Saturday, January 31, 2009

Final Confusion

So, DC's Final Crisis event mini-series came to a close this week with Final Crisis #7. I've now read seven issues, plus a prologue and around ten or so tie-in issues and miniseries.

I have no idea what went on.

I usually love Grant Morrison's writing. Sure, he's often times bizarre and his concepts can render his stories almost incomprehensible, but he also wrote one of the tightest, most exciting and most straight ahead comic book runs ever; his JLA run. So I'd seen him rein in his weirdo style before, or at least apply to a story that wasn't so avant garde as to make your nose bleed. All Star Superman was like that, and it was one of the best superhero series I've read in the last decade.

Now, I've read DC comics all my life, and I like to think that I've got a pretty good knowledge of its history and continuity, but somewhere between Tawky Tawny, Sonny Sumo, all the Monitors who all look the same, new New Gods and.......jesus, it's tiring just writing it. The scenes were more like summaries and snapshots rather than scenes, and I would be hard-pressed to tell you how things ended or what things meant.

Maybe I'll read it again and get more out of it. Right now, I'm just confused.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Best Films of 2008 - Part 2

Here's the final five in my best of list for 2008.

5 - Milk - A stirring, moving and inspirational film about the first gay man elected to public office in the U.S, anchored by some truly great performances and utterly sublime direction from Gus Van Sant, who proves to be one of the few film makers in America that can move effortlessly between risky independent films (Elephant, Gerry) and films with broad appeal (Good Will Hunting). Milk falls in the last category, but is not less powerful and, in its own way, risky. Sean Penn gives a great performance, bereft of his usual tragic overtones, and makes a strong case for stating that Milk was as important in his own way as any other civil rights leader. In these times, where those in the GLBT minority are struggling to obtain equal rights, a film could not be more timely.

4 - Slumdog Millionaire - Every year has a little film that could, and this is certainly the one for 2008. It's a joyful tale of love overcoming great odds, the power of fate, and the ability of a person to rise above adversity provided they have the will. I didn't fall for the film as much as others did, unable to see past a couple narrative shortcuts, but the film still manages to suck you in, particularly in its depiction of the brutal early years of its orphaned characters. The basic goodness of the central character becmomes all the more moving after becoming more familiar with his soul-crushing childhood. The story is constructed in an interesting and novel way, unspooling its revelations in an engrossing way.

3 - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - David Fincher is one of the most underrated American filmmakers. His last film Zodiac was almost totally unappreciated, and was one of the best films of last year. This year, he directs a film that is equal part fable, romance and drama. Brad Pitt gives a stellar performance, successfully conveying the vast sadness and subtle detachmnet of a man who is always out of step with those around him, even as he enriches the lives of those he encounters and allows them to enrich him. His unique condtion of aging backwards exposes the audience to the fragility of life in a fresh way that we usually don't pay attention to. Cate Blanchett is her customary luminous self, and Fincher uses high-tech visual wizardry in the best way possible.

2 - The Wrestler - Mickey Rourke gives the best performance of the year in one of the year's best films. It's a bleak, affecting and hugely emotional story of a man who comes to realize that he is truly only good at one thing in his life, and Rouke's depiction of that man's struggle and ultimate realization is made even more amazing by how incredibly honest and personal it is. It's a textbook for actors, and it's backed up by a strong script and Darren Aronofsky's bare bones direction. It's a film that avoids cliches and any sense of the Hollywood ending. Rourke's performance may be stronger than the acutal film, but as it's a character study of Rourke's wrestler, it doesn't matter in the slightest.

1 - The Dark Knight - A dark, complex and challenging film that also happens to be a Hollywood blockbuster. The Dark Knight's predecessor, Batman Begins, was well-done certainly, but it didn't rise above the level of comic book film. This film succeeds in surpassing all expectations, commenting on how society deals with threats it doesn't fully understand and can't control. It examines the lines we're willing to cross to provide security and order, which is timely in this age of waterboarding and wiretapping. Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine and Aaron Eckhart all give solid performances, but it is the late Heath Ledger who delivers a truly mesmerizing performance as the Joker. It sets the bar so high, one wonders if the franchise s capable of ever again matching it. It will now be the bar all other comic book movies must meet.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The 10 Best Films of 2008 - Part 1

Well, we're well into 2009 now, and I know that most of the critics have already released their top ten lists, but I'm just a lowly blogger with a 7 month old, so it's taken me a little longer to see all the contenders. So, without further ado, here's the first part of my top ten list of 2008.

10 - In Bruges - Martin McDonagh is one of the great playwrights working today, with a masterful command of how to use the blackest of black comedy to great effect. His directorial debut was released earlier in the year and was largely overlooked, which is a shame. It's the story of two hitmen sent by their boss to the flemish city to hide out after a job gone tragically wrong. Ray (Colin Farrell) has nothing but contempt for Bruges, while Ken (Brendan Gleeson) finds himself deeply affected by it and acts like any other tourist would. It's probably the funniest film of the year, but it is still deeply moving and a true original.

9 - Frost/Nixon - I've always had a little antipathy when it comes to Ron Howard. He has certainly made some great movies (A Beautiful Mind, Cinderella Man, Apollo 13, Parenthood) and also some bad ones (The Da Vinci Code, The Missing, How the Grinch Stole Christmas), but I've rarely detected a point of view, a style, or a passion behind the film making. He's technically great, but his films often feel bloodless. I'm happy to say that Frost/Nixon is one his best films, and also features two great performances by Frank Langella and Michael Sheen. It's a compelling depiction two men, each in possession of large egos, each with everything riding on the outcome of the pivotal interviews. In this case, Howard's detached style helps the audience focus entirely on the performances.

8 - Iron Man - Anchored by Robert Downey Jr.'s fabulously free-form and winning performance, Iron Man is a welcome return to well-crafted, gleeful blockbusters after a decade of trying to insert depth. Jon Favreau directs a cast that seems to be having a great time and oversees a witty, smart, action-packed script. The final battle is a little underwhelming, but it more than leaves you wanting more from Tony Stark, and its post-credits hint at establishing a cinematic version of the Marvel Universe is a novel approach to creating a franchise. The next installment can't come soon enough.

7 - Tell No One - I know that it was released a few years ago in France, but it was only released here in Canada this past year, so I'm counting it. Tell No One is one of the most amazing thrillers to come out in a long time. Francois Cluzet plays a doctor whose supposedly dead wife seems to be alive, and that's just the simple set up for this twisty, perplexing thriller. There are times when the plot contrivances are a little much, but if you meet it halfway, you'll find one of the most satisfying and thrilling films made in years.

6 - Wall-E - Everytime I see a trailer for a Pixar film, I always wonder if this will be the film that misses for the animation giant. Every time, I'm proven wrong. From Toy Story on, Pixar has yet to make a bad film. Some of the films haven't been as amazing as others, but Wall-E stands with the best of their films, alongside Finding Nemo, The Incredibles and Ratatouille. Wall-E is touching without dipping headlong into sentimentality, it's effortlessly funny and beautiful to look at. As an added wonder, I cannot fathom how such an anti-corporate film got made a major studio, let alone Disney! I know that Pixar's streak can't go on forever, but the care and craft they put into each film is something at which we should marvel.

See you soon for the final five!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

RIP : Patrick McGoohan

More sad news from Hollywood; Patrick McGoohan passed away yesterday at the age of 80.

McGoohan rose to fame playing British spy John Drake on Danger Man, a British series that aired as Secret Agent in the US. He was reportedly offered the role of James Bond in 1962, but he turned it down, purportedly because he considered the character too immoral.

In 1967, he created The Prisoner. Some would regard the series as a sequel to Danger Man, with the series being the surreal and complex story of a secret agent who resigns and is then abducted to a bizarre village where people have numbers, not names, and where a succession of "Number 2"s try to uncover the reason behind his resignation.

It was a bizarre, complex, absurd and somewhat mystifying series about identity and individuality. It only ran for 17 episodes, but it would become one of the earliest cult TV shows, and remains one of the most innovative and original series in TV history. McGoohan was the driving force, creating, producing and writing much of the show.

In the 1970s, he turned to American film and television. He appeared in Escape from Alcatraz and Silver Streak, and won an Emmy for an appearance on Columbo, one of many appearances on the show. He would also direct many episodes of the detective series.

In 1995, he appeared in Braveheart, and it was among his final roles. It looks like Number 6 has finally escaped.

RIP : Ricardo Montalban

Sad news came yesterday, as Hollywood legend Ricardo Montalban passed away at the age of 88.

Montalban was signed to a contract at MGM in the 1940s following years of working in film in Mexico. He would carve out a stereotypical niche for himself as the Latin Lover, even while working to improve conditions and opportunities for Latinos. He appeared in numerous roles, notably opposite Esther Williams.

When MGM dropped his contract in 1953, he would go to Broadway, appearing in Don Juan in Hell and earning a Tony nomination for Jamaica. He would continue to appear in occasional films, but he also turned to television. In 1967, he made a memorable appearance as the villainous Khan Noonien Singh in the second season of Star Trek.

In the 1970s, he gained his greatest fame as the mysterious Mr. Roarke, the man in charge of Fantasy Island. The series was a huge hit, running from 1978 to 1984. During this period, he also had his greatest role on film, reprising his role of Khan in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

In later years, he returned to film, even though he was confined to a wheelchair. He continued to work for Latino causes until his death.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Matt Smith is the Doctor

Well, it's official; 26 year old Matt Smith will take over the role of the Doctor from outgoing actor David Tennant following the last of this year's specials.

Smith will be the youngest actor to take on the role, the previous record held by Peter Davison, who was 29 when he assumed the role in 1981.

Okay, obviously, this guy doesn't have the world's largest resume, being only 26, but he has made a splash in the London theatre scene. He appeared in History Boys, as well as starring alongside Christian Slater in a West End production of Swimming with Sharks. He has appeared on television alongside Billie Piper in The Ruby in the Smoke and The Shadow in the North. He also starred in the recent political drama Party Animals.

I personally think he looks more like he should be the lead singer for Good Charlotte than an immortal time lord, but you can read the BBC article about his casting here. Time will tell, I suppose.