Friday, July 28, 2006

Weekend Update

Ticket Situation

The ongoing saga of Phoenix tickets is resolved, I bought two off Craigslist. I paid a bit more than I want, but at least I get to the show. They're doing another show here on September 12, but I'll be back at school then. It seems that every year, September and October are full of fantastic shows, while the summer's more fallow. I'm just counting down until next year when I'll be in New York full time. And, it'll be cool to see Phoenix and The New Pornographers next week, they both put on good shows when I saw them earlier this year, though I'm definitely more excited for Phoenix. Hopefully they'll bring back that drummer from the last tour.

The New Film

Today I started production on my new film, All Good Things. This will hopefully be my first feature, which will be cool to have. We shot 11 pages of the 75 page script today and it went very smoothly. Also, I just wrapped up editing on the video I did for Victoria Rocks, I've got to get final approval from her, then I'll put the link on here so you can check it out.

The Fountain Remains Dry

In bad news, The Fountain has been delayed another month. The film is done, why can't they just put it out? I've been waiting for this thing for six years already. It's one thing to delay a film so that the filmmaker can work on it more, it's another to do for marketing reasons or to position a film for Academy Award consideration. I think it would hurt a prestigious film to be released in December, when twelve other prestigious films are being released every week. Whereas if a critically respectable film comes out now, it will stand out. Look at Crash, that's a film that came out in April, was the only respectable film out then and went on to win best picture.

The Colbert Report

I don't usually write about it because it's not particularly suited to analysis, but ever since I've been home from school I've been watching nearly every episode of The Colbert Report. I like The Daily Show but I think it's been eclipsed by its spinoff. The Daily Show usually has a good 10 minutes out of the 22, while Colbert is good for nearly the entire show. The episode last week in which Stephen asks Julian Bond, head of the NAACP, to help him find a new black friend was one of the funniest things I've ever seen. When I saw the first episode, I wasn't sure if the premise could sustain a show, but he's kept up the energy and made it into the most consistently funny show on TV.

The Weekend

This weekend, I'm definitely seeing Miami Vice. On Sunday, I'm shooting more stuff for the film, and on Monday I'm heading into the city to pick up my New Pornographers tickets, which I grabbed cheap off Craigslist. After that, it's back to the workshop for another week of instructing kids on how to make films.

Upcoming Dates of Note

8/3 - New Pornographers at Summerstage
8/7 - Phoenix at Bowery Ballroom
8/8 - Manderlay on DVD
8/15 - Veronica Mars Season 2 on DVD
8/17 - Gnarls Barkley at Summerstage
8/25 - Idlewild Released
8/29 - Arrested Development Season 3 on DVD
9/22 - Science of Sleep Releated
9/24 - The Flaming Lips at Hammerstein
10/20 - Marie Antoinette Released
11/22 - The Fountain Released

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

JLA: New World Order (#1-4)

After last week's read of JLA Classified, I decided it was time to read Morrison's entire JLA run through. I'd read bits and pieces before, but never went through all the issues in order. After reading this, Zenith will be the only longform Morrison work that I haven't read.

The bits of JLA that I did read were a bit frustrating, I don't think I learned to understand Morrison's approach to the character until I read Seven Soldiers. In reading about the DCU, you usually approach it from the perspective of the most powerful people in the entire universe. I'd read interviews where Grant talks about the way that he saw the seven JLA members as a pantheon, he's essentially telling stories about gods, and as a result, every conflict has to be amped up to a ridiculous level in order to be any sort of threat. Reading a book like JLA is the equivalent of looking at the life of someone like George Bush or Brad Pitt, this isn't an average life and you can't expect average problems.

For the characters in Seven Soldiers, the JLA are gods and even one meeting with them can put you on the convention circuit for years. I think it's more interesting to read about the struggles of ordinary people to become great than reading about great people being great, so I was more drawn to Seven Soldiers. However, once you understand what Morrison's doing with the book, it's a lot easier to enjoy it. Reading this book is all about just enjoying the over the top action, ridiculous concepts and imagery that Grant puts forth.

Grant worked on JLA concurrently with The Invisibles and the book itself feels a lot like Invisibles volume two. The texture of the pages and the quality of the art has a lot in common with Jiminez era Invisibles. Grant has talked about how similar ideas wound up in both works, filtered through their different lenses, particularly in the upcoming Rock of Ages. But, it's just notable to return to the era of that work and get a glimpse of where Grant's mind was at.

The best moments of the series are the really pop moments where we get to see the ridiculous cool of our main heroes. Page 1.3 is a great example of this, a bunch of b-list heroes are scrambling, but on the bottom of the page, calmly moving in we see Superman and are informed that "The big guy's on the case." I think it's misguided to try to write Superman as a regular guy, the whole marketing pitch behind Superman Returns was he may be super, but he still hurts. This book acknowledges that Superman is on a totally different level from other superheroes, let alone normal humans, and lets him revel in that greatness. One of the best moments is where he says "This is Superman" and Superman is written in the title font.

Superman is a great character, but the star of the series is undeniably Batman. This incarnation of Batman is basically the ultimate ninja special ops guy, Jack Bauer on crack. The character is so nasty, he manages to be mofre effective at fighting people than any of the superpowered people on the team.

The thing that Morrison manages to do really well is give each member of the team an iconic moment that makes you understand how far above ordinary people they are. There's the great scene where the Flash opens a lock instantly, Green Lantern asks him how he knew the combination and Flash says I just tried a thousand different combinations until I got to the one that worked. This guy thinks in a totally different way than ordinary people and I imagine Morrison thinking all the time about unique uses for these peoples' powers.

The major issue I have with the arc is the fact that I think it'd be more exciting to have the Hyperclan come in and actually show up the JLA and be proactive in changing the world, rather than turn out to be rather stock villains. The design on the Hyperclan hasn't aged well and it's odd to see a duplicate of The Invisibles' Boy, only with much larger breasts. The story is rather prescient in presenting an Authority-esque superhero team to challenge the old JLA. I'm guessing that the story is meant to be a meta narrative designed to justify the JLA's place in the world. These new Image style heroes can come in and kill people, but ultimately their heroism is a shallow ineffecient one against the real power and moral authority of the JLA. Their solutions are ineffective in the long term, just like no matter how many new comic books come out, the characters in the JLA will almost always outlast the new trendy characters.

But, at the same time it's a bit odd for Morrison to be promoting the conservative, institutional heroes at the JLA over these proactive guys with new ideas. The Hyperclan have more in common with The Invisibles than the JLA does. But, he does always return to the breaking down of dualism. So, this story shows that reckless shows of surface change aren't lasting, as Superman says, you can't force people to become better, they have to do it on themselves, the JLA are just a security measure there to protect people when they fall. So, this is Morrison creating a vision of a utopian policeforce, one that is there to help people grow, not hold them back.

JLA feels less distinctly Morrison than the vast majority of his works. When Morrison started New X-Men there was the sense of a vast change in the universe to date. I haven't read much other JLA, but this feels much more like an amping up of what was already there than a reinvention. He's not out to reinvent the wheel here, rather he's hoping to tell the craziest, poppest superhero stories possible and I think he succeeds.

The read will continue and I'll be blogging it all. So, look for thoughts on American Dreams soon.

Related Posts
Seaguy (4/9/2005)
Seven Soldiers: Wrap Up (6/28/2006)
JLA: Classified #1-3 (7/16/2006)

Monday, July 24, 2006

Altman's Images

At first it started out as Altman week, then I bumped it up to Altman month, but I'm thinking that this may have to be the Summer of Altman! The man's made a lot of films, so I'll have plenty to see to carry me through the next month and a half. Yesterday's stop on the summer of Altsanity was Images, a film that comes from the same weird dreamy mold as 3 Women.

This film is far removed from what's typically considered Altmanesque, there's no overlapping dialogue and only five people in the entire cast. You'd be hard pressed to find a minute of Nashville with only five people in it. I hadn't heard much about this dreamy Altman stuff and it's fascinating to discover these films because they're so ambiguous and challenging. Images takes place in an entirely subjective world, we're immersed in Cathryn's mind and see all her delusions and hallucinations. The film has a lot of horror elements and some impressive scares, but it works because it remains more interested in depicting the character's struggle than scaring the audience. A lot of unsuccessful films fail because they're trying to appeal to the audience rather than staying true to the characters' story. This is particularly true in comedies and horror movies where there's an easy measure of audience reaction. If people aren't laughing or scared, you could think that your film is a failure, or it could mean that the film works on a more subtle level than typical genre fare.

I read an article in the New York Times magazine Sunday about horror films and in it, the Pang brothers were talking about how American audiences need to everything explained. In most of these new wave Asian horror films there is no logical explanation for what happens. A film like The Ring has a great setup, but there's no satisfying answer for the film's mysteries. So, the joy of the film has to be in just experiencing the horror rather than seeking an answer. However, the fact that there's no way to make the horror element make sense doesn't mean that the character arcs shouldn't make sense. A film like A Tale of Two Sisters doesn't fail because the story makes little sense, it fails because the filmmaker puts scares ahead of logical character development. That's the sort of film that could work if it was made by a supreme stylist like Wong Kar-Wai, where the film's so beautiful you don't even care if it makes character or narrative sense. However, it was not.

Anyway, Altman's Images has a lot in common with recent Asian horror films. I think the first appearance of Rene in their apartment is a great scare moment and the overmodulated uniquely 70s sound of Cathryn's scream is viscerally disturbing. However, the film is more about exploring Cathryn's psychosis. She is filled with guilt for cheating on her husband, this guilt is manifested in the hallucination of Rene. Whenever she's alone, this guilt plagues her, blurring the line between fantasy and reality.

Cathryn's vivid imagination is evidenced by the film's narration, a story about a unicorn that she most likely made up during her summers up at the cabin alone when she was younger. Because they're in such an isolated place, her sense of internal tumult is magnified. Everyone she runs into ties into a memory, a piece of her psyche that she doesn't necessarily want to deal with.

Rene lingers in her mind, distracting her from her relationship with Hugh and also magnifying Hugh's inadequecies. When she shoots Rene, she shoots a camera, the instrument used to preserve images. Clearly she's trying to rid herself of unwanted memories, however it's not so easy. Marcel remains, offering her the chance to cheat in the present. By the film's end, she's killing all the hallucinations, trying to lay waste to her demons, and she does that to the hallucination of Marcel.

While at the cabin, Cathryn meets Susannah, a younger incarnation of herself. Meeting Susannah puts her back in the fantasy mindset she held when she was younger, and she turns reality into a stage to play out the imagined narrative. A critical line is when Susannah says that if she doesn't have any friends, she'll make some up to play with. That's essentially what Cathryn has done, create fictional versions of people she knows as a way to deal with her emotional issues.

However, Susannah becomes delusional enough by the end that she sees Hugh as a version of herself and kills him. Her reality and interior world has merged, leading her to believe that she can murder people without consequence. I feel like the version of herself that's also Hugh is meant to be her personal weakness. Hugh is constantly shown as less manly and mature than her other men, a boyish American rather than the European men. Also, she clearly feels that she's remaining weak and allowing Hugh to cheat on her, so all her weakness is mixed up in this version of herself. By killing it, she thinks she can overcome her problems and become stronger, however, she's so gone at this point that she can't tell the difference between reality and delusion.

I don't think the film is as successful as 3 Women, though it was clearly a stopping point on the road to that film. Both films deal with shifting identities in a dreamlike world. The film that this really reminded me of is Lynch's Lost Highway. Both films feature a hero trapped in a lifeless marriage who wanders into a psychological dreamworld built on guilt and shame. Images has a bunch of interesting stylistic touches, the dream montage when Cathryn stands outside the door and the opening with the shifting Cathryns when they first get to the cabin.

I also like the way Altman plays with identity by having all the characters named after other actors in the movie. So, Susannah York plays Cathryn and Cathryn Harrison plays Susannah. I'd imagine it was a confusing set, but it's an interesting meta commentary on the shifting of identities involved in acting.

So, this was another great Altman film. The man was doing all kinds of stuff in the 70s. Next up in my Altman journey will be California Split. And as a bonus, here's my ranking of all the Altman films I've seen.

McCabe and Mrs. Miller
3 Women
A Prarie Home Companion
Short Cuts
The Long Goodbye
The Player

Related Posts
Short Cuts (6/10/2005)
McCabe and Mrs. Miller (5/11/2006)
Nashville (7/7/2006)

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Elysian Fields @ Joe's Pub

I don't know what an Elysian Fields show would be like at a larger venue like Irving Plaza. Most bands who play live are trying to psych you up, get a big reaction from the crowd, make you sing along and get involved. If your audience just stood there silent, you'd probably be doing something wrong. However, at an Elysian Fields show, that rapt silence is the default mode while they're playing, followed by clapping after they finish. The audience isn't wrapped up in the music becuase they're doing so much, rather it's the minimalism, the skillful playing that draws you into the world of their songs.

This show was even more restrained than the show at Tonic in March. For some songs that worked well, others I found could have used a little bit more. At this show, they played almost exclusively from Bum Raps and Love Taps, their newest album. There was a bit off Dreams that Breathe Your Name, and I don't think anything off of the first two albums. In addition, there were a couple of new tracks, including one they also played at the Tonic show that's about "A Dirty Rotten Bastard who turns you on." That song is a bit more cabaret than their other stuff and it would be interesting to see them go in that direction on a whole album.

The way they were set up here, everything was built around Jennifer's vocals. She carried almost every song, with only occasional moments when the piano and guitar were spotlighted. The highlight of the show was "Passing on the Stairs," with Oren and Jennifer together on vocals backed by an accordian. If I have one complaint about their live show it's that I'd like a drummer backing them on all the tracks, not just occasionally when Oren plays drums. That would make it sound a bit fuller, as it does on the recordings. I wouldn't want heavy drums, rather just something to contribute to the mood they've already created so expertly.

But, the show still works great without that. I like the fact that they keep the focus on the music, rather than on showmanship. Their music creates a moody world and seeing them live lets you get lost in that world.

Related Posts
Lovage: Music to Make Love to Your Old Lady By (11/19/2004)
Elysian Fields @ Tonic (3/18/2006)