Monday, February 26, 2007

A Cute Little Film About Life's Little Disappointments

I feel guilty about having seen Little Miss Sunshine on a bootleg DVD (which I didn't buy, incidentally). It was a movie that richly deserved my money, although given that its run was exclusively limited to Ayala Cinemas, it wasn't exactly easy for me to find time to watch it.

Still, after having watched something as wretched as Ghost Rider it is truly refreshing to watch a a light-hearted, well-written film that embodies the art form as well as Sideways did two years ago. While I certainly applaud the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' decision to award The Departed (a movie I wanted and still want to see) with the best picture statue (and its director, Martin Scorsese with his first, looooong overdue Oscar), this movie richly deserved to be part of that derby.

It's essentially the odyssey of a family that travels cross-country so that their little girl (the irrepressibly plucky Abigail Breslin) can compete in the titular Little Miss Sunshine pageant. A stranger bunch of characters you will not find: a gay, suicidal uncle (Steve Carrell), a drug-snorting, foul-mouthed grandfather (for which Alan Arkin just won an Oscar), a teenaged big brother who's under a vow of silence (Paul Dano), and the "normal" ones, a husband (Greg Kinnear) and a wife (Toni Colette) who are basically betting their bottom dollar on the husband's ability to sell a self-help seminar. Oh, and of course there's the daughter (Breslin). I would be remiss if I didn't mention one of the film's most memorable characters: an old, beat up, yellow VW Bus.

This is simply a superb movie from start to finish. The actors are pitch-perfect, the script is on a par with Sideways and has the distinction of being an original work as opposed to the Alexander Payne's adaptation of a novel. It has all the quirkiness of a Charlie Kaufman film without the metafictional or surreal qualities to it.

And God, it is funny. From start to finish. It is just perfect in its mixture of humor and heartbreak. Films like that truly hit home with me.

And heartbreak is what this film is all about; that, and family. But the element of disappointment, of life's many letdowns, is what I suspect rings true with just about everyone who really enjoyed this film.

It's lovely how Steve Carell's character Frank captures this theme towards the last third of his movie by sharing the experience of French writer Proust; his suffering and disappointments were what truly helped form his character, much more than the moments of happiness in life.

The movie tells us how we should run towards what we want even though potential disappointment awaits us, because it is our efforts, even the ones--maybe even especially the ones--that end in failure, that define us in the end.

I haven't said this in a long time, but it's a good time now: watch this movie. However you get your hands on it, watch it, and be moved by it.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The End of Hostilities: Civil War #7

Well, a full four months after it was originally scheduled to end, Marvel's Civil War has finally drawn to a close.

As anyone could have guessed, it all came down to a big throw-down between the two opposing factions: pro and anti-superhero registration. This issue is essentially a protracted fight scene, which in this case is not a bad thing at all.

Finally, the resolution of the conflict hinges not on the leader of one faction punching out the other, but on an epiphany. It's quite well-conceived in that sense, and although the ending may seem inconclusive to many, it actually remains quite true to the original spirit of the series which was to reflect the state of America and its civil liberties.

This series has been a bit of a mixed bag, but at least there have been some constants: every issue has boasted some of the best comic book art ever to see print in the new millenium. It has been consistently engaging, whether because of interesting plot developments or character flaws. The question that arises now is whether Marvel will be able to top themselves in the near future, and the way I see it, they won't be able to do it this year, which is pretty much why I've taken a sabbatical from collecting for awhile, and possibly have given up collecting monthlies altogether.

Civil War has served as an incredibly clever marketing tool for Marvel in that, just after getting everyone's attention, it has basically shattered the existing status quo and set the stage for just about its entire line for the next few years.

The thing is, I like self-contained stories, event or otherwise. I come back for more because of the creative teams and not necessarily because any particular hype machine.

I'm not really interested in buying titles just because they spring "from the pages of Civil War."

Fortunately, as a storyline, Civil War has worked on a number of levels, though only time will tell how memorable this series will truly be.

What I truly appreciated about this story was how very grounded it was. Sure, it was fantastical at some crucial points, but the creative team never lost sight of their real-world parallels. I love the resolution precisely because it isn't some neat, cut-and-dried good triumphs over evil, right beats wrong solution to everything.

And, contrary to the expectations of a lot of fanboys, never once did any deus ex machina rear its head.

Yes, this series has provided a hell of a roller-coaster, and anything that comes afterwards is likely to feel rather bland, so for the moment, I'm getting off.

To Mark Millar, Steve McNiven, Tom Brevoort, and everyone else involved, though, I say thanks for the ride.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Ghost Rider

Let me state something for the record. I am a Marvel zombie. I was one of the few people who bothered to list the high points of Fantastic Four. I preferred X-Men 3 over Superman. When it comes to comic books and comic-based movies, even though I no longer buy comic books, I still have an inordinate preference towards Marvel (though I still didn't bother with Elektra, The Punisher or the Man-Thing TV movie).

That said, I found Ghost Rider to be a terrible movie. I actually enjoyed myself laughing at how awful it was (more than at their numerous jokes) so fortunately I didn't waste my money, in a strange sense.

I was one of the few people happy to see Marvel Comics' hero Daredevil on the big screen, though I wasn't at all happy with Ben Affleck's performance, or the fact that the story didn't seem to make any sense beyond explaining how he got blinded and got his superpowers at the same time.

The fact that the writer/director of Daredevil, Mark Steven Johnson, was taking on another b-list Marvel hero, Ghost Rider, made me extremely leery of the film. I was assuaged a little by the early trailers featuring some stunning visual effects (particularly his flaming head), but when Sony made the decision to not screen the movie for critics that was a pretty big red alert for me.

Still, I went to see it, even after it had been almost universally panned by critics. After all, it now boasts Nicolas Cage's career-best opening, so I figured maybe the reviewers were just being the uptight, pretentious gits they often are.

Having seen it, I can now say that most of them were right on the money.

Holy cow, this movie was a stinker. Obviously, screenwriter (and director) Johnson wasn't taking the material seriously at all, and while there's nothing wrong with that, per se, it could have been done so much better. It was written as an action-comedy/western with a very slight touch of horror, but that didn't mean it had to be written so badly. The producers may have done well to drop David S. Goyer's script (as his last Blade movie was not only terrible, but a box-office failure as well), but if they had wanted decently-penned action comedy they should have picked up action-adventure go-to-guys Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio, the writers of The Mask of Zorro and more significantly The Pirates of the Caribbean. Johnson's script was horrendous, with some of the most bloodcurdling lines I've heard since the "romantic" dialogue in the Star Wars prequels.

My wife didn't hate it, excusing its nightmarish narrative (and I don't mean that in a horror/gothic sense) by saying "well it's a comic book movie" thereby showing her disdain for the genre in general. See, this movie was okay to people who don't like comic books, which is a sad statement indeed.

I won't even bother summarizing it or going into plot points or anything beyond saying that it's about some stunt cyclist who made a deal with the devil (Peter Fonda), because the story was just so poorly structured even my barest description of it may expose all the holes, and I don't want to go through that again.

To be fair to Sony (though Sony should have been fair to us by giving us a real script), there are a couple of gems in this movie. I found myself feeling bad at how spectacular the effect of Nicolas Cage's head being digitally replaced with a flaming skull was; it was such a gripping visual for such a bad movie. All of the special effects related to the Rider himself were absolutely topnotch, which couldn't have been easy considering how unwieldy fire effects can be. At least they got this right; too bad they didn't focus on the story first. Also, Peter Fonda as Mephistopheles was, in a word, cool. I loved the way he played the devil; it's kind of like the way Morgan Freeman played God in Bruce Almighty, in that I could actually imagine the devil looking and talking just like him. Also, I did laugh at some of their jokes, though it was either do that or cry.

I like my comic-book movies the way I like my comics, tightly-scripted, with the right amount of humor, drama, pathos, and hard-hitting action. Give me the Spider-man films, the first two X-Men films or Batman Begins. Give me V for Vendetta or 300. Hell, give me the first two Blade films! Don't give me idiocy like this!

Memo to Marvel films: please, PLEASE do not inflict Mark Steven Johnson on any more of your characters.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Send In The Clowns

See, THIS is why I'd rather write about movies, or my hobbies, or "fluff."

Because all things considered, next to the "hard-hitting" stuff, the stuff that is supposed to matter, it all seems so much more relevant.

Just this past weekend I've been treated to spectacular displays of stupidity as election season seems to have started a tad early.

Yesterday afternoon I was treated to a shameless display of jump-the-gun campaigning as aspiring senator Richard Gomez used his show, the "S-Files" to broadcast (no pun intended) his intentions to anyone watching. Maybe the guy really is some kind of idealist but I'm pretty sure he crossed a line when he used his TV show as a campaign platform. I can't say for certain but offhand I think he may have violated the statutory period allowed for campaigning. Anyway, let's see if anyone thinks to sue him for it.

Later on I was "treated" to both sides of the political fence announcing their respective lineups for the senatorial race. Seeing people like Pangilinan and Villar batting for the opposition was no big surprise considering how pissed they were when GMA signaled her intention to put the Senate on the chopping block so she could save her ass, but what really blew me away was seeing Tessie Oreta and Tito Sotto on the ADMINISTRATION slate.

Oreta, whose dance of joy incited an angry populace to stage EDSA II. Sotto, who basically was one of the driving forces behind the failed FPJ presidency, who, during his heyday in the Senate, was embroiled in drug charges, which was ironic considering he was supposed to be part of a task force meant to stamp the whole thing out. It's hilarious how desperate the administration are to show off how they've "won over" these buffoons. It's musical chairs at its very worst.

My God, our elections have gone from farce to cartoon. Well, thinking about it, they've been cartoons for ages now but I guess I just persisted in the delusion that they were even halfway serious.

Yep, give me my comics and diecast cars any day of the week. At least they seem more lifelike.

Monday, February 05, 2007

What Is It About That Guy?

It being Oscar season, I've made an observation: Brad Pitt's status as a Hollywood power player has shot into the stratosphere. He may not have starred in a box-office blockbuster this year, but I think 2006 is a banner year for him just the same.

Not only is he starring in one of the frontrunners for best picture, Babel, but he has producer credits on the other, more heavily favored frontrunner, Martin Scorsese's The Departed, though he wasn't nominated for it.

Considering how unforgiving Hollywood be, I find this baffling.

When Pitt burst onto the mainstream in Ridley Scott's Thelma and Louise, people were gushing about his charisma and sex appeal and hailed him as the next Redford, especially when he starred in a Redford movie, A River Runs Through It.

1994 would prove to be his true breakout year, however, as he overshadowed Tom Cruise in Interview with the Vampire and enthralled audiences with his turn as a turn-of-the-century James Dean in Legends of the Fall. He was quick to follow that up with Seven.

And then, for years thereafter, he starred in one misfire after another. From Seven Years in Tibet to Fight Club, he couldn't seem to carry any project to box-office success.

It puzzled me that even though he didn't seem to have any box office muscle to flex, for some reason he never entirely lost his golden-boy status. It seemed that only numbers geeks (like myself) thought he was just a flash in the pan. I never understood how he never lost "it" boy status, even though he had something like four or five bombs or underperformers in a row.

In 2000 he married popular wet dream Jennifer Aniston. He was still pretty much in box office limbo, but he managed to grab headlines just the same.

In 2001 he then rode the Soderberg/Clooney train to success with Ocean's Eleven, his first $100+ million hit in seven years, one he couldn't even really take credit for, unlike, say Matt Damon for his Bourne movies. He then followed this up with the hit Troy and his biggest hit to date, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, establishing himself as a box-office star.

This is where things get mindblowing.

What kills me is how, after four or five years of marriage to a woman every other heterosexual male would love to shag, he basically dumps her (admittedly for the also eminently shaggable Angelina Jolie), and has a whole lot of people, men and women, nodding in assent and practically saying "it's all your fault for letting him go, Jen." He then sires a baby by the woman he swore he didn't leave his wife for (how many people actually believed that, anyway), and everyone is now cheering them on as a Hollywood power couple. And now here he is starring in one of the Oscar best picture contenders and producing another.

This is why this perplexes me:

Tom Cruise jumped on a sofa and barked at some TV journalist and everyone thinks he's insane, or a closet homosexual, or any of a million other conspiracy theories. People don't like him; the Razzies award people invented a whole new category just for him, Paramount Pictures, the studio he made probably two billion dollars for in the past twenty years cut him loose because of his recent eccentricity, and there are people still convinced that his recent baby and marriage with Katie Holmes is just one big stunt to revitalize his flagging career. Obviously, then, it's not a question of good looks.

Russell Crowe vented his wrath on some little prick of a hotel clerk who flashed him some attitude, and suddenly became a Hollywood pariah. His last two films underperformed at the box office, with his reunion with Gladiator director Ridley Scott doing a spectacular belly flop. I guess it didn't help that he's widely perceived as a bully, but one thing's for sure: it's not a question of bad boy status.

So why, in a culture/community that can end careers just by refusing to buy movie tickets, is Brad Pitt seemingly on top of the world even after being just as big if not a bigger jerk than some A-list stars who have been recently cast down for less? Bad ticket sales didn't kill his career, and neither did bringing a nasty end to what everyone thought was a dream marriage.

At this point I don't think even bashing Jews or screaming "nigger" at black people in a nightclub (or doing both in succession) could kill his career.

Whatever potion it is he's used to enthrall much of the world at large, I sure want some of it.

Thursday, February 01, 2007


I remember when the only comic book title I ever bought was The Amazing Spider-Man by David Michelinie and Todd McFarlane. I also bought back issues of The Incredible Hulk by Peter David and Todd McFarlane. Yes, say what I will about him, but Todd was the one creator who really and truly got me into collecting comic books nearly 20 years ago.

Those early years were fun; buying up stuff that I liked, waiting every month for the next issue (and in the case of Amazing, once every two weeks, considering that it shipped fortnightly in the summertime).

As time went on, though, I still collected, but the sense of fun that I got out of it was gone, replaced instead by a growing need to just buy comics for all kinds of reasons that weren't necessarily connected to my enjoyment of the stories. It was subtle at first, but by 1998 I was buying comics featuring characters I couldn't really give a damn about because I'd read about it in Wizard or something like that. For a long stretch I bought Spider-Man's monthly because it was the only book featuring him, regardless of how disappointed I was by the content.

My meager collection of Spider-Mans had grown into several titles, mostly from Marvel but from a lot of other companies as well, only a few of which I liked enough to read more than once or twice after buying them. This trend continued into the new millenium at which point I was picking up comic books almost out of compulsion, with the exception of some titles that I truly enjoyed.

Last year, with the advent of Marvel's Civil War, it became clear to me that the landscape of the Marvel Universe would be radically changed for the next couple of years, which rather made me leery of what the future held. The last time Marvel made a promise like that, the Clone Saga of the 90s was born.

Not only that, but the first half of 2007 seems, from all indications, to be devoid of any creators whose work I follow on characters that I love. Mark Millar is apparently taking the year off, as is Steve McNiven. It seemed as good a time as any to just stop collecting for awhile, at least after all the miniseries I started last year have finished, and so I stopped picking up new titles.

I then got into buying diecast collectible cars, and in the process of doing so, came to a realization.

My toy car collection is small; I only have about 35 to 36 of them, as opposed to over 500 comic books that I have accumulated over the years, but there was one crucial aspect I noted about the collection that made me realize something about my comic book hoard.

For the most part, my car collection only consists of about three or four makes of car. They are mostly Shelby Cobras, Ford Mustangs, and other related cars such as the Shelby GR-1 and the Ford GT. There are a few Ferraris and a couple of Mercedes supercars as well, but overall, there is a consistency to it, a focus on collecting very specific types of cars that I hadn't known since my very first days of collecting comic books.

So I ended up asking myself why I had accumulated so many comic books, apart from the fact that quite a bit of time had lapsed since I started. Did I really like all of the stuff that I bought?

After going over most of them in my mind, I had to conclude that the answer was no.

And so I made the decision to sell a chunk of my collection. It's not because they are or aren't particularly collectible; it's not because I'm trying to cash in on speculation I might have made years ago. In fact, most of these things I'm selling pretty much at value, which puts me at a loss considering inflation. Some of them, I think, are actually pretty valuable but I'm not really trying to make any money off them. (Well, with the exception of the stuff I've put on e-Bay, which I'm selling at their value as stated in Wizard and other authorities on comic book prices. I figure: if someone's going to make money off these things' appreciation, it should be me first of all, and let the others recoup it should the issues continue to appreciate; but that's a relatively small segment of my collection.)

The point, really, is to reduce my collection to the stuff I'm really passionate about. I've always considered myself a selective comic book buyer, and I was therefore shocked to see how much stuff made it into my collection that I wasn't all that crazy about.

What am I keeping? Well, a good three-fourths of my collection will remain very much intact even if all my hoped deals push through. I'm not just keeping the well-worn, newsprint 80s comics that started my collection but a whole bunch of other things as well, stuff I really got into, like the first two years of J. Michael Straczynski's Amazing Spider-Man run or Mark Millar's Spider-Man series, or Frank Miller's The Man Without Fear miniseries. Memorable stuff.

I honestly hope to be able to sell everything I've set out to sell, not so much because I could use the space or the cash (although of course both are most welcome) but I'd rather these comic books find a home with someone who can truly embrace them, someone to whose collection they won't feel like unwanted flab.

My toy car collection is a joy to me because just about everything in it is something I really and truly wanted to buy. I want my comic collection to feel that way again, too.