Saturday, September 02, 2006

JLA: Crisis Times Five (#28-31)

This storyline works in a similar way as a lot of the other big, multi-part arcs that Morrison has done, piling crisis on crisis, swamping the JLA with the sheer amount of things they've got to deal with. As usual, some of them are traditional superhero stuff while some are crazy cosmic things. Crisis Times Five encapsulates a lot of what's good about Morrison's run, but it also feels a bit conventional. Of course, reading the Mark Waid issues surrounding it show that Morrison's conventional writing still trumps nearly anything else out there.

There are two really fantastic pieces of this storyline. The first is Zauriel and old Green Lantern's trip to heaven to try to wake the Spectre. Here we get a great Morrison concept, the idea that the Spectre has been imprisoned by planting a civilization on him. So, waking the Spectre to save Earth would mean destroying an entire world. It's a clear precursor of stuff that Morrison deals with in The Filth, the idea that smaller microbial worlds are as equally valid as the one we think is real. As above, so below was the big thing from that series, and this civilizatiion on the Spectre parallels the way our own bodies house billions of microbes.

In one of the most stunning pages in any Morrison work, we see Zauriel watch the growth and decline of this entire world over the course of billions of years, experienced in an hour. I love the idea that they move so slow they seem like statues to the people in the world. It's simple, yet mindblowing.

The other really cool thing here is Green Lantern and Captain Marvel's trip to the fifth dimension. In looking at The Invisibles, I was struggling to come up with a way to comprehend the idea of 4-D time as described in the series. Eventually, I realized that people looking at our world from a 4-D perspective would see it much like a comic book, each seperate moment frozen in time, the people involved unaware of their future even though we could see it by just flipping forward a few pages. So, all of time always exists, it's all about which piece it you choose to experience at any moment.

What Morrison does here is take that metaphor but put it to work within the comic book world. In the fifth dimension, Green Lantern becomes a 2-D figure with no depth, just a piece of paper. All the stuff there is great, Captain Marvel's goofiness maximized by the retro coloring and Green Lantern still in awe of the crazy stuff he gets to experience. For Morrison, the fifth dimension is one of pure imagination, by writing something Captain Marvel is able to make it real. Morrison's a big proponent of chaos magic and sigils, the idea that concentrated thought can affect the nature of reality. What Marvel does by skywriting the two colors together is essentially cast a sigil that quickly becomes reality.

The storyline that isn't particularly successful here is Triumph's attempt to defeat the JLA. His elaborate masterplan is too close to what Prometheus and the Keymaker already did and there's nothing particularly interesting about his struggle. The stuff with the two genies is decent, but they end up feeling more like just really big bad guys than a particularly exceptional fifth dimension threat.

That said, I d enjoy the stuff with Huntress and Wildcat fighting them on the streets. I read this trade a few years ago, without reading the rest of the series, and I remember being annoyed by the sudden appearance of these random characters like Wildcat, on top of the already huge cast. However, reading the series through, you really get to know all the main cast, and the guest appearance of Wildcat serves a crucial role in the ongoing evolution of Huntress as a JLA member. Her arc has been the most interesting character development during Grant's run. She's still not sure why she's on the team, but always seems to wind up serving some crucial role in the JLA victory. By this point, and in the subsequent Mark Waid issues, she seems to have realized that her role is to be the ordinary citizen, the voice of humanity on the JLA, and she serves that purpose well.

Back when I started doing these JLA reviews, I talked about the fact that the book was about icons, so the stories couldn't be traditional narratives, they had to play more on the characters as mythology, gods. That's why I think Morrison chose to bring in the secondary cast, people who didn't have huge powers and were actually vulnerable to attack. For one thing, they can actually be in danger, as Steel is in this storyline, but they also have more doubts about the JLA's purpose. All of the secondary seven are uncertain why they're there, but gradually proving themselves through battle. So, there is a clear character progression even though each of these arcs is essentially standalone. I'd previous read the series in just random chunks, but it's definitely something that should be read in order.

Crisis Times Five is perhaps the representative Morrison JLA arc, containing the crazy concepts, subtle character development and innovative use of DC history that make it great and the weaknesses as well, too many villains who seemingly have the ultimate key to the JLA and a repetitive structure of threat appears, creates chaos then gets stopped. But, the flaws don't prevent this from being a really fun arc that towers over the other writers working on JLA. To think that something full of this many crazy concepts could be the top selling comic shows that in at least one medium, you can still do really great, innovative work in a mainstream context.

Related Posts
JLA: Return of the Conqueror (#22-23) (8/10/2006)
JLA: One Million (8/19/2006)
JLA: Executive Action (#24-26) (8/24/2006)

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Ellie Parker

Yesterday I watched the film Ellie Parker, a DV feature starring Naomi Watts. As a big David Lynch fan, this film is interesting because it's like another chapter in the story of Naomi's Mulholland Dr. character. If her friend Sam from this film got big, I could easily see their relationship segueing into the story of Diane and Camilla. I don't think this film is anywhere near as good as Mulholland, but it's not setting out to tell a story with that ambition, rather this film is concerned with reality of everyday life for an aspiring actress. It takes place in a world that feels very real, and I would guess is largely based on Watts' own experience as a struggling actress in L.A.

She's in virtually every scene, so the film pretty much is Naomi Watts' performance, and again she proves that she's one of the best actresses working today. Her work in the audition scene in Mulholland Dr. is one of my favorite all time acting moments, and here we get to see her similarly move in and out of different characters, shining above the subpar scripts she's sent. It's easy to see how a great actress can make even bad material work really well when she delivers the "I sucked Vinnie's cock" monologue with total commitment to the role. At the end, surrounded by coked out producers, she still gives her all and sells the script.

Being somewhat involved in the film industry, I feel like I can better sympathize with what Ellie goes through over the course of the film. I'm still in school, making films that may get some festival play, but not too much, and certainly won't make any money. Yet, when I held auditions for The Perfect Dose, we got tons of people, some of them who had traveled hours just to audition. I'd like to consider that a compliment to the script, but it's also about the fact that people are desperate for roles to put stuff on their reel and try to get cast in bigger roles. As an actress, she's totally powerless, forced to grovel to the producers because they hold the way for her to her name out there. Witness the scene with Chris after the car crash, in which she offers to appear in basically anything he does, just so she can get something on her reel.

I think the opening chunk of the film, depicting Ellie moving from audition to audition, does a fantastic job of drawing you into her world and showing what it's actually like for a struggling actress. It's only a glamorous world once you become famous, for the vast majority of actors, it's all about slumming it, trying to get that big break. I'd like to think that the people who ended up doing my film all felt it was a worthwhile experience, but ultimately they have ended up feeling like they were wasting their time because they're better than the material. Certainly, if you look at Naomi's IMDB credits list, roles in Tank Girl and Children of the Corn IV probably weren't the most fulfilling acting experiences. And I'm guessing that she poured a lot of that frustration into both her character in Mulholland Dr. and into the character here.

Ellie wasn't a particularly well reviewed film and I think a large reason for that is that people feel like films about film are too self referential and clever, and to some extent that's true. I really disliked The Player because it was about all too obvious gags about how stupid Hollywood thinks the audience is. So, the audience gets to laugh at the big wigs because of their calculated self deprecation. Ellie is a much more real film, the setting is Hollywood, but the feelings of degradation and loss of self could apply to a wide variety of jobs. The film is about the way that people sacrifice parts of themselves in pursuit of stability and happiness, never made more clear than in the discussion about using traumatic experiences as fuel for acting. Ellie is jealous of people who had awful things happen to them because she feels like it gives their acting a verisimilitude she can never match.

Take a look at books, we've all read some of the "Poor me" memoirs, like Angela's Ashes, that take a bad childhood and turn them into a best seller. If Frank McCourt didn't have an alcoholic father and an awful childhood, would anyone read his book? So, at this point in his life it would seem that those awful experiences were actually a blessing. A JT Leroy type scandal makes clear how envied these bad experiences are. Beyond just the fuel, I feel like Ellie wants an experience that makes her special, more than just countless other actresses at auditions. She wants gravitas, but for all her skill, can't find it.

I can definitely relate to her issues here, I often view social situations as experiments to eventually incorporate into films. I think part of being an artist is this distance from direct emotion, the knowledge that everything you do could potentially wind up spun into a film, performance or song. At the end, when Ellie rejects her acting career she tries to restart communication with a bunch of friends she'd lost touch with. The implication is pursuing acting disconnects her from reality and puts her in a bubble where her emotions are used only to service a performance, yet all the roles she auditions for are cliched and not worthy of her suffering.

The film was shot on digital video and I read a couple of reviews that really criticized it for the look. On the one hand, yeah, it could look better, but the actual shots and style are much better than a lot of films that look better aesthetically. I also saw The Illusionist yesterday and it was alright, but the compositions were so staid, I was waiting for the film to give me a big pop moment and got nothing, while Ellie was consistently full of innovative, exciting shots and moments. I feel like shooting on DV gives you a freedom to be much more experimental, I know I'd rather see a film that's shot in an exciting way than one that just puts the tripod down, sets up the lights and does wide, single, single coverage.

Doing a couple of days on a film set over the weekend really reinforced this. They would spend hours getting the lighting right on a shot than just do a boring conventional shot. Where's the handheld, where's the dynamic two shot? I like some well composed still shots, but very rarely is traditional coverage the best way to do a scene, and luckily Ellie keeps things interesting. I would consider the cinematography on Ellie Parker better than that of The Illusionist even though The Illusionist clearly has the aesthetic advantage. For me, cinematography is more about motion and creating energy than just making a pretty picture. That's why the best cinematography is stuff like The New World or Doyle's work on Fallen Angels, films that have tons of energy and crazy handheld moving work, but also are aesthetic marvels in every frame.

In terms of wielding DV, I feel like Lynch's new one is going to be a major achievement because this is a guy who's a master cinematic composer totally freed from the restrictions of traditional film, able to engage in a lot more experimentation. That's the thing that people don't consider when looking at the final product of a film, the fact that DV may not look as good aesthetically, but it gives the artist freedom to try a lot more shots, more movement, more depth, that will ultimately make a better looking shot than you would get with traditional film.

But, back to Ellie Parker. This is the sort of film I want to make, and have made with Ricky Frost and the upcoming All Good Things, films that a snapshot of a person's life, following them through a series of ordinary events that when looked at from afar, have a thematic cohesion not apparent in one's daily life. I love the style, I love the subject matter and most of all I love Naomi Watts' performance, totally becoming the character to the point that you don't see the acting at all. Definitely give this a look.

Related Posts
Mulholland Dr.: Some Analysis (4/11/2004)
My Favorite Actresses (1/17/2005)
The New Lynch Film and Digital Filmmaking (5/12/2005)

Fall Movie Preview

I think one of the signs of moving from childhood to adulthood is that the fall movie season replaces summer as the season you're most looking forward to. Normally you've got to preface these articles with some snide comment about how Hollywood is churning out crap and maybe we'll get a decent film this year. Well, none of that here, I'm more excited for this fall's batch of films than I've ever been before. There's a ton of potentially great stuff here. Now, I'm sure some of these release dates will change, but for now, here's what I want to see.

September 1
Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles
- After a foray into martial arts film, Zhang Yimou gets back to his roots with this drama. I'm not sure I'll make it to this one in theaters, but I'll definitely check it out on DVD. I'm curious to see how Zhang's style has been altered by his foray into martial arts stuff.

September 8
- A gritty indie drama with Maggie Gyllenhaal is definitely something I'm inclined to check out. The plot sounds exactly like Clean, it worked great there and there's certainly potential for some quality here.

September 15
The Black Dahlia
- A fantastic trailer pretty much sold me on this one. Josh Hartnett's noir voiceover brings back memories of Sin City, and the plot seems like it's got a lot of potential for twisted stuff. If the film can keep the very modern energy of the trailer and combine that with the 40s setting, it's got potential for greatness.

September 22
The Science of Sleep
- After seeing his Director's Label DVD, I'll watch pretty much anything Gondry does. However, the trailer for this one could sell anyone, there's more incredible imagery in those two minutes than in any other film released this year. This is a more personal film for Gondry and if he can fuse the very real emotion of Eternal Sunshine with some of his more whimsical, outre video style stuff, we could have a masterpiece. Plus, I'm curious to see Serge Gainsbourg's daughter in something other than his 'Lemon Incest' video. I saw Gondry speak yesterday and the few clips they showed from the film were great, very funny and imaginative. I just hope this one gets the audience it deserves.

Renaissance - A CG/live action sci-fi film, I haven't heard too much about this one, but I'm always up for a good dystopian thriller. The issue with a lot of films in the genre is that the fact that they're building a whole world means they don't get around to building believable characters. It's a good cast though, so this should be at least worth seeing.

October 6
The Departed
- I love Infernal Affairs, I think it's one of the most stylish, twisty crime thrillers in recent memory. Michael Mann touched on similar themes in the brilliant Miami Vice, but I think it's the kind of concept that's always got something new to explore within. I'd be a lot more excited if this wasn't a remake, particularly since the trailer indicates it's pretty faithful to the original. However, I'm guessing that Jack Nicholson will keep things fresh, I've heard that he no longer learns his lines, he gets them sent in through an earpiece to keep things fresh, and there's some odd stories about him wearing a strap on at some point. I'm intrigued.

October 8
- If all goes well, I'll be able to see David Lynch's new film at the New York Film Festival on either the 8th or 9th. I've written about my love of Lynch's work many times before and he's been totally on his game since Twin Peaks: FWWM, up through Lost Highway and Mulholland, he's been developing and refining similar themes. So, I'm curious to see where he goes now that he's been freed up to go more experimental. I'm trying to learn as little about the film as possible, go in completely clean and just be blown away. This is my most anticipated film since Revenge of the Sith.

October 13
- Danny Boyle's made two really great films, and as he showed in 28 Days Later, he can bring a lot of humanity to genre filmmaking. This one's got a great cast and a cool premise that I'm confident Boyle can pull off. Should be cool.

Shortbus - I'm always interested in looking at cinema that pushes boundaries and this film's explicit sexual content does just that. There was good buzz coming out of Cannes, though I'm guessing this one won't make it to too many theaters, so it will probably be a DVD view.

Little Children - Being from suburbia, I'm always up for a film that addresses the issues of suburban culture. The trailer for this is great and the lead actresses are two of our best. This will probably be the 'cool' Oscar pick, the film that's nominated for a bunch of things and critics will lament that fact that it has no chance of winning, despite being better than the big Hollywood films that are the favorites.

Tideland - New Gilliam. This one's been getting mixed buzz, but it at least seems to be more personal than The Brothers Grimm. I doubt he'll ever match what he did with Brazil, but I'll be glad to watch him try.

October 20
Marie Antoinette
- With any luck, I'll get to see this one a week early at the New York Film Festival. This one's been getting a lot of bad reviews, but the criticisms all sound like positives to me, a focus on visuals and music over traditional biopic structure. I love the way that Sofia's blending modern stuff with the historical setting. Her previous two films are brilliant and I'm pretty sure this one'll be good as well.

October 27
- Inarritu's got a very distinctive style and this seems to push everything he's done to the next level. The cast is fantastic and the trailer indicates a lot of visual energy and greater narrative ambition than anything he's done before. I'm sure a lot of the press will focus on Brad's celebrity, but he's shown again and again that he can sink into a role and steal a film. This is another I'm really looking forward to.

November 3
- I'm not a huge Almodovar fan, but I usually enjoy his stuff and this one seems to be full of his classic themes and great visuals. Buzz out of annes indicates that it doesn't go far beyond his previous work, but is still reliably entertaining. This is another one I'll check out at NYFF if I get a chance.

November 10
Stranger than Fiction
- This one seems to be a foray into Charlie Kaufman territory, and there's certainly room for more films like that. I'm not sure how Ferrell will do outside of his usual comic area, but if Jim Carrey could do Eternal Sunshine, I'm sure Ferrell can pull something decent together.

November 17
Casino Royale
- I hate to get excited for this one because I'm sure even with the new Bond and series reboot it will still have a lot of the awful lines and implausible set pieces that the late Brosnan films had. Plus, the fact that the producers didn't choose to have Goldfrapp do the theme as was rumored is a bad choice. But, who knows, maybe it'll surprise me. Eva Green was amazing in The Dreamers and the trailer was quite good. I'll at least sample.

Fast Food Nation - I'll see anything Linklater does, but the Cannes buzz doesn't have me too thrilled for this. Still, there's a lot of potential and a great cast. I've liked a lot of Linklater stuff that didn't thrill critics so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt here.

Come Early Morning - Joey Lauren Adams was fantastic in Chasing Amy and I'm curious to see her directing debut. It's been getting good buzz, though I'm guessing this won't get much of a release and it will end up being a DVD view.

November 22
The Fountain - I've been waiting for this one for six years. This film has one of the most imaginative premises ever and promises to go into territory that only Kubrick in 2001 touched on. This is very Grant Morrison stuff and there's very little of that in cinema. On top of that, it's made by the man who made arguably the best first two features of all time, Aronofsky makes films that you don't watch, you experience, merging innovative visuals with great scores. This is right up there with Inland Empire as my most anticipated film of the fall.

Deja Vu - Tony Scott's Domino is one of the most underappreciated films of all time, a near avant garde masterpiece of visual innovation. I'm guessing he'll scale back from that style a bit, but if he just reaches Man on Fire level, it'll still be interesting to watch.

For Your Consideration - Christopher Guest movies are always fun, if ultimately inconsequential. The addition of Ricky Gervais could definitely help this one, I hope he brings some of the raw emotion of The Office to the usually cartoonish Guest world.

December 1
The Nativity Story
- Catherine Hardwicke's Thirteen was a really exciting film and Keisha Castle Hughes was great in Whale Rider, even if the film ultimately didn't work. If she brings the edgy style of Thirteen to this story we could have a really cool film, if it's a somber retelling, I've got no particular interest in seeing it.

The Good German - Soderbergh films are consistently entertaining and always bring something new technique wise. This seems to be him in his big Hollywood mode, but Clooney and Blanchett should keep things interesting.

December 22
Rocky Balboa
- Having come through five films, don't I have to see the last one? If the reviews are decent, I'll definitely go, I do have a soft spot for the series, and I'd love to see Stallone make a great film here. I guess we'll see what he can do.

December 25
- The buzz on this one is ridiculously good, and I always enjoy a good musical. This is another film with a top notch cast and solid director, I'm guaranteeing at least ten Oscar nominations for this.

Children of Men - The premise is great and the awards season release date indicates a high degree of confidence in the film. Julianne Moore is one of my favorite actresses, hopefully this project will bring her back from a bit of a slump. Between this, Sunshine and The Fountain, we should get at least one really good sci-fi film.

Pan's Labyrinth - Fantastic buzz on this one coming out of Cannes, I'm hoping to catch it on the closing night of the NYFF. It sounds like the sort of crazy fantasy film that rarely gets made, vintage Gilliam territory. I hope it lives up to the hype.

Perfume - Tom Tykwer's Run Lola Run was a masterpiece, but I haven't seen any of his other films. That said, the trailer for this is great, and I've got high hopes.

What a season, at least five films with the chance to be all time classics and some of these others might surprise. I'm psyched.

Related Posts
2006 Film Preview (12/27/2005)
Summer Movie Preview (5/3/2006)
Fall TV Season (8/3/2006)

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Kanye West @ Nokia Theater

Going to a lot of shows, you encounter a lot of bands who seem to have a real problem with doing what the audience expects. To some extent, you've got to withhold and space out your big songs, but a lot of times you'll hear people playing their hits like it's a chore. It's understandable considering how many times they've probably played the song, but at the same time, you're making a living playing your music and ultimately what you are is an entertainer. Kanye definitely understands this, putting on a really up tempo live show that overcame the issues with live rap performance by just constantly giving you something new and interesting.

The setup was similar to the one used by Gnarls Barkley, a string section, backup singers, though in this case a DJ replaced the keyboards and drums of Gnarls. And, in the center of it all Kanye. The set looked vaguely ancient Greek, white with purple curtains and a bunch of TVs that looked like picture frames, but broadcast live footage. The string section had cool looking makeup, a stripe of red over the eyes that made them look like Pris from Blade Runner.

He came out with 'Diamonds From Sierra Leone,' which made great use of the string section and got a lot of crowd energy right from the start. He then segued into 'All Falls Down,' which kept the crowd going. He was pretty hyper at the beginning, running around the stage, speeding through the verses. But, it worked because the crowd was really into it, a lot of diamonds were in the air for the opener and the crowd seemed to know the lyrics for every song. Hearing all these songs back to back, it was amazing how good every one of Kanye's solo songs are. I was excited to hear practically every song he brought out.

From there, he went into my favorite of his songs, 'Kanye's Workout Plan,' which is notable mainly for the vocoder breakdown, which wasn't much different live than on the album. Short of actually breaking out a live vocoder, that's the kind of song that doesn't gain much live. Rap is generally considered to be inferior live to rock, and I would generally agree. Especially for smaller artists, what you get is basically the guy rapping over the record, which isn't much more exciting than just listening to the album. However, the string section and live singing, plus dynamic DJing made this more than the album. Plus, particularly with this crowd, a lot of the coolness of the show came from the crowd's enthusiastic reaction to everything that went on. Anyway, the 'Workout Plan' closed out with a snippet of 'Sweet Dreams are Made of This,' a track I always enjoy, a nice bonus.

Shortly after this, John Legend came out and did a solo song, 'Ordinary People.' It was alright, probably the kind of thing that goes over better on record than live. After the high energy performance Kanye did, the laid back piano of Legend was a bit lacking. However, they did a nice version of 'Heard 'Em Say' after, with Legend on the piano. After this, Common came out and they did a great version of 'Get 'Em High.' They did another song that was really familiar, but I don't actually know what it is. Anyway, the guest appearance was solid.

After this, Kanye did a segment where he played excerpts from songs he'd produced. This was another of those rap show only moments, where Kanye would just do the vocals on 'H to the Izzo,' and it went over huge with the crowd. Unlike a rock band doing a cover, he was able to bring out the exact recording of the original song, but it felt weird for him to get a big crowd reaction with a song Jay-Z did. However, he did produce it, so I suppose he earned it.

This sequence ended with Kanye playing 'Drop it Like It's Hot,' and a guest appearance by Pharrell. I love Pharrell's producing work and his two albums with N.E.R.D, but the tracks I've heard from his solo album have been generally uninspiring and he lacked Kanye's live presence. They did a long version of 'Can I Have It Like That,' which was mostly interesting for the crowd's enthusiastic reaction to Pharrell. Eventually they did 'Number One,' which is another track that doesn't live up to either artist's previous work. In terms of Pharrell's future, I'd like to see another N.E.R.D album, both "In Search Of" and "Fly or Die" are fantastic.

After Pharrell left, Kanye did more solo tracks, a string of massive hits. 'Jesus Walks' was great, the best use of the string section all night. Then he did 'Spaceship,' which I was happy to hear, it's one of his best tracks. 'Golddigger' was in there as well, punctuated by the most memorable quote of the night from Kanye: "White people, this is your one opportunity to use the word nigga." 'Through the Wire' was cool too, around this point Kanye said he was happy just to get the chance to share this music with people, normally you'd think that's just a line, but he really seemed to enjoy himself, and the songs still felt fresh despite the fact that he's performed them countless times.

Things closed out with 'Touch the Sky,' and then an abrupt conclusion, no encore. I actually like that there was no encore, it's always annoying to wait for the band to come back, just do all your stuff then get going. I'd have loved to hear 'Roses' or 'Drive Slow,' but all of the solo Kanye stuff was great. Hearing his songs against some of the other artists' tracks, it was really apparent just how good Kanye's stuff is. Every song ignited the crowd and was a lot of fun to hear.

So, this was a great show. It had just as much energy as any rock show and it was great to get to hear such a high profile artist in a small venue. There was just so much crowd energy going back at him, I totally got caught up in the show. Very cool. That said, I'd still be curious to see how Kanye went over on the dates he opened for U2 back in the fall. I'm not sure how those two audiences would have mixed.

Related Posts
On Music (1/19/2005)
In the Mix: January 2006 (1/11/2006)

Sunday, August 27, 2006



I've been looking forward to this film for a few years now, since back when it was an HBO TV movie. Outkast is the best hip hop group of all time and they've done some really fantastic videos. This film harkens back to classic musicals of the 30s quite heavily, even more so than something like Chicago, a film that refused to indulge in the basic pleasure/absurdity of the musical genre, the idea that characters will just start singing. In this film, characters will sing to show their feelings, though not that often. The film functions as a fusion of two classic 30s genres, the backstage musical and the gangster film.

A lot of reviewers seem to take issue with the film's basic conceit, the idea that Outkast's hip hop music exists in the 1930s. Whenever you're watching a movie, you have to accept the idea that the people on screen aren't actors, they're characters in a story, and that what happens to them isn't the result of a series of choices made by the writer it's due to the hand of fate or what have you. So, if you're going to accept the basic fictional nature of the universe, is it really such a stretch to imagine a world where hip hop existed in the 1930s? If a rapper had made a sudden appearance in Gladiator, that could be trouble, but this is the world the film created and I don't find the rapping out of place at all. Most of the songs have instrumentation that makes them sound like what rap would be like if it was out in the 1930s, Rooster's opening number, "Bowtie," fits perfectly with the club atmosphere, and is staged in a really exhilirating way with swooping camera and dynamic cutting. Tracking back, the opening credits sequence reminded me of Samurai Champloo, with its transposing of a hip hop aesthetic into a period film.

The major criticism of the film that I do think is valid is the fact that the story has a lot of cliches. On Andre's side, the woman singer who's got talent but just needs a break and the artist who just needs to get his stuff heard are both stock figures from 30s musicals. The only thing that could make it more cliche is if the real Angel broke her ankle on show night giving Sally the chance to to perform. With Big Boi, the 30s gangster aesthetic has been done to death, as has the roguish, but likable low level hood like Rooster. He actually gets saved when a bullet hits his bible, is there a more cliched situation?

However, I don't think this is a problem. For one, the film uses these aesthetics and setups, but then messes with them enough that it feels fresh. If you're emotionally engaged with the story, it doesn't really matter if it's not the newest territory. Look at the "Take Off Your Cool" sequence, on the one hand, it's totally cliche to have the two characters meet up and kiss in the rain. Yet, because you're attached to both of them, the moment is still fulfilling. Plus, the shots of them walking in slo mo in the rain are very cool looking. The song's one of my favorites off The Love Below and it makes for one of the best shot/edited sex scenes I've seen. It's difficult to pull off a sex scene without taking the audience out of the story and making them more aware of the actors themselves than the characters. And music is always difficult because you don't want something that sounds like a porn soundtrack, nor does R. Kelly style R&B usually work. Michael Mann's music choice for the Tubbs/Trudie sex scene in Miami Vice was one of his few missteps. However, the subdued "Take Off Your Cool" enhances the emotion of the scene and makes you feel the emotions the charactes are going through. Really well done.

So, I'd argue that since the story works on an emotional level, it can get away with the cliches. It's the same deal as Joss's tendency to kill off characters after moments of happiness, on the one hand, it's a bit tired, but that doesn't make "Seeing Red" or "A Hole in the World" any less powerful. And I think the emotions of the story, particuarly on the Andre side were really satisfying. I loved watching Percival and Angel work through the song and then succeed in making the audience like it. The gangster stuff generally works too, though I do think that Sunshine Ace was a character who totally didn't work and I'm not sure why he was played in such a cartoonish way.

Ultimately, the film earns its perhaps cliched happy ending because the characters go through so much on the way. Terence Howard's Trumpy was a very menacing character, and the fact that he was so heavy meant that all the characters were in real danger. I wasn't expecting Angel to die and the fact that she did means that the ending feels much more earned. The characters have gone through some bad stuff, so we're even more happy when they're finally successful. To some extent, it's odd to end with Percival so happy considering her death shortly before, however, I think it works because it shows that Angel did make a major impact on him. For the first time, he has the confidence to really express himself and he's found out that his songs do have the power to captivate an audience.

Most of the film's high points are the musical number, however I think the story itself works a lot better than most of the 1930s musicals it's homaging. I was always looking forward to the next musical number, but the gangster stuff is very successful and Percival's romantic subplot is great too.

That said, the musical sequences are the most memorable part. "Bowtie" was fantastic, and I wish we got to see a couple more Rooster performances, or at least a Rooster/Percival collaboration. "She Lives in Your Lap" is another highlight off The Love Below and it was used in a really odd, but successful sequence. The mortuary subplot brought back some memories of Six Feet Under, and I was expecting the corpses to start dancing at some point. However, the subplot pays off nicely with that sequence. On the album, "She Lives..." is a very sexy, nasty song. Here, some of the instrumental elements are removed and it becomes more somber, perfectly fitting his sadness at that moment. It was a really unexpected use of the song, and it worked perfectly.

I think the film could have done with a few more songs in general, only during "Bowtie" and the final sequence do we see fully staged musical numbers. The final setup is clearly aping Busby Berkley's stuff, though it never ascends into the bizarre realm that his work did. Andre is great there, but I think Barber could have gone a bit further. That said, both of those songs are really fun and great to watch.

I find it odd that this film has gotten a generally lukewarm reaction while something like Chicago got massive acclaim. I think it's partially due to people accepting more oddness from works that are part of the canon. If you came out with something like Hamlet today, people would be saying that the ghost of his dad appearing is ridiculous and the ending is just excessively violent. However, because it already exists, people just accept it. When you do something new, like this movie, people aren't prepared to accept the conceits, the idea that hip hop can mix with the 30s, or that light musical numbers can mix with heavier subject matter.

This film, like a Miami Vice or Revenge of the Sith, certainly has some flaws, but it's got so much good stuff that I find it hard to believe people didn't enjoy it. I was really hooked in to the emotional story and the film had some of the most consistently exciting visuals in recent film. It's a film that's always entertaining and intelligent. The film is clearly being pitched towards an 'urban' audience, but I think this film could have a lot of mainstream appeal. I could see old white people going and enjoying this movie as much as teenagers would.

So, I always enjoy a well done musical and this one is great. The music is top notch, the visuals great and the story well done and engaging. I would highly reccomend checking out Idlewild.