Saturday, September 23, 2006

The Science of Sleep

I've been looking forward to this movie for a long time, and that can sometimes skew your perception of a film. The trailer and publicity material creates a movie in your mind that doesn't always match up to the one on screen. In some ways, this film was exactly what I was expecting, but on the whole, it was pretty surprising. I was expecting something very fantastic in an upbeat way, a journey through the wonder of dream worlds, but what's on screen is a brutally real drama about a man's difficulty in adjusting to the emotional needs of reality. It winds up as an even tougher film than Eternal Sunshine, because in this case, the couple never even gets to have the good times that Joel and Clementine did, rather it's a potential true love that's snuffed out before it can even begin.

When Eternal Sunshine came out, very few people saw it, but in the years since, it's become the go to favorite movie for the college crowd, and a large part of that is the relatability of the film. It may have some weird stuff, but the emotional core of the film has something for everyone. The film has a lot of Gondry in it, but in a lot of ways, Science of Sleep feels like he took those themes he'd already explored and decided to address them in a truly personal context. I hesitate to draw a one hundred percent correlation between Stephane and Gondry, but to me, this felt like the most damning autobiographical film since Fosse's All That Jazz. Both films allow the lead character, clearly a spin on the director, to show off what he's good at, but end up punishing their emotional inadaquecies rather than celeberating their virtures.

One of the central images of creativity is the suffering artist, a lot of people give the impression that you can't make truly meaningful art until you've experienced emotional pain. I think that's true in some respects, total happiness would also mean no desire to move forward and do more. An artist is someone who isn't happy unless he's working on something. As someone who does make films, I find it difficult to see what other people could do to derive the same satisfaction as I get from making films. But, in punishing himself/the character, I think Gondry may be taking this too far. Clearly, this is someone who's at the top of his field, an incredibly respected filmmaker, but the film leads us to believe he's got some guilt about not doing something more real with his life, with spending his time trapped in this fusion of dream and reality. But, is his intention in punishing the character really to punish himself?

All that and I've barely even touched on the film itself. Looking at this film as the followup to Eternal Sunshine, the most immediately notable difference is that the boundary between dream and reality has become much more fluid. Eternal used the memory device as a device to allow for flights of fancy, here the switches between dream and reality are generally unmotivated and sometimes not even apparent. The film immerses you in the perceptory experience of its main character, so that you're never sure exactly what is real and what is just in his head. I think the film succeeds in keeping a coherent emotional arc, so that even though you're not sure exactly what happened at times, you always know how it affected the character.

The opening half hour or so is a bit deceptive in its lightness. There's clearly some sadness in the death of Stephane's father, but it's here that we get the most fun dream bits, as well as the great comedy stuff at the office. I think Guy was hilarious, basically anything he did was funny, most notably his appearance at the club, prompting Stephane to say "He's punk." I liked how the three office workers were the focus of Stephane's dreams, they gave a continuity to the fantasies. The scenes with the stop motion animation going on through the office windows were pure Gondry, a moment only he can do. The cardboard city was a particularly notable visual.

It's with the introduction of Stephanie that we get to the main story. In this film, there's the outlandish dream sequences, but there's also a crushing naturalism to the scenes set in the "real world." Even in the dream sequences, there's a lo-finess that keeps things feeling real. When I saw him speak, Gondry talked about how he didn't want any CG, and I think that was a brilliant choice. The flying scenes were accomplished by having Gael swim with projected backgrounds behind him, and it winds up looking as good as any movie flying scene I've encountered. With most CG, particularly stuff meant to dazzle rather than blend in, there's a tendency to respect it more as good CG than to approach it as something extraordinary and real as the characters do. So, even the best stuff takes you out of the story. The Illusionist is a great example of this, the CG used in the magic trick sequences meant that we couldn't share the audience's astonishment, we're aware of how the trick is done. But, this film uses totally unique techniques that do make you ponder how they did that, but more importantly, are just visually amazing on their own, and those amazing visuals fit perfectly into the realistic world in the rest of the film. It makes it easy to keep minimum separation between the dream world and the real world.

Anyway, the first scene with Stephanie perfectly exemplifies the film's core theme, the idea that this dreamer is too naive and childlike to make it in reality. The two women talk about him while he's right there and delight in messing with him. I'm not sure if he actually doesn't understand, or just pretends not to, but either way, he does nothing to challenge their assumption. Throughout the film, Stephane's childlike qualities are played up, from having him sleep in his childhood bedroom, to literally having his mom move in with him. He seems to be regressing as time moves forward. Guy is in the film as a contrast to this, the ultimate man, someone who happily works his boring job, then goes out at night to find someone to fuck. At one point, Stephane says there's more to life than women, something that Guy would dispute. I think this is also Gondry commenting on the nature of being an artist, he expresses himself through his art, partially because he is too shy to go after girls.

If you watch the "I've Been Twelve Forever" documentary on his Director's Series DVD, you can see a lot of the emotional qualities that inform Stephane here, the conern about having big hands, the invention of wacky things, and most importantly that lack of self confidence that can cause a retreat from reality. There, Gondry talks about a dream he had where he was back in his childhood home, and that may have informed the setting of this film.

In Stephanie, Stephane sees someone he thinks is like him, an introverted, artistic type. However, because he was more interested in Zoe at first, he winds up sabotaging the relationship right at its beginning. He doesn't become aware of his attraction to Stephanie until they start to make art together, in a truly magical scene. I love Stephanie putting the clouds into orbit above them. The cellophane sink is another really cool image. Throughout the film, there's a ton of these small, but very cool moments that help deepen one's immersion in this partricular reality.

One of the best sequences in the film is the bathtub letter part. I love Stephane flying over the town holding the oversized letter, and the book made out of it is great too. But, the most emotionally potent part is Stephane realizing that he really had put the letter under her door, and running to try to get it. I love the way Gondry initially leads us to believe that Stephane has averted the crisis, but later we find out that Stephanie did read the letter, and it informs a lot of where their relationship goes. I think Stephanie feels like Stephane won't be serious about her, he was clearly interested in Zoe at first, and she believes that he will eventually hurt her. So, she refuses to let herself get emotionally attached to him, and they both miss out on the chance for something that's potentially very meaningful.

That's one of the respects where this differs from your typical romance, we're used to the love that can never last, but in this case, it never even starts. It's a bit ambiguous how far along they actually get, but the impression I got was that Stephane and Stephanie were constantly close to a relationship but never actually got to the point of dating. Their first date would have been the meeting at the bar, but it never happened. That sequence was so heartbreaking, we see Stephane's personal doubts, manifested in the dream figures, stop him from actually making it to the bar. In the process, he does exactly what Guy says Stephanie is doing to him. Rather than take the risk of being hurt when she's not at the bar, he decides to avoid that pain and just not go. Seeing Stephanie sitting alone at the coffee house, a moment removed from the subjectivity, is one of the toughest to take because we know then that she was ready to go for it, but he let her down.

Before this, there's a sequence that's rather ambiguous in its navigation of the dream/reality dichotomy, specifically the bit with the calendar debut. I don't think Stephane's calendar actually became a success, but it seems that at some point he did see Stephanie dancing with someone else, causing him to drink. I'm guessing this happened because it's emotionally essential to the film, and we do see her walk into his room wearing the same dress she was in the party sequence.

In the end, it's Stephane's own behavior that ruins his chances with Stephanie. He behaves like a child, asking her to marry him semi-seriously, then getting mad when she dances with another guy. He makes her pony run, but he can't walk into the cafe. He's a character so lost in his own delusions that it becomes an ego thing, he can't escape his own head to really understand someone else. At one point, Stephane says that Stephanie reminds him of his dad. I'm thinking this is part of what motivates his irrational behavior around her. He's the one who's so afraid to go through the pain of losing someone he cares about agian, he either wants her forever, or doesn't want her at all. So, the fear of loss that Guy attributes to Stephanie actually seems to be Stephane's flaw.

Unable to make things happen with Stephanie, Stephane decides to return to Mexico. But before that, we get one final argument between the two. This scene is the most oppressively real in the film, as Stephanie tears into the emotional dream walls that Stephane has built up around himself, and Stephane continually sabotages any progress he's making with his crude humor. It ends with Stephane in the ultimate retreat into childhood, curling up in her bed, refusing to leave. Eventually she joins him, and we segue into one final fantasy sequence. The two of them ride the horse, hop on the boat and sail off.

This is an ambiguous ending, but the feeling I got was distinctly sad. I think Stephanie will tolerate his sadness for a bit longer, but soon she'll throw him out, he'll go back to Mexico and any potential for the two of them will remain unrealized. So, one could read the horse going across the river as any chance of their relationship disappearing. That's the impression I got, just because the emotional and thematic drive of the film didn't indicate any chance of a happy ending. Stephane's behavior just wasn't a point where he could handle a real relationship and Stephanie was unwilling ot risk embarking on one with him.

This is a truly great film that's unlike anything I've ever seen before. The blend of crazy, dream visuals with crushingly real emotion works wonderfully and I think it'll be even easier to get lost in the film's world with more viewings. I was surprised by how similar the film is to Eternal Sunshine, but while that one was primarily Charlie Kaufman with some Gondry, this is all Gondry and it's one of the most singularly personal films I've ever seen. Gondry has taken his life and all his work to date and poured it all into this movie. That may mean a sometime lack of coherence, but it also means a consistent string of visual delights. Add on top of this wonderful acting from everyone involved, grounding the fanciful stuff in an emotional reality. If nothing else, the film proves that Charlotte Gainsbourg will be remembered for more than just Lemon Incest.

The film wasn't what I expected, but it still lived up to my expectations. I'm really happy that Gondry's found a way to transfer the energy of his music videos into a feature format, maintaining the visual inventiveness, but adding a much deeper emotional base. I'm not sure if it's better than Eternal Sunshine, but it's definitely right up there with it.

Related Posts

Work of Directors: The Top 21 (12/13/2005)

Serge Gainsbourg: 'History of Melody Nelson' (4/8/2006)

Reduce stress in the body and begin to dream quickly in only the best
. When sharing a bed with a partner, bed
plays a huge role in a good nights sleep. Read some expert opinions on
the importance of bed size
in relationships. You can also find great
baby bedding for the
new addition to the family! Here are some great
baby bedding
and room expenses advice
for first time moms!

Friday, September 22, 2006

Weekend Update

Back in New York

I'm back in New York for the weekend. Tomorrow I'll be seeing Science of Sleep, and on Sunday I'll be seeing the Flaming Lips. I'm really excited for both events. Gondry is one of the most original, visually innovative directors working today and this film seems to be the purest expression of his aesthetic.

The Flaming Lips

I've heard a lot about The Flaming Lips' live show, it sounds like it should be quite a spectacle. I became a fan of the band with Yoshimi, one of the most exuberant records you'll ever hear. I still think it's their best, though The Soft Bulletin and their newest, At War With the Mystics, are both great. The early stuff is a bit more hit or miss, but most of what they've done is pretty solid. I got their video compilation DVD recently. I've watched most of the videos and with a few exceptions, they're not particularly notable. They stick way too much to just having the band playing somewhere and filming it. They're still entertaining, but if the same treatment was done for a song I didn't like, I wouldn't have much as much patience for it. Sofia Coppola's video for "This Here Giraffe" is pretty generic, and lacks the style of her later work. I do love the video for "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots," and the descriptions of the videos in the booklet are great, such as this one for "Do You Realise": 'Four bored farm girls lament about how nothing exciting ever happens to them...they get stoned and an apparition of a glowing singing man appears - he is accompanied by giant rabbits with sparkling spheres.' That pretty much sums it up. I do really like having a DVD of music videos around. Sure, you could just watch them on Youtube, but I find I've got a much better attention span if I sit down and put on the DVD, rather than sit at the computer and look at it on Youtube. Hopefully a new crop of director's series discs will pop up soon.

This Week in TV

It's a big premiere week. I'll be watching the season opener for Gilmore Girls, and definitely taking a look at Heroes. I'll also probably sample 'Brothers and Sisters,' if only to see Rachel Griffiths in another show. Her work as Brenda on Six Feet Under is some of the best acting of all time, so I figure her new show at least deserves one viewing. However, from the sound of things, it's got some issues. Look for reviews here.


I read the first trade of Brian Wood's Vertigo series, DMZ. I feel like Vertigo is the HBO of comics publishers, they've got a great history of series, but sometimes their new series have trouble living up to the legacy of previous major critically acclaimed, popular works. But, generally speaking, you can trust them to deliver a quality product. I'll sample blind pretty much anything that either of them put out. DMZ has a killer premise, but the murky presentation means that you don't get a full sense of the reality he's trying to present. The art is very much in Wood's own aesthetic, and I can see the point he's going for, using the scratchy art to convey the messy world the characters find themselves in. However, I think clearer art might have allowed us to get a better picture of the world. Wood tells some interesting stories, but I didn't get a character hook. I have no particular reason to care about this main guy, and for most longform series, audience attachment to the character is your greatest crush. Look at Y: The Last Man, it's a glacially paced series that makes a ton of storytelling errors, but the characters are strong enough that I have to keep reading. Here, Wood's writing is competent and politcally charged, but when I finished the volume, I had no particular need to read on. There's no sense of a greater scope, etiher narrative or character wise, and that hurts an ongoing series. Channel Zero had similar issues, and I guess it ultimately comes down to the fact that Wood isn't telling the kind of stories that I might want to read. He's got some great points to make, but ultimately, he's got to be better at something to keep me reading.

Rescue Me

I've been watching more of Rescue Me and I'm definitely starting to get hooked. I've got a better sense of the characters, and I think the show does a great job of showing the difference between their public personas and the private hurt they carry around. And, I think the show does much less shocking for the sake of being shocking stuff than its channel neighbor, Nip/Tuck. There's some weird stuff, but it's better woven into the narrative. I'm through episode seven now, and it's starting to get to the place where I'm watching two episodes in a sitting instead of one. I could definitely see things speeding up as we move towards the end of the season.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Top 20 TV Shows

Picking up on another blog trend, here's my top twenty TV shows of all time.

1. Twin Peaks
Best Episode: Finale (2x22)
Best Season: 1

Nothing ever made can match the moody weirdness of the first fifteen episodes of this series. Most shows you remember good characters or an interesting storyline, but with Twin Peaks, it's the atmosphere that lingers with you. After I finished the show, I remember missing the town, like it was a real place, and even now, just hearing the theme song puts me back in that mindset.

2. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Best Episode: Restless (4x22)
Best Season: 6

I've never been as hooked on a show as I was on Buffy during the fifth and sixth seasons. This show is the perfect example of something that's simultaneously thought provoking, demanding of analysis and thoroughly entertaining. Once you get hooked, the show will define your life for a while.

3. Six Feet Under
Best Episode: 'I'm Sorry, I'm Lost' (3x13)
Best Season: 3

Six Feet Under has my favorite TV character of all time, conflicted lead Nate, as well as the most consistently sharp writing and cinematography on TV. I think the show hangs together perfectly as one 63 episode long story, with the perfect finale.

4. The Sopranos
Best Episode: 'D-Girl' (2x08)
Best Season: 5

The most consistently frustrating show on TV, watching these characters struggle through their lives is sometimes funny, sometimes painful. More than any other show on TV, this one feels like the writers had perfect control of what they're doing, creating a many layered narrative.

5. Cowboy Bebop
Best Episode: 'The Real Folk Blues' (2x13)
Best Season: 2

The moodiest show I've ever seen, this was like Wong Kar-Wai making a series. No other show has used music as well as this, to create singular moments that define the characters. There's subtle evolution of the arc through a series of seemingly unrelated episodes, it's only when you reach the end that you realize how every single piece of the show was building to the catastrophic finale.

6. The Office (UK)
Best Episode: 'Christmas Special II' (3x02)
Best Season: 2

It's simultaneously the funniest show in TV history, and one of the saddest. That's quite an accomplishment, in only twelve episodes, Gervais and Merchant sketch an entire world, then tear it down. The final moments of the Christmas special are some of the most emotionally rewarding in any work of fiction.

7. Angel
Best Episode: 'A Hole in the World' (5x15)
Best Season: 5

The show had a couple of off seasons, that's the only thing keeping it from being ranked higher, because at its best, season five in particular, this stood with the best of Buffy. And, unlike Buffy, they went out at the absolute top of their game, with a final episode that perfectly captures what made the title character so unique.

This makes the end of the shows I would consider masterpieces. After this, there's some really great shows, but they don't quite match up to the preceding shows, which represent the medium at its absoulte best.

8. The X-Files
Best Episode: 'Jose Chung's From Outer Space' (3x20)
Best Season: 3

At its best, The X-Files is my favorite show of all time. There's moments that have a scope and grandeur that eclipse anything else in TV history, but the show will always be flawed by its total disregard for plot and character continuity, and the fact that there were way too many uneven standalone episodes next to the brilliant mythology stuff. But, the show had enough good stuff to remain one of my favorite shows.

9. Freaks and Geeks
Best Episode: 'Discos and Dragons' (1x18)
Best Season: 1

The most accurate depiction of the highs and lows of high school life in any medium. The subtle character development and consistent growth over the season was great to observe, and each of the episodes works wonderfully on its own. If this had kept going, it would probably be much higher on the list.

10. Gilmore Girls
Best Episode: 'A House is Not a Home' (5x22)
Best Season: 5

Like Buffy and Six Feet Under, this show is notable for the way it tracks characters on the journey of life, covering a vast period of time that you just couldn't do in film. The show has gotten slightly darer as it's gone on, sharpening into a still funny, but more poignant exploration of Lorelai's loneliness in the fifth and sixth seasons. Lauren Graham is one of the best leading ladies in TV history, totally carrying the show.

And 11-20...

11. Arrested Development
12. Battlestar Galactica
13. 24
14. Seinfeld
15. Samurai Champloo
16. Babylon 5
17. Spaced
18. The Prisoner
19. Carnivale
20. Trigun

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip - 'Pilot' (1x01)

Aaron Sorkin's a writer I respect, I watched and enjoyed all of his years on The West Wing, and the second season finale, 'Two Cathedrals,' stands as one of the best hours of television ever. But, I'm also aware of his flaws as a writer, a preachiness and tendency to engage in sentimental storytelling. In a show set in the White House, preachiness wasn't as big a problem as it was on his previous series, Sports Night, where a nightly sports recap show frequently turned into a meditation on the resilience of the human spirit. This worked at times, but sometimes it just got ridiculous.

But, I was still really looking forward to Studio 60, if only for a ridiculously stocked cast. This is one of the best network pilots I've ever seen, certainly the most stylish and assured. And on top of that, it even manages to make most of Sorkin's problematic tendencies work for the show. Most shows, even great ones, have some kind of adjustment period, but this one was in total control of its voice right from the beginning.

One of the issues with making a pilot is that your pilot has to set up the show's status quo, but anyone watching the show likely already read a description of it, so we know that Danny and Matt are going to take over the show. So, you're already starting at a disadvantage since the audience knows the basic story of this episode. But, I think there was still a good amount of dramatic tension here, and more than that, the production was so well done on all levels, every moment has something enjoyable about it.

The one major issue I have with the opening sequence, and the show in general, is the fact that TV, for all its reality show excess, is actually in a golden age right now, surpassing any era of previous production and the vast majority of films coming out right now. So the classic "idiot box" rant doesn't really work. That said, the idiot box stuff is only on the surface, the real issue there is with corporate ownership of media and the Christian right's dictation of terms, which is something that's very relevant, so relevant in fact, I'm working on a film about it. So, I can definitely sympathize with that, broadcast television producers should have greater freedom.

The other main issue I've got with the pilot is along the same lines, the fact that these jokes cracking on television just feel old, plus a bit arrogant considering that it is a TV show. It's one thing to say that today's music doesn't live up to stuff from the 60s, but it's pretty clear that TV now is so good, it feels off to crack on it. And besides that, those jokes were already old when Seinfeld did its pilot arc.

Other than those two issues, I loved everything else about the pilot. The West Wing got a lot of attention for its walk and talk scenes, which were lauded primarily from a writing perspective, but were equally remarkable for the cinematography. Tommy Schlamme's fantastic direction is more front and center here, the camera moves are fantastic and he keeps up a fantastic level of energy throughout. I love the neon interiors of the club, as well as the winding shots through the Studio 60 set. Combine that with some really well chosen music and you've got a show with a distinctly cinematic energy and style.

Each of these characters feels remarkably real right from the start. They're not based on archetypes, but the writing just gives you a total sense of who the person is. Matt and Danny seem like classic Sorkin heroes, in the sense that they're idealistic and really believe in doing their job right. I think that's why the chance to run Studio 60 is so irresistible for them, because it's a chance to make something better than what already exists.

Sorkin heroes are a bit like Michael Mann's, in the sense that they have total devotion to their job. There is no personal life, be they the president or sportscasters, life is work. For Mann, this means a gradual dehumanization of heroes, but Sorkin celebrates it, for him, home life is what would dehumanize, one is only really alive when on the job. That's why Sorkin would agree to return to NBC after being dismissed from The West Wing, he can't live without the grind of creating a TV show.

Now, one could say that it's crossing the line to infer that about the man from watching the show, but this series is so obviously based on his own life, it's impossible to seperate the reality from the fiction. And, in the same way that Matt and Danny see Studio 60 as their chance to bring quality to television, Sorkin is doing the same with this series.

I really like the flashier aesthetic of this show versus the staid, reverent West Wing. As I mentioned before, the music gives things a real energy. The moment at the end, when Matt and Danny go out to rally the troops is just like the 'Bartlett for America' moment from The West Wing, and the difference between the soaring trumpets of TWW or the riff from 'Under Pressure' for S60 underscores the difference between the shows. This is a poppier, more fun show. If it can find the same balance between comedy and drama as something like Gilmore Girls, I think it'll be a great show.

The pilot ends on a high note and I was ready to go into the second episode right there. The show may be a bit self indulgent, but it's so good, I don't really care. And if the second episode teaser's any indication, the show's going to go in a great direction. I'll be there next week.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls

I really love the 60s mod aesthetic, so much so that if a movie is set in this time period, I can forgive a lot more than I would with the same movie set in the present day. If Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was made about a hip hop girl group in 2006, I probably wouldn't particularly like it, but the combination of period style and Russ Meyer's excess make Beyond the Valley of the Dolls a thoroughly entertaining film.

This is a film that establishes right from the start the schizophrenic, over the top drive that will drive it forward. The opening disclaimer is just weird, and the subsequent images from Z-Man's house don't mean too much on the first viewing, except for the obviously laden image of a man shoving a gun into a topless woman's mouth. It's in the electrifying cut from her scream to Kelly singing that the film grabbed me. A moment that pop gives the film a lot of leeway, and the driving 60s rock in a goofy prom works really well.

This is a film that works in a mode where there's not a clear line between what's serious and what's comedic. The actors play everything totally straight and you can choose to either accept it or laugh at it. I think it's very effective here, and doesn't really distance you from the characters. From a present day perspective, the sheer 60sness of their behavior is endearing. I feel like there's a naivete in their behavior, the thought that what they're doing really could change the world, and that's been crushed out of society following the collapse of everything in the 70s.

The only Russ Meyer film I'd seen previously was Faster Pussycat, Kill, Kill. The title alone establishes that as a piece of excessive pop filmmaking and it lived up to that billing. I think Dolls surpasses Faster Pussycat, more successfully navigating the line between satire and sincerity. The increased resouces of Fox allow him to make a film that feels entirely chosen, whereas Faster seemed to suffer from his lack of budget.

That this film was ever made at a major studio to begin with is quite an achievement. There's some really odd moments in here, one of the most notable being the trip to L.A. montage. This is practically abstract filmmaking, throwing a bunch of barely related images together that become increasingly schizophrenic as time goes by. The oddest moment of the film was the "Bentley, Rolls" sequence, where Ashley is shouting out car manufacturer names while having sex with Harris. It's a moment that transcends reality to become pure cinema. It makes no sense from a human behavior point of view, but in the movie that Meyer created, it wors.

The film is at least partially a musical, and the greatness of the songs really helps the film out. I love 60s pop rock, and all these songs were really catchy. "Sweet Talkin' Candy Man" was a particular highlight, but pretty much every song was enjoyable. I particularly like the editing in the montage sequences, which lays out the characters' emotional conflicts via those dissolves, pitting Harris and Z-Man in conflict. The stark black background of those sequences was striking.

The one plot that dragged a bit was the stuff with Porter Hall. He was likely meant as a satire of the 'square' community, but the stuff with him and Kelly was a bit obvious. That said, the scene with the two of them in bed was pretty funny.

There's a lot of quotable lines in the film, the best being "This is my happening and it's freaking me out!" The whole opening tour of Z-Man's house is full of stuff that's so 60s and so Russ Meyer. I think there's something endearing about the vision of this sexually liberated utopia presented in the party, there's something innocent about that compared to today's club or frat party scene, which is so focused on predatory behavior.

As things wind on, we build up to the predictable reconciliation with Harris. I didn't find Harris a particularly likable character, I think his conservatism doesn't fit with the general embrace of Z-Man's world. I suppose his rejection of Ashley for Kelly could be read as a satire of the values conventionally undermining this sort of story, but you have to do a bit more to be a satire, now it was just indistinguishable from those films. That said, I think the moment where they're all set to go rescue Casey and have to take the time to load his wheelchair into the car is absoulutely brilliant.

Casey herself becomes part of the really bizarre ritual that ends the film. The film just keeps building and this final bit definitely feels like they were making it up as they were going along. That's not necessarily bad, you can appreciate this as a bizarre moment all its own. Before that, we get the surprisingly underplayed abortion scene with Casey. You wouldn't see that today, another indication of the turn towards conservatism in our society.

At Z-Man's, Casey and Roxanne dress up as Batman and Robin and go through a series of visually crazy rituals. This leads up to the two parallel homosexual scenes and ultimately Z-Man's madness. I was surprised to see a generally progressive view of homosexuality in the film, at least until Z-Man is revealed as a crazy transvestite, nothing too progressive about that. The ending has such crazy energy you can forgive the logical inconsistencies. One of the best moments is Z-Man cutting off Lance's head with the 20th Century Fox fanfare in the background. I was surprised by the fact that he ended up killing Roxanne and Casey, the really brutal violence intruded on this otherwise cartoonish world.

Eventually Z-Man is defeated and we get a really odd narration to wrap things up. Likely put in to appease the studio it winds up as a mockery of the sort of moral closure it was intended to provide. Lines like "Roxanne and Casey's love wasn't evil, but evil came about because of it" are just impossible to take seriously. The final moments, where Kelly helping Harris over a river bed are equally ridiculous. I'm not a huge fan of the triple wedding final scene, which is either hopelesslly saccharine or way too over the top to even be funny.

But the bizarreness of that closing narration is what lingers, summing up the odd worldview of the film. This is a movie that's so full of energy, you can watch any moment and enjoy it as a piece of fine 60s pop art. I love the music, I love the visuals, this is a thoroughly entertaining film that I would highly reccomend checking out.

Weekend Update

Blog Upgrade

Earlier today I upgraded to the new version of blogger. I don't think that'll make a big impact on the way it reads, but there are some new features that have potential cool. I'll try to put those to use.


Last week I successfully got tickets for the October 9th screening of Inland Empire at the New York Film Festival. The film's gotten a mixed reception from its Venice screenings, it sounds like Lynch is taking the more subjective cinema he developed in Lost Highway and Mulholland Dr. and is pushing it even further. Watching Mulholland, I've always wondered what it would be like to have a film that was all like the post box chunk of that movie. Considering Inland is three hours, that could be too much of a good thing, but I trust Lynch. If Fire Walk With Me was outright booed at Cannes, while Wild at Heart won the Palm D'Or, you've clearly got to take festival audience reactions with a grain of salt. I think that's one of the big problems with the festival scene, one bad screening for a movie like Inland or The Fountain, with 500 people in attendance, can multiply into a lot of bad buzz before release. Luckily I'll be going in pretty much clean for this screening. I've only seen a couple of photos from the film, so the visual experience will be totally new.

The TV Season Begins

This week sees the debut of the new show I'm most looking forward to, Aaron Sorkin's Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. I'm also going to take a look at Jericho, a post apocalyptic drama. I want to try to see more shows from the beginning, recently I've been waiting for a show's buzz to build before sampling the first season on DVD, but I really enjoy the week to week viewing of a great show, and hopefully something this season will make it. I've already been watching Weeds and Nip/Tuck. Next week has the premiere I'm most looking forward to, the start of Gilmore Girls' seventh season.


After two episodes of Nip/Tuck, I'm getting closer to dropping the show. I think this season is an improvement over last year's hyperabsurdity, but the show is really suffering from the fact that it's based on shock value rather than character development. There's not that much left that they can do to top what's already happened. I'll be surprised if the show is able to maintain even this quality through the season.

New Music

I listened to the Scissor Sisters' new album this week. The first single "Don't Feel Like Dancing" is classic, and there's a few other good tracks, but it had a bit too much semi-country flavor. I prefer the shiny club aesthetic of the first album, but admittedly, that's after one listen, it's always tough to follow up on a near perfect album like the Scissor Sisters' first. I also listened to Outkast's Idlewild album, which I was pretty impressed by. It got knocked around by the critics, and I would concede that it lacks the cohesion of Stankonia, but there's a lot of really good songs in there. That said, I would like to see them drop one more really good album together. And the album that's still impressing is Justin Timberlake's FutureSexLoveSound. The production is unbelievable, Timbaland and Timberlake are like Wong Kar-Wai and Tony Leung, the perfect match of creator and performer.

Toronto Film Festival

The TIFF seemed to have so many films playing, it's hard to keep track of major trends out of the festival. Reaction to The Fountain seems much the same as it was at Venice, but I'm still confident in the film. In certain art film circles, there seems to be a reluctance to engage with material that doesn't have a layer of irony over it. If Little Miss Sunshine got the most buzz out of Sundnace, it's pretty clear that festival audiences don't always have their priorities straight. Part of the problem is that seeing so many films means you're probably exhausted and will prefer a zippy comedy to a slower paced, challenging film. Buzz on Kim Ki-Duk's Time is mixed as well, it seems to be a return to the darkness of his earlier work. That should crop up on Region 3 DVD pretty soon. I've already got Pen-Ek Ratanaruang's Invisible Waves on the way. I was shocked to see that the star of that film, and his previous, Last Life in the Universe, is the same guy who was in Ichii the Killer, Vital and Funky Forest. He seems to dominating Japan. The other film that sounds really cool from Toronto is Miike's Big Bang Love: Juvenile A, which sounds really experimental. I've got some more Miike in the Netflix queue, he's a filmmaker I've really got to see more of.

Upcoming Dates of Note
9/22 - Science of Sleep Released
9/24 - The Flaming Lips at Hammerstein
10/9 - Inland Empire at NYFF
10/20 - Marie Antoinette Released
10/25 - Seven Soldiers #1 Released
11/22 - The Fountain Released

JLA: Earth 2 and Wrap Up

Last time, I wrapped up my writing on Grant's main JLA run, but now it's back for one more with his graphic novel, JLA: Earth 2. During the main JLA run, Howard Porter's art was generally satisfactory, but nothing too special. So, it's a big jump to the greatest artist working in comics today, Frank Quitely.

The thing I love about Quitely's work isn't so much the aesthetic as the way that his art creates near three dimensionality. This is really evident in his work on New X-Men, and his work on the final issue of The Invisibles makes me wish that he could have drawn the whole series. Of course, if he did it probably still wouldn't be finished. Anyway, his work here isn't quite up to the level of that or We3, but it's still very strong.

One of the themes that cropped up every once in a while during Grant's run on the series was to take the story necessity of having the JLA always win and make it a feature of the universe in which they live. The best longform works are able to the take repetitive story elements necesitated by the form and turn it to the story's advantage. In Buffy, this meant that her attraction to Spike wasn't a retread of Angel, it revealed the fact that the character required some darkness in her mate. With the JLA, it becomes a meta comment on the very nature of superhero fiction, and Earth 2 is concerned with exploring this idea by creating a world that's the opposite.

In Warren Ellis' works alone we must have seen ten different analogues of the JLA, so the idea of yet another crop of JLA dopplegangers popping up isn't inherently that exciting. But, Morrison pushes things to the next level by creating an entire alternate universe that reverses the metafictional rules governing DCU storytelling.

I've gained a lot of affection for the DCU from reading this JLA run and Seven Soldiers, but I'm not a big enough fan to grab all the allusions that Morrison makes in building Earth 2. The first half of the story is so devoted to building up the anti-matter verse that it takes until about halfway through the story to really take off. The best stuff in the beginning is the humor surrounding the illicit relationship between Owlman and Super Woman. The petty humanity of these characters is such a contrast to the godlike JLA. When the JLA finally cross worlds, they're disgusted by the very nature of the world.

My very Quitely page is the big shot of Green Lantern building hands around the moon. That's flashy, but throughout we see Quitely bringing a level of detail that you don't normally get. The panels with the many, many Flashes are particularly impressive. I think Quitely's greatest strength as a storyteller in doing moments in detail, so the constantly moving narrative of this book doesn't necessarily work to his strengths, or rather, it doesn't take full advantage of his possibilities.

Reading this book now, one of the striking things is the rampant destruction of major buildings. Grant's JLA work, and most of the widescreen superheroics it inspired, are of a distinctly pre 9/11 mindset. There's some death, but this destruction is generally treated as a light thing, just a salvo in the war. I think if the book came out today, you wouldn't see this sort of thing. All of Morrison's work from this period has an optimism about the direction of humanity that feels somewhat undermined by the stuff that Bush has put us through post 9/11. I think he still feels humanity's going in a generally positive direction, but right now, the forces of progress are losing the battle with the archons. That's why The Filth is such a critical work in Morrison's cannon, it shows the dirty flip side of this shiny optimism.

We soon find out that Brainiacis behind this cross of worlds. Brainiac stands outside the manicheanism of the JLA/CSA. As he says, he is "Beyond good and evil. Beyond the moral and conceptual framework which limits 3rd-level intellects such as your own." He is such a high level intellect that he does not care that his actions will result in a lot of people dying. Morrison's work frequently focuses on moving beyond traditional conceptions of morality, which makes it a bit hard to reconcile Brainiac as a villain. I thin Brainiac is meant to show a pure intellectual being, whereas in the supercontext, it is love for humanity that motivates the push to higher levels of intellectual consequences. Without that emotional grounding, evolution becomes a destructive force.

The thing that I love about the book is the way it can be read from the matter or anti-matter perspective with equal validity. You get a real idea of the morality of the CSA world, those characters feel totally real and motivated, and you can see how our world would be weird to them. Throughout the book we see the actions of the two groups balance each other perfectly to fit the nature of their worlds. In our world, good will invariably wind up triumphing, so the CSA's destruction is quickly repaired, in the same way that in the other Earth, the good that the JLA does must be undone. Each world must always revert to its status quo. In that way, this work provides the best explanation for why heroes in the DCU are always going to win. But, if you were a reader for the anti-matter verse, you could just as easily read this book as a triumph for the CSA.

So, like a lot of Morrison works, this book functions simultaneously as a meta comment on superhero fiction and a fine example of the form. I would still consider "Rock of Ages" the ultimate Morrison JLA arc, but if you want a condensed idea of what's great about the run, go to this book.

And that brings me to the real end of Morrison's JLA run. Before doing this read through, JLA was one of the rare Morrison works I wasn't a big fan of. This read has changed that, I think his treatment is the definitive address of these characters, he made the big seven more than their mythology and brought real humanity to the large supporting cast. Seeing Green Lantern becoming more confident and revel in his heroism was really satisfying, and Huntress' uneasy move into and out of the group was the most grounding emotional force in the narrative.

Reading all of Morrison's JLA back to back makes you forget just how innovative his stuff is. The fill in issues sprinkled throughout the volumes bring this to the fore, Morrison's work is so far beyond what anyone else is doing, in terms of narrative, character development and concepts, I hesitate to see why anyone would read it after he left the title. Obviously there's love for these characters, but only when Morrison writes them do they feel real, other people just draw on the same couple of traits that they've been whiddled down to over the ages.

Looking through the run, my favorite arc was undoubtedly Rock of Ages. This arc took the kitchen sink approach, throwing everything in. The JLA fought robotic doubles of themselves, battled Lex Luthor and The Joker, went to Wonderworld, and reset the world from a dystopia ruled by Darkseid. I loved that arc because it felt most like his work on The Invisibles, there was more uniquely Morrison in there than anywhere else. I also loved the two issue storyline featuring Daniel from Sandman, an arc which functioned as a simpler version of Flex Mentallo. One Million was in a lot of ways the high point of the run, full of so many ridiculous concepts and a narrative scope that was never matched. Earth 2 and the final issue are also notable.

The run's greatest demerit is the somewhat repetitive structure of most arcs. A foe appears who has figured out a foolproof plan to defeat the JLA, he winds the first round, then the JLA regroup and beat him. Because most of the characters have individual titles, you can't really do heavy character arcs, so these massive scope narratives are pretty much the only way to make a viable threat.

Looking at this run next to Morrison's work on New X-Men reveals a lot about the difference between Marvel and DC. The characters in X-Men are designed to be actual people, they have flaws and are meant to be people the readers can identify with. The core members of the JLA are aspirational figures, so they're frequently read as power fantasies. However, Morrison goes beyond that simple interpretation and positions the JLA as humanity's guides to the next stage of evolution. As Metron says at the end of WWIII, the JLA shows us a glimpse of our future selves, and it's up to us to get to there.

The Complete JLA Review Index

JLA: New World Order (#1-4)

JLA: American Dreams (#5-9)

JLA: Rock of Ages (#10-15)

JLA: Prometheus Unbound (#16-17)

JLA: Return of the Conqueror (#22-23)

JLA: One Million

JLA: Executive Action (#24-26)

JLA: Crisis Times Five (#28-31)

JLA: World War III (#34-41)

JLA: Earth 2

JLA: Classified (#1-3)