Saturday, September 29, 2007

52: Volume 3

After thoroughly enjoying 52: Volume 1, I had a few issues with the direction of the series in Volume II. The tightly focused character threads started to slip, and more and more obscure DC characters were layered on. However, this Volume, which moves the story into its final act, is a lot tighter and more emotional, taking the characters through a variety of really wrenching moments and providing some moments of crazy Morrisonian genius. The series still has its issues, but it’s so entertaining and addictive, they don’t really bother me. There’s a whole bunch of plot strands running through these issues, let me tackle them one at a time.

The stuff with the mad scientist island didn’t grab me for the first couple of issues. The concept was good, but the execution was a bit off. However, over the course of these issues we get more development and an increasing level of insanity. The craziest thing here is Egg Fu. The very concept of this character, a giant evil egg, is so ridiculous, and here he’s turned into a legitimately menacing villain. The highlight is the Thanksgiving dinner issue, but pretty much any moment with Egg Fu was gold.

Along with this, we get some great stuff with Will Magnus and Veronica Cale, journeying on opposite trajectories. Will starts out as the only one on the island with a conscience, but is forced off his meds, off towards insanity. This is a classic conundrum, the character whose medicine strips him of his genius. The insanity and the genius are wrapped up in each other. Veronica Cale is more interesting, at first a gloriously immoral femme fatale, she is humbled by an encounter with the gods they summon. In the moment she summons them, you can see her enthusiasm turn to fear, recognizing the reality of what she’s done. I’m guessing things won’t go well for her in the next volume, as her creation gets out of her control.

Arguably the major plot thread of these issues was Charlie’s gradual journey to death. This was really well executed, making good use of the real time format. We could witness him succumbing to the illness, the cold reality of cancer intruding on the fantasy world of these characters. This was some sad stuff, full of really nice moments between Renee and Charlie. I like the way they brought Kate Kane in, and the closing journey to Nanda Parbat was suitably epic.

As Renee trudged through the snow, the story moved beyond traditional narrative and became an allegorical representation of her state of mind at the time. She’s pressing on through this endless white expanse, getting help from no one, unwilling to admit that Charlie is going to die, there’s nothing she can do about it. In the end, she collapses and gives up, he passes on, and she accepts it. The journey doesn’t make that much sense from a reality based point of view, but as a metaphor for her mental state, it’s perfect.

I also loved the intercutting of the New Year’s Eve countdown in the hospital room with Luthor cutting the powers on the Everymen. While the Everymen storyline, particularly the Steel and Nat stuff, was by far the weakest storyline, that was a really powerful moment. They broke out of the grids used throughout the series for a wide expansive intercut double page spread, gradually pressing towards the tragedy of all these superpeople falling to Earth. It was great to have Phil Jiminez cameo for the aftermath, a tragic descent for these would be heroes.

Thematically, the Everyman Project is tough to fit in with Grant’s recent work. In his last JLA storyline, World War III, he empowered every citizen and they all flew up to fight with the heroes. It was a wonderful moment, illustrating humanity’s potential. In Seven Soldiers, we witness a lot of ordinary people struggling to be extraordinary, to be heroes. There, a group of wannabes gets murdered by the Sheeda in the first issue. Those characters were more obsessed with the idea of being superheroes then with doing the work that goes into actually being a superhero.

For Morrison, and the genre in general, the goal is to maximize your potential. Batman is doing as much as any human can, training his body and mind, and using technology to be the ultimate crime fighter. In All Star, Superman does more, he is beyond simple interpersonal conflict and seeks to move the world forward. In Seven Soldiers, the characters all struggle through a series of obstacles that forces them to grow and in the end, their unique talents help them to defeat the Sheeda. The characters in #0 all rush into battle without training, their goal is to be a superhero first, to do good second. In Morrison’s worldview, heroism is all about responsibility. It can be fun, but it’s also a burden to carry. The real heroes are the ones who can carry that burden, and risk their lives for others. It is not about doing violence, frequently peace is the better route.

Considering his focus on evolution, you’d think Grant would embrace Luthor’s Everyman Program as an easy way to move humanity forward. But, in the end, the Everyman Program is proven false. I’m not sure how much input Grant had on this decision, and there’s also the fact that the DCU can’t just have anyone who wants to being a superhero, however, I do think what happens here fits in with the portrait of heroism Morrison’s been creating. Like Gimmix or Sally Sonic, these characters just want power and fame, they’re not committed to living with the responsibility of their powers. That’s what we see in the dichotomy between Nat and the other members of Infinity Inc.

Did the story have to go this way? I do think it would have been cool to explore more of the way that ordinary people reacted to the program. However, it does fit. There was an inevitability to the end of Everyman, and at least this conclusion fits it within GM’s worldview. There is danger in accepting power from an unreliable source, the greatest strength comes from within. That’s not to say people couldn’t have done great things with these powers, as Bulleteer did after having power forced on her, but in this case, they made a deal with the devil, and the devil doesn’t play fair.

It’s interesting looking at this Lex Luthor in light of the Luthor from All Star Superman. Both are obsessed with Superman, desperate to compete with this ideal even though they never can. One of the best scenes here is the moment where Lex has Clark completely at his mercy, but asks only about Supernova, mixing the chance to bust Clark once and for all. He is motivated by jealousy and lust for power, not the need to do good. That seems to be the problem with all the Everyman heroes, they’re doing it for selfish reasons.

Elsewhere, we get major development for the space heroes. Lady Styx didn’t work that well for me, partially because we get the random cosmic civilization that doesn’t really mean anything to me. Much like the Shiar in X-Men, there’s just a whole bunch of people with no definition or grounding. The bigger problem is that Lady Styx feels like a retread of Gloriana from Seven Soldiers, she’s got the same color palette and world conquering tendencies. Her death is a bit quick, I’d rather have seen her stick around to menace the DCU, or perhaps build her up as more of a threat so the payoff when she’s defeated is better.

While I have issues with the handling of some of that stuff, I did really like the fight against her. Lobo gets provoked and finally snaps out of his pacifism in a fun, over the top scene. What really makes it work is the connection between Kori, Adam Strange and Buddy. I like the way that Kori wears his Animal Man outfit, and the moment where Buddy yells out that he believes in his family moments before Adam flies in shooting is one of those perfect blends of action and emotion that Morrison does so well. These three are a great team, and it’s sad that they’re separated when Animal Man dies.

I hadn’t heard about Animal Man dying in the series, so I was figuring this wasn’t going to stick. It bothered me to do another resurrection, so soon after bringing back Booster as Supernova, particularly after the great emotional stuff involving his wife’s sadness and Kori’s tears. However, that trepidation was all wiped away with the return of the yellow aliens from Morrison’s Animal Man run. They were like the Seven Unknown Men of that series, agents of the authorial hand in the DC Universe. I’m curious to see where Buddy goes from here, is it another metatextual journey? Side note, I really have to reread Morrison’s Animal Man.

The other big storyline focused on the Black Marvel family, and their struggle to be accepted by the mainstream superhero community. This storyline is primarily interesting for the way it illustrates the impact that point of view makes on audience response to a story. The Black Marvel family is almost saintly in what they’re doing, and I’m totally behind them, but the world just won’t listen. They can’t accept the idea that Black Adam has reformed, and consequently, set out to sabotage them. The ambush sequence is really effective, building a lot of momentum to the moment where Osiris flies right through one of the assassins. This is what would happen if people with unlimited power, but little training or discipline were let out into the world. The whole storyline brings back memories of Miracleman, and I’m guessing we’re heading into the dark stages soon. They are exiled from the world, and Black Adam can only stay saintly for so long. It’s hard to watch the cruel march of impending tragedy.

Perhaps the most Morrison of all the issues was Ralph Dibny’s trip to Nanda Parbat. Ralph’s been through a lot, and his stuff is generally entertaining, though rarely a highlight of the series. However, under the guidance of the perfectly named Accomplished Perfect Physician, Ralph goes through the same kind of transformative experience that Barbelith offers. It is revealed to Ralph that “There is no death. Death is an illusion of being in time.” Rama Kushna goes on to say that “No Love is wasted. No love is lost in time.” This all ties in with the Invisibles idea that all time exists simultaneously, so even if someone is dead, the moments they lived still exist. So, even though Sue is dead, the love they shared still exists and can never be destroyed. It’s nice to see this sort of conceptual stuff appear in a series that’s mainly concerned with exploring variations on the superhero narrative. My guess is, Ralph will be taken outside of time and get a chance to relive some moments with Sue, and come to terms with her death through that experience. We also get some meta discussion of writers and an end being written. Will this tie in with Buddy’s storyline? We shall see.

Finally, a brief discussion of the Batman issue. Personality as something we can put on and take off is key to Morrison’s work. Bruce Wayne has been wearing the Batman fiction suit so long it has become him, but the suit has been corrupted. In this issue, he kills that Batman and plans to rediscover the core of what was underneath. It’s a cool concept, and it’s nice to see Bruce getting a moment in the series.

That said, it’s a joy to read a DC book without the big three, or most of the really powerful heroes in general. Much like Seven Soldiers, this book digs into less prominent corners of the DCU and creates real characters out of minor figures in other books. There’s some really interesting people and concepts here, and I like how the ensemble structure takes us between them. I could see how it would get frustrating waiting weeks for a plot you like to return, but read in trade, I’ve got no real complaints about the way things are progressing. While I would have loved the weekly reading experience, there’s definitely advantages to the trade. I’d love to see “the band” come back for another weekly series like this, but it sounds like Morrison wouldn’t be up for that. Still, this is a wonderfully fun book full of crazy concepts and exciting characters, everything that a superhero book should be. I can’t wait for the fourth and final volume.

Dissent is The Essence of American

The US has been through a lot of awful stuff over the past few years, but this week brought what I’d consider the most ridiculous government legislation so far, the condemnation of a ad which criticized General Petraeus. There’s a number of reasons this really bothers me, more than all the other shit that’s been foisted on us by Bush and his crew, and this incident as much as any other sums up why the Bush team is still so powerful, and why the Democratic party is such a pathetic bunch of cowards who won’t really change anything if they’re elected.

Back in 2006, I wrote: “The critical thing after 9/11 was the construction of the idea that to not support American aggression was to be anti-American, to oppose Bush's policies was to be a traitor. This was evident in the Dixie Chicks controversy, how could having a difference of opinion mean being anti-American? Isn't the whole point of freedom having the option of doing and saying whatever you want? But as constructed by Bush, it's an us vs. them, the "free world" vs. the axis of evil.” Since then, there’s been a massive erosion of support for Bush, the vast majority of people are incredibly dissatisfied with the way the war in Iraq is going, yet no one is standing up to combat the Bush administration.

The Democrats got elected on the promise that they would end the war, however, they’ve done absolutely nothing. Now, the president’s veto power means they can’t do whatever they want, but that’s not an excuse to do nothing. They should be passing bills cutting funding for Iraq all the time, and forcing Bush to veto them, put the responsibility for every American death firmly on Bush and whoever voted for that legislation, where it belongs. Of course, the Democrats are so incredibly pathetic, they can’t even censure Bush for his execution of the war. It’s pretty sad.

But things got sadder this week when we got this condemnation of an ad. I don’t understand how people running a nation that was founded on criticizing exiting order can legitimately be angry at a group for criticizing the handling of this war through an attack on the man handling it. It’s absolutely perplexing to me, and I’d love to hear someone try to defend it as anything other than pure politics. The Republicans are absolutely shameless to call this ad disgusting, but have no problem with the tens of thousands of people that George Bush killed with his war in Iraq.

But, the saddest thing for me is that Democrats not only voted for the condemnation, but actually tried to expand its reach and further diminish free speech. It’s unbelievable hypocrisy to criticize MoveOn for attacking Petraeus after the Swift Boat attacks on John Kerry, but condemning those attacks three years after the fact isn’t going to do anything. Where the fuck was the attack on Republicans then, particularly when Bush was attacking anyone who attacked his “military service.” That’s one the greatest testaments to their patheticness, even when their candidate actually fought in the war, they lose the military cred.

Now, I think running from Kerry’s anti-war record was a huge mistake. The protest movement in Vietnam was one of the proudest moments in our nation’s history, a moment when people tried to fight back and not just accept the will of the government. Kerry was a hero for that, not for his service in Vietnam. The soldiers in Iraq and Vietnam are not heroes, they are victims. Bush does not care about the soldiers, he does not support them and he does not respect them, nor do any of the Republicans who sent them into war for no good reason.

But, that’s just my opinion. Would I condemn someone who thought otherwise? No, and that’s why anyone who voted for the condemnation will never have my support again. I can’t respect someone who says it’s wrong to criticize the military because that is not wrong, sometimes it’s the only way to create change. No institution in this country is above critique because no institution is perfect, and they never will be, we always can be better and we should strive for that.

Inherent in conservative politics by its very definition is the notion that things should remain the same. Because so many conservatives believe our nation is going downhill morally and socially, they respond to politicians who talk about the good old days and traditional values. Guess what, the good old days never existed, the moments they lionize were marred by racial prejudice and suppression of groups based on their gender and religion. We’re still far from perfect, but I’d rather see politicians who imagine a better future, and fight for that.

It’s unbelievable that some of the people in power remain in power considering the stupid things they say. I hear people say evolution doesn’t exist, that’s patently wrong, I thought we cleared the issue up in the 1920s. How could you trust someone who denies the existence of evolution to run our schools? And, evolution and God are not mutually exclusive, the way I see it, evolution is the engine designed to make us all better. Look at 2001: A Space Odyssey, evolution is moving us closer to godliness.

Beyond that, it’s hard to believe that people making hate speech against gay people can remain in office. Humanity’s destiny is towards acceptance and unity, we’ve knocked down a whole bunch of divisions, and prejudice based on sexual orientation is the next to go. The politicians who don’t support gay marriage today are the ones who would have supported slavery and the oppression of women years ago. It’s the same belief in a new guise, and soon, this barrier will fall like others in the past have. We are destined for greatness, but need to overcome these temporary obstacles.

The problem is, the Republicans still control the game. That’s why criticizing the military is analogous to treason, it’s the same as the Dixie Chicks controversy from a few years ago. They want to make dissent with the party line un-American, when in reality, dissent is the essence of America, and even the essence of the Christianity they all value so. Jesus was a revolutionary who upended social order, just because something has become an institution doesn’t mean it must lose the spark of change that ignited it. That is the core American and Christian value, not the imagined values of a time that never was the Republicans present us with now.

But, because they control the game, everyone is pushing towards the right. Democratic candidates refuse to really oppose the war, when in reality they should be fighting it hard. People hate the war, but this small group of extremists has captured our government and the idea space in America. Democrats must define themselves in relation the Republican values because they don’t really stand for anything. I’ll freely admit that, but it doesn’t mean we can’t dream of something better. Hate and fear have possessed our politics, and no one is willing to fight it with love and progress. Republicans would have you believe they are an oppressed group fighting for mainstream values against a small bunch of extremists who control the media and cultural dialogue. That would be hilarious if it wasn’t actually being said, Bush and his crew are the extremists, completely out of touch with the mainstream.

Sadly, most Democrats don’t really do anything. They are cowered by the brilliant attacks Republicans threw at previous candidates. Bush ran in 2000 on responsible fiscal management and a refusal to go on nation building military expeditions, but it’s Kerry who was tagged as a flip flopper. Once that tag was on, there was nothing he could do to combat it because everyone has slight variations in belief over time, that’s evolution. But, that adaptation was characterized as weakness.

This inaction is enforced by the fact that it feels like average people can’t do anything to enact change. No march or petition is going to stop the war in Iraq, and I get the distinct sense people can’t do anything but laugh at the situation, hence the popularity of the Daily Show and the Colbert Report. But, laughing at it isn’t going to make it go away, and until a really dynamic, exciting leader comes along, we’ll have to just wait for time to change the game and push the Bush agenda away. But, with ridiculousness like Rudy Giuliani’s sudden belief in guns for everyone and the constant use of 9/11 as justification for everything, that could be a long time.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Bionic Woman - "Pilot" (1x01)

The Fall TV season is upon us, and over the course of this weekend, I’ll be posting a bunch of articles about the shows I’ve watched so far. To date, I’ve watched two new shows, Reaper and Bionic Woman. One was pretty good, one was pretty shitty. Which one was which? Read on.

I’ve heard a lot of mixed things about Bionic Woman so far, but the presence of Battlestar Galactica producer David Eick and Katee Sackhoff is enough to earn at least a sample, and I think the first episode was solid, far from perfect, but good enough to earn at least a few more episodes. It’s tough to watch a show when it first airs because you have no context for what it will become. When I watched Buffy, the show was already over, and I knew to stick with it through the weak first season because it was going to become something better. Same for Babylon 5, there’s no way I would have made it through that first year on TV, it was only the knowledge that it would become better that got me through the dark times.

But, with a new show, you have no idea what it’s going to become. Bionic Woman could become the next great show, and grow beyond this solid, but unexceptional pilot. Or it could run one unremarkable season and be cancelled. Plus, inherent in the enjoyment of any pilot is a fear about what the show will become. If they do too much story in the pilot, where does the show go? A pilot’s goal is to get you to the next episode, and in that respect, this one is successful.

I’ll start with what works here. As almost every review said, Katee Sackhoff owns this show. She’s saddled with some really cheesy lines, but she just sells them, through a curiously zen villain delivery. She’s not the sparkplug of rage that Starbuck is, she’s more a coiled operative, fueled by fury that remains beneath the surface. Every time she came on screen, I was happy to see her, and even in the final fight scene, which is supposed to mark our heroine’s birth, all I could focus on was Katee’s Sarah.

That fight scene was exemplary of a lot of other things that worked about the show, primarily the visual style. Like Galactica, this is a very dark, gritty looking show. It doesn’t have the full on documentary flavor of BSG, but it manages to make ordinary cities look just as oppressive as the cramped confines of the Galactica. There are a lot of iconic visuals in the pilot, none more so than Sarah’s anime villain style hair when she’s standing in the rain on the roof top. Looking like Cowboy Bebop’s Vicious, it was a perfect visual moment. Even her “Time out, time in” speech didn’t ruin it. It was weird seeing her so made up earlier, but I could go along with it, even with her 80s Drago’s wife in Rocky IV style hair near the start of the pilot.

You may have noticed that I haven’t written at all about the actual central character of the show. Jamie is put through so much here, it becomes impossible to relate, that she would go from ordinary person to bionic woman in one episode strains credibility. Wouldn’t it make more narrative sense to have her get beaten by Sarah here, and then train for a rematch over the first few episodes of the season? Now, she has nowhere to go, she’s already proven she can fight Sarah, and we have nowhere to go with their conflict. Getting beaten so thoroughly would also give her more motivation to join the organization, she’d need them as much as they’d need her.

A bigger issue is the lead’s total lack of charisma. It’s magnified next to Katee Sackhoff, but it just makes me wonder why the coolest character can’t be the center of the show? I guess they don’t want the moral ambiguity of Sarah at the center, but I feel like that’d be a better show, or possibly a split lead.

The dynamic between Jamie and her boyfriend reminded me a lot of Grant Morrison’s Bulleteer. That was about a disturbed guy who wanted to turn him and his girlfriend into superheroes. He used an experimental procedure and encased them both in metallic power goo, which accidentally resulted in his death. Alix, the heroine of that series, had an inherent conflict in the fact that this was done to her against her will. That conflict is present here, but it’s less vexing, she had no legs at all, so wouldn’t you rather have bionic ones than no legs. It feels like he gave her a gift, admittedly an initially disturbing gift, but she really has no downside here. It’s better to give your character a lot of internal conflict, and I just don’t see that here.

Also inherent in Alix’s story was a meaningful discussion of male power over women, which is the theme here, but in the most obvious way. If you looked up idiotic in a video dictionary, you’d find that scene with the girl in the car right next to it. As with Buffy, the female empowerment is inherent in the premise, when someone outright voices the theme, it feels goofy. Plus, I’m not sure what the empowerment is here, a male run organization is using her power to do their work, could one read this as an allegory for child birth, men using a woman’s unique gift to forward their own agenda?

Regardless, I’d like to see some of the pervy insanity of Alix’s husband come in here. Does Jamie’s boyfriend have some kind of odd sexual thing for her new bionic self? Sadly, they make it clear that all her women parts are intact, but wouldn’t it be crazy if he said that they built her a new bionic vagina, and he likes that a lot more than the real her? There’s already a clear violation of her body, why not push that further and explore the way people perceive her as an object? That’s what Bulleteer did so wonderfully, that was a pretty much flawless treatment of the concept here, and I hope to see some of those themes appear here.

Sadly, it looks more like we’ll be dealing with villain of the week, Jamie stopping them for the organization, while dealing with some overall conspiracy and cheesy personal drama. That could work, but I really hope to see the layered plots and character growth of BSG emerge as the series goes on.

But, I liked the show a lot more than most TV pilots just because of the visual style. The shots popped and it felt exciting and new. Even something like Heroes, which featured great effects, never innovated in terms of shots. This had a very specific visual language, and it just felt cinematic.

In terms of music, the show made some great and some dodgy choices. It felt like a violation to use Sia’s “Breathe Me,” Six Feet Under owns that song, it should never be used in another film. No matter how good the scene, it’s not going to top Claire’s drive through the future. The Explosions in the Sky style track that cropped up occasionally, notably during the fight scene, was great, but I would have liked it to build more, not just pop up all of a sudden. That was my major issue with the music, every couple of minutes, a big track would come in. That drew attention to the music, I think layering it throughout and varying dynamics would have worked better. You build that guitar track, then crescendo it where you want the impact to be.

So, there’s a lot of flaws, but I’ll stick with it. It looks great, has a killer Katee Sackhoff performance and enough other interesting stuff to keep my attention. We’ll see where it goes.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Death Proof

One of my biggest filmgoing regrets of the year is the fact that I never got to see Grindhouse. I was still in school when the film came out, and it wasn’t playing at the theater near Wesleyan. Time passed, and when I return to New York, it was only playing at one theater. I kept meaning to go down and see it, but soon it had vanished, and with it my chance to experience the full theatrical spectacle intended by its creators. I’m assuming the film will turn up on DVD at some point, but for now, I’ll have to make do with the DVD of Tarantino’s Death Proof, the extended cut.

It’s odd to read so much about the reaction to a film before getting to see it, and my expectations for Death Proof were definitely colored by what I’d read. While someone going into Grindhouse probably would have been expecting pure action spectacle, I was aware that it was a talky film, centering on two separate groups of women. Going in with those expectations, I loved the film, parts of it more than others, but I do think it’s a worthy addition to Tarantino’s oeuvre.

Unlike a lot of people, I think Tarantino really came into his own with his past two films, Jackie Brown and Kill Bill. While I love Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs, they’re not as accomplished and cinematic as the latter two. Jackie Brown in particular is one of the most underrated films of all time, almost always left out of discussions of his work when it is in fact his most emotional and mature piece of filmmaking. On the DVD, he describes that film as a hangout movie, one where you’re watching it to spend time with the characters rather than following the story, Death Proof is much the same.

My favorite part of Death Proof is the opening hour, following the first bunch of girls during their night on the town in Austin. Tarantino can write dialogue like no one else, and it’s a joy to just watch these people talk and be together. You’re given access to their social world, and during the sequence in the bar, it feels like you’re sitting at the bar, watching the happenings. My best compliment to those scenes is that they made me really want to go hang out in Austin. I wanted to be a part of that place for real because it was so vividly depicted here.

Throughout the film, there’s perfectly chosen music cues, provided by the fetishistically adored jukebox. My favorite music moment was cutting from T. Rex to melodramatic music to show our character’s emotional state, then back out to the T. Rex. You don’t need to know the background of that drama, it’s all conveyed in the moment. It doesn’t even matter that the story goes nowhere beyond them getting killed, it’s all about enjoying the moment.

I won’t lie, a large part of the enjoyment of that segment came from spending time with Vanessa Ferlito, who’s absolutely gorgeous. The lapdance sequence was fantastically sexy without ever really showing anything. I would have been happy to just stay with those characters up at the lake and not even have any violence happen. This was a Russ Meyer feel to the sequence, Faster Pussycat in particular.

But, a happy weekend at the lake was not in the cards for our heroines. The death sequences, first Rose McGowan’s and then the fourpeat of car destruction were intensely nasty. Tarantino called the film a slasher film where the car is the killer, but those sequences go beyond the slasher film by making this something utterly real. You could be driving along and ripped apart like that. The reality of the car chase later in the film made it feel more dangerous than any CGI perils. I particularly like the poking fun at CGI when Stuntman Mike is talking about how they do car chases in movies.

The second half of the film drags a bit because it’s largely more of the same, and those characters don’t feel as realized as the first half’s crew does. I also didn’t like the move from grainy 70s style to the clean look of today. I really preferred the quirky cuts and scratches of that opening segment. It’s not that the second half is bad, it’s just you’re going to be less forgiving of a seven minute dialogue sequence halfway into a film than you are near the start.

When we do get to the action, that also drags a bit. The car chase is exhilarating at times, but needed about a minute cut out to maximize the thrills. That said, there were a whole bunch of fantastic moments throughout, and I loved the way the movie ended, so sudden and abrupt. That had a real exploitation flavor, you do the violence, then you end the movie.

On the whole, I loved the movie. The first half is straight up brilliant, the second only drags in comparison to the superior first half. But, I think it got a bit of a bum rap, and will hopefully be more appreciated on its own. I’m going to have to give it a couple more watches to see just how good it is, but right now, I’d say it’s the best film of the year.

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

I got a screener DVD of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, a show I’d heard good things about, but never checked out. It’s an FX comedy that at this point is primarily known for the fact that Danny DeVito is in the cast. DeVito is by no means the main character, but he fits into the ensemble well. The show isn’t great, but it’s funny enough.

I heard someone describe the show as “Seinfeld on crack,” which is something that would make a great pull quote, and is a decent description of the show. Like Seinfeld, the show is about four self absorbed single people in the city who have various wacky adventures over each episode. But, being an FX show, things are rawer than Seinfeld, and the comedy is more out there.

For example, the first episode features three plots, one in which two of the characters find a baby in a dumpster and decide to turn him into a child star, two other characters find interesting stuff at the dump and gradually become like homeless people and finally one character who poses as a hippie to sleep with a girl. It’s a densely packed show, with some interesting visual stuff. That episode featured a striking montage set to The Doors’ “Riders on the Storm” that was both funny and filmically engaging. I laughed a bunch of times during all the episodes of the show, though there were some ups and downs to the episodes. An Invicible parody didn’t work as well as that first episode.

Throughout, there were some things that annoyed me. While I really liked the rawness of the cinematography, the happy 50s style music was tiring, and didn’t feel fresh at all. At times, the show moved into Family Guy style random comedy. Because the characters are so self absorbed and go into these flights of fancy, there’s no real emotional underpinning to the comedic universe. So, the episodes work or don’t work entirely on the laughs from this week’s plot. The best comedies, like HBO’s recent Flight of the Conchords have real emotion underlying the comedy. That show has moments that were just as fantastic, but you always felt the characters were emotionally real, and that makes it funnier.

But, that’s my personal taste in comedy. Most of the comedy I like comes out of real world situations, not the absurdity of this comic universe. But, a lot of people do love comedic works that take place in their own bizarre reality, like this one. It is far stronger and genuinely edgy than something like Family Guy, and I’m guessing this is a show that’s going to break out as word of mouth builds. If nothing else, it’s really easy to watch a bunch of episodes in a row and be consistently entertained.