Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Politics of Frank Miller

300 is the spiritual sequel to The Matrix from all indications. I say spiritual because, really, they have nothing to do with each other, obviously being very different films, with different stories, basic philosophies, and characters.

What is similar is the pop culture impact both appear to have had. Just as Wachowski brothers' first (and so far, only) truly significant opus pretty much stuck to the collective consciousness, so did Zack Snyder's adaptation of Frank Miller's graphic novel based loosely on some historical battle leave a rather lasting impression on moviegoers from all walks of life. What, to me, makes 300 that much more remarkable an achievement is the fact that the characters in The Matrix walked around in black leather and blew away people with impunity, the first of which is something young people love to do and the second of which is something they would love to do, so it already had a leg up with viewers (especially the sickos who went on the Columbine massacres shortly thereafter). While I'm sure a lot of viewers would love to be able to dismember people they hate with a passion, I can't imagine they would embrace the idea of walking around in leather thongs while doing so.

It only just recently struck me how similar they were, though, when I read a scathingly bad review of 300 on someone else's blog, in which the film was described as fascist, racist and homophobic. Oddly, as much as I had enjoyed the film for its gripping visuals (and little else), I could not really argue his points. All I could think was how I liked it because it looked cool, choosing to ignore any of its political overtones, intended or otherwise.

I found myself whisked back to early 1999, when The Matrix was leaving its initial impression on audiences here. I had seen it for either the third or fourth time with my then-girlfriend who, shortly after the screening, posed the question for me: "What was so great about that shoot-out in the building's lobby?" to which I could not pose any real answer, when she hit me with yet another question (or maybe it was the same question, I forget. We've been out of touch for a while now, so I can't exactly ask her): "If those guys weren't agents, then weren't they basically killing actual people?"

She totally had a point; taking away how "kewl" the whole sequence came across with its slow-motion photography, wirework and rave music soundtrack, it was basically an act of mass murder as Neo and Trinity slaughtered a bunch of human guards, all of whom were presumably hooked up to the matrix as they had once been. They hadn't killed the evil agents or computer programs (which was something clarified in the second installment as the Merovingian's goons were more categorically described as computer programs and therefore more expendable) but human beings. Unfortunately, just as I was able to gloss this little fact over ("they had to kill them or be killed" I finally managed to say, rather lamely), so did many other filmgoers, possibly including the perpetrators of the Columbine massacre.

300, I think is similar in that many viewers like myself were willing to overlook a number of its shortcomings (like how it fudged history, and how terrible the dialog was in many instances) in favor of its visuals. In that it is truly remarkable, but now that one realizes that Miller's politics, while he is certainly free to adopt them, really are rather abhorrent, whatever his avowed persuasion, one worries about how other viewers might have been indoctrinated.

Most notably, Miller's statements on the invasion of Iraq has revealed that he is essentially one of George W. Bush's staunchest allies in this endeavor. When interpellated on his stand on the matter he attempted and failed to liken the American invasion of Iraq to its having joined World War II upon being bombed by Pearl Harbor. He also went on to talk about what barbarians people are in the middle east, unwittingly exposing himself for the utter bigot that he is. I didn't know there were people who still embodied the White Man's Burden anymore, but apparently Miller still bears it quite proudly.

300, fortunately, was written before Bush even stole the 2000 U.S. Presidential Elections, so may arguably be free from the taint of an analogy, but clearly Miller's belief system was already in place.

Furthermore, it seems that Miller and DC have plans to release a Batman graphic novel called Batman vs. Al Qaeda. Miller actually compares this effort to the comics of the 40s which had Captain America punching out Hitler. Oh, for God's sake. Note to Paul Levitz: it's one thing to edit a cowardly George W. Bush out of the pages of The Authority, and another to feature U.S. Army recruitment ads in every other issue of DC Comics on the stands today, but by doing this you are practically screaming on behalf of America's oldest purveyor of superhero comics "we're Republicans and proud of it!" Your liberal fanbase may cringe in shame, and considering they've dwindled as of late, and especially considering that America's "War of Terror" is rapidly losing popularity, that may not be a good thing.

Happily for me, I am joined in my disdain for Miller's attempt to superimpose his politics onto his comics by highly respected DC comic book writer Grant Morrison, who basically exhorted Miller to give up his 'graphic novel nonsense' and basically join the army where he could really 'fight' Al Qaeda.

Viewed in the context of how Miller thinks, 300 becomes a lot less enjoyable, so my advice to anyone who watches it is pretty much to leave your brain at the door. 300 is not Braveheart nor anything meant to inspire people to acts of valor, and it certainly shouldn't be superimposed on any political situation prevailing today. It's a slick, visually-supercharged comic-book adaptation and should be appreciated on those terms, not in terms of its or its principal creator's politics, because that will probably just leave a bad taste in the mouth.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Taking Pause

About six weeks ago I wrote that my collection of diecast cars consisted only of about 35 to 36 cars. Since then it's ballooned to almost twice that, not counting the cars I bought then gave to my son, having decided I didn't want them in the collection.

I have committed a lot of the faux pas I was trying to guard against when I set out, the principal one being that I have diversified a bit too much in terms of what I have bought. For example, I have added eight Volkswagens to my collection: five Beetles, two Karmann Ghias and one VW-derived Dune Buggy. It's not that there's anything particularly wrong with VWs, but when I set out on this hobby, truth be told they weren't that high on my priority list. Absolute truth be told they were nowhere on it. I got into it because they seemed to be the hottest car on the forum, and I wanted to know what the fuss was all about, easily the worst reason to pick anything up. Sure, I like having them now, but having spent nearly two thousand pesos on them in a week I wonder if I couldn't have found something else, something cheaper to like.

It hasn't been all wanton acquisition, though; thanks to the forum and some re-shipments, I was able to complete all six Ford GT paint jobs released by Jada Toys, easily one of the high points of my collection. I picked up all of their Shelby Cobras as well. I've also picked up some nice Matchboxes, including some of their new releases. The collection may have grown pretty fast, but at least I haven't bought anything I utterly regretted buying.

I also recently marked another significant milestone in my collection as well, this past week I've finally gotten hold of the car I was looking for when this entire spree began: a 2006 Matchbox Jaguar XK. It only just hit the Philippine market recently, despite being available elsewhere for some months now, which explains why I could never find it.

So now I have something like twenty times as many toy cars as I did three months ago, and there's nothing currently on the market that I'm consciously looking for. Even though there are still quite a few cars out in cyberspace that I'd love to add to my collection which aren't about to show up on shelves here anytime soon, I'm quite happy with the collection I have now. Considering my price bracket (generally speaking), I've acquired some real gems. In fact, out of almost 70 cars, I can almost count on one hand the ones I paid a heavy premium for, even online.

Inevitably, though, I have to ask myself if I've peaked a little too soon. In some ways I feel like I've acquired too many cars too fast, though I was spurred primarily by a fear of scalpers at first. Still, I'd be an utter liar if I didn't admit that in the latter stages I was practically hunting them down out of compulsion. In fact, the thrill of the hunt is slightly blunted by an easy find, even if it's a good one. My trips to Festival Mall became a little less special for their frequency (though thankfully it's been over a month since my last trip) and I find myself a little less attracted to "exotic" cars (i.e., the more expensive stuff as opposed to the garden variety Matchboxes and Hot Wheels).

I have to admit I lost perspective there, so I think it's to time to take a breath for a little bit, especially considering I now have everything I really want that I can buy off the rack, or even online at reasonable prices.

I don't quite want to go the way of eBay yet; that could open a whole new can of worms.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

On Self-Help Seminars

Last night my wife and I attended a "sampler" as it were, of an ongoing self-help seminar spearheaded by some Fil-Am who has apparently dazzled a lot of people with his words of wisdom. Our experience at the sampler consisted principally of former participants of the seminar sharing their experiences and attesting to how they had benefited from the seminar. Some ofthe guests shared some of their frustrations, and I even got a crack at the mike to talk about some of the things I'd like to do with my life which I haven't gotten around to doing. It's not that I really wanted the help; I just like to talk, really.

I found myself struck by the seminar, which is a lot like the seminar Greg Kinnear's character in the film Little Miss Sunshine was trying so hard to push. I was struck by how shrewd its organizers were, basically catering to people with specific insecurities, the most conspicuous of whom seemed to be the ones with relationship problems. I was, during the break (during which Theia and I sneaked out) even approached by a strikingly beautiful facilitator who asked me if I planned to register to which I politely said no. I marvelled at how clever they were; what better way to attract a young man into their seminar than by having a very attractive young woman make the spiel?

I'm not really going to dump on the seminar (thought at P19,000 for four freaking days it is definitely pricey; my Mandatory Continuing Legal Education didn't cost nearly as much) because from what I saw in that room there was definitely a market for it.

What strikes me is how, even in a country such as the Philippines which puts a high premium on family values, there are apparently quite a few people who have managed to alienate themselves from their respective communities and families.

I've never been a particularly outgoing guy, but when I form friendships and other relationships I value I make an effort to nurture them. It's not something I always knew how to do, but I learned it over time and am still learning it. And I certainly didn't need someone else to teach me how to do it. How far gone, then are some people, that they would need someone to tell them how to talk to their family, or something like that?

Is this a signal of the inevitably decay in society? Is this "me" culture which has so many people present at that seminar feeling lost a product of too much Westernization? I really don't know, and it sounds like something that should be viewed a little more scientifically. Whatever it is, I honestly think it's sad that, rather than seek the aid from one's own community, be it from the parish priest or one's extended family or network of friends, there are people willing to shell out large amounts of money just to learn how to relate to others.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Passion of Will Smith

The Pursuit of Happyness marks Will Smith's best performance as an actor since his first leading role on the big screen in Six Degrees of Separation. He may have landed an Oscar nomination once before for doing an eerily accurate impression of Muhammad Ali, but this was the first time in his career he's truly played against type, and it works beautifully.

Happyness (the misspelling is part of the story) is the story of Chris Gardner, a bone density scanner (don't ask) salesman whose fortuntes, at the beginning of the movie, are pretty much in a downward spiral. It is when he learns that he can improve his station in life (i.e. make more money) by being a stockbroker, his path for the next six months is set. He joins an internship at the Dean Witter brokerage where for six months, he will compete with several other candidates for the chance to be declared their new broker.

There's just one problem: as an intern he is not paid any salary, and unfortunately selling his machines gets progressively harder, especially when the IRS hits him for just about everything he's managed to make. As a result, he and his son Christopher (played by Jaden Smith, Will's real-life son, who is a revelation all his own) end up homeless, sleeping in shelters and train station bathrooms.

Of course, this is a feel-good movie, so one doesn't have to be a brain surgeon to know who will eventually beat out all of the other interns for that coveted job with the brokerage.

Still, the journey there is so excruciating, so full of cruel twists of fate that although the audience is aware (having in fact, informed at the very beginning) that this movie was inspired by true events, one cannot help but feel the hand of contrivance pop up time and again in the screenplay. There's a little silliness in the script that is called for, while other times it seems rather unintentional. It doesn't really matter whether or not it really happened, because as far as I'm concerned it's all in the telling.

This movie is billed up as a feel-good movie, but to my mind it plays very much like Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. I don't know how many other people will draw this parallel, but in each stroke of misfortune that Gardner had to endure I saw the inordinate cruelty with which Gibson depicted Jesus Christ's suffering, the difference being that while, word for word, the Bible describes what happened to Christ, screenwriter Will Conrad presumably had a bit more leeway. That notwithstanding, he and director Gabriele Muccino pile on the pain and suffering for nearly two hours straight until both Gardner and the audience can barely stand it, at which point they finally offer up Gardner's moment of redemption.

The thing is, as with Jesus Christ's footnote of a resurrection in Passion, Gardner's success does pretty much nothing to change how terrible I felt after having been put through such an emotional wringer for something like ninety-nine percent of the movie. At some point I was practically groaning at how excessive all the things that were happening to him felt.

Fortunately for this film, Smith elevates it past its script and direction by suffusing Gardner with dignity even in the face of all of his travails. Although Gardner isn't a fountain of wisecracks throughout the movie, Smith still brings to him the charm that he has trademarked (and he does get a few good one-liners in besides). Not only that, but Smith and son Jaden play wonderfully off each other. I don't usually much care for child actors but this kid really knocks it out of the park for me.

At the end of the day, this is every inch Smith's movie, and his ninth or tenth career $100+ grosser. Forget Tom Cruise; THIS is Hollywood's biggest movie star. And he's a better actor to boot.

Saturday, March 10, 2007


300 is some good, solid entertainment, and easily the best action film I've seen all year.

In a nutshell, it's a retelling of the ancient Battle of Thermopylae, in which a small cadre of Spartan warriors led by King Leonidas (Gerard Butler in what is surely the role that will launch him into stardom) took on a much larger force in the form of the Persian army and inflicted severe losses on them before being killed to the last man. Of course, that it was directly adapted from Frank Miller's vision of that battle adds another dimension to the filmmaking altogether.

The end result is an hour-and-a-half-long, magnificently shot and choreographed fight scene, abetted by some highly stylized visual effects which embody the best "real actors against virtual backdrops" film so far since the genre was launched with Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow a few years back. If appreciated on these terms, then the film is pure delight.

Apart from that, it's not what I'd call a brilliant film, and anyone who's seen Gladiator and Sin City is sure to recognize their love child, with a little DNA infusion from the Matrix. In short, one of its maladies is that it suffers from a lack of originality.

Another is a script with some rather halting dialogue. I remember how Peter Jackson (or was it Fran Walsh) when accepting the Academy Award for the Best Adapted Screenplay congratulated the actors for being able to spout out some difficult dialogue. On the off-chance the scriptwriters should be similarly rewarded for their efforts they should be doubly grateful because just as 2005's Sin City carried some of Miller's clunkier dialogue onto the screen, this movie does the same.

Still, apart from the stunning action sequences and set pieces, the film boasts yet another asset, and that is Butler. His acting is unabashedly over-the-top, which is presumably his way of dealing with the larger-than-life persona Miller bestowed upon Leonidas. His charisma is such that even though the screen is filled with men in leather thongs, all with virtually identical bodily proportions he still stands out for the sheer ferocity of his performance. The other actors, with the exception of David Wenham who plays the narrator and Rodrigo Santoro who plays the disturbingly strange God-King Xerxes, kind of just melt into the background.

As spectacular as the fight scenes are, though, one finds oneself desensitized to the violence after the first five minutes of the big battle. And yes, I will concede the point raised by many reviewers that the repeated device of slowing the action down and showing in great detail the dismemberment and/or impalement of the Spartans' enemies does get old pretty quickly, to the point where everything seems more than a bit cartoonish after awhile. Gamers should absolutely love this movie, especially when the decidedly anachronistic rock music starts to play; it feels out of place in a period film but right at home in a stylized video game.

These shortcomings notwithstanding, one cannot take away from director Zack Snyder, who remade Dawn of the Dead some years ago, what he has achieved, and that is a visually-arresting spectacle that faithfully translates its source material to the big screen. I won't even go into the political interpretations of this film because I don't think it was meant to be digested with anything even approaching depth; it's just a rip-roaring good action yarn and not much more than that.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Politics of Marvel

Well, apparently, Captain America is dead.

It's a story that has featured prominently in all of the comic book sites I read and in some mainstream media sites as well.

Is it permanent? Nah. They would never kill off an icon like that permanently. In both major comic book companies, Marvel and DC, the only icon who remains dead and buried is Barry Allen. As Spider-Man said, once, in one of the earlier JMS issues "that never seems to last very long around here, does it? Just about everyone I know has been dead at one point or another."

Is it a stunt? Well, Marvel haters would happily dismiss it as such, but I honestly think there's more at work here than the commercialism that drove the death of Superman or even (let's be fair here) the cloning and replacement of Spider-Man.

For one thing, one has to consider that Marvel is currently riding on the wave of the publishing phenomenon called Civil War, the best-selling American comic book of the new millenium (the half-a-million-selling issues of Tokyopop stuff aren't American), the seven issues of which have sold over two million copies on the whole. Captain America was one of the two principal characters of that book, the other being Iron Man. It was all about them, really, and it sold like hotcakes.

For another thing, most of Marvel's line (including the Captain America title) has benefited massively from that mini, and it has launched a number of books out of it, besides, including a revamped New Avengers book and an all-new Avengers book.

Oh, and they already have two gimmick event books linedup for the year, one involving the Hulk and the other involving the X-Men (neither of which I am buying, happily for me).

So no, I don't think the flagging popularity of any character came into play here.

I honestly believe that this is Marvel flipping the bird yet again at the Bush administration.

Tony Stark's pro-registration forces may have won the Civil War, and it's a way of acknowledging the current status quo in America with the Patriot Act in place. Now, however, it feels like Marvel is saying that when certain freedoms are curtailed, America might as well be dead. I mean, one of their most important characters is wearing the American flag and lying bloodied on courthouse steps, for God's sake. You don't get much more political than that. It may be a little prosaic, but at least it isn't so much about sales as it is ideology.

And Marvel has brought forth some of the best talent in its roster to tell this story. The current Captain America writer Ed Brubaker is probably one of the most well-loved by fandom since Mark Waid, if not more, and I have yet to hear anyone saying anything bad about Steve Epting's moody, stylish art. Marvel's even lined up a miniseries about the reactions of different heroes to Cap's death called Fallen Son, written by Heroes producer/writer Jeph Loeb and drawn by John Cassaday, David Finch, Ed McGuinness, John Romita Jr. and Lienil Yu. It's not as if they're getting by with gimmick covers or pre-sealed bags. Whatever one may feel about this story, at least Marvel's telling it in style.
Right now I love how Marvel is basically wearing its anti-Bush sentiments out on its sleeve. Its staff was actually anti-Bush even when it wasn't fashionable, the only blip being the time some right-wing journalist wrote a propaganda piece for the war in Iraq which they couldn't bring themselves to publish for the longest time and finally ended up printing as a one-shot rather than the originally planned miniseries.

So what's my guess as to how and when they'll bring Cap back? None, really, but maybe they'll bring him back in time for the 2008 elections, or after the mostly-Democrat Congress has impeached Bush, or after America has elected its first woman or black president.

Will I buy this story? I'm not really sure, but I certainly applaud Marvel's decision to print it.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Getting the Big Boys to Pay.

Oddly enough, my new hobby, collecting diecast cars, has even helped enlighten me on how incredibly stupid car companies, particularly American car companies, are.

As a collector, I have found myself gravitating towards the Ford Mustang. Old and new, they comprise a big chunk of my collection, to the extent that I have more Mustangs than any other single type of car. It's the icon I'm drawn to, really, more than anything else.

In my excitement over this particular make of car, I read a bit about them on the internet and watched some youtube videos of my favorite show, Top Gear in which the new Mustang was reviewed. Predictably, the Mustang was lambasted by the show's hosts in view of its poor handling. The same went for the Shelby GT500, the 2007 version of the legendary 1967 Shelby GT500; its poor handling caused a couple of reviewers to give it the thumbs down.

What bothered, me, however, was not the bad review, but a certain technical detail about the car, namely that it employed a live axle, which means that instead of rear-wheel independent suspension, which is what most current performance cars (and most passenger cars for that matter) employ, both its rear wheels turn on a solid metal rod.

Ford and legendary Mustang Tuner Carroll Shelby have defended the decision to deprive what is currently their flagship muscle car of the best technology available, stating that to put in this system would have made the car more expensive by about 5000 dollars and that the handling would not have significantly improved anyway (the latter of which I severely doubt).

It's not like I would ever buy this car anyway, but I was intrigued, so I dug a little deeper and learned what the ultimate cause for the cost-cutting was: Ford is basically in deep shit, having posted its biggest financial loss in years.

Like the other big two car manufacturers, Dodge and General Motors, Ford's primary lines of vehicles are its big, stupid, gas-guzzling SUVs and its pickup trucks, which basically panders to big, stupid Republicans. As is the case with so much else, Americans just have to do everything in ridiculous excess. What do you expect out of a nation where "food fights" are a staple in many of its slapstick comedies?

Well, apparently gas prices have severely curtailed the Americans' propensity to guzzle gas, and so all of the big three have suffered severely for it, with Toyota overtaking GM as the world's number one seller of automobiles, which says a lot considering GM has divisions all over the world churning out all kinds of different cars.

Because Ford, however, has ventured most of its eggs in the SUV basket, it's lost money hand over fist and now can't even afford to put independent rear-wheel suspension in arguably one of its most important products. The proof that things have gotten progressively worse for them is the fact that the previous generation Mustang did, in fact, have IRS.

So it is of some consolation that at least some of the conspirators behind the death of the electric vehicle are finally paying their dues. People are finally using their most powerful weapon against the capitalist; the dollar, or more appropriately, their refusal to spend it, and have brought one of the world's biggest capitalists to its knees.

However, the new Mustang, medieval suspension notwithstanding, is apparently quite the seller, with its iconic appeal and good looks. The other big two car companies have taken their cue and are reintroducing their own sixties icons, namely the Chevrolet Camaro and the Dodge Challenger. Thinking that the SUV is on its way out, the big three may come to believe that the solution is to go retro and bring back the muscle car. The only problem is, these muscle cars still use five-liter V8 engines. It's kind of amazing how myopic these people can be. One would think car executives are smarter than the morons who buy their products.

Of course, if the market is flooded with gas guzzling muscle cars, with gas prices continuing to escalate, it'll only be a matter of time before people stop buying these cars for the same reason they did their SUVs and pickup trucks, and start going back to their gas-sipping Toyotas, Hondas and other non-American cars.

It'd be nice, actually, if some Japanese or European company actually bought Ford out, the way Ford bought British companies Jaguar and Aston Martin. It would be nice to have business managers with long-term vision, and not just a desire to make a quick buck, running the company, and maybe the electric-car technology Ford (and its co-conspirators in the big three) sat on may see the light of day at last. Or, at the very least, a change in company philosophy would come about, with much less reliance on motor vehicles with a displacement any bigger than two-and-a-half liters.

This is Ford's chance to effect a huge paradigm shift; having been screwed by the oil companies who really couldn't give a damn about anybody's bottom line but their own, it is in a position to start hitting those companies back by making cars less dependent on their products. It can join other eco-warrior car companies like Honda and Toyota and make a clean break from the rest of the Detroit conspiracy with cheaper, and more importantly more fuel-economical cars.

Maybe using a revamped business policy that steers away (pardon the pun) from SUVs and excess, they can actually start making money again, and afford to put some real suspension in their Mustangs. Maybe (gasp) they can start making the Shelby GR-1 concept car a reality.

It's poetic justice to see the big three floundering as a result of all their indulgence. The trick now is how to do the same to the oil companies.

Friday, March 02, 2007

A Movie That Richly Deserved the Best Picture Oscar... the one that won it this year. Fuck. What a year to miss the theatrical runs of each and every candidate for the Best Picture Oscar.

I've seen two of the candidates on video, both of which sport some nice awards including the grand freaking prize, and they're both utter gems of cinema.

Not since 1988 have I failed to see any of the Oscar-nominated films in the theaters. That's nearly a twenty-year fucking streak, and the one year I broke it was the year some seriously kickass movies made it up there.

I would have gladly traded in the year I swallowed crap like The English Patient or American Beauty if it meant seeing both Little Miss Sunshine and this latest gem I've seen, The Departed, up on the big screen where they belong.

The Departed is a film I wanted to see when it came out last September (or was it October? I don't even remember anymore) well before any Oscar buzz even started (though I understand that quite a bit of it was already stirring about in pre-production).

When I finally saw a barely passable copy of it on a bootleg DVD that my sister-in-law brought home, I had mixed feelings; I was ecstatic to finally get to watch this fantastic film, but at the same time I really, really felt bad about not having seen it in its cinematic glory.

Oscar-winning director Martin Scorsese and Oscar-winning screenwriter William Monahan have crafted a masterpiece of narrative. Granted, he borrowed the plot from Infernal Affairs, a Hong Kong movie, but considering the guys who made that movie (or movie trilogy) have openly expressed Scorsese's influence on their series of films, I guess it's a bit of tit-for-tat.

As all the materials have stated, the film is about a cop, played by Leonardo DiCaprio in easily the best performance of his career, who infiltrates Boston's Irish mob, headed by a devastatingly sinister Jack Nicholson, and about a mob mole, played by Matt Damon in yet another astonishing display of versatility, who has infiltrated the Boston police force. The story is so full of twists and turns that to discuss it at length would give away some meaty surprises, but suffice it to say that the characters find themselves in a race against time, each trying to uncover the other.

As though he felt his esteemed leads were not enough to carry this brilliantly-woven narrative, Scorsese tapped the services of an all-star supporting cast that includes Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen and Alec Baldwin, all of whom deliver richly textured (and in Wahlberg's case, career-defining) performances that, together with those of the principals, make this movie that much greater as a whole than the sum of its parts, which says a lot. Even without the Oscar nod, Mark Wahlberg has officially graduated from the name Marky Mark, and has transcended his starring roles in such turkeys as The Big Hit and The Perfect Storm. Alec Baldwin may now be forgiven for his long streak of bad movies and his supporting role in the godawful Pearl Harbor. Martin Sheen may now be remembered for having playing an important role in a momentous film, rather than his stint as the President of the United States on television.

The success of this film all comes down to the writing and the acting. The action, or more appropriately, the violence is so rampant it's almost cartoony, and you can bet this movie isn't about fight choreography or car chases, but it's just as riveting as any of those things because once the script starts on its roller coaster ride it basically grabs the viewer by the throat and doesn't let go until the end credits roll.

Here's the thing of it: in my frustration at missing it in the theaters I read all about it on the internet, spoilers included, and while I admit it would have bit a lot more hard-hitting had I been caught by surprise by a lot of its surprise twists, especially towards the end, I still found myself a little startled by how everything turned out.

The last film I saw with a similar script and narrative structure this good was Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs. It even operated on the same principle; a mole has infiltrated a gang and the movie is about smoking him out. This script had just as much panache and followed its own path. The absence of any Tarantino humor notwithstanding, though, this movie benefitted from some truly incredible writing.

When this movie first came out late last year I asked a friend of mine what he thought of it, to which he could only respond: Bleak.

Well, to be honest, bleak it was, but to my mind it was so much more than that. Scorsese has truly shown himself to be a director for the ages. I mean, he already has more than one masterpiece in each and every decade since the 70s. Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Gangs of New York, and now this.

Oscar or no, this should easily be one of the best-remembered films of his career, and with good reason, too.

I feel terrible about seeing this movie on a bootleg DVD because as far as I'm concerned, to do so is a big fat "fuck you" to the makers of the movie, who in this case really did deserve my money, a lot more so than those fuckers at Columbia and Marvel pictures for making Ghost Rider, or Tom Cruise did for any of his vanity movies, especially the Mission Impossible trilogy. It makes me feel bad because I realize now that if I called myself a movie lover while just watching this stuff on pirated DVDs and not in the theaters would be the same thing as calling myself a comic-book lover if all I did was to read them at the store and never buy any. In both cases I'm doing a severe disservice to the art form.

Well, to make it up to these guys, I am hereby committing to buy the real DVD of this someday. They may not need my money, but for giving me a movie this good they damn well deserve it.