Wednesday, December 21, 2005

My Review of King Kong

King Kong is hands down my favorite movie this year. After having treated the world to his filmmaking prowess with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Peter Jackson has demonstrated that he is very much here to stay.

Just about everyone knows the story of King Kong in the same way that everyone knows the story of Superman; a giant gorilla found on an island who...well, let's allow the three people on the planet who don't know King Kong's story some measure of suspense as to what happens in the story.

This movie presents no significant variations to the basic story, but what it does give us are incredibly fleshed out characters, including the eponymous ape. Without a word of dialogue, Peter Jackson has created a character who makes us cringe, laugh and cry in rapid succession. The most amazing thing about Kong is that at no point, and I mean no point does he look even remotely digital. Digital creatures are too often betrayed by their slickness, by their impossible symmetry. It's Kong's imperfections and awkwardness that give him flesh, that made me wonder if any point in the film, like maybe for the closeups, the filmmakers used latex and foam instead of CGI to depict Kong. I don't believe they ever did (though I could be wrong on that score).

Another skill that Peter Jackson displayed with the LOTR trilogy which sets him apart from the epic filmmakers who came before him like George Lucas and James Cameron is his ability to mine richly nuanced and textured performances from his stars. He is every inch their match, pixel for pixel, in the F/X department, but they simply cannot touch him when it comes to commanding powerful performances from the most unlikely actors (Steven Spielberg is exempt from such a comparison, having coaxed a number of brilliant performances from actors such as Liam Neeson and Tom Hanks, among others). The skill remains evident in this film.

Naomi Watts is pitch perfect as Ann Darrow. Though there are admittedly a number of skilled enough actresses out there, there is simply no one who could have pulled it off with that incredible mixture of innocence and sadness with which she imbued her character. What amazed me most about her portrayal was that, after so many roles as a mom, or a wife, and despite being 36 years old at the time of filming, she was able to play a frustrated young actress with the most amazing...freshness. Maybe some of the credit goes to the cinematographer, but it wouldn't have worked if Watts hadn't played her the way she did. You can only cheat so much, after all.

Jack Black was probably one of the more eyebrow-raising choices Jackson had to deal with when he cast the film, and the qualities that have annoyed some viewers and have pleased others are quite evident in his Carl Denham, but ultimately, the gambit works. One might say that Phillip Seymour Hoffman could have pulled off the role, but there is one thing that Black has over anyone else who might have been considered for the part, and it can be described perfectly in two words: MANIC ENERGY. His Denham is an asshole, a huckster, a fiend, but I could never bring myself to hate him because he believes too strongly in what he's doing to be all bad.

Oscar winner Adrien Brody is a good choice as Jack Driscoll, but his role is not exactly a meaty one, given that he's basically the straight-up leading man with his heart in the right place and with very little in the way of distinctive character quirks. Still, to paraphrase Driscoll himself, Brody makes it his own. Well, if nothing else, he knows how to act scared, even considering King Kong isn'et real. The problem isn't his acting at all; he just isn't given much to do but be a hero. If Universal ever ponies up money for a Hulk sequel (which I don't suppose is likely) I would LOVE to see this guy replace Eric Bana as Bruce Banner (just as I'd love to see Peter Jackson replace Ang Lee, but that's for another post altogether).

The rest of the cast is a bit uneven, though. In the case of Thomas Kretschmann (The Pianist) as Englehorn, I couldn't figure out if Jackson really wanted a guy who talked like Ah-nuld Shwarzenegger or if Kretschmann just couldn't get rid of his accent. His acting was otherwise okay, though. Although he was a tad cartoony, Andy Serkis provided us with some lovely comic relief as Lumpy the cook.

Two characters, however, irked me, both because of the way they were written and the way they were portrayed. These were Mr. Hayes, the ship's first mate played by Evan Parke, and Jimmy, the stowaway turned crew member played by the kid everyone remembers as Billy Elliot, Jamie Bell.

(spoiler alert)

First off, Parke isn't really that good an actor. You don't really get a sense of his purpose in the film, and he never elevates Mr. Hayes past the level of the black dude who gets wasted by the monster. Even before his fate in the film is ultimately revealed you never form enough of an attachment to him to really care what happens to him. He really feels like a throwaway character, and you can't help but blame both the script and the actor for this waste of running time. One wonders why on earth they spent as many minutes as they did developing the dynamic between him and Jimmy, considering the film clocks in at 187 minutes. THAT'S footage they could have cut out, really.

Second, and more annoyingly, the character of Jimmy, while adequately played by Bell (who adopts a fairly convicing American accent), feels like an unfulfilled promise. When Jimmy is first introduced, Hayes talks about his origin, describing him as "wilder than the animals in here" referring to the wild animals often shipped on the tramp steamer the characters ride to Skull Island. One gets the impression that Jimmy has been to Skull Island, and would either be terrified of it, or a useful guide when they're actually there. The film lives up to neither promise, and it's as annoying as hell. That's all, really.

Another real problem with this movie, however, is that from a narrative perspective, there are a number of things wrong with it that can make the requisite suspension of disbelief a little difficult at times.

(spoiler alert)

First and foremost is the wall that the savage natives of Skull Island have built to keep Kong trapped in his even more savage jungle. It's a hundred-foot structure made of stone. It's not topped with spikes or poison or anything. And yet, we're supposed to believe that it's able to keep out a twenty-five foot gorilla who can climb the goddamned EMPIRE STATE BUILDING with one hand holding Ann Darrow. And considering they don't want Kong to get it, why the hell would they put a wooden door right smack in front of their village?

Another absurdity surfaced a little later, when we're enjoying the beauty and danger of the Skull Island jungle, we notice a number of ruined temples, evidence that once upon a time people attempted to settle there. This is, in a word, ridiculous. We have an island populated by several (at one point) giant gorillas, more than one species of carnivorous dinosaur, and Shelob/Starship Troopers-sized BUGS, and yet...we're supposed to believe that everyday human beings WITHOUT machinegunes were able to erect magnificent temples and hew flights of stairs out of mountainsides hundreds of feet high BEFORE these various monstrosities pushed them to the fringes of the island. Preposterous, really.

Then, of course, there are all the usually convenient coincidences and deus ex machinas that are usually present in big films filled with peril. And Englehorn is used a little too often to bail out Denham and his crew.

In the original 1933 film, it would have been easier to overlook such narrative silliness. It was a simpler time, and filmmaking was a lot less sophisticated. Nowadays, such inconsistencies look sloppy, especially from Jackson, whose meticulousness made the LOTR films modern classics. Rather than obsessively blow the film up into a three-hour running time to cram everything he wanted into it that wasn't in the 1933 film, he should have spent more energy trying to make sure that everything that went into the storytelling made sense and was germane to his narrative vision.

Considering everything that's wrong with it, it's a wonder how I was even able to enjoy this film.

But enjoy it I did. The highlight, of course was the throwdown between Kong and what looked like three crossbred T-Rex/Crocodiles. Since Jurassic Park I'd been itching to see a T-Rex get its ass kicked by another creature, and after twelve long years, Peter Jackson has scratched that itch for me.

Also, because of Naomi Watts' tenderness, and WETA's unbelievably detailed rendering of Kong, the love story between them is utterly convincing and ultimately heartbreaking. This is the love story Titanic wishes it was. Without a word of dialogue, the gorilla made me feel more for his plight than Leonardo DiCaprio ever did spouting out three hours of James Cameron's putrid script.

Furthermore, while there's no denying that Titanic was, admittedly, at the time the pinnacle of digital magic, King Kong is, for all its flaws, pure moviemaking magic.

Why I Will Never Buy a Pirated DVD...and Why I Hope Piracy Never Goes Away

I know that even if I had never been born, Spider-Mans 1 and 2 would still have been the massive, record-breaking box office smashes that they were. So would the LOTR trilogy and just about every blockbuster one could think of. I know, therefore, that mathematically, it would not make a difference to the directors, producers, writer, stars and crew of these films if I were to go out and buy pirated DVDs of their product.

But that's not why I won't buy pirated DVDs.

You see, as a film buff, one thing I like almost as much as a good film is the thought that I am rewarding, with however paltry a sum, the filmmakers who have presented me with such fine entertainment. I like that I am letting them know, with my hard-earned pesos, how much I believe in their product, how much I the experience of watching their movies has meant to me. I feel that I am letting them know that I appreciate the time, money, sweat and love they invested in these works of art. The money I spend on a movie ticket, or even on a DVD is kind of like my love letter to these filmmakers, whether or not they care to receive it.

The truth of the matter is that buying pirated DVDs is the diametric opposite of appreciating them. To me, it's like saying "I like your movie, but not enough to pay to see it. I'd rather just give my money to some unscrupulous Taiwanese or Malaysian asshole who did nothing more than click his mouse a few times to get your movie and burn it." Just imagine if EVERYONE thought like that. What if EVERYONE was like that little shit who tried to sneak a digital camera into Spider-Man 2 during one of its initial American screenings? What if EVERYONE figured that "they'll make money anyway from all the people who pay to see their movie in the US?" It doesn't take much of a genius to guess what'll happen next.

2005 saw a downswing in movie ticket sales, at least in the US. The last three years have seen downtrends in movie attendance. In short, movies are becoming riskier to produce, and while it's a distinct possibility that people simply want better films than the stuff Hollywood is currently putting out, it cannot help that people prefer to watch stuff on their home entertainment systems than trek to a local multiplex. Imagine if all that people watched were pirated DVDs.

That said, I hope piracy sticks around.

My wife hypothesized that the reason why movie companies and their distributors price real DVDs so prohibitively is their adherence to the "diamond theory." That is, if you put a high price on a product, you create the impression of "exclusivity" of your product, and theoretically a desire for it. There could be something to that, but there's no denying that the primary motivator is greed.

Why should I pay $15 for a product that only costs about $1 to make? So Tom Cruise can make his back-end profits and buy Katie Holmes her very own delivery room? The hell with that. As long as these dipshits in the industry don't feel the burn of lost profits to sales of pirated DVDs, they will price their products however the hell they want. And no one will be able to do anything about it. It's like they'll be able to hold our home entertainment hostage for exorbitant prices.

Piracy is the equalizer.

In the last several months, video piracy has helped drive DVD prices down. Significantly. I remember how, when it first came out sometime last year, the US-made Lord of the Rings: Return of the King DVD was priced at P1,300. When the distributors had a hard time selling it at that price, they knocked it down to P899, where it remains still. This notwithstanding, several copies are still gathering dust on shelves. Why? Because people aren't really interested in paying 900 for something they already have on bootleg DVDs.

So recently, the distributor of the LOTR movies, C-Interactive, released a boxed set of all three movies for P1200, including the aforementioned US made DVD. That's an average of P400 a movie, all of which are two-disc deals with all the trimmings. This is opposed to the P1300 that the pricks originally had the temerity to charge us. Chalk one up for the consumer!

In short, while personally, I'm really not interested in giving pirates any business because I'd really much rather let my favorite filmmakers how much I liked their work, I'm glad that their are people around to keep these people in check, lest they shaft me and my fellow consumers with impunity.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

My First Term as a Teacher

As of ten thirty this morning I finished checking the last of my students' take-home exams. The experience was oddly cathartic, but more than that I feel immensely relieved that it's over.

Teaching for the last three months at De La Salle University has been rewarding in more ways than one. It's helped me develop aspects of myself that I never even knew were there before. And it helped me get over my fear of ever setting foot in La Salle again (after the bar).

I don't know if it's something I'll get to do again any time soon. For one thing, I won't have any load from DLSU next sem so I guess I'll have to spend the next six months at my day job, and whenever possible honing my skills for a possible second crack at the noblest profession.

As enjoyable as it was, however, I do confess that it was a bit of a nail-biting experience at times. You see, La Salle kids are smarter than a lot of people give them credit for, and more often than not they were (almost) able to put me on the spot. It was actually one of my fears that at some point the students would realize what a fraud I was, and how little I knew at that given moment. Suffice it to say, to cure myself of this early phobia I studied harder than I ever had in my life (with the exception, of course, of the bar). God, teachers have to study even freaking harder than students.

There has, however, been payoff, other than the obvious paycheck. I've been in an enclosed space with nearly thirty kids about ten years my junior, and it has helped...well...rejuvenate me. It's not that I feel I'm ready to be put out to pasture by any stretch of the imagination, but given that I'm a relatively new dad, it's nice to spend some time with a room full of adolescents and post-adolescents to prepare me for the trial that my children's own tween/teen years is likely to be years down the line.

Whether or not I get to do this again, I'm definitely grateful for the chance I've gotten. Maybe I'll write a paper or get a graduate degree before I try this again, or maybe I'll rack up some more teaching credit so that I can get a graduate degree. I don't know. Either way, this has been one heck of a ride.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Choices We Make

Part of Working at the Supreme Court is that whenever new decisions come out, we lawyers are the first to get copies in the form of "advance sheets." Just yesterday I read one such decision, in which we (i.e., the Court) denied a petition filed by some realty company which coincidentally enough, was represented by one of my old bosses. I had seen the file lying around back before the case was even decided, so I was acquainted enough with the case to want to read the decision through. It seems that this company had already lost on several levels, even at the Supreme Court, and was through what seemed to be sheer force of will blocking the execution of the judgment against them. Consequently, not only did the company lose, but the decision recommended the two lawyers who had signed the pleadings for disbarment...including my former boss.

I found myself thinking about this a lot, mainly because just before I started working for the court over a year ago, I was seriously considering going back to that law firm, where I would be under the very lawyer who was, excuse me, IS a potential candidate for disbarment, although I personally doubt it'll go that far. MY name could have just as easily appeared on that decision. After all, if he had asked me to help him prepare those pleadings, it's not as if I could have refused him, right? God, what a thought.

It just kills me how there are choices and then there are CHOICES, decisions you can make in an instant and forget about just as quickly as opposed to decisions which, you realize, are the best you could ever have made. I've spent most of my life making a lot of the former, so much so that in the few instances where I eventually find out that I've made the latter, it really is occasion to take pause. Had I made a different choice those months ago, there is the real possibility that I would be up for disbarment less than one year into my legal career. Wow.

Friday, November 25, 2005

You'd Think It'd be a No-Brainer...

Picture this: you're the President of the Philippines, but the legitimacy of your reign has been questioned since before the elections began. To put it another way, even before the elections were over, people were so sure that they would be rigged (by you) that there is no way that they would believe that you won them fair and square, even if you hadn't cheated. Does this sound a little convoluted? Suffice it to say that you are suffering from a crisis of legitimacy. You're willing to do the work, but no one is willing to let you do your job in peace.

What do you do then? Well, on top of trying to do your job, you try to snag every opportunity for good press that you can.

Suddenly, a news story breaks about six United States Marines allegedly raping a young Filipina over at the Subic Freeport area, and the Department of Justice, which answers directly to you, has the chance to apprehend the six accused of the crime.

This isn't about national security. It's about bringing rapists to justice, or alternatively, about ensuring that six accused of a heinous crime get a fair trial. It's simple, really: you hand the six marines over to the authorities, have them tried fair and square and look good in front of the public who is otherwise torn as to how they feel about you. Show that you are not afraid to punish people just because they're Americans, and the people who can't decide whether or not to join marches to oust you might see you in a new light and enthusiastically condemn the weevils in Congress and in other sectors of society who covet your throne.

To those who would use this as an excuse to slam the Visiting Forces Agreement, you need simply use the logical fallacy argument: point out that there are thousands of United States soldiers currently participating in the exercise, and that the proclivities of a half-dozen of them doesn't mean that the entire exercise is an invitation to rapists.

To your American counterparts, simply assure the marines of a fair trial. Who knows? They may even be acquitted.

It should be a no-brainer.

But Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has demonstrated that like every single Philippine President that has gone before her, and who may come after her until the fall of the new Roman Empire (also known as the US of A), she is completely and utterly beholden to Uncle Sam and his swaggering thugs in the White House.

Apparently, at nearly every single opportunity, the Department of Justice has dropped the ball on this case, from the way they dragged their feet in fetching the marines from the SBMA to conduct an inquest investigation so as to be able to detain them, to the idiotic stories someone at that said office has been leaking to the press about the victim of gang rape retracting her claim because "she only remembered being kissed."

And then, of course, there's the small matter of GMA sucking Bush's ass over at the APEC summit when she should have been asking him, albeit politely I suppose, to have the US Embassy turn those horny bastards over to the Philippine government.

I just can't believe that anyone would be stupid enough to try to piss this case away while millions of people, including opportunistic members of the opposition and the usual leftist suspects, have their eyes trained on the case. But Gloria and her clowns at the Department of Justice seem determined to do just that. They don't even seem to have the slightest interest in seeing that the case goes to trial.

I've often lambasted the people who've been screaming for GMA's ouster, particularly because I'm pretty sure they don't have the faintest idea how to steer the Philippines towards a better place, but would rather just grab all the power for themselves. If those six marines end up sailing off into the sunrise (towards Okinawa) because the government sat on its butt, part of me can almost picture myself joining yet another of those idiotic rallies of theirs.

Well, not quite, but I, for my part, will feel that GMA will deserve all the venom a whole lot more.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Some Quality Alone Time

I've heard various stories of what people do when they go to take a dump in their office bathrooms. For some people, it's the only place in the entire building where they can have a smoke. I've also heard tell of people using as their shooting up/snorting venue. I've even heard a story about one guy whacking off in the stall.

Strangely, after working for over a year at the Supreme Court and two months at De La Salle University, I find myself gratified by just...going there. I don't mean the obvious relief we all feel at evacuating our bowels, no. What I mean is that it's become one of life's simple joys to go to a relatively secluded bathroom in either of the large compounds where I work, at a relatively dead hour of the day, and just sit there for five to ten minutes, even though I'm taking a crap at the same time.

It's funny how these are public bathrooms, and yet, when I use them at certain hours of the day, they genuinely feel like they belong exclusively to me. That's part of the pleasure of it, I guess, but much more than that is the idea that when I'm there relieving myself, I know that this time belongs exclusively to me. No one is going to walk up to me and hand me something that has to be typed or tell me that the boss wants to talk to me. No one is going to call me up because they know I'm at work (and besides, the spot I go to has no cell-phone signal). It's time that's exclusively mine.

And I bask in it. I am able to let my mind go completely blank; I achieve a state where absolutely nothing clutters my thoughts, not either of my jobs, not the million little distractions that flit through my mind at any other time of the day. I don't think about movies, music or literature. I don't think about anything. And thanks to a relatively fiber-rich diet, I don't even notice the smell of my own waste. I am in a state of complete tranquility for that five to ten minutes.

This period is actually all I need to help me get through the rest of my working day. Obviously in the court I go in the middle of the day, while at La Salle I go just before my six p.m. class. Both times I go, the tranquility is incomparable, especially at La Salle, where just about everyone has gone home, and there is a gentle twilight setting in just outside the bathroom window. It's beautiful in its peacefulness, and it's all mine for a few blissful minutes.

The simple joys in life are often the best...

Monday, November 14, 2005

Some Kind of Masochist

A few weeks ago a cousin of mine living in Albany sent several members of our family the same e-mail message. In a nutshell, she was asking that, for her birthday, we all pray that she get back together with some guy who had broken up with her and taken out a restraining order on her (something about her breaking into his apartment).

She's been in a tailspin for the last two or three years, and all of her shenanigans have involved guys, which is pretty sad because apart from that she'd actually been doing pretty well for herself over there, even without a college degree. For awhile it was as though she was completely in her element over there in America...until she started dating at the ripe old age of twenty-nine (or was it thirty? I forget). She's been with married guys, involved guys, jerks and wimps, and it seems that at the end of each and every relationship, the guy wants nothing to do with her. The restraining order recently slapped against her is one of several, apparently.

So I wrote her. I wrote about how she shouldn't pin all her hopes for happiness on this guy, or any guy, for that matter. I wrote about how she needed to go out there and experience life. I wrote about how love would and should find her when she's ready for it, not desperate for it. It felt like poetry.

It also went unanswered.

I should have known better, really. I should have known that someone who's been in and out of jail because she can't get over her habit of stalking her ex-boyfriends, someone who sees multiple shrinks so that she can get several prescriptions of various anti-depressants, and someone who has proclaimed herself a hopeless cases wasn't exactly about to say "oh thank you, Jim, for beating me over the head with what a stupid, sociopathically co-dependent bitch I've been all these years. I will surely mend my ways now." But for some reason, I couldn't help hoping.

I think I know now how all those women who are irrepressibly in love with "bad boys" feel. I've often derided them before, saying that the way they feel about these scumbuckets is really nothing more than a form of narcissism; that is, their ability to get these bad boys to "change their ways" is a way to reassure themselves of their importance in this world. This viewpoint hasn't really changed; I, too, now want to be important. I want to have an effect on this self-destructive cousin of mine, even though all the evidence tells me that she'll probably get shot by one of her ex-boyfriends while she's breaking into his apartment before so much as a word of what I say even registers.

She is my unicorn, my avocation now. Part of it is the fact that she's my first cousin, but there is something more than that as well. To be perfectly and selfishly frank, yes, I want to reaffirm my own place in this world by trying to concretely help someone else.

The funny thing about it is, I'm not sure whether or not to feel guilty or good about myself.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Something to Look Forward to in 2006

Fans of printed and graphic fiction may rejoice!

In April of 2006, Marvel Comics is launching the comic-book adaptation of Stephen King's DARK TOWER series. This will be a landmark in both comics and fiction in general for one very important reason: King will be writing the series (at least the inaugural story arc) himself.

The comics series, as conceived by King, will not actually be a page-to-panel adaptation of the existing books but will, if I understand the stuff I've read correctly, tell "in-between" stories; stuff that received little to no exposition in the books, as well as stuff that couldn't be told in any other medium.

Almost as exciting as the fact that one of the favorite authors of my younger days (I've read the second Dark Tower book, Misery, the Eyes of the Dragon, Needful Things, and Insomnia, but have since fallen out of touch) is hooking up with my favorite comic book company is the art team they have lined up for the project: Jae Lee of INHUMANS fame is teaming up with the spectacular digital painter Richard Isanove (who elevated the artistic impact of ORIGIN and MARVEL 1602 to levels previously unimagined). They've posted over at (I don't know how to present them here, sorry), the four pages of artwork that Marvel presented to King during one of their intial meetings, and holy cow, if they're any indication of how the series is going to look, this is going to be one of the greatest comic books ever. This art looks so good, Alex Ross and Jim Lee should consider going back to art school.

Anyway, thought I'd spread the word, because for the first time in a long time (since Straczynski's first storyarc on Spider-Man, maybe), I am TRULY excited about an upcoming comic book.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Frank Miller's Gone and Lost It...

The idea behind the Ultimate Marvel universe was to free Marvel's best-known characters of 40 years of continuity and thereby try to bring back what had made them so fresh to the comics-reading community some forty years earlier. It was quite successful (though I, personally, didn't give them much business, with the exception of the Ultimates), which was why DC, even after repeatedly one-upping Marvel in terms of single-issue sales (as opposed to overall sales), decided to borrow the concept.

Balderdash, some might say. The idea behind the "All Star" line was simply pure storytelling, blah blah blah. Well, I've read (without actually buying) the first two issues of Frank Miller and Jim Lee's "All Star Batman" and I can with certainty that, yes, the "All Star" line is a thinly veiled ripoff of the Ultimate concept, even without altered origins. In fact, there's something rather unpleasant about the dialogue in particular which is the reason I'm even posting. Here's a sampling:

"Sleep now, my ward."
"What's that mean?"
"Shut up. I'll do the talking."

"What are you, retarded? I'm the goddamn Batman."

"That's not his real voice. He's just doing a lameass Clint Eastwood impression."

By itself, Frank Miller's attempt to "update" Batman's dialogue by having him say things like "retarded" and "cool" and "this is gonna be great" is just plain awful. I could never get into Ultimate Spider-Man because I couldn't stand Bendis' dialogue for the teenaged Peter Parker, but I will concede that at it was at least age-appropriate. Ultimate Bruce Wayne's sounds retarded. It doesn't help that he doesn't look anywhere near as young as Miller claims he is supposed to be.

However, what makes Miller's script reprehensible is that it is a cheap shot at the Batman scripts of old. His every line seems to scream "Haw haw look how lame the dialogue was back when Batman first met Robin. No wonder everyone thinks they're faggots!"

I've never been a DC fan, but theirs is, as the tagline goes, the original universe. Comics as an art form owes a lot to those early, "goofy" issues. After all, if it wasn't for them, there wouldn't be a Batman today. They deserve respect, whatever their foibles may have been.

Even Stan Lee, the father of Marvel Comics and of so much that is pleasant about comic books today, wrote reams of hopelessly hokey dialogue in his day. After all, you essentially had a forty-something trying to talk like a teenager (at least in the case of Spider-Man). You don't see Brian Bendis or Mark Millar laughing at how cornball the dialogue is.

With "All-Star Batman", Frank Miller seems to be betting that he can script Batman and Robin's earliest adventures in such a way that no one will make pedophile jokes about them again. That's a pretty tall order, I should think, but I honestly don't think it will help for him to trample all over the work of the guys who came before him.

If the future of comics is so full of contempt for what came before, well, I'm really not aboard for the ride...

Sunday, September 25, 2005

In Defense of the Middle Class

I know the topic has died down somewhat, mainly because the people responsible for all the noise have temporarily run out of breath and are preparing their next wave of cacophony, but I'd like to say a few things on the accusations of apathy that have been flung the way of the middle class by everyone from those whiny opposition Congressmen to those even more whiny journalists that the reason GMA is in power is simply that we don't care about the truth.

Some would say that our defenses have been articulated often enough, but I'd like to give my own take on what's going on, if only to see if I can lay out more clearly what we in the middle class feel.

First of all, our inaction does not stem from apathy. It stems from the fact that we are not stupid.

The image of Escudero, et al. in the streets, rubbing elbows with Imee Marcos and other remnants of the fallen dictatorship was, from DAY ONE, enough to tip us off as to the intentions of the so-called "United Opposition," as was their declaration that Noli de Castro step down along with GMA. Given that they bannered their cause with the slogan that theirs was a "quest for truth," something was immediately amiss. Noli's voice wasn't anywhere on the "Hello, Garci" CD, so on what grounds were they calling for his resignation?

It was quite simple, really. FPJ (God rest his soul) may have been (at least from all outward indications), a moron, but at least he was THEIR moron. He was, as far as they knew, firmly in their pockets. Noli (at least from all outward indications), is a moron who owes the opposition absolutely nothing. That , and that alone, was the reason they demanded, like petulant schoolchildren, his resignation.

Second of all, we are not blind.

The minute the words "transitional government" left the mouths of the opposition, we knew we'd be taken for a ride, and so we gave them the cold shoulder. Their belated attempts to assert "no, wait, we'll go with Noli" are patently insincere (and frankly not very appealing), especially when political flyspecks like Joel Villanueva (who, incidentally, is completely devoid of any right to talk like an elected official given that HE was not duly elected by the people but his PARTY LIST was) make arrogant assertions that "if he doesn't perform, he might as well resign." Perform according to whose expectations? What he really means to say is that "if he doesn't do what WE want, we don't want him in power."

Thirdly, the issue is not that we're pro-GMA, but that, as little as we like her, we like these would-be kings even less. I think this one is self-explanatory.

I can't stand how self-righteous jackasses like de Quiros and those dipshits from the opposition see fit to take cheap shots at us because things aren't going their way. Hey, guys, if you want our support, you'd probably do well to stop insulting us. In particular, Messrs. Escudero, Cayetano, Villanueva, et al., stop insulting our intelligence.

Yes, it's quite likely that anomalies have been committed. No, GMA is not by any stretch of the imagination innocent. Yes, someday she will be held accountable for her sins. But most important, I feel, is this: NO, WE AREN'T INTERESTED IN THE ALTERNATIVE "VISION" OF GOVERNANCE THAT YOU PEOPLE ARE PUSHING.

We aren't apathetic. We just don't like you.

The Price You Pay for Speaking Online...

I know I'm neither the first nor the only blogger out there to be afflicted with blog-spam, and I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one pissed about it, either. Still, I feel it's worth writing about because I feel surprised that I'm even surprised by it all.

Blogging is, for me anyway, just the latest of the blessings that the internet has brought to my fingertips. The first one, I'm embarrassed to admit, was the ability to browse the weekly grosses of films in the United States (in my pre-internet days, I would crouch low in National or Goodwill Bookstore and steal glances from copies of Variety; I've noticed that neither store no longer carries the periodical, probably owing to the fact that nobody really bought it anyway), and there have been many more since.

So, in exchange for all this wonderful stuff I'm getting at minimal cost, I guess it's a small price to pay to have to put up with the occasional incursion from some dipshit capitalist posing as a "comment" to my heartfelt expression of the way the world is.

Still, if anyone knows how I can block this drivel, a la spamguard for one's e-mail account, I'm all ears, really... I mean, I enjoy writing on this blog for the sheer sake of it, and comments are kind of like icing on the cake. I'd much, much rather have "0 comments" at the bottom of each post than be polluted by some putz' attempt to plug their own fly-by-night business.

ARE YOU PAYING ATTENTION, SPAMMERS!?!? (Of course not, what was I thinking?)

Friday, September 23, 2005

Penultimate Bar Blues

In two days the 2005 bar will be over, and mine and Theia's long wait for its results will begin.

As husband and wife, we've been through so much together: our last three years of law school, two kids, three residences, and now, three bar attempts (between the two of us). While this is really just another chapter in the book (speaking from experience, I know that the waiting and actual discovery of the bar results each deserve their own chapter for the sheer agony they bring) of life, I can't help but feel a little sentimental as it draws to a close. It seems a little presumptuous, I know, to talk about Theia's bar like it's a done deal, especially in light of my own unfortunate experience with the bar a couple of years back, but the truth is that another bar attempt, should the need for it arise, will be another story, another set of triumphs and headaches and heartaches. Another chapter, if you will.

What a year it has been. I can't pretend that I haven't felt nervous as hell about Theia's bar. It particularly grabs me when I spout out an answer to a question she poses, and she looks at me blankly and says: oh my God, I had no idea...(or something to that effect). It hasn't happened terribly often, thank goodness, but that it happens at all is worrisome. Anyway, commercial law, the heaviest of all bar subjects and one of the two subjects she will face this Sunday, is the one subject she has prepared for with absolute devotion. My confidence is high.

I feel good about this coming Sunday; as though there are really great things to look forward to...

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Bar blues 2; Half a lawyer

I am an attorney-at-law. I've been one since May 3, 2005, when I signed the roll of attorneys. At the Supreme Court, where I work, I am regularly referred to as 'attorney' by my everyone except my fellow lawyers.

And yet, as my wife's bar exams enter their second week, I find myself feeling, oddly enough, like half a lawyer. Truly, this is a strange, strange side effect of my having been married for four years. Just as my wife shared in my moment of triumph earlier this year, so am I sharing in her agony these four weekends of September.

The funny part is that, going into last Sunday, I was about ten times more nervous than she was about taking the bar. It was as if I was being nervous enough for the both of us (and then some). Later in the day, while she was busy taking the second exam, I got ahold of the questions for the morning exam, Political Law. Going over the first few questions, I went pale, thinking: my God, I wouldn't have been able to answer these if it had been me taking the exam. I then felt relief when the questions got progressively easier.

I've heard of sympathetic pregnancies, but boy this is really nerve-wracking...

Monday, August 29, 2005

Bar Blues

It was this time a year ago that I was gearing up to take a second swing at the Philippine bar examinations. I'm a lawyer now, but the anxiety is still there, albeit in a (slightly) diminished form given that my wife is now up to bat. I guess being married for four years creates the ability to feel sympathetic tension in more ways than one, particularly since this is a matter I have firsthand experience with.

There's so much going on in her head and in mine right now. I'm smarting a little from the fact that the Supreme Court, where I work, has denied my request to serve as one of the supervisors during the bar exams. An understandable decision, given that my wife's taking the exam, but it doesn't make me feel any better about not getting the additional money the gig would have brought.

Guided by a prepare-for-the-worst mindset, Theia and I are currently hatching a financial plan that has us saving up for her second shot at the bar before the ink on her last booklet of the first one has even dried. Excessive? Possibly. But experience is a brutal teacher, one whose lessons tend to linger longer than most.

Theia has a lot going against her in her bar campaign; a lot more than I did during either of my attempts. She has had to nurse a newborn baby. It doesn't help that we've had one yaya crisis after another, unlike when I was taking the exams. Back then our household help averaged at least eight months. From my experience, though, I know that doesn't count her out by a long shot. A great deal of the bar is preparation, but there's so much else that goes into passing it that simply cannot be underestimated.

Anyway, I pray for my wife. I pray for my family, which will be directly affected by the outcome, good or bad, of this exam. i pray for my children, one of whom we hope to send to school next year.

Is this a post or a prayer? Maybe a little of both. God is everywhere, after all, why can't he be online as well?

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

On Self-Loathing

Lately I've found myself perturbed by the increasing aggressiveness with which peddlers of skin-whitening products push their ware. For the benefit of anyone fortunate enough not to have seen any of this latest wave of commercials, the campaign consists of ads where the previously dark users of the product become so fair-skinned that even their good friends fail to recognize them. Print ads from the same company which appear semi-regularly in the pages of Inquirer Libre discuss the virtues of having white skin, going to far as to suggest that it improves one's chances of getting a job!

These ads make me sick.

I think it's safe to say that nowhere is our national self-loathing more evident than in the way our women try to alter the color of their skin. I know a lot of educated women don't fall for the garbage being peddled to them every time their favorite shows cut to commercial, but that there are those that still do really floors me.

There are so many dermatoligical products to sell that, while not necessarily helpful to one's self-esteem, at least have the decency to keep from eroding one's national pride. Products to remove pimples, old scars and all kinds of skin imperfections make fairly good sense, as do those that make skin "softer and smoother" as the tagline often goes, and I'm sure they could make the drug companies a lot of money.

It depresses me, though, that the product they seem to market most assiduously is their skin whitening cream, or soap, or whatever it is.

My wife is brown-skinned and beautiful for it, and though I wouldn't have it any other way, apparently she grew up thinking that her fair-skinned elder sister is better looking than she is, and that white skin is in and of itself a component of beauty. I still roll my eyes at the thought of it. It's funny how she only seems to really appreciate the beauty of her skin color only now.

I honestly don't have anything against fair-skinned girls; I went out with a few and even carried a torch for one for a long time (though it had nothing to do with her complexion), but I feel deeply perturbed by people who slavishly use products to alter their natural skin chemistry just to change the way they were at birth.

It's like every woman who does this to herself is a MICHAEL JACKSON of sorts.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The Power of the Smile

It's really a pity I didn't know about the existence of weblogs three years ago: I would have almost certainly started a journal chronicling the growth of my son, who is now three. I wouldn't necessarily have given a blow-by-blow account of his development, but I certainly would have etched into cyberspace the little vignettes that I have often shared with friends and family at the occasional gathering.

Now that I've been blogging for a little under a year now, I think it would be criminal for me to not write so much as a few paragraphs on the joy of having a baby in the house all over again.

Don't get me wrong: being father to a toddler is still as exhilarating as it can be exasperating. I often swell with pride when other parents express amazement at how articulate little Raphael has turned out to be. I've made it one of my goals to acquiant him with the alphabet, and so far I think we're making good headway. He's got letters A to O down pat, with X and S thrown in for good measure.

But there's something about my youngest, baby Tala, that just drew me to this keyboard: her smile.

At barely two months, this kid has become extremely generous with her mirth. When Apel was that age he smiled too, but catching sight of one was something of a feat. He didn't exactly do it on request.

I don't know if it's the formula I've put this one on, but she seems to smile whenever someone enters the room. It's the most amazing thing, and in this troubled time, one of the best things to look forward to on any given day. It's things like this that make me truly cherish fatherhood.

If you'll excuse me, I'm going to go and see if I can get some more of that little sunshine in a bottle. For anyone with kids, enjoy this little aspect of parenthood because it's absolutely free, and will make you realize that whatever struggles you might have to endure to make ends meet for your's worth it.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Nothing Like a Political Crisis to Bring Out the Writer...

The current political circus has had me reading the papers a lot. I generally don't waste time with the front page any more, because all of the posturing by the parties concerned (on both sides) is usually more irritation than it's worth. I don't seek refuge in the traditional men's corner (namely the comics and the sports page). What really grabs my attention these days is the editorial pages.

In particular, I've taken a liking to the musings of one of Philippine journalism's oldest living veterans, Philippine Star publisher Max Soliven. I used to read Teddy Benigno, too, and really felt bad about his passing, which left a void I don't think has really been filled. I also like to read Amado Doronilla of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, whose career as a journalist has proven similarly durable, but his dour, serious style contrasts rather sharply with Soliven's wonderfully sardonic undertones.

It's a funny thing about Soliven: I used to hate that guy's columns, because it seemed that for the longest time, all he could talk about were his freaking trips abroad. I lost interest after the second or third time I read about one of his jaunts to Europe.

But if there's one good thing all this brouhaha about the administration has brought about, it's the fact that Soliven is writing again, and I mean really giving his two cents' worth on all the shit that keeps hitting the fan day in and day out. His writing is intelligent and funny, and I love that from the tone of his writing, he simply cannot be branded as partisan to either side.

Other writers, like Conrado de Quiros of the Inquirer, or Emil Jurado of the Standard Today, tend to foam at the mouth when they discuss politics, so charged up with their convictions that their columns feel less like opinion pieces and more like diatribes.

Soliven's column is by comparison so much more sober and a lot like the writings of another pillar of Philippine society: Senator Jovito Salonga. These guys don't wear out on their sleeves whether they're for or against GMA, or Erap, or whoever's hogging the front pages. They just call things like they see them, give their own take on where things are going, and sit back and enjoy the ride. Between the two of them, they've seen times that are way worse than these, and yet you don't see the veins sticking out of their necks as they scream their indignation at one faction or another.

At this time, we need people like Max Soliven and Senator Salonga. Sober. Contemplative. These guys are the true patriots, not the shrieking zealots and certainly not the wolves in Congressmen's clothing.

Thursday, August 04, 2005


Apparently, every year since 1985, some groups have tracked how much money movies gross in the United States. The figures grow inevitably, mostly due to inflation, but sometimes due to genuine improvement in attendance.

This year, for twenty straight weekends in a row, the collective grosses of movies in the U.S. (most of them Hollywood products) have been less than they were at the same time last year. As of now the grosses are running something like seven or eight percent behind.

In my honest opinion, what's doing Hollywood in is sequels, and movies created with sequels in mind. I know this is an old, old song, but apparently nobody's listening, so I'm going to sing it again, once more, with feeling.

The good news is, the Star Wars franchise, at least as far as the big screen is concerned, is at an end. It's nice when a film series is finite, like the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, the Star Wars movies, or even the Harry Potter films. This way they don't run the risk of rehashing ideas for the next installment because each film serves as a piece of an already fixed puzzle. Even Sony has taken the hint and announced that there will only be six Spider-Man movies, a promise I sincerely hope they keep, because this will clear the marketplace for newer, fresher ideas.

The bad news is that some franchises have been revived, and others have gotten off on the wrong foot. Yes, I know Batman Begins was a good movie, but by resurrecting a franchise Warner Brothers has set a dangerous precedent for series that have died natural deaths. More on this later.

Fantastic Four's success is, to me, a recipe for disaster. Given that they were able to muscle in on the box office with a half-assed script, half-assed direction, and half-assed casting, the dunderheads at Fox and Marvel films might think they can pull it off again. I cringe at the thought of them starting principal photography on the sequel sometime next year. THERE ISN'T EVEN A SCRIPT YET!!! Well, if we're lucky, the sequel will tank and nip the franchise in the bud. Or...the next film could be better...yeah, right. (Well, there was X2...)

Not to mention that a whole bunch of other franchises are now waiting in the wings, like Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Madagascar, and the Wedding Crashers.

I know studios are about the bottom line, and that sequels have been around almost as long as movies have because they've proven time and again to make money, but nobody can deny how much they are killing creativity. Studios that have franchises should just make X number of films and content themselves with DVD and pay-per-view figures in the years afterwards rather than bleeding a franchise dry, letting it lie fallow and then bleeding it dry again, and so on and so forth. Make room for other kinds of movies, people!

While I have to say I'm intrigued about the new Superman movie, I still feel pissed off at Warner Brothers' gambit to resurrect the franchise. Why? Because unlike the Batman series, which was going along quite well at the box-office until Joel Schumacher's gayness ruined the fourth movie, the Superman series died a natural death, meaning that it simply succumbed to the law of diminishing returns. Superman III made a little over half of what II did, and IV made the merest fraction. Another franchise that suffered that fate was Planet of the Apes which had something like five sequels before it went dead, only to be "re-imagined" by Tim Burton in the 2001 debacle. Burton's film flopped because he faced the monumental task of resurrecting something people had lost interest in more than twenty years earlier. Bryan Singer faces a similar challenge. One can only wonder if he's up to it.

I miss the days when the top movies were one-shot deals like Forrest Gump. Tom Hanks is a guy who never seems to care much for sequels, and yet majority of his films in the last ten years have been bigger hits than a great many franchises. Saving Private Ryan is a wonderful film that will stand the test of time and will have the distinction of having been made purely for the love of filmmaking. The same can be said of Catch Me If You Can and Apollo 13. He doesn't have a monopoly on good movies that don't obsess over the grosses of potential sequels. Remember how, in 1999, an inherently sequel-less film, The Sixth Sense, went on to become the second highest grossing of the year and an Oscar Best Picture nominee? Stand-alone movies, or finite franchises, are good for the industry. Franchises that go on and on are not.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Late Comics: Postscript

It seems some comic book creators have finally grown consciences.

Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada, whose "Daredevil: Father" miniseries is officially running a year and several months behind, has finally lined up the final four issues for release this August.

And Kevin Smith, whose "Spider-Man/Black Cat" miniseries is running about three years behind by now, has finally turned in the final script.

I'd like to think we fans had something to do with this, but rather than harbor delusions I think I'll just be happy to finally buy the finished product. I do know that fan outrage has caused Marvel to slash prices on the Daredevil miniseries. Maybe they'll be similarly generous with the Spider-Man/Black Cat series too.

Eddie the Snake Charmer

The efforts to unseat President GMA have taken a turn for the absurd: in what looks suspiciously like yet another attempt to stir up public outrage, a report has surfaced that she had, allegedly purusant to her grand vision of "reconciliation" struck up some kind of deal with the Marcoses which would involve her burying FM in the Libingan ng mga Bayani. Anyone feeling a little deja vu? In my humble opinion, I think that's entirely the point.

I'm not a fan of GMA's, and in fact I'm all for her impeachment, whether or not its success is a realistic prospect. But assuming that this Marcos burial thing is yet another gambit by members of the opposition to get the public to force her out of office, this is just sad. They've run out of shit to sling at her, so basically they've resorted to recycling the shit that brought about Erap's ouster in hopes that it will stick. Isn't this just depraved?

Frankly, I miss the days of Ramos. I'm not saying that I would vote for him again if there was an election tomorrow; I mean I just miss having a President for a full six-year term. For all his faults, Ramos had something that neither Erap had nor GMA has: the ability to get people--opposition members, civil society groups, and so on--to forget whatever's wrong with him and just let him serve his term. The funny thing is, to this day a lot of people firmly believe that he stole his election from Miriam Santiago. And don't hear people proclaiming that he was a phony President, the way they talk about GMA. Granted, Ramos didn't have a "Hello Garci" recording nailed to his ass, but the fact that the efforts to get him on tape weren't as assiduous as they were with GMA really says something about the man, the force of his character...I don't know.

Conrado de Quiros, a columnist for the Philippine Daily Inquirer, seems to be of the opinion that once GMA is gone (and I use his words) the country will cease to be divided. Now, I understand and utterly sympathize with his rage against the woman, whom he regularly compares to Marcos in terms of lust for power (a comparison which is not entirely unjustified) but I think it's kind of addled his brain. He doesn't seem to realize, in his righteous indignation, the wide disparity of interests currently comprising the so-called "united opposition." Create the power vacuum by forcing her out of office extra-legally, and even though there's already a constitutional successor waiting in the wings, the power struggle among the throng of pretenders will tear this country limb from emaciated limb.

I wish we had a Ramos (though not the Ramos, who can take his visions of a parliamentary government and just shove them). We need a statesman (or woman) who can rise above the muck of Philippine politics and just...govern. I don't really see how or when that can happen, given that the incumbent President, and all those who seek to supplant her, are all cut from the same opportunistic, avaricious, and ultimately dishonest cloth, but I think that this should be something we should all hope and pray for.

Like most other people in this country, I honestly can't think of any solution to the political problems we are facing, but like I hope that, like me, most other people in this country continue to pray for one.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Good Comic Book Movies (Almost) Never Coincide with Good Comics...

Last week I browsed through a copy of All Star Batman and Robin, DC Comics' event book scheduled to benefit from the then-anticipated, now-realized popularity of Batman Begins, the franchise revival. I enjoyed Batman Begins quite a bit and was actually contemplating buying All-Star. I flipped through it...and found myself scratching my head.

Batman, for one thing, doesn't show up until the last of twenty-two pages. The book is about Dick Grayson, and about how he first came to meet Batman. The story is told mostly from his viewpoint. That was pretty much a deal-breaker.

Almost the entire marketing campaign of Batman Begins was designed to distance this film from the last installment, the horrendous Batman and Robin. Even Christian Bale, the new Batman, has denounced Robin in an interview, saying that he was what made the whole book campy. And yet, rather than launch a new series in the vein of the Dark Knight books that clearly inspired Christopher Nolan's movie, DC comes up with a comic called Batman and Robin, which is focused on how the two characters first met. Are DC and their corporate parent, Warner Brothers, on the same page here?

Let me illustrate how little people were interested in seeing Robin: the title was shipped with variant covers in a 50/50 ratio, half of which were Batman covers and half of which were Robin covers. As expected, retailers ordered them by the truckload. This Monday I walked into my usual comics haunt and saw about five dozen copies of the book...all with Robin covers.

And it really hit me that the big two comic publishers, DC and Marvel, have really had a nasty habit of dropping the ball when it comes to translating the success of movies based on their characters into quality comics. The only exception that really comes to mind is when Marvel put JMS on writing duties for Amazing Spider-Man a year before Sam Raimi's 2002 movie came out. That year saw some great Spidey comics (even though the movie adaptation, which had Alan Davis art, for Pete's sake, still managed to disappoint).

The biggest boost movies can give the comics industry is new readers, who generally want to see a comic book that's true to the character they just saw on the big screen. It's not necessary to make someone identical in all respects; it's enough that the spirit of the character is captured. At least, that's my take on it. Straczynski (and Bendis over at Ultimate Spider-Man) nailed this concept back when they were writing the books on the stands at the time Spider-Man broke box-office records. They did what the Marvel staff couldn't do when the first X-Men movie hit paydirt: turn box-office attention into new readers.

All Star will probably sell like hotcakes, but I'll tell you for nothing it'll probably be because of Jim Lee and/or Frank Miller, not because of anyone who enjoyed the movie. Why, oh why did they make a comic book with Robin in green briefs after all of Warner Brothers' efforts to lance the boytoy wonder from Batman like a boil on someone's butt? I WOULD HAVE BOUGHT THE BLOODY THING!

At least All Star Superman still looks good...

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

On Hakot Brigades

It's fairly common knowledge that tomorrow, Makati Major Jojo Binay, together with San Juan Mayor JV Ejercito intend to stage yet another wave of "mass protests" to raise the noise level of the clamor for GMA's ouster.

What not everyone might now is that there is supposedly a war chest of P5,000,000, a great sum of which is to be paid to the supposed "protesters." Now that is just sad.

UP Political Science professor and Philippine Star columnist Alex Magno described these assemblages as "rent-a-mobs." I know you can attach "rent-a" to almost anything these days, but that you can attach it to the word "mob" in this country (and, I think, only in this country so far) is such a painful indication of how far we've fallen from the glory days of EDSA.

Leave it to a Marcos crony like Ejercito to utterly pervert the concept of people power. They can't get the support of true rallyistas, so they basically fake it. Bravo.

What these fatheads don't seem to realize is that they all have conflicting agendas, and that the only thing holding them together is their desire to get rid of both GMA and Noli. Now, as much as I think Noli is a moron, my concern, really, is the rule of law, and by rights, he should be the next President, especially if the alternative is this bickering throng.

The immediate goal of these groups, even more than GMA's ouster, is to create mass hysteria, which is how they intend to bring this ouster about. The thing is, when asked what they have planned next, about half-a-dozen different groups have just as many answers. Oooh, I feel better about GMA being gone already...

One thing I'd like to know is, where are these bastards getting the money they're paying their "rent-a-mobs?" Pity the residents of San Juan and Makati...

Monday, July 11, 2005

Why Avi Arad is a Genius

Well, I couldn't stand waiting anymore. I went out and watched Fantastic Four. For anyone interested, Robinson's Supermarket has a great deal going on. For every three hundred pesos worth of groceries, you get a movie pass that entitles you to see a movie free, the only catch being that you have to purchase at least P50 worth of snacks at their snack bar and pay a P3 tax. OR, if you have a companion who buys a regular ticket, you get in free. Nice. My wife and I can now afford to see about five movies or so for roughly P50.

This is not so much a review as it is a commentary on the fact that the Four opened at number one this weekend despite almost uniformly terrible reviews.

First, though, I'd like to give my take on the film. Well, being a fan I cannot flat-out denounce the movie as bad. I just can't, even though so much of it...well, is. There's a lot to like about it so all I'll say is that it could have been sooooo much better.

Anyway, the real star of this piece is not so much the movie as it is Marvel movie chief Avi Arad. I dare say he is Hollywood's next uber-producer, much in the mold of Jerry Bruckheimer. I say this because he has sold a movie that seemed impossible to sell and has proved a theory that many have long held: that the only people whiny fanboys who bellow on the internet speak for are...themselves.

One appreciates the success of the movie, even in the face of nearly universal critical rejection and fanboy whining, after finding out just what kind of Calvary its makers went through to get it off the ground. After ten years of false starts at Fox, and even in spite of the runaway success of the Spider-Man and X-Men franchises, the producers could not even snag an a-list (or even b-list) director, decent stars, or even a decent effects house. And apparently Fox was keen on finding the next X-Men, whether or not they had assembled the talent to pull one off, so the movie was shoved into a summer 2005 playdate, where it would face heavyweights like War of the Worlds and a re-tooled, much ballyhooed Batman prequel (reboot?).

Four had absolutely nothing on these movies in terms of the pedigree of their cast and crew, or production value, or even hype, even after attaching trailers to Star Wars: Episode III. So Avi Arad was faced with the daunting task of selling snow cones in Siberia. How did he do it? Simple. He asked himself: what does our movie have that theirs don't? And the answer came to him: fun. It has a fun, upbeat vibe, which is nearly nowhere to be found in the exploration of Batman's rather violent, albeit well-told, origin, and the wanton destruction of the earth by giant tripods.

And hot damn, as ridiculous as the movie sometimes is, it is a lot of wacky fun, in the vein of Brendan Fraser's Mummy movies, which entertain even despite atrocious acting and effects. The dynamic between the Thing and the Human Torch (who seems to have taken the lion's share of the special effects budget) is right out of the comics, and it's a joy to watch.

And that translated to mucho bucks at the U.S. box-office, namely a $56,000,000 number 1 opening last weekend. Genius. Of course, the future drop-offs are anyone's guess, but given that Arad's expectations for the movie were pegged at $100 million in the U.S., that 's pretty much mission accomplished.

Yes, indeed, the next Bruckheimer, with both classy and less-than-classy hits under his belt...

Friday, July 08, 2005

What's It Gonna Take???

(This is not a piece on the current political crisis, just so anyone reading should know).

Last weekend, Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise's latest collaboration War of the Worlds enjoyed an auspicious debut at the box office, making something like $111 million over the six-day fourth of July frame and thereby making the second best debut within that period, behind only last year's Spider-Man 2, with a towering (and in my opinion, richly deserved) $180 million. When asked how he felt about their film coming in at a distant second (to the all time record), Rob Friedman, the head of distribution at paramount, could have said a lot of things. He could have said "well, Spielberg movies have long legs" or "well, this movie got good reviews and could go the distance" or something else extolling War's qualities vis-a-vis potential longevity.

Instead he said "this is not a sequel. This is not a comic-book film. This is a 100-year-old literary property...blah blah blah." He kind of lost me after that egregiously cheap shot. And it really hit me: comic book/graphic novel based properties are still treated like second-class citizens in Hollywood by a distressingly large number of people. There are still closed-minded assholes out there who won't see a movie because "it's a comic book film."

Comic book movies have long achieved box-office legitimacy. Every decade since the seventies has had at least one landmark comic book movie, such as Superman (1978), Batman (1989), Men in Black (1997), and Spider-Man (2002). This millenium seems to be a particularly good time for comic book-based films, with a total of ten such films opening at number one in box-offices all around the world since 2000. In 2002, a film based on an independent comic book called Ghost World, received an Academy Award nomination for best adapted screenplay. In 2003, the comic-book based film Road to Perdition received six such nominations, including a Supporting Actor nod for the legendary Paul Newman, and won an Oscar for its cinematography.

So why in God's name do so many people still look at films based on comic books with such scorn? It kind of seems silly to champion thse films, given their success, but I honestly believe somebody should. You don't see comic book movies being honored at the BAFTA awards or the Cannes Film Festival. Even in Hollywood, some studios that own rights to comic book properties seem to treat them like their least valuable commodities, i.e. they don't bother springing for reputable writers, actors or visual effects houses, but just let nobodies cobble the film together, throw together some kind of marketing campaign and set the movie afloat hoping audiences and critics will embrace it, often not even caring about the latter. At least in Japan, where manga is recognized as a legitimate cultural institution, there seems to be a measure of respect for such material.

Apparently, the early reviews for Fantastic Four, which opens this weekend, were bad. The lot of them said that this movie was no Spider-Man 2, or even a Batman Begins, which oddly enough, kind of gives me a sense of hope, given that people acknowledge that there are good comic-book movies out there. Bad press notwithstanding, I sincerely hope the Four kick War right off that top spot on the charts. It might just help slam the point home that comic book movies are here to stay, and therefore deserve some measure of respect.

Maybe if a comic-book derived movie swept the Oscars, a la Return of the King, things would be different...

Thursday, July 07, 2005

My One Peso and Twelve Centavos on the Current Crisis

For those of you not paying attention, one pesos and twelve centavos is more or less the value of two American cents in our currency, at our current exchange rate.

By now it's pretty much known the world over how messed up the Philippines is thanks in part due to rampant corruption at the top governmental office, and in part due to massive concerted efforts to unseat the incumbent perpetrator of corruption. Hell, it's all over the newspapers, the internet, and even people's cellular phones. As a result, Filipinos and media men the world over wait on bated breath for the answer to the question of the year: will GMA resign, or won't she?

The possible scenarios have been exhaustively discussed, the different implications of each one have been tossed about by politicians and newswriters alike, and so it really seems there's nothing new to be said, even though from day to day, there seems to be a new can of worms waiting to be opened.

My personal opinion on this is that she should step down, or at the very least should let the impeachment process take its course without leaning on all her flunkies to bail her out. Maybe then the process might have a little more than an outside chance of being respected and not raped like it was the last time. Her vice-President, Noli de Castro should step up, and should the Filipino people get screwed up the ass by his incompetence or whatever it is that's supposed to be wrong with him, then maybe they should take it as an object lesson not to vote for people based purely on their popularity. I know it's a terrible thing to wish a potentially disastrous presidency on our people, but the truth is that the Filipino people (myself excluded) voted for this man, and so they/we deserve who THEY elected. In my opinion, if this sick twisted cow subverts the law to stay in power, or just as bad, if those pieces of shit who are creaming their pants at the thought of having their own shot at sodomizing the country are able to install their own extra-constitutional government, then our fundamental law, which is about the only scrap of dignity we have left over from the triumph of the 1986 EDSA Revolution, will be lost in the flames currently consuming us. She should step down/be removed, and Noli should take her place. That's the legal solution; that's the one everyone should focus on. Forget about Noli's kilometric list of shortcomings. If the election process, already the country's worst joke, is to have any chance of redemption, then the one duty elected should sit. Let's brace ourselves for five bad, potentially terrible years, then move on.

The only problem is that GMA isn't likely to step down, given all the laws and promises and spirits she broke just to get to where she is. She is one tenacious bitch, and she is not going to give up without a fight.

So where does that leave us, anyway? God only knows, but as for me, I'm taking my stand. Get the fuck out, GMA.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Who Will The Next John Williams Be?

For anyone who bothers to pick up the Star Wars: Episode III soundtrack as I did, there's a delightful little bonus: a DVD with samplings from all six Star Wars movies, which essentially narrates the entire saga to selected cues of John Williams' immortal music. In a few short weeks, it's made my son Apel's most played list, topping former perennial favorites like the Spider-Man movies, Finding Nemo, and Ice Age. I can't help but be mesmerized by it myself. It's got all the great stuff: the Skywalker theme, the Imperial march, Princess Leia's theme...even Duel of the Fates.

The man is incredible. He's a living institution: the most Oscar-nominated person in history. He's also the one with the most blockbuster films having his name on them. No one, not Spielberg or Lucas or any of the big-name producers or directors can make such a claim, because Williams has worked with all of them.

And it's gotten me thinking: John Williams is 73 years old. One of his contemporaries, Star Trek maestro Jerry Goldsmith, has already gone on to meet the big composer in the sky. I can't help but wonder who could possibly succeed such a giant as contemporary filmmaking's premier composer? Who, for one, would compose Spielberg's movies, given that this task falls exclusively on John? Who would score Episodes VII to IX of Star Wars, if they were ever made? I came up with my own list of guys who might fit the bill, just for the sake of it...

1) Hans Zimmer. This guy is one of Hollywood's more prolific composers. I choose him because next to Williams, he seems to be Spielberg's go-to guy for music, given that he's the musical director of Dreamworks Pictures. The only thing he has going against him is that his stuff tends to sound generic, especially since Jerry Bruckheimer (who's also been known to lean on him) has apparently given the directive to every non-Zimmer composer of his films to write scores that sound exactly like Hans'.

2) James Horner. The first of film music's premier Jameses, this guy is quite prolific and has collaborated with a lot of high profile directors, like Ron Howard, James Cameron and Mel Gibson. He's also worked on Spielberg productions, though never any of the ones Steve directed. Problem with this guy is that when he doesn't sound like a Williams knockoff, he sounds like he's recycling his own old scores. I nonetheless consider myself a fan of his, his Braveheart being the most memorable of his scores. Powerful stuff that made Hans Zimmer's Gladiator sound like a Bruckheimer film. Oh, wait, it already did anyway.

3) James Newton Howard. The other major James in the music industry, this guy doesn't quite have the bombast of the Hornster but his stuff sounds a bit more innovative. And he doesn't have a tendency to lean on his winds the way Horner does. He's associated with a lot of good films and has lent the mood to all of M. Night Shyamalan's major Hollywood works. His most recent work was a team-up with Hans Zimmer for Batman Begins, and while I generally favor Zimmer's work, I have to say that it was JNH who came up with the more memorable cues, giving more life to the scenes with Bruce Wayne than Zimmer did with his driving, albeit seemingly recycled action cues for Batman.

4) Danny Elfman. Not quite in Williams' league (as if any of these guys really is...) but capable of some rather haunting melodies. He is in the list primarily because of his world-famous "Batman" cue, which has proven, if nothing else, that he has the chops to write major themes. Though he has yet to top that, he has since written music that seemed more nuanced and mature. For example, while his score for the Spider-Man movies disappointed with its lack of truly distinctive heroic cues, it compensated with character driven music and well-rendered tender moments.

5) Howard Shore. Four words are the reason this man is on this list: Lord of the Rings. This guy shows he can compose on a par with the scope that characterizes Williams' work. And his versatility blows the mind. He's collaborated of such cerebral filmmakers as Barbet Schroeder, David Cronenberg and David Fincher, and in Jonathan Demme's Silence of the Lambs helped make the name Hannibal Lecter synonymous with scary. But with Peter Jackson , Howard appears to have found his Spielberg. Truth be told, when I first heard he was composing the trilogy I didn't think he could pull it off, but the man has successfully scored not just one but three of the greatest movies of all time. That's something Steven should remember if he feels like making movies after John Williams has passed on.

And then of course there's the others...

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

In Praise of the Mid-Range Jump Shot

I am one of the taller members of my high school class. In this country, if you're over six feet people tend to assume you're a basketball player. Well, I was, in fact, a frustrated (and I use the word emphatically) track star, not really a cager, although I think one would have to be either handicapped or gay to be able to go through four years of high school without playing a single basketball game, at least if you're five foot nine or taller (I started high school at about five nine and graduated at roughly six feet).

I had a respectable vertical leap, so in the games with classmates and friends it was easy enough to monster the boards, unless I went up against the real basketball players, who more often than not outhustled me for rebounds. I was also a "low-post" kind of player, which I liked given that at one point, with my leap, I could grab a secure hold of the ring, a talent I carried all the way to my early years in law school.

Things pretty much went downhill about midway through law school, with my exercise time dwindling and my metabolism suddenly stalling bigtime. Since 2001, I've gained about fifteen pounds which have proven very, very difficult to shed, so my ring-grabbing days are all but over. I still like to shoot hoops, though, since my cousin has had a basketball ring installed in the backyard of the compound my family shares.

And it was there that I discoverd the jump shot.

The beauty of the jump shot is that just about anyone can master it. There is still a level of fitness involved, to be sure, but nothing like the kind that's needed to slam dunk or lay-up or even shoot three-pointers. It's just a matter of knowing how to shoot, which, in my older years, I seem to be a little better at.

I'm still taller than many of my friends, but now I don't feel like an overweight goofball moving in slow motion whenever we shoot some hoops. I have an asset to offer now; I can shoot the ball. It's fun to actually play and do something other than wave your arms in the air or wait under the ring for missed shots to recover.

The jump shot has saved the joy of basketball for me, which I almost lost going into adulthood. As a matter of fact, I think I even enjoy it more now than I ever did as a teen. Now I don't have to feel like a 40-year-old fart who's altogether lost zeal for sports, and while I'll never be eighteen again, at least 29 is now a fun place to be when it comes to basketball games, which are as useful in keeping friendships alive in one's older years as they are during one's adolescence.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Death in Comics Part II: A Requiem for CrossGen Comics

It's amazing what talented artists can do. Early last year I found myself riveted by the stunning pencils of Marvel Knights 4. The artist was an apparent newcomer named Steve McNiven. After seven issues, all of which I eagerly picked up, he left the title and I eagerly awaited the announcement of his next project, which was eventually revealed to be Ultimate Secret. Unfortuantely, an editorial snafu over at Marvel, which involved McNiven penciling fill-in issues of Brian Bendis' New Avengers, has caused Ultimate Secret to go on hiatus midway for the next three months until Marvel's fastest rising star finishes the art chores on its highest-selling title.

Left without my McNiven fix, I found myself scrounging back issue bins and the Internet for his past work, knowing that the Fantastic Four book had been his first-ever Marvel work. And it was there that I discovered the wonderful world of CrossGen.

When I first heard about CrossGen several years ago, all I knew about it was that a bunch of a-list comic book talents like Mark Waid, Chuck Dixon, George Perez and Brandon Peterson, to name a few, had put their heads together with the goal of creating a new line of comics which was to be as innovative and diverse as it was attractive. The common link of these different titles was, I think, some sort of symbol of power called the Sigil.

The lone book I've read from this line is Meridian, and if it's any indication, I think the CGE (that's CrossGen Entertainment) crew succeeded in their goal.

At first blush, Meridian seems a tad juvenile, being of the fantasty/Harry Potter persuasion, but it's undeniably imaginative. I love the concept of cities floating in the air, and use of ships with sails on the side as wings to navigate between them. There is something a little "Star Wars"-ish about the way the heroine, Sephie, is pitted against her evil Uncle, Ilahn, but the presentation is absolutely gorgeous, and the characterization isn't half-bad either.

As of now, I have the compiled edition of the first seven issues and the last two issues McNiven drew, #s 35 and 36. Not a whole lot, I know, but enough to convince me that this product deserved a whole lot more attention from the public than it got.

It saddens me to know, therefore, that CGE has since gone under, as of 2004, I understand. I don't know the reasons why, beyond the financial ones, but I can only guess that they weren't selling enough comics. Now that all of the company's talent has been divided up by the Big Two like spoils of war (like I said, I found out about McNiven in a Marvel comic book), it doesn't seem likely that we'll ever read any tales of the Sigil again, save on the back-issue or trade paperback market. I plan to complete all the issues of Meridian in between #7 and #35 (at least the ones by McNiven), whether in paperback or single issue form.

It pains me to see how fickle the comic book market is, and how resistant to truly new ideas it seems as well. It seems the only two true revolutions in comics took place in the thirties and forties and in the Stan Lee era. Everything since then has been bold new takes on familiar characters (the Dark Knight stuff) or deconstruction of the genre (e.g. Watchmen, Wanted). The few people that have really tried new things not only crashed and burned but are often remembered with ridicule (e.g. Jim Shooter's Valiant Comics). People think Hollywood is self-derivative? They should take a look at the comics market.

Don't get me wrong; I am a superhero fan like most comic book nuts out there. But I feel that like any art form, high art or otherwise, comics can only benefit from diversity, which in my opinion Crossgen really provided. It peeves me that, for all their innovation and incredible talent, they still went the way of Valiant, while companies like Top Cow still get to churn out garbage like Witchblade and The Darkness on a semi-regular basis. I certainly hope that when people mention failed endeavors in the comics field they do not mention Valiant and CrossGen in the same breath. The latter was a noble enterprise while the former was an exercise in unbridled hubris.

In its lifetime, CrossGen received its fare share of accolades, not only from self-styled comic-book critics, but from mainstream media and from SCHOOLS, no less. Too bad the legions of 17-35 year old males to whom most comics pander didn't bite. I can only hope that the next time a company comes along with hopes of infusing the market with something new and different, the reading public (at least the segment that determiness whether or not a comic line lives or dies) is more receptive.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Death in Comics Part I

Remember when Dark Phoenix sacrificed herself to save the X-Men and the universe at large? Remember when Supergirl and Barry Allen, also known as the Flash, fell heroically during the turmoil of the Crisis on Infinite Earths? I sure do. I remember reading the Dark Phoenix Saga in grade five or something like that, and I remember the issues of Crisis (the only ones I read, incidentally) as being so momentous that my diehard Marvel cousin just had to buy them.

Back then, the death of comic book characters meant something. It was resonant. It was poignant. And it was done, above all else, in the name of powerful storytelling.

Nowadays, it's done for all the wrong reasons.

When Chris Claremont killed Jean Grey/Phoenix, he unleashed a fanboy shitstorm unlike any the comics world had ever seen. Supposedly the Marvel offices were inundated with hate mail. In a pre-internet age, that really says something. It took a full six years for Marvel to address the situation, and to their credit, although they did bring Jean back, they appeared to put some long and hard thought into how they would do it without making her death seem like a gimmick. Thing is, at the time Claremont killed Jean, he had no intention of brining her back.

Barry Allen, who had been Flash since the late fifties (DCphiles please correct me if I'm wrong), but the company had the cojones to kill him and keep him dead.

These are the only two deaths in the history of the medium that really mean something. Well, Gwen Stacy's death was a big deal, but even it has been retroactively tarnished of late.

These days, death in comics is done for sheer shock value, whether it's to launch an "event" storyline or to draw buzz to a book.

Last year, Marvel killed Hawkeye for the obvious shock value of it, figuring that their "Avengers Disassembled" storyline would be the more poignant for it. To my mind, it just became schlockier and now has collective Marvel fandom waiting for the editorial directive to raise him from the dead. The death of the Ant-Man, which also took place in that storyline, was cheap and uncalled for as well.

On the other side of the fence, DC killed Sue Dibny in their storyline of the year "Identity Crisis" which despite the rather sensationalist marketing campaign surrounding its launch, actually contained a pretty good storyline. Too bad they had to sully it by killing yet another secondary character this year in an attempt to launch a crossover event. To those of you who don't know who it is, let's just say Giffen, DeMatteis and Maguire probably feel their JLA lineup is dwindling slowly but surely.

And then, of course, there's the old stunt of killing a character whose popularity is dwindling. This was an unfortunate, inadvertent result of the whole Phoenix Saga, which despite everything that's come after it remains one of comics' most powerful moments.

That said, the resurrection of dead characters can be done with some flourish. Kevin Smith did a good job with Green Arrow, concocting a whole afterlife scenario to help ease Oliver Queen back into the DC Universe. Joss Whedon did an even better job with Colossus in Astonishing X-Men. But these comics were already founded on solid storytelling; the resurrection basically just helped them along. And these characters' deaths early on did not feel like dime-a-dozen deals, either.

I know these characters are company property, but it really bugs me that their lives are trivialized for the sake of short-term sales spikes. I've said before that comics aren't high art, but that doesn't excuse its purveyors from attempting some sort of creativity. I for one still buy books for writers, artists and stories that I like, and not because I'm anxious to see which b-level character is hyped to buy the farm. I know in my gut that majority of the comic book fans still pay good money for quality stories and art, not for cheap tricks. I hope I'm right.

Next: the Death of Nascent Comic Companies

Friday, May 20, 2005

Fatherhood: the Sequel

Here's a little fact about me not everyone who knows me may know: I actually wanted my firstborn to be a girl. I'm not really sure why anymore, but at least, one kid later, I finally got the baby girl I wanted.

Parenthood in general is really a funny thing: it's a constant work in progress, from your twenties to your seventies (I say seventies because a great many parents begin to regress into children once they hit their eighties). If I had to put a peso coin in a five-liter jug for every screw up or faux pas I've committed since my son Raphael was born, whether in disciplining, handling or even just behaving in front of him, I'd probably have put my life's savings into the darned thing by now.

And yet, I can honestly say it's made me a better person in many ways. I view my being a father as an extension of my marriage in that they both require copious amounts of devotion and patience, no matter how much I love my spouse and my child. It can be frustrating and immensely fulfilling at the same time. I still remember changing Apel's diapers on a regular basis, and now he's going to the toilet by himself (although he hasn't gotten around to wiping himself just yet).

The funny part is; I've only just gotten through toilet-training one kid, when along comes another who is just as helpless and dependent upon me as her brother was not too long ago.

Which brings me to why I think having two kids within a reasonable gap of each other can be a valuable instructional tool to parents.

At three, Apel is very independent, almost to the point where he refuses our help a little too often for comfort. At times, we are content to let him do his own thing, confident he's not likely to bring the house crashing down around our heads, and at times, we even get frustrated with him when he seems to be acting too childishly.

But having a new baby brings it home to me: my son IS still a child. It's not that I've altogether lost sight of this simple truth, but I realize now that, even at this early age, I seem to be expecting too much of him. Part of me blames it on how increasingly competitive pre-school admission standards are, but I realize that I seem to be judging his growth more by adult standards than by reasonable children's standards.

Having a three-year-old makes having a two-week old such a glorious experience, for the reason I just mentioned, and because I get to relive all the simple joys of being a new parent; watching over the baby, cradling her in my arms and not having to prevent her from running into the street and becoming roadkill. It wasn't three years ago that I did this with my son, but it sure feels like a long time. I'm making it a point to savor this, because before I know it, I'll be chasing my toddler of a daughter too...

I can't help but wonder how I'll handle their reaching puberty...

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Late Comics: What is Tolerable?

Almost one week ago, my wife gave birth to my first daughter, a beautiful, eight-pound baby girl. For some reason, I find myself at a loss as to how to write about it on this blog, but part of me feels that any post devoted to a topic as important as fatherhood deserves more reflection than I could possibly give it in a week, so for now I'll content myself with more banal, but nonetheless pleasurable topics, like...comics!

About three years ago, back when I lamented the lateness of "The Ultimates" a friend of mine pointed out that the book, specifically Bryan Hitch's eye-popping pencils, was well worth the wait and that he would rather endure a delay of a few months than put up with substandard artwork, either by the regular artist rushing to meet a deadline or worse, a fill-in artist with half the talent. His was a solid point; argument (if ever there was one) settled.

However, three years later, there are three incomplete Marvel miniseries, two of which began in 2002 and one of which began a year ago.

The Spider-Man/Black Cat miniseries was supposed to mark Kevin Smith's triumphant return to Marvel Comics (he had launched the Marvel Knights line in 1998, writing Daredevil ) after a successful run on Green Arrow over at DC. After three issues the book just...stopped. Back then, people didn't really notice because in November of that year, a month after the last SM/BC issued shipped, Marvel released Daredevil: The Target, another Kevin Smith book which marked his return to the character who had really helped him make his presence felt in the comics community. DTT fared even worse: it stopped after just one issue.

A year ago, Joe Quesada, now Marvel's Editor-in-Chief, returned to full-time penciling chores for the first time since becoming the company's head honcho, in a miniseries called Daredevil: Father. The first issue met with some mixed reviews, given the rather bizarre proportions in which JQ drew DD (like he had overdosed on steroids). More annoying, however, was that after the first issue, this series stopped too.

Here's the thing. For years internet geeks the world over have raised hell on message boards and in blogs about the irresponsibility of Marvel and the creators responsible for these debacles, so any tantrum I may throw regarding lateness may not seem like anything new. This is why my take on the situation is, maybe fandom should take it to the next level: maybe comic fans should take it to the next level somehow (insert solution here).

One of the biggest flaws of comic publishing is that errant creators such as Kevin Smith can hide behind the cloak of artistic license and similar bullshit in order to justify delays as egregious as those that have been staring fanboys in the face for almost half of the new millenium. There is no sense of accountability, whether to the characters, the publisher or the consumer. At least Marvel, for all its foibles, recently took the time to apologize online for the lateness of a number of its books. Of course, it could not speak for Kevin Smith. In fact, at a number of conventions, the fat bastard has been known to sass retailers who have taken him to task for his lateness, which he recently attributed to--get this--an inferiority complex!

The good news, old fatboy (excuse me, fanboy) Smith has suffered his share of bad karma for the agony he has inflicted on his fans. His latest film "Jersey Girl" was one of the bigger duds of Ben Afflecks' career, and even featured in either Newsweek or Time as one of Miramax's list of box-office failures. But that shouldn't take him off the hook.

There is a certain amount of professionalism that comes with being a comic book creator; at least there SHOULD be. Old school guys like Stan Lee, Roy Thomas and even Claremont got it right. Even contemporary guys like Bendis, Millar and Straczynski can work at a blistering pace. Straczynski, it should be pointed out, also has his fingers in the Hollywood pie, just like Smith, so Kev shouldn't use that as an excuse. Cumulatively, the three new creators I've mentioned have churned out over two hundred issues during the delay of the two aforementioned limited series.

As much as I love comics, the truth is that they aren't high art, and so there shouldn't be any justification for ridiculous, YEARLONG delays between issues, especially when that delay is attributable to WRITERS, whose job is considerably easier than those of the artists. Although I really do want to buy the conclusion to both these series (which is the reason I'm complaining in the first place), I really believe that people like Kevin Smith, who seem to have nothing but utter contempt for anyone's concerns but their own, have no business writing comics. The guy may be talented, but he isn't THAT talented. My only hope is that should the final issues of SM/BC finally ship, I don't find myself saying "THIS IS WHAT I WAITED X YEARS FOR???"