Friday, March 30, 2007

Adam Sandler = Bob Dylan?

I'm sure I'm not the only one to notice this, but doesn't Adam Sandler's character in Reign Over Me look a lot like Bob Dylan?

I smell Oscar bait. Quick get those guys responsible for Ray on the phone.

I can imagine the scene where Bobby D. is touring England and being booed for going electric. What does the soft tempered Dylan do? Well suddenly his soft-spoken attitude is interrupted by psychotic screams. Hilarious! Oh, and then he has to fart into the microphone, you just cannot forget that old comedic standby.

The Acadamy has ignored Adam Sandler for too long. It's time for him to pull a Robin Williams. Do you think old Bobby D. will be as upset about this upcoming film as he was about the Edie Sedgwick film Factory Girl? Only the inevitable nature of this film will make us sure.

My only question is, can they get anyone who looks less like Andy Warhol than Guy Pierce for the inevitable Andy Warhol scene?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


300 (2/5)

Last Friday I saw a matinee of 300.

After the movie I had a cavity filled at my dentist. When they asked me if I wanted any painkillers I told them that Spartans didn’t have pain killers. When Spartans were born they were subjected to years of dental checkups without Novocain. They would have mouths of cavities filled without one shot of anesthesia. When they drilled into my tooth I gave out a scream. A warrior scream, not a girly scream, never a girly scream. I cried “We are Sparta!” Well, it sounded more like “Eee aaw Staaata!” Of course, the dentist did wonder why I came in greased up and in an ancient loincloth, but then again she probably didn’t see the movie.

That night my girlfriend tried to fry me some tofu. I wouldn’t stand for it. “I don’t eat my tofu fried,” I said, “I eat my tofu raw!” I grabbed the uncooked tofu and ripped its slippery flesh with my newly cleaned incisors. “This is madness,” she exclaimed. “No,” I said, “this…is…tooooofuuuu!”

By chance three of my friends from Ohio visited me that weekend. That Saturday the three of us met up with a friend of mine from Boston. He brought four people with him. “You only brought three drinkers with you?” he questioned. “How many alcoholics do you have among you?” I asked. Two Bostonians sheepishly raised their hands. “O, H” I yelled. To which my three friends replied “I, O.” “You see,” I said, “I brought more alcoholics than you.”

At least that’s how I pictured my life after seeing this movie. Too bad I just felt lethargic.

300 is the story of Thermopylae, where three-hundred Spartans defended Greece against an onslaught of Persians. Of course, historically speaking, there were plenty of other Greeks and lots of help from the Athenian navy, but don’t let history get in the way of a good yarn.

The whole battle starts off from a little misunderstanding. A Persian messenger comes to King Leonidas and asks for him to pay tribute and bow before Xerxes. Well, apparently Spartans don’t bow because the messenger finds himself looking for the bottom of a bottomless pit. Much of the dialogue is concerned with what Spartans do and do not. “Spartans are this and Spartans are that.” It’s all very boring. In fact, they should have replaced every word with variations on Sparta. “Sparta Sparta Spartans. SPARTA!”

Right now you’re probably thinking to yourself, “well, you already made fun of the historical inaccuracies and the dialogue, but I really just came to the movie for the action.” That’s all fine and good except for the fact that even the action sucks. Sure, the choreography isn’t too bad, but the film is almost entirely shot in slow motion. In fact, there’s about a half-hour of film stretched out to two hours. I was waiting for the dialogue to be slowed down and the inevitable “nooooooooooo” but alas the film did not deliver. Slow motion should be used for emphasis, but when every action scene is in slow motion then it loses its impact. It’s kind of like using a highlighter to highlight an entire book instead of just the great passages.

There’s also an inordinate amount of homoeroticism, which isn’t a problem in and of itself, but the fact that the filmmakers seem absolutely unaware of it is rather odd. For example, Leonidas calls the Athenians “boy lovers” but then goes and greases himself up, puts on a Speedo, and then hangs out with 299 nearly naked greased up men. It’s kind of like the pot calling the kettle black. Despite an attempt at showing a romantic relationship between Leonidas and his queen, the only convincing relationship is between the captain’s son and the “fight in the shade” guy (I don’t think we hear more than two or three names throughout the movie). I was barraged by a series of come hither glances and double entendre and halfway through the movie I wanted to tell the two to get a goddamn room.

I could continue and complain about lack of characterization, the inane queen plot, or some of the more laughable visual choices but what I really want to talk about is The Watchmen. A Watchmen film has been rumored for years and it seems that 300 director Zach Snyder has finally gotten his CGI obsessed hands on it. The Watchmen is the holy grail of comic books and was even chosen by Time as one of the all time greatest novels alongside The Grapes of Wrath and The Sound and the Fury. It’s some heavy stuff with lots of post-modern implications and a questioning of superheroes in general. However, Snyder’s handling of 300 has made it evident he does not have the intelligence to handle a Watchmen film.

300 is pretty faithful to the comic book, but in one of the tiniest changes it betrays a complete misunderstanding of Frank Miller’s intent. One of Snyder’s more awkward visual was his attempt at tearing Ephialtes from the page and put him on the screen. As expected, Ephialtes looks like a guy with lots of makeup and a fake humpback. It’s almost Ed Woodesque. In both the comic and the movie Ephialtes explains that he was born as a Spartan but because of his malformation he was whisked away by his mother to avoid being cast off a cliff. Since that time his father raised him as a Spartan and taught him how to fight. Ephialtes implores Leonidas to allow him to join the Spartans in their battle but Leonidas explains that because of Ephialtes’ physical shape he is unable to raise his shield high enough to protect the other Spartans in their famous Phalanx formation.

This is where Snyder changes Miller’s words and also shows he doesn’t understand the complexities of a mostly undemanding comic book. In Miller’s version Leonidas tells Ephialtes “I can’t use you” and then turns his back as Ephialtes jumps off a cliff. In the film Leonidas suggests that Ephialtes carry the dead off the battlefield or take other non-combat jobs before he throws himself off a cliff. Later in the story it is Ephialtes who betrays the Spartans by showing Xerxes the pass that allows him to outflank their position. In Miller’s version, if Leonidas, and by extension, Spartan society could have mustered the imagination to find a place in society for everyone, then they would never have been outflanked. While most of 300 the comic book exalts the Spartans, Miller still has the insight to slyly critique some of their shortcomings. Snyder completely misses this point, and while reading the comic probably wondered why Leonidas wasn’t a little gentler to poor Ephialtes and decided to add the line about carrying dead off the battlefield. This was a mistake. If Snyder isn’t able to understand the slight complexities of 300 then there’s no way he’s going to understand the mass complexities of Alan Moore’s Watchmen. The only hope is that Snyder keeps close enough to the source material that he stumbles upon some of Alan Moore’s brilliance.

300 was disappointing, but it was also an adaptation I wasn’t expecting, or would have immediately thought “hey, what a great property for film adaptation,” but Watchmen is. I’ll just have to keep telling myself that I’ll always have the original no matter how badly Zack Snyder fucks up the only graphic novel that matters.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon (4/5)

Before reading this book I had heard point of references ranging from The Catcher in the Rye to On the Road. After reading the book the comparisons don’t quite mesh. In fact, I think the best point of reference would be The Great Gatsby. Certainly not in quality, I would never make that blasphemous claim for fear the literary gods would strike me down where I stand, but rather there are similarities in structure. Imagine, if you will, a world where, like Gatsby, there are two sets of couples (Nick/Jordan and Tom/Daisy) as well as a love triangle (Gatsby, Tom, and Daisy). Of course, in Chabon’s version Nick is sexually attracted to Gatsby.

Stick with me here. In Mysteries the narrator, Art, enters the social circle of Arthur, Cleveland, and Jane. Cleveland and Jane are a dysfunctional couple embroiled in a good old fashioned love/hate relationship. Art starts seeing Phlox, a rather annoying and unsympathetic homophobe. At the same time Art and Arthur have budding feelings. I’ll diagram it for you:

Art and Arthur (sexual attraction)
Art and Phlox (couple)
Art and Jane/Cleveland (friends through Arthur)
Arthur and Phlox (frienemies)
Arthur and Jane/Cleveland (friends)

Yeah, I know that the love triangle is all mixed up, but you have to admit that structures are similar. This leads to an obvious question: were Nick and Gatsby gay? It has been suggested in some circles that 19th century American literature is preoccupied with “blackness”, slavery in particular. After all, in a society that claims to put equality at the center of its creed, to have completely marginalized a segment of our population has to affect our national psyche and our perception of ourselves. Likewise, in the 20th century, as gender roles became more fluid, perhaps the idea of homosexuality latched on to the national sub-consciousness. I don’t have a whole lot of evidence to back this up, but it’s interesting to think about.

Back to The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. Like most coming of age novels (of all ages) this one is light on plot. There is an unconvincing subplot about organized crime which leads to the eventual (albeit predictable) tragedy at the end of the book. Where the novel really shines is in the language and characters. Chabon has always had a way with metaphor and simile and it’s impressive he had all but mastered these techniques so early in his career. The characters themselves are whimsical and uncertain. In fact the only character who, my opinion is completely certain is Phlox, and she is certain of her bigotry. This uncertainty perfectly captures the feeling of teetering on the edge of adulthood. The characters are so finely drawn that when characters change their bed-partners it feels earned and not gimmicky.

At times Chabon suffers from a case of aggrandizement, something he would learn to wield more confidently in his more panoramic novels and make his drawback a strength. While this tendency to go over-the-top doesn’t work as well in a contained summer of uncertainty, it worked perfectly in the decades spanning Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.

For those with an undying love for the twenty-something coming of age novel, then this should feed your hunger. For those, like me, who fell in love with Chabon’s writing when they read Kavalier and Clay, I would recommend seeing how the maestro started out. It’s a strong opener to a strong career.


Break out the champaign, it's time to celebrate!

Fifteen minutes ago "Scooter" Libby was found guilty on four of five counts of obstruction of justice, making false statements, and perjury. While he wasn't found guilty of making false statements to the FBI, I'm still pleased as punch that the jury had the insight to get him on the other four charges.

This is the first time any accountability has been handed down to George W.'s White House, and while it's not much, it's still an uniquivical condemnation of an administration out of control. Maybe rule of law is a little slow to catch up but thank the gods it's hasn't absconded with separation of powers and disappeared for good. Hopefully this is merely the beginning and next we have Congressional committees look at the war profiteers at Haliburton. I'll take some solace in the fact that Scooter's new place will be minimally funded by the Federal government, at least until he's pardoned right before Bush leaves office. Let's hope this is just a taste of things to come.