souls!  It uses them as batting practice, which is different than the batting practice in baseball, as cats can and will unsheathe their claws, and the Christmas Cat always unsheathes its claws when it strikes those who do not receive at least one article of clothing!
     It is a most terrifying sight, the furry creature stirring down the chimney with care, with hopes that its victim has much skin to share.
     The young cartoonist subsequently begged his family and acquaintances each year for some article of clothing, even a hat he would otherwise not have been caught dead wearing, or a necktie with ducks on it.  To his horror, the young cartoonists's family and acquaintances did not heed his suggestions.  On Christmas, with sweat pouring down his face, the young cartoonist opened each gift with care, hoping to find some article of clothing.
     One present, two presents, three presents and more, not a stitch or a zipper could be found on the floor!
     The young cartoonist looked about the room around the Christmas tree, watched to see wrapping paper stir.  The smell of gravy soon filled the air, and he knew that the Christmas Cat was coming with its usual flair!  He threw on a blanket, he put small kids before him, but the Christmas Cat found him as if on a whim.
     Tiny paws struck out again and again, and a rhyme kept coming at him for some reason every now and then!
     Perhaps this was the reason the young cartoonist from the village in Iceland began to write stories of anthropomorphic cats which featured at least one serial killer.  Then he moved on to Ninja Turtles, but the story everyone remembered from the young cartoonist was the tale of the Christmas Cat, but they were all too foolish, believing it was just science fiction.
     But woe be to them, for they would soon face the wrath of the tiny white cat, whose paws hid great shiny claws which struck like a pin!
So ends my participation in the Christmas Blogathon of Doom!  My book,
 is free for the last time in its Kindle edition, which means in the future you will have to buy a copy (preferably a paperback copy).

If you haven't heard already, I'm working on an anthology of flash fiction called "Project Mayhem," and you'll welcome to participate.  You're even free to write something about how much you hate rhymes, just so long as you can make a crude story out of it.  Honestly, I'm that desperate.

The blogathon continues to its conclusion:

  • our friendly host Briane Pagel at Thinking the Lions is eager to fling one of his many books at you (12/20)
  • PT Dilloway is equally eager to discuss Tales of the Scarlet Knight, of which A Hero's Journey comprises the first volume (12/21)
  • Vanna Smythe over at her eponymous blog is also eager, but with Protector, which is Book One in her Anniversary of the Veil series (12/22)
  • for some reason Briane concludes the blogathon himself (12/24)
It should be noted that the whole end-of-the-world thing I went on about last time (and possibly why this is a Christmas blogathon OF DOOM) still has a chance of happening on Dilloway's last day.  No word yet if he will be posting an equally ridiculous message about this Mayan cycle of renewal/MESSAGE OF DOOM.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

#500. Scouring Monk's 2012 in Review

I should probably begin this historic (of a sort!) post by noting that 2012 has been by far my most active year at Scouring Monk.  I started this blog in 2002.  In 2005-2007, my activity all but died off, with a slow build upward again that seemed to reach a crescendo in 2011.  I ended up several months that matched or exceeded my activity in those slow years during 2012, with April, during A-to-Z, being the busiest, where I not only posted every day for the challenge but added in a few more posts, so I ended up with 38 that month, which will probably remain a record, unless I participate in another blogathon like that do even more extra posts.

Anyway, January started out fairly typically for what Monk was like before I got actual readers.  It was during the last round of expansion, wherein I spun off different interests into their own blogs, which last October as noted yesterday included Hub City.  2011 also saw Comics Reader and Sigild V (named after a street sign whose letters reflected only some of the letters, and sounds like a futuristic guild, possibly from Babylon 5), while in 2010 I launched Fan Companion, which was then and is now again centered on Star Trek (though I had more popularity at one point talking about movies).  Of course, in July this year, I launched Tony Laplume, and have no idea where I got that name.  From Chilean sea bass, no doubt.  Anyway, many of my posts here were a synthesis of the activity across this family of blogs, much as the Direct Current posts recently were doing.  (Now for a secret origin: "Direct Current" was the name of a DC Comics preview magazine in the 1990s.  And ITEM! came from Marvel.)

February and March were much the same, though I began transitioning to talking a lot more about movies, mostly because I had second thoughts about continuing my relationship with Examiner.  This wouldn't be the first time Monk has served as a surrogate home for material I would otherwise have been presenting elsewhere.  When I wrote about comics for Paperback Reader, I began feeling ambivalent about that site's continuing ability to draw an audience.  Now, whether or not it was because I was a significant contributor who left and came back at least once, PBR eventually disappeared, much the way the Star Trek community Lower Decks faded into obscurity once some of its founders walked away, which was another reason why PBR's prospects shrank.  Anyway, later in the year I did return to Examiner.  It's always hard to find an audience.  Examiner has made it even harder to find one for regional contributors with recent redesigns that makes it impossible to find regional contributors, so I write there mostly to have a venue that isn't one of my blogs.

April, obviously, was all about A-to-Z, which is one of the things Alex Cavanaugh works on.  The so-called Ninja Captain is the acknowledged godfather of this blogging community, and however it happened, discovering his blog in the first place was how I learned about A-to-Z in the first place.  Alex visits a million blogs each day and somehow manages to makes comments on all of them.  In return, these blogs visit him.  He promotes the books of these loyal readers and talks about movies.  I've talked about the blogs I glommed onto before, and they know who they are, and many of them visit and support me, not just here but are crazy enough to read the other blogs I'm crazy enough to simultaneously maintain on a regular basis.  During A-to-Z I spent my time talking about Star Trek and movies, and secretly hoped to participate in the challenge in the hopes of discovering other blogs that also featured such topics.  Yet many of them ended up being blogs written by other aspiring writers, which in hindsight should not be so surprising, because Alex also hosts the monthly Insecure Writers Support Group.

In May I briefly introduced a successor to my Star Trek/movies focus I intended to maintain on a regular basis, Vantage Point, which would have covered most mediums of entertainment, but either it was A-to-Z hangover or readers weren't as interested in me continuing to blog like that as I thought they'd be.  So I gave that up pretty quickly.  During the month people also started throwing around a lot of awards, and I wasn't prepared to begin dealing with that.  They were meant to support blogs bloggers enjoyed following, but I was so new to the community, I didn't want to participate in that without knowing if I'd continue supporting all those blogs.  I guess appropriately enough, while people were busy wondering if they cared about my blog on an ongoing basis, I was busy sifting through the ruins of A-to-Z and discovering who would still be interesting, much less active.  True enough, I continued following several blogs I still read today, but I still felt pretty small in comparison to how everyone else seemed to be following dozens of blogs they'd discovered well before the challenge.

May also saw one of the recurring topics from the year introduced to Monk, which was the success of The Avengers in theaters.  I struggled a great deal with it.  I thought it was an okay movie, but I also realized that apparently a great number of moviegoers loved it, and I didn't want to seem like someone who didn't like it as much just to be contrarian (and you know plenty of people are like that).  So I continued to figure out what I really thought of it, ways that I could come to appreciate it that I hadn't thought of yet.  One of those was through a comic book, appropriately enough, which came up in June, although if you remember Scouring Monk from June at all, it was for the epic Comic Book Movie Chronicle, in which I provided a complete survey of movies based on comic books properties.  Got a lot of interest from those posts.

I started to do a lot more posts about specific topics after that.  If you bother to look through the archives for Monk, you'll notice that although I had a lot of favorite topics, I normally obscured them by clumping several of them together at once.  In a sense, 2012 started making some clarity about what Monk is supposed to be, even though I have so many other blogs.  Sometimes topics overlap from blog to blog, such as the number of times I still ended up talking about Star Trek here even though I have another blog to cover it.  Periodically I talked about professional wrestling, which was a major theme in the Monk's past, although not up the alley of readers from the A-to-Z era.  I also went on periodic rants about random topics, though I don't do that often enough where people probably think of rants and Monk in the same thought.

August featured a series of posts concerning the passing and legacy of Tony Scott, which is still a little curious to me, since I had not previously thought of Tony as the Scott brother of my choosing (it remains Ridley, before and after Prometheus), probably as a raw nerve of appreciation that still bothers me in my own life.  Although Tony was a huge box office success for most of his career, critics never gave him any credit, and so I guess I started to wonder if his films would be remembered in ten, twenty years, even Top Gun, so I started to look for greater meaning in his work, and think I found it.

In September I returned to another personal favorite topic, TV, and discovered that it was another things the A-to-Z era doesn't particularly care about, and became easy for me to move on from once I figured out that I wouldn't be watching the new season the way I thought I would.  For the record, my current favorite night of television, and the one I've gotten to watch on a consistent basis recently, is Tuesday nights, mostly on Fox (Raising Hope, Ben & Kate, The New Girl) and then switching to ABC (Don't Trust the B-- in Apartment 23).  I've even developed a new term for the brand of sitcom featured in this makeshift block.  It's called the Piercecom, as in "Hawkeye" Pierce from M*A*S*H, memorably portrayed by Alan Alda.  Basically the best modern sitcoms are all borrowing the same irreverent tone "Hawkeye" gave to the Korean War, a cynicism that is less laugh-out-loud hilarious and more amusing as a slice of life, a trend begun in Arrested Development and The Office, which NBC tried to reshape its Thursday lineup around, and found far less successful than its 1990s heyday.  Piercecom may also be construed as a reference to Community, which also features a character named Pierce (though Chevy Chase is going to be leaving at some point during its fourth season, whenever that gets underway).

October saw the start of the Direct Current posts, while November saw the bulk of the Box Office feature that will resume at some point, while this month has mostly been turned over to the Blogathon of Doom, which is far smaller in scale than A-to-Z but nonetheless continues.  Tomorrow is my final day participating.

And that's everything you didn't want to know about that one blog you only pretend to follow.  At the start of the year I hit the three hundred thirty-fifth blog of Scouring Monk, and hit four hundred near the end of April (appropriately enough).  I figured because I seem to care about how many posts I've done, I might as well make a small deal about hitting the quincentennial.

Yay for me!

And for one last bit of celebration, how about explaining the name of the blog?  First off, many of my blogs don't match what's in the URL.  "Mouldwarp" comes from Peter Ackroyd's The Plato Papers, indisputably one of my favorite books of all time.  "Scouring Monk" comes from "Showering Monks," the name of a science team my brother put together in high school, which itself is based off the Shaolin monks of China.  So now you know.  Just a lot of nonsensical wordplay.

Monday, December 17, 2012

#499. Coming to Peace with the Trojan War

One of the things I sort of accidentally did this year (among other things I stumbled into) was read a slew of books based on Homer's The Iliad.

I've been interested in this story since I was a kid, and I can't really say how this began.  I know that in high school I was already sufficiently into Greek mythology and Homer to have taken a class on the former (which was just getting started from Brenda McKee, a teacher who ended up informing, for both good and bad, my relationship with education and literature's place in it) and done a research paper on the latter (for Prudence Grant, the teacher who told Stephen King he couldn't write).  The research paper was an early step in my relationship with Homer.  Like Bill Shakespeare and the gospel writers, many modern critics don't believe the Homer we think we know actually existed, and the best research I ever did, carried out in the measly Lisbon High School library, was spent reading up on what some people had written about the topic.  It was during that period that Armand Assante's TV version of The Odyssey originally aired, part of a whole trend of such epic adaptations.

At the time, I was more interested in The Odyssey, which chronicles a mythology-rich journey home.  Later I became more interested in The Iliad, which chronicles the Trojan War, a ten-year siege of Ilium that saw Greek city states unite under the guise of reclaiming Helen from that one dude who kidnapped her from her husband.  About ten years back I initiated my original resurgence as a reader (because I was voracious as a child) during one of my summer breaks, and The Iliad was among the stories I devoured.  It was the first time I truly became acquainted with the legend of Achilles (who is otherwise associated with that whole Achilles heel thing, which is not significant in The Iliad).  In 2004, Wolfgang Peterson's Troy was released in theaters, starring Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, Orlando Bloom, and Diane Kruger, who became an immediate sensation thanks to this film, but had to wait until Inglourious Basterds to get a truly memorable role outside of it.  I picked up one of the books I would later read at this time.  In fact, as part of my book-buying habits from the last decade, I ended up buying a lot of translations of The Iliad.

In 2009 I formulated my Reading List for the first time, making a working sense of all the books I'd amassed.  Because I am an eager if not fast reader, I saw this as a step in the right direction.  At some point, I started chronicling this List here at Scouring Monk, and then last year spun it off to its own blog, Hub City.  This year the confluence of the Trojan War finally hit, and coincidentally was kicked off with a series of books reminiscent more of The Odyssey.

My sister had been begging me to read Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson books.  She's such a fan of them that she's read through them several times (this obsessive-compulsive behavior also compels her and sometimes me to watch Charmed several times over as a complete series, and relevant to this particular topic is Brian Thompson's appearance in one episode dealing with Greek myth; Thompson also appears as Hercules in Jason and the Argonauts, the version that also gave us Jolene Blalock, who subsequently starred in Star Trek: Enterprise).  I was reluctant, however, to read these books, since I have a great concern that many of the series that have cropped up in the wake of Harry Potter are not nearly as inspired.  Riordan did envision Percy well before Harry first appeared, but there are so many obvious parallels that it's not hard to see that he subsequently revised in order to make one property more familiar to the other.

That and I love Greek myth.  Riordan has an essay in a companion volume that makes the argument that he has technically made Greek myth the most popular it has ever been.  Percy Jackson is the son of Poseidon, god of the sea, but he is also a half-blood, something Riordan borrows liberally from Greek myths surrounding Zeus, who was the original ladies man (or, you know, ladies god), bedding pretty much every woman in the ancient Greek world, sometimes in surprising forms (do your own research if you want to know what that means).

If you want to know more about what I thought about Percy Jackson, you can click here and here.

Anyway, beginning in April, I started reading books based on and translated from The Odyssey and The Iliad more earnestly.  The first was the best of them, The Lost Books of the Odyssey, which is basically a summation of everything I want from fiction, and the best book I read all year.  There was also The Penelopiad, which was more or less the opposite, though Margaret Atwood still has my respect as one of the more notable writers of her day.  I also read An Iliad, The Anger of Achilles, and The Siege of Troy, the last of them being that book I picked up in 2004, and all of them being versions of a modern translation of The Iliad.  In fact, Siege wasn't even on the List, but I figured I might as well read it anyway, having already read two other versions.

At this point, I should note that The Iliad, regardless of who Homer was, whether or not his most famous story as we know it began as an oral tradition he helped set in stone but in fact still dictated to students, is a story about events that happened in the distant past.  Most historians believed it was only a story until Heinrich Schliemann uncovered the ruins of Troy in the nineteenth century.  This just goes to support my belief that all this griping we have today about "remakes" in movies or whatever medium is so much hokum.  A story has not even begun to reveal its true worth until it's been told again.  By this, I am all but imploring even today's indy writers to encourage each other to retell each other's tales.

(In fact, while I bring up Mouldwarp Press's "Project Mayhem" anthology accepting submissions, let's go ahead and announce the next edition, "The Song Remains the Same," which will be exactly that.)

Even before this year, I was already revisiting the story of the Trojan War thanks to Eric Shanower's ongoing comic book interpretation, Age of Bronze.  Shanower is better known these days for his adaptations of L. Frank Baum's Oz books with Skottie Young, but this will still be his legacy.

Late in the year I found myself coming back to Troy thanks to Alexander the Great, which I read not because of any deep abiding interest in the subject but because Oliver Stone's Alexander remains my favorite movie.  The book, however, makes a strong case for the conqueror's obsession with The Iliad, which led me back to Troy, and this is more or less where I will conclude.

Troy takes many liberties with established elements of the Trojan War.  Menelaus is killed off, for instance, right after his duel with Paris, at the hands of Hector.  Ajax is similarly dispatched.  Yet instead of shrinking away horrified by these alterations (as I had before with the changes Peter Jackson wrought in his Lord of the Rings films, something I've since gotten over), I saw them as affirmations of the continuing strength of the core narrative, which as the title "Anger of Achilles" in one of those translations suggests, is less about a great warrior being great than that warrior sulking in his tent for most of the story.

It's funny, because the most famous element of the Trojan War isn't even in The Iliad.  Believe it or not, but there is no Trojan Horse in Homer's narrative.  That's what makes the story of this conflict so powerful, that its most famous depiction doesn't even have its most famous element.  Homer turned what was essentially a news item into an epic about the folly of man (and god), and several millennia later we're still enjoying that story.  Alexander defined his life by following in the footsteps of Achilles.  Nestor, incredibly, tries telling everyone in The Iliad that they weren't nearly as heroic as the figures of his youth, who after all included Hercules (Heracles in the Greek, but in this instance history has since eliminated cultural differences) and Jason.

It's funny, because of all the things I write about in my blogs, I haven't touched on any of this very often, but it's as big a part of my literary makeup as anything else, whether Star Trek or comic books or professional wrestling (I reiterate that what makes me so complicately unique is that I'm willing to admit my literary makeup includes those three peculiar elements).  The story I'm working on now, Seven Thunders, is not based on the Trojan War, having more common elements with the War of 1812 (and, increasingly, the Iraq War).  I did weave a good amount of it into The Cloak of Shrouded Men, notably the entire third act.  One of my ambitions is to write a new version of Troilus and Cressida, which Chaucer and Shakespeare have previously done, notable for being set during the Trojan War.  The working title is Troy and Krystyna, and is set in Detroit, in case you wanted to know.

As I said, I didn't plan on all of this confluence in 2012.  Even more strangely, there were other common themes in the books I read this year, most of them involving literary attempts at social reform.  I don't consider myself as a very successful academic type.  Even though I graduated from college, I don't think college, much less high school, liked me too much.  I tend to learn different lessons than are strictly taught in the classroom.  Yet I was enthralled by my Trojan year, and pleased to make a record of it here.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

#498. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

(Most of what follows comes from my Examiner review, plus some extended thoughts, because that's what Peter Jackson would do.)
There are many things to love in Peter Jackson's new film, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. The best part is, even if you weren't a fan or haven't seen his related Lord of the Rings films, you will be entertained.
Fortuitously, he has packed the movie with plenty of comedic elements, which viewers of this past summer's biggest blockbuster The Avengers will absolutely embrace. Whether it's the dwarves who accompany Bilbo Baggins (played to perfection by Martin Freeman) or the trolls who nearly make them into dinner, and most especially Gollum (Andy Serkis), whenever Jackson isn't waxing nostalgic for the high fantasy of J.R.R. Tolkien he's having the best of times. The audience is sure to agree.
That's what the source material always had, too, and so it's funny that the more broadly accessible of Tolkien's Middle-Earth adventures has come second to the big screen, though the link to the grand mythology fans originally embraced in the quest to destroy the One Ring is firmly established in An Unexpected Journey, including Bilbo's momentous meeting of Gollum and his discovery of that ring.
Otherwise this is Jackson doing fantasy as apparently only he can, which is made all the more evident by the added emphasis on the fantastic elements. This one, as mentioned, is infested with dwarves, who like in the earlier Lord of the Rings trilogy are used mostly for comic relief. The standout dwarf, however, is also a surrogate Aragorn named Thorin, who is also a king looking for a kingdom, not to mention a great warrior. Jackson again cast big actors in small roles, and Richard Armitage plays Thorin to grand effect.
Among the the returning actors, Ian Holm briefly reprises Bilbo in a prologue, which also allows us a visit with Frodo, once again played by Elijah Wood, who appears to have taken the opportunity to reinterpret his portrayal of the character by way of Dan Radcliffe's Harry Potter.
In fact, An Unexpected Journey in a lot of ways speaks to the odd timing of the past decade that saw Harry become every bit the epic movie franchise that Jackson's films have made of Tolkien. The films based on J.K. Rowling's books, as the books themselves, became more epic, more similar to Jackson's films. Now, strangely and appropriately enough, Jackson's films are returning the favor.
Though Gollum appears late in the film and echoes the comedic elements that have preceded him, he's still the best of them. He stole The Two Towers from Frodo, and he steals An Unexpected Journey from any manner of beasts created in concert with Guillermo del Toro, who at one point was slated to direct The Hobbit. Everything you loved about Gollum the first time around is amplified. He becomes, if anything, more inspired the less he's directly associated with the heaviness of that ring, his "precious," as he engages in a battle of wits with Bilbo. If you think it sounds funny just to say that last part, then you now have a small inkling of what to expect.
If you really liked Fellowship of the Ring (like I did), Jackson does you a solid by copying a lot of the specific elements of that film in An Unexpected Journey, sometimes going so far as to subvert these very expectations, especially in the ending, which may be the new film's greatest strength.  Its biggest weakness, however, is the endless parade of battle scenes.  One would think, as Jackson obviously has in all his Tolkien films, that battle scenes automatically equal money.  Part of the reason why I wasn't as impressed with The Two Towers and Return of the King was their reliance on battle scenes and neglect of the characters who should have made them count for something.  In An Unexpected Journey, the battle scenes are staged better but come too frequently, so that by the end you're expecting Jackson to have come to a point, and even though he does it's less about the battle than what Bilbo and Thorin learn from it.  The bad guy escapes to fight another day, in other words, like a bad comic book villain.
Another criticism I've maintained for the latter two installments of the Lord of the Rings trilogy was Howard Shore's increasingly limited inspiration for his score material.  His work in Fellowship of the Ring was one of the biggest reasons why I loved that movie so immediately and enduringly.  He brings that A-game back in An Unexpected Journey, which is also part of Jackson's increasing interest to bring his true Tolkien geek love closer to the front, whether that means dwarves singing mournfully (as Aragorn does in at least one of those extended editions from the first trilogy) or natives dialects and subtitles suddenly popping up everywhere.  
The most clever thing Jackson does in An Unexpected Journey, however, is keep the biggest villain mostly out of the picture.  I'm not talking about Sauron (sometimes known as the Necromancer, beginning here), whose disembodied eye was a distinctive yet to my mind inadequate visual from the earlier films.  I'm talking about Smaug, who happens to be a dragon.  Most mainstream audiences automatically think about dragons when they think about fantasy at all, and even some fantasy fans themselves have this instinct, whether you're talking Pern or Christopher Paolini's Inheritance cycle.  I know movies love dragons, whether you're talking How to Train Your Dragon or Reign of Fire.  Harry Potter fought a dragon in Goblet of Fire.  Smaug will make that much bigger an impact when he appears later because of this.
You will love most of this film, and you will absolutely and enthusiastically sign up to join the continuing journey.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

#497. Christmas Blogathon of Doom!!! (Part 2)

I'm sorry to inform you that Christmas has been cancelled.  It has been cancelled, however, for a good cause, because today is the end of the world.

We know that it is the end of the world because the Mayan calender told us so.  This is a calendar worth paying attention to as it has been around for seven thousand years.  If you had a pair of pants that had been around for seven thousand years you'd take it seriously, too.  Also, you should probably wash it again, just for good measure, before wearing it.

As it's the end of the world you should probably exchange presents today. Give them all away.  Give everything away, because the few people who will really appreciate it and are therefore proven dumb will no longer be able to bother you, much like that really old pair of pants, which you have finally been able to get rid of.

Kiss everyone and everything.  Seriously.  Kiss everyone you meet and everything you see.  It no longer matters if you look crazy, which is the same reason those dumb friends are accepting all your things, including the ancient pants.  It's your last chance to express love, so you might as well embrace it.  You have no doubt squandered most of the other opportunities you've ever had, including that time the creepy bus driver accidentally patted you on the shoulder rather than the empty spot next to you in his attempt to corral other kids quickly into seats in the morning.  He was only looking for love, you idiot!  And what did you do?  It's best not to speculate now.  You are a rotten individual.  You need good karma, because it's the end of the world and it's not looking good for you in what follows.

Speaking of which, you might as well start thinking about that, too, because this is more of what you've been squandering, your own future, which admittedly at the moment looks bleak but in fact is filled with unspeakable wonder, which you know because most ghosts can barely speak and that's proof enough.  They're really good at knocking things over.  You should start practicing that, too.

You have no time to lose!  The world is coming to an end!  This is bad because the world is what you live on.  Without it you would be expected to float in space, and everyone knows only alpacas can do that, but in very specific circumstances, and they don't accept passengers.

Consequently, the end of the world, just to summarize, means that you will be dead.  You can scrap that will, because everyone else will be too.  Now is not the time to become depressed, either, because it's not as if the Mayans didn't warn us.

Also, it may actually be 12/21/12 when this occurs.


The good news is that in your few remaining hours my book, Monorama, is free today, so the entertainment is cheap.  It will also be free in the sense that if you're up to it watching everything end will be quite amusing.

Not that it will matter, but this blogathon is scheduled to continue after today:

Saturday, December 08, 2012

#496. Seven Developments from the Star Trek Original Cast Films

It's perhaps no surprise that I love Star Trek.  The way I grew to love Star Trek is perhaps unique to the 1980s, when the original series was in syndication reaching new audiences and the classic cast was featured in the bulk of its movies.  My mother was a fan from the show's original 1960s broadcasts, and the family watched most of the movies for the first time in one sitting (seemed like the infamous pan of the Enterprise from The Motion Picture took most of that time) at a friend's house.

Since I wasn't one of the fans who watched the movies when they were first screened in theaters, my relationship with them has been developing over time.  You may have heard from more than one fan that The Wrath of Khan is the best of them, while The Voyage Home was undeniably the most popular and The Final Frontier least.  I've learned that I tend to approach them differently from other fans, but I won't really get into that so much here as the ways each of them added to the legacy of the first incarnation of the franchise.  Here then is my list:

  • Kirk is replaced as captain of the Enterprise for the first time.  (Star Trek: The Motion Picture, 1979)  It's odd to think of the first film in this way.  Most fans were pretty ecstatic when the film was first released, and equally excited to forget it once the second one proved more satisfying, and yet there was a considerable amount of character growth and story development put into The Motion Picture.  Everyone remembers V'ger, the probe that turned into a sentient cloud and went on a rampage to find its creator, but the two new characters introduced in the movie (other than eventually inspiring Will Riker and Deanna Troi in The Next Generation) include Decker, who has replaced Jim Kirk as captain of the Enterprise.  Of course, much of the movie is about Kirk's own irritation about this fact, but it becomes near unthinkable for anyone else to sit in that chair, especially considering that the next five movies very pointedly don't, even though of course Kirk continues to age.  The franchise does make a point of keeping subsequent captains of other incarnations pretty humble (Harriman most especially in Star Trek Generations, Garrett slightly less so in "Yesterday's Enterprise") until his worthy successor Picard. 
  • Kirk has a son!  (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, 1982)  Perhaps the greatest overlooked legacy of the movies is the introduction of Jim Kirk's son, David Marcus, who is at the point we meet him pretty much the age Kirk was at the start of the original series.  Perhaps it's because David dies in his very next movie, or maybe he's all but a retcon (in comics "retcon" is changing continuity in order to suit the needs of the current storyline), the product of one of Kirk's many affairs, which was a running joke in the series and suddenly laden with consequence.  The theme of this particular movie is about unexpected consequences, though, whether that means the return of Khan or the death of Spock.  The revelation of Kirk having a son from a relationship that was never before referenced, much less the son himself, is a pretty major development in itself.  So far the movies have not been kind to the captain's ego...
  • Sarek becomes a regular member of the ensemble.  (Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, 1984)  The original series was made during a time when storytelling was very different, especially as regarded science fiction.  Events from one episode to the next, much less entire mythologies, didn't matter.  Sarek first appeared in "Journey to Babel," and there was every expectation to believe that he would never be seen again.  And yet, after Spock's death, Kirk is very much thinking about lost family (which as noted previously becomes ironic in Search for Spock, because he regains Spock in the same film where David dies), and so it becomes only logical for Sarek to appear again.  This opens up a number of possibilities for the character, who subsequently appears in The Voyage Home and The Undiscovered Country as well as, famously, in The Next Generation, as the first regular emissary of the previous generation, in an eponymous episode.  He is also a prominent presence in Star Trek, no doubt owing to the increased significance of the role owing to this appearance.
  • McCoy condemns modern medicine.  (Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, 1986)  It should perhaps be notable that the country doctor of the original series, when brought out of the future and into the comparatively primitive past, is disgusted by what he finds.  The context, of course, is a trip to modern times necessitated to bring whales back to the future in order to communicate with a probe that will otherwise decimate Earth.  Chekov has been wounded in his efforts to leach fuel from a nuclear "wessel," and McCoy steps in to prevent the barbaric treatment he's horrified to discover awaiting his friend.  So, let me say it again: the character best known to be the good 'ol country doctor, who hated technology so much that the transporter terrified him in The Motion Picture, suddenly clings to all those newfangled ideas and rejects the methods of the past that until this moment he probably believed were superior.  Well, at least that's how fans probably would have seen it, if they'd thought it out.  That's his reputation, and yet in one scene we find out the truth.  Turns out "Bones" just acted the part of the country doctor.  
  • The Star Trek trilogy.  (The Wrath of Khan, The Search for Spock, The Voyage Home)  I think plenty of fans are aware of this, but it hardly ever comes up in conversation about the franchise, but this really happened.  In the midst of the six films to feature the original cast, three of them are part of a single story.  Wrath of Khan gets the most attention from fans because they love seeing the duel between Kirk and Khan.  Search for Spock is its inevitable sequel (unless you're Wrath of Khan's director, Nicholas Meyer, who resisted the effort to undo the death of Spock).  Voyage Home, apart from being about whales, also deals with the final consequences of everything that's happened to that point.  Part of me has always been a little annoyed by the fans who talk about Wrath of Khan outside of this context.  It'd be like Star Wars without Empire Strikes Back, or Batman Begins without The Dark Knight.  (Yes, in this context, Sarek is basically Yoda, making my third point all the more intriguing.)  I think half the reason why Final Frontier was considered such a dismal failure was that it had nothing to do with the trilogy, whereas Undiscovered Country did.  It was a disappointment to fans who'd begun viewing the movies as a continuing story.
  • Star Trek talks about religion.  (Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, 1989)  The original series was known for its social commentary.  Aside from the overt environmental concern of The Voyage Home, the movies backed away from that context until Final Frontier.  It's perhaps telling that the first of the movies to let the characters be comfortable being themselves again (the one real link between this movie and the three that preceded it being Spock reintegrating himself into the friendship with Kirk and McCoy) is also the one where they tackle something that's far bigger than themselves but isn't blatantly threatening all life in the universe.  It's the most intimate of the movies, even though it seems like it's another of the late 1980s movies that tried too hard to be epic.  While some episodes from the show certainly touched on religious topics like what happened to the Greek gods, the old taboo of talking about religion rather than judging it paved the way for Deep Space Nine, which based much of the arc of its main character, Benjamin Sisko, on an even more complicated exploration of the topic.  Final Frontier was released at a time when televangelists were a popular phenomenon, so perhaps it's not so surprising that it tackled such a subject.  Most fans thought it was a little much, and the film does end with much the same kind of conclusion as the episodes that came before it, but not before forcing everyone to talk about it.  
  • Resolution of the Klingon problem.  (Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, 1991)  The fall of communism happened around the same time as the release of Undiscovered Country, so it was only natural that Star Trek finally come to some conclusion to its own ongoing cold war, which the films had been teasing for a while, and The Next Generation had already by this point demonstrated as a thing of the past, with the Klingon Worf being a bridge officer under Picard.  The Klingons were one of the more recognizable recurring elements of the original series, making several appearances, and were even featured in the first film, their bold revision being one of its lasting elements.  Search for Spock made them the undisputed enemy of the Federation, but one looking for a future.  Even in Final Frontier they were inescapable; Kirk had to decide if it was more important to keep them as an enemy or use them as an ally.  Finally, in Undiscovered Country the loss of the Klingon Empire's main source of energy was lost and it could no longer support itself.  Kirk needed to overcome once and for all his own ego (thereby bringing the whole film series full-circle), and lead the charge to peace, even if it meant spending time in a Klingon penal colony and exposing a deadly conspiracy that included officers aboard his own ship.    

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

#495. Christmas Blogathon of Doom!!!

Hey!  I'm actually doing it this time!  Briane Pagel has organized this blogathon.  I was supposed to participate last Wednesday, but completely forgot about it.  Not this time!  (And hopefully not the next two Wednesdays, either, because I signed up for those dates as well.)

Anyway!  We're rapidly approaching Christmas!  That means a lot of Christmas TV specials are playing at the moment, because for some reason people don't like watching them at other points in the year.  What's up with that?  Are you next going to tell me that you don't believe in the Christmas Cat?

(For those completely unfamiliar with this blog prior to this past April's 
A-to-Z challenge, which would be all of you, that's the extremely crappy 
mascot of a semi-recurring feature here at Scouring Monk entitled Flawless Kitty Logic)

I will draw inspiration for today's blogathon post from one of these specials.  You will never guess in a million years which one!

Born With a Red Nose

I was born with a red nose.  I have no idea how that happened, because in the years that've followed, I certainly did the research, and no other reindeer in history had one.  I know I have a red nose because everyone I've ever met has told me, "Hey, you have a red nose!"  Eventually Santa decided this could be useful, as not only is my nose red but it glows.  If I were in a comic book, I would be known as a mutant, although I would prefer razor sharp claws to a red nose that glows.
     We can't always get what we want.  I know that as much from my nose as for all the years I've spent at the North Pole, because as you might have heard, even if by some chance you haven't heard about me and my nose, the North Pole is home to Santa and his workshop.  I live just south of the workshop, so don't ask me what it's like.  The closest I've ever gotten is the loading dock where Santa's sleigh is filled every year.  It's a little difficult to ignore the smell of the elves, however.  Whatever else they do in the workshop, I suspect there is no company shower provided for them.  They work all year round. It's okay, though.  They're always singing.  People who sing are by definition happy.  Don't let all your musicals fool you.
     It's not such a bad place to be.  I hear that you think it's pretty cold up here, but as far as I'm concerned, it's pretty warm where you live.  I imagine global warming has something to do with it.  We talk about that crap here, too, although we only really care once a year, which I guess means that Christmas is a little like Earth Day for us.  We don't really think of Christmas for all the holiday cheer you enjoy.  For us it's the day we finally end the fiscal year.  We celebrate the day after.
     For a few months we get to enjoy ourselves, which is when I get to hang out with the wife, the dentist, the prospector, and of course the bumble.  We don't really do much but exchange stories.  Although I have only one responsibility concerning Christmas and it takes one night to achieve, Santa likes to keep me close.  To tell the truth, I think of the reindeer gang and Santa more as family than the wife, but don't tell her that!  We just had a doe, whose nose is white as snow (but that's another story entirely), so I'm definitely happy.  Santa can sometimes stress out, though.  I'm happy to give him moral support, or whatever it is I do.  It's just good to be around him.  His laughter is always infectious, though sometimes a few of us wonder if he doesn't fake it every now and again.  Santa's as genuine as they come, don't get me wrong.  But even he can't live up to his image a hundred percent.  For that kind of commitment to character, your best known attribute has to be firmly planted at the end of your face.  I should know.
     If you don't get what you want this year, please don't assume that it was deliberate.  You have no idea how hectic it is to juggle the wish lists of the entire world's population.  Now if you'll excuse me, I must be going.  Before that, however, here are a few suggestions:

Incidentally, I'm also plugging Mouldwarp Press #1 "Project Mayhem, a new anthology I'm accepting submissions for, details to be found here, and I'd be very happy if you considered participating.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Direct Current #30/Box Office 2000

ITEM!  Tony Laplume - Mouldwarp Press #1 "Project Mayhem" now accepting submissions
This is the culmination of a lot of things, from writing challenges I participated in over the summer to the end of Hall Bros Entertainment, which in some ways began with Dead Letter Quarterly.  Well, now I'm throwing myself into the small press anthology game and this is my first project.  If you want to submit:

Read more here.

ITEM!  Comics Reader - Aquaman #s 0 & 13
Some recent issues from that dude Raj said sucks, but Geoff Johns has been trying really hard to make cool.

Read more here.

ITEM!  Star Trek Fan Companion - The Next Generation 1x8 "Justice"
This episode sucks, but because I'm writing about every episode, I've got to write about this one, too.  If you want to know how it specifically sucks, either I can remind you by saying that it's the one where Wesley is condemned to death, or at your own peril you can:

Read more here.

ITEM!  Examiner - The road to The Hobbit begins with Fellowship of the Ring
I have a look back at Peter Jackson's first Lord of the Rings film and remember the things that helped make it and the rest of the films (and the ones still coming) into such a phenomenon, including great acting from Ian McKellen and Sean Bean.

Read more here.


2000 was the start of the millennium (or if you want to view it that way, the end of the last one), so a lot of people remember it, but I think the hangover from all the partying affected their memory of the movies released that year.  But it wasn't so bad!

1. How the Grinch Stole Christmas ($260 mil)
Like 1999's Phantom Menace, this was the most popular film of 2000 but you'd hardly know it today.  I don't know if it's because it's a holiday movie or people really don't like anyone screwing with Dr. Seuss (who is basically another modern Shakespeare).  Anyway, at least as far as how much money it made, the most popular film to star Jim Carrey.

2. Cast Away ($233 mil)
Tom Hanks spends a lot of time by himself, and some of it with a volleyball named Wilson, and by the end of the movie contradicts all expectations.  I loved it.

3. Mission: Impossible II ($215 mil)
Like Men in Black II, made lots of money, but fans tend to overlook it in the franchise.  Very memorable, thanks to typical John Woo finesse, but not as distinctive as its predecessor.

4. Gladiator ($187 mil)
Revamping the historical epic, Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe make everyone believe that audiences are going to love watching a lot of other movies like this.  They don't.  Long a personal favorite.

5. What Women Want ($182 mil)
The answer at the time was Mel Gibson.  But ask again in about a decade and you're likely to get a different one.

6. The Perfect Storm ($182 mil)
Remains one of George Clooney's highest grossing films, and perhaps the most human of the disaster genre.

7. Meet the Parents ($166 mil)
A phrase that no one thought they'd ever hear: Ben Stiller completes Robert De Niro.

8. X-Men ($157 mil)
And so the Marvel age of movies officially begins.

9. Scary Movie ($157 mil)
Because that's how it was at the time, the spoof of the horror spoof Scream was also a huge hit.

10. What Lies Beneath ($155 mil)
The last time Harrison Ford headlined a blockbuster by his name alone.

Other notable releases: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon ($128 mil), Erin Brockovich ($128 mil; the Julia Roberts Appreciation Campaign ends on a high note), Traffic ($124 mil; the last time before Argo that audiences embraced a socially relevant film), The Nutty Professor II: The Klumps ($123 mil), Big Momma's House ($117 mil; Martin Lawrence begins believing that he is Eddie Murphy, because they starred together in Life), Remember the Titans ($115 mil), The Patriot ($113 mil), Miss Congeniality ($106 mil; Sandra Bullock's big comedy breakthrough), Unbreakable ($95 mil; arguably M. Night Shyamalan's best), Me, Myself and Irene ($90 mil; nutty Jim Carrey), The Emperor's New Groove ($89 mil; completely atypical Disney animated flick is also really awesome), The Family Man ($75 mil; Nicolas Cage does It's a Wonderful Life), Shaft ($70 mil; Samuel L. Jackson in a rare solo hit), Road Trip ($68 mil; the only time Tom Green amused me), The Cell ($61 mil; Jennifer Lopez's last great film, and Tarsem's first), Shanghai Noon ($56 mil; Jackie Chan & Owen Wilson), Romeo Must Die ($55 mil), Final Destination ($53 mil; the start of a signature horror franchise from the new millennium, Finding Forrester ($51 mil: Sean Connery starts the prototypical meme by uttering "You're the man now, dawg"), Dude, Where's My Car? ($46 mil; Ashton Kutcher & Seann William Scott achieve immortality), O Brother, Where Art Thou? ($45 mil; the Coens and George Clooney make old timey magic), Pitch Black ($39 mil; secret origin of Vin Diesel), 28 Days ($37 mil; Sandra Bullock being more sober), Keeping the Faith ($37 mil; Edward Norton being less sober), Thirteen Days ($34 mil; an unofficial sequel to JFK), Almost Famous ($32 mil; made Kate Hudson and Billy Crudup famous), Battlefield Earth ($21 mil; one of the more infamous bombs in box office history), Wonder Boys ($19 mil), Best in Show ($18 mil), Small Time Crooks ($17 mil; a modest success for Woody Allen), All the Pretty Horses ($15 mil; although Penelope Cruz is prettier), American Psycho ($15 mil; Christian Bale's adult career begins), You Can Count on Me ($9 mil), Screwed ($7 mil; an excuse to mention Norm MacDonald), Croupier ($6 mil; taking notice of Clive Owen), The Way of the Gun ($6 mil), The Virgin Suicides ($4 mil; debut of Sofia Coppola, the director), The Tao of Steve ($4 mil), Requiem for a Dream ($3 mil), Bamboozled ($2 mil; Spike Lee does blackface), But I'm a Cheerleader ($2 mil), Hamlet (1 mil; brilliant modern take starring Ethan Hawke), Tigerland ($100 thou; Colin Farrell's breakout role), The Boondock Saints ($30 thou)

Source: Box Office Mojo

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Direct Current #29/Box Office 1999

ITEM!  Comics Reader - Action Comics #14
Grant Morrison's run on this series is coming to a close, and so it's only appropriate that I begin pointing out how it's similar to some of the other work he's done.  Also, please note the backup feature from Sholly Fisch!

Read more here.

ITEM!  Star Trek Fan Companion - The Next Generation 1x7 "Lonely Among Us"
If the title doesn't sound familiar, don't worry.  It's just that kind of an episode.  But don't assume you can skip it!  In a weird kind of way, this pretty much unmemorable episode is a good one as far as the early episodes of Next Generation go.

Read more here.

ITEM!  Tony Laplume - The Age of Convolution
It's funny, because this blog post is also kind of convoluted.  It talks about Oliver Stone's Savages.  It talks about the crappy economy.  It talks about my own fiction.  It talks about Shakespeare!  You may just have to click the link:

Read more here.


In a lot of ways, 1999 was the start of a peculiarly modern trend, in that the most popular movie of a given year was not actually popular.  Or at least, the people who went to see it, among them there was a notably apathetic or cynical or downright hostile element.  You'll see.

1. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace ($431 mil)
Well, that title just about sums it up.  Also, the name "Jar Jar Binks."  But you have to admit, before it was released the whole world unabashedly loved Star Wars, and already loved this movie, and that's why it made so much.  Sometimes the dragons of expectation leave you burned.  That's what the modern era is teaching us more and more.  Sometimes it absolutely works in your favor (Lord of the Rings, Avengers), sometimes it doesn't (or some people will tell themselves).  It depends on whether people have real expectations or not.  Star Wars kept making money with the next two movies, but more and more (some) fans didn't care anymore.  Then Lucas sold his baby to Disney.  I'm writing a lot more about Phantom Menace than is typical in this box office survey because I still have many things to say about what happened to it.  Perhaps it will come as no surprise, but I love it, I really do.  Even with some of the silly antics there's some truly breathtaking and revolutionary filmmaking on display, stuff that no one has been able to approach even today.  I call that a success no matter the reputation.

2. The Sixth Sense ($293 mil)
M. Night Shyamalan was a talent who literally came out of nowhere.  His only other feature length film to this point had been Wide Awake, and I doubt most people are aware of that one even now.  He exploded at the end of that summer, and he became a type overnight, and many of his other films seemed to follow that type, and people assumed they knew exactly what that was.  But I call Shyamalan one of the first victims of the new era.  He's got mad talent.  Hopefully people will be able to see that again, because they definitely saw it in this film.

3. Toy Story 2 ($245 mil)
It's kind of amazing how quickly Pixar went the sequel route, and it's very indicative of the direction that movies were starting to take.  You might even call Toy Story 2 the sequel origin of the modern sequel mania.

4. Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me ($206 mil)
What made this one a success wasn't just that people realized only after the release of the first one how incredibly awesome it was, but that like the Lethal Weapon franchise someone realized that you've always got to add something new to the sequels.  Here it was Mini Me.  The third one did not do the same, and so the franchise ended.  Learned your lesson now?

5. The Matrix ($171 mil)
This is essentially the reason Star Wars "flopped," because all the cool kids glommed onto Neo and his brood, the same way Star Trek started to tank in the '90s when the zeitgeist was stolen by The X-Files.  But you should always be careful.  The cool kids are fickle.  Don't believe me?  Have a look at 2003.

6. Tarzan ($171 mil)
Disney started making male-centered animated movies, and this was the zenith of that trend.  In a lot of ways it's the most traditional of all the movies the studio produced since the 1989 rebirth.  But do you remember it at all?

7. Big Daddy ($163 mil)
Adam Sandler indulges himself, loses the support of the critics (if it ever truly existed), and sets the pattern for his post-wild success career.

8. The Mummy ($155 mil)
Bringing back the monster flicks of yore and attempting to craft Brendan Fraser into Indiana Jones.  Brendan Fraser is great and all, but he is not Indiana Jones.  That's why this is better known as a ensemble franchise.

9. Runaway Bride ($152 mil)
Julia Roberts continues to celebrate her popular comeback by reuniting with Richard Gere.

10. The Blair Witch Project ($140 mil)
The modern horror flick hits the next level.  Also one of the first giant smash indy successes.  Although let's face it, it's a logistical nightmare more than anything.  It features a bunch of kids too stupid to understand they found exactly what they were looking for.  Maybe next time don't obsess over witches?

Other notable releases: Stuart Little ($140 mil; Michael J. Fox makes a popular comeback voicing a mouse), The Green Mile ($136 mil; Frank Darabont and Stephen King add Tom Hanks to the mix and find themselves with a hit), American Beauty ($130 mil; from hence forward the stereotype of indy filmmaking), The World is Not Enough ($126 mil; James Bond falls out of the top ten, but it was a pretty busy year), Wild Wild West ($113 mil; Will Smith's infamous "bomb" is another example of the 1999 phenomenon), Analyze This ($106 mil; Robert De Niro reinvents himself as a comedic actor), American Pie ($102 mil; the start of the youth rush), Entrapment ($87 mil; Catherine Zeta-Jones with the first older man she paired off with), The Talented Mr. Ripley ($81 mil; more like the talented cast), Any Given Sunday ($75 mil; Oliver Stone scores a hit with a football movie), Galaxy Quest ($71 mil; a great parody and a great sci-fi movie), Bowfinger ($66 mil; critics loved this one, but fans of Eddie Murphy and Steve Martin should probably still consider it worth discovering), Life ($63 mil; another excellent Eddie Murphy flick from 1999), Three Kings ($60 mil; George Clooney in another of his early classics), The Cider House Rules ($57 mil; like a lot of people this was the first time I took notice of Michael Caine), Eyes Wide Shut ($55 mil; was supposed to be a standout for every other reason), Varsity Blues ($52 mil; whip cream bikini for Ali Larter), South Park - Bigger, Longer and Uncut ($52 mil; it's funny that both South Park and Family Guy have basically become The Simpsons), The Hurricane ($50 mil; Denzel Washington starts making great films again), 10 Things I Hate About You ($38 mil; audiences take notice of Heath Ledger), Fight Club ($37 mil; sorry, I can't talk about this one), Man on the Moon ($34 mil; another great Jim Carrey film), Instinct ($34 mil; great film starring Anthony Hopkins, Cuba Gooding Jr, and Maura Tierney), The 13th Warrior ($32 mil; great film starring Antonio Banderas), Dogma ($30 mil; Kevin Smith starts to stretch as a filmmaker), The Insider ($29 mil; another great, starring Al Pacino, Russell Crowe, and Christopher Plummer), Girl, Interrupted ($28 mil; audiences take notice of Angelina Jolie), The Iron Giant ($23 mil; the animated movie from 1999 that fans still talk about), Being John Malkovich ($22 mil), Go ($16 mil), Bringing Out the Dead ($16 mil; Martin Scorsese enables Nicolas Cage), Muppets from Space ($16 mil; finally an original movie again, but probably a little too late), Wing Commander ($11 mil; the movie that was eclipsed by Star Wars), Boys Don't Cry ($11 mil; they also don't have boobs like Hilary Swank), The End of the Affair ($10 mil; another personal favorite, but that's true of a lot of movies from 1999), Office Space ($10 mil; one of the great comedies), Mystery, Alaska ($8 mil; Russell Crowe plays hockey), Run Lola Run ($7 mil), Buena Vista Social Club ($7 mil), Topsy-Turvy ($6 mil), Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels ($3 mil), Liberty Heights ($3 mil), The Limey ($3 mil), Cradle Will Rock ($2 mil; so many great performances in this one, but the most notable is Bill Murray's first dramatic turn, which he later turns into a popular comeback), Princess Mononoke ($2 mil), Happy, Texas ($1 mil), The King of Masks ($1 mil), Ride with the Devil ($600 thou), Earth ($400 thou), Trekkies ($300 thou), The War Zone ($200 thou; first movie to feature Colin Farrell), Following (40 thou; Christopher Nolan's first film), Free Enterprise ($30 thou)

I really tried to continue restraining myself, but 1999 was another watershed for me.  There's so many movies worth watching and noting.  If I were to write a book about any one year of movie releases, this would be that year.  (Feel free to throw cash at me so I could take the time to do that.)

Source: Box Office Mojo


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