Somewhere, the lead singer of R.E.M. feels fine


Few words carry as much potential weight in the Geek World. The history of fictional characters from entirely disparate “worlds” is not entirely illustrious, but the lure of the concept is just too good to let a misstep here and there dull the effect. Who would win? Who’s “better” in the first place? Will this special-talent be a match for that? Will the supporting casts show up? If so, what will they make of the meeting?

Can Captain Marvel (“Shazam” version) lift the Hammer of Thor? Could even Superman not break Wolverine’s unbreakable adamantium bones? Is The Predator good enough to hunt The Alien? Krueger or Vorhees, who goes the distance? Very seldom are the actual PRODUCTS that spin out of the Crossover itself among the best of either “participant’s” catalogue, but that’s not really the point. The point is that “it” exists at all. That it happened. So-and-so and you-know-who occupied the same space, breathed the same air, exchanged words and usually fisticuffs.

If you were a video-gamer during the 1990s, during what is now remembered as “The 16-bit Wars,” the possibility of ONE hypothetical crossover in particular loomed to some degree in your imagination. No use denying it: You thought about it. Pictured it. Discussed it. Today we learn that we won’t have to fantasize for much longer. This year, as a just-announced mega-release tied-in to the 2008 Beijing Olympics (aka China’s official “Planet Earth, meet the new boss” coming-out party) it finally happens…

Not a joke. Not a hoax. Not an imaginary tale. Here’s the official website:

Think about this: Up until the middle of yesterday, “Halo 3” was going to be “THE Gaming Event of 2007.”

REVIEW: Shooter

What would happen if “24” and “Fahrenheit 9-11” had a baby? The answer would probably look a lot like “Shooter,” a combination political-conspiracy-thriller/action-movie that’s just slightly more schizoid than even it’s genre-description would imply. It’s protagonist – a former Marine scout-sniper living all Jeremiah Johnson in a mountain cabin far from Big Brother’s eyes with just his beers, his gun collection and loyal hunting dog to keep him company – is practically a walking right-wing cartoon fetish doll; but he finds himself the hero of a conspiracy plot – involving Big Oil, private military contractors and corrupt Red State senators – that plays out like a DailyKos rant. Imagine the “300” Spartans showing up in Seattle to protest the World Bank and you’ll get a pretty good picture of what an odd animal “Shooter” becomes when viewed through the politically-aware lense it frequent asks us to apply.

Yet, it works. Partially, it’s because it’s wisely willing to meet each of it’s seemingly-incompatible “selves” at their most gonzo (within reason) extreme (hero striding toward camera flanked by massive American Flag in slo-mo? Check! Eeeeeevil greedy-capitalist baddies cackling ghoulishly over brandy and cigars? Check!) without a hint of tiresome irony. But mostly it’s because it has the good fortune to star Mark Whalberg, a natural for this kind of role if there ever was one; and to have been directed by Antoine Fuqua, the criminally underrated action specialist (think Michael Bay, but with a functional grasp of subtlety) behind “Tears of The Sun” and “Training Day.”

Whalberg is Bob Lee Swagger, the aforementioned reclusive master sniper. Uneasily goaded via some patriotic nerve-touching back into service to help pre-thwart a presidential assassination (Swagger: “I don’t like the President. Didn’t like the last one, either.”), he finds himself framed for the murder of an Ethiopian diplomat by a shadowy government/mercenary/Big-Oil conspiracy. Nearly murdered in the process and now on the run from literally the entire law enforcement community, he enlists the aid of a sympathetic FBI rookie (Michael Pena) and an old service buddy’s widow (Kate Mara) and sets out to take down the conspirators personally.

Depending on your politics, you’re either going to nod your head, shake your fist or shrug your shoulder’s at the film’s central maguffin, but whatever your reaction it’ll likely be coupled with a bipartisan eyeroll at how overly-simple yet overly-convoluted it actually is. But the “what” isn’t really especially important here, since this is an old-fashioned Boy Versus The World hero quest and all the twists and bumps are nakedly just there to give Whalberg’s Swagger a narrative to operate in. What’s important is staging inventive-but-plausible action scenes around the hero’s various special skills – particularly his vaunted marksmanship and ability to turn a wholesale store shopping spree into a one-man-army arsenal – and Fuqua executes this with grand expertise. As a bit of a bonus, there’s some fun with improvisational medicine (my showing’s audience cheered at the revelation of Swagger’s “home” substitute for anesthetic) and a standout sequence of the Marine-trained hero making mincemeat out of a crack team of hired mercenaries (come to think of it, the scene and the film could both be accuratelt described as “Rambo vs. Blackwater.”)

The film hit’s some missteps when it comes time to lay out the “who’s” and the “what’s” of it’s larger premise and veers too often into speechifying and exposition. Ned Beatty has some fun as a slimeball senator, but he and the rest of the heavies finally have little else to do other than sneer at the good guys and yuk it up over how fun it is being powerful and connected. The film is eventually lacking a central “heavy” to match Whalberg outside of the vaguely-defined enemy of “The System,” though at least the screenplay knows enough to acknowledge this and work it into the overall theme: “You don’t get it,” one character scolds Swagger late in the game, “There’s no ‘head’ to cut off.”

But it’s definately a good time watching him try.



The words “improbably good,” or some similar sentiment have chased around the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” franchise around for some time. It certainly describes the quality of the original independent comics the characters were birthed in, the financial success of the merchandising empire that followed, and even the not-as-dated-as-you’d-think charms of the first feature film all the way back in 1990. Now, once more, here they are again: This film, an (apparently) mid-budget CGI-animated 4th sequel to a franchise who’s last tepid entry washed out of theaters over fourteen years ago… is GOOD. Improbably good. Immediately one of the better action films of 2007, an absolute must-see for current and former fans and a genuine marvel at working both as a solid “hard-PG” action offering and a delightful family adventure pic. What a lovely surprise.

There’ll be a certain quaint Geek Irony should this film be the release that unseats “300” from the top of the boxoffice (prognosis: improbably good.) The Turtles made their debut as a mid-80s underground independent comic book series from Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, heavily spoofing the Marvel Universe of the time and in-particular “300”-progenitor Frank Miller’s ninja-saturated “Daredevil” run – the go-to “hot” book of the time. Though MOST of them didn’t at first come to it in that form, almost any living member of Generations X and Y can quote you the Turtle Lore verbatim: Four turtles turned into wisecracking humanoid mutants by toxic waste, trained in the martial-arts by and named for Renaissance painters by a similarly-mutated rat named Splinter, operating out of a hidden lair in the NYC sewer system, engaged in constant stuggle with the evil ninjas of the Foot Clan under the villian Shredder. From this humble and decidedly indie-edgy origin came a syndicated cartoon series, and from that came a merchandising cash-cow the likes of which hasn’t been seen since. That it occured once was incredible – that it could now occur twice doubly so.

The new film picks up an unspecified number of years after the events of the previous film (prick up you’re ears, oldschool fans, you didn’t misread that: This is in-continuity with that prior entries, even the 3rd if you’re paying close-enough attention.) The Shredder is dead, the Foot Clan has been reduced to working as mercenaries-for-hire, and the Turtle “brotherhood” isn’t what it used to be. Leader Leonardo (swords, blue mask) has been off in South America honing his ninjitsu in the jungle, surfer-dude Michaelangelo (nunchucks, orange mask) and brainiac Donatello (bo staff, purple mask) are working crummy jobs to keep busy and hothead Raphael (sais, red mask) is a brooding, introverted wreck, doning an armored disguise and sneaking out as a vigilante at night to circumvent Master Splinter’s (voice of Mako, making this the late legend’s last film “appearance) ban on crimefighting until Leo returns. As for the extended-family, perennial Turtle buddy April O’Neil has traded in her reporter’s mic for the rare antiquities scene while her boyfriend, sports-equipment-armed vigilante Casey Jones, is wrestling with issues of “settling down.”

The maguffin (or two) that gets this fractured bunch back together – and into action – again, it turns out, eventually reveals itself as a pretty interesting, unpredictably-twisty setup involving a media tycoon, an ancient battle, a group of living-statues, a gaggle of surly para-dimensional monsters and even the semi-reconstituted Foot Clan. The degree of actual story and substance is impressive, considering both the pedigree and the fact that it’s really just an impetus to re-establish the “TMNT” family-dynamic, particularly the interupted-animus between Leo and Raph which boils-over into a truly excellent fight scene.

Stylistically, it keeps pretty close to the visual style of the first film, i.e. a hybrid of the original comics’ intentionally Miller-esque urban grit and the more whimsical animated version. Relative newcomer studio Imagi provides the animation, which is noticeably less polished-looking than industry-standard Pixar but makes up for it with a great production design and a well-chosen sense of nostalgia for colorful “edge” of pre-Guiliani Manhattan. The character design looks GREAT for the Turtles, who’ve simply never looked better, and the imaginatively-designed monsters; but falters a bit in regards to the humans: April and Casey look a little TOO doll-like and cartoony, next to the paradoxically more real-looking Turtles (Karai, the Zhang Ziyi-voiced new leader of the Foot Clan, on the other hand, looks terrific and doesn’t have enough screen time.) Bottom-line, though, is that they ALL look great in motion.

(FYI, Imagi’s next slated project is a PG13 CGI-animated feature version of the Japanese anime “Gatchaman,” remembered as “Battle of The Planets” or “G-Force” to many of you lucky folks who’s folks got Cable early on. I’ve decided I like these cats.)

Though it’s clearly (and wisely) got it’s eye on the new generation of potential audiences, the film is tight-packed with details and asides to reward the original fans who’ve come back to see if any of the magic is still there: Oldschoolers should definately keep a sharp eye on all the continuity-confirming treasures strewn about the Turtle Lair, and at my showing a single exchange hinting at whom the (hoped-for) next installment’s Big-Bad might be had the 20-somethings expressing enthusiastic delight. And, dammit, there’s something just-plain-good about seeing these old “friends” being pretty-much the way you remember them. It’s not just a “fanboy-wank,” but it DOES understand that it’s dealing with a mythos that’s tied heavily to the sacred memories of youth for much of it’s prospective audience and it takes that “responsibility” seriously. If the Toy-Toon Generation is as incensed by the upcoming Michael Bay “Transformers” adaptation as many of them fear they’ll be, look for “TMNT” to be frequently cited as “how NOT to eff these things up” Exhibit-A.

Oh, here’s something ELSE you can look forward to: A whole lot of end-of-civilization carping when this “toy commercial” hits big bank with family audiences while “The Last Mimzy” belly-flops. Y’know what? YES, with it’s New Age spiritual underpinings and environmental message “Mimzy” has the market cornered on good intentions compared to “TMNT’s” just-for-fun/nostalgia bounciness… but “Mimzy” is still a leaden dud while “TMNT” is alive and kicking with terrific characters and grand family-friendly high-adventure.

I’ll be smiling all weekend, thanks to this movie. Thank you, Imagi – but please work on rendering better human beings for “Gatchaman.” Thank you, thank you, thank you writer/director Kevin Munroe, for giving me one of the good parts of grade school back again – and doing so in a full-on, legitimately great little movie. The best “Ninja Turtles” movie ever.


REVIEW: The Hills Have Eyes 2

Boy, does this suck.

It was practically a given that this quickie sequel would have an uphill battle at proving itself without gonzo-genius Alexandre Aja at the helm, but man… This is the kind of awful, pointless follow-up you usually expect to go direct-to-DVD.

Alright, so the original isn’t exactly a flat-out masterpiece, but at least it had guts (literally) and vision. It’s solution to reinvigorating the stale “vactioners versus rural cannibal mutants” setup was to go over-the-top and then some. This sequel whittles down the mutants to a skeleton-crew of about four to five uniteresting hulks and tosses a crew of heavily-armed National Guard troops at them… and can’t think of a single interesting thing to do for almost two hours. The first film managed a crucifixtion/incineration, a baby-in-peril and turned the family dog into an action hero before the 3rd act even got going… the best the sequel can manage is a prolonged, shockingly unimaginative rape scene. Skip it.


REVIEW: The Last Mimzy

NOTE: Early review from preview-screening. The film will not be released until next week. As the advertisements have made ZERO attempt to tell people what this is at all about, some of this MAY be considered minor spoiler-territory.

Few things are rougher to have to appraise than poor films with admirable intentions, and “The Last Mimzy” is precisely such a film. I can’t think of many things I’d like to champion more than a serious, thought-provoking science fiction film for a family audience, and that’s definately what “Mimzy” sets out to be… unfortunately, we all know what they say about good intentions and the paving of certain roads.

The film is inspired by “Mimsy Were the Borogroves,” a 1943 theoretical-mathematics-based scifi short story by Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore, which was in turn inspired by a line of “nonsense verse” by Lewis Carroll in one of the “Alice” stories. The story was considered remarkably ahead of it’s time in it’s own time, and even now it’s central workings are right up there with “2001” and “Pi” in the pantheon of “stuff you wouldn’t expect to be the basis for a movie.”

Trouble is, this all that good stuff is imported from a short story, and the manual-inflation going on to pad the goings-on out to feature length are awkward and obvious, as-is the imposition of a narrative that… er.. “borrows” (to be charitable) liberally from a lot of other similar movies (“War Games,” “D.A.R.R.Y.L.,” “E.T.,” and “Project X” especially ought to take a quick inventory of their belongings.) Also contributing to the stumble is the haphazard insertion of “edgy” buzz-topics to define the good guys (New Age psuedo-Buddhism, environmentalism, technophobia) and the bad guys (Homeland Security, Patriot Act, etc.,) in terms of current-events, attempted so poorly that it’s almost physically jarring. The end-result wants to be the sleek, 21st Century “E.T.” but instead shambles around like the mutant offspring of “The Secret” and “Mac & Me.”

The story itself concerns two siblings, a gradeschool-age boy and his genius toddler sister, who discover a “toybox” full of strange objects that imbue them with strange powers: He turns into a mathematics genius who can talk to spiders and freehand-doodle ancient Tibetan geometry drawings he’s never seen himself, while she gains telekinetic mind powers and bonds with the “toybox’s” sole recognizable occupant: A stuffed bunny named “Mimzy” who “speaks” to her in a strange electronic language and offers explanations for events at plot-convenient intervals. Short version (the film more-or-less lays this out at the beginning, so not a spoiler): Humanity screwed up something feirce in the future, and “Mimzy’s” are cuddly reverse-“Terminators” sent back to the past in order to do… something… that’ll put things right and lead to shiny-happy utopia.

You’d think that would be enough for one movie, but for some reason somebody decided that the film needed nearly a solid first hour of red-herrings and half-formed ideas that don’t go anywhere plus two extra sets of characters to spread things out. Enter Rainn Wilson (from the American “Office”) as the kids’ “hip” eco-minded science teacher, his palm-reading New Age wife (Kathryn Hahn) and Michael Clarke Duncan as a Homeland Security (bum bum BUUUUUUMMMM!) agent who steps in to muck things up when Mimzy and friends innadvertently cause a statewide EMP blackout.

Not a bad set of performers for ultimately-extraneous characters, but it comes across just a little too clearly as an ad-on. For what it’s worth, Wilson and Hahn’s jokey interplay at least makes their characters the most enjoyable good-natured ribbing of the granola set at least until Emma Thompson goes another round as “Harry Potter’s” Sybil Trelawney; while unfortunately Duncan’s subplot can’t shake off the fact that he’s only there so that the film can (with embarassing shamelessness) rip-off the “sad part” of “E.T.” nearly scene-for-scene.

Adding to the trouble is that the film is largely unpleasant to watch, often garishly photographed and staged in clunky-looking compositions. The director is Bob Shaye, longtime New Line Cinema boss-man who’s lst behind the camera credit was 1990’s forgetable “Book of Love.” The story of how he opted to do this one himself is probably more interesting than the movie.

Everyone’s heart was in the right place on this one, but the end result is going to confound the crap out of the kiddies and bore the stuffing out of the adults. Count me out if there’s a Next Mimzy.


REVIEW: Dead Silence

As the writer/director/actor team of the money-printing “Saw” franchise, Leigh Whannell and James Wan can by now write their own ticket as far as the horror genre goes. Encouragingly, “Dead Silence,” the duo’s first non-“Saw” re-teaming is nearly a complete 180 in terms of tone and style; eschewing the previous franchise’s post-industrial grit and Nu-Metal aura for lilting eeriness and old-school gothic dread that owes more than a little to early Stephen King. These are no one-trick ponies.

A lot is written these days about how the rising generation of popular filmmakers ground their frame of reference to much in other movies. While there’s some merit to this criticism, it ignores the flip-side: Some genres, Horror especially, thrive on injections of fresh, er.. blood. And when trying to keep things fresh, a profound familiarity with what’s already gone stale can be a good start on the way to something great. With “Dead Silence,” Wan and Whannell have elected to try and re-energize one of modern horror’s most irritating cliches: The practice of earning a cheap delay-scare by dropping out the ambient noise on the soundtrack moments before the “BOO!” and the big jump-chord. Amazingly, they’ve found a way to take this worn-out aural shortcut and make it a functioning part of the actual story: “Dead Silence’s” central big-bad is a sound-hating spectre who’s presence is signaled – both to the audience and to the characters – by the sudden cessation of all ambient noise. And it works! I’m in awe. What will they do for an encore, give a plausible explanation for all occurances of spring-loaded-cats?

The aforementioned spectre is the ghost of Mary Shaw, a Depression-era (or maybe post-WWII.. the actual time settings here are a little vauge) ventriloquist spinster who was murdered in an act of vigilante vengeance when she became suspected of kidnapping and murdering a local youngster who’d heckled a performance featuring her and one of her 101 wooden-dummy “children.” She manifests in relative-proximity to her more-mobile-than-you’d-expect dolls, stalking the descendants of those responsible for her death. If you scream when you see her, she rips out your tongue and can then mimic your voice to mess with others.

Jamie Ashen (Ryan Kwanten) a onetime resident of the rather Silent Hill-ish blighted town at the epicenter of Mary Shaw’s curse, finds his wife similarly mutilated after recieving a mysterious package containing Doll #57 (“Billy,”) and heads home to get some answers about the mystery and how it connects to his (of course) wealthy and emotionally-distant father (Bob Gunton!) with a suspicious homicide detective (Donnie Whalberg) in tow.

To be honest, there’s just a bit too much going on here; as though Wan and Whannell had several dozen different “angels” to take on making a scary ventriloquism movie and finally opted to just put them all into one movie. As a result, it’s a little hard to pin down exactly what Mary Shaw is or isn’t capable of. A great deal of setup is given to her behavior and burial requests, but the actual mechanics of things are fairly broad: At times she’s a zombie, others a ghost. At times the dolls seem to be moving on their own, “Chucky”-style, other times they mainly exist as harbingers for their master. And I’m still not really clear on the how or why of Shaw returning to “life” as a being of such considerable supernatual powers in the first place.

But those are trifles, really, against the simple fact that the movie is a finely-made ghost story. The film is pulling gags and concepts from all over the horror landscape, yes, but at least it’s being wise in it’s cherry-picking: There’s just enough eeriness, gothic murk, modern gore and old-fashioned jumps to make a well-rounded horror entry that’s suitably scary and carries a substantial degree of mood – even if it does ultimately hurt for lack of a strong central presence of evil like Tobin Bell’s “Jigsaw” of the “Saw” franchise (keep an eye peeled for Jigsaw’s own puppet-pal among Shaw’s collection.)

The bottom line is: It’s a good spook-show, which is more than can be asked for most of it’s ilk these days.


Iran doesn’t like "300"

Iran is angry. Yeah, I know, “Iran?? Angry??? Are… are you sure?” Who’d a thunk, eh?

Now, “angry” is pretty much the default operating system for Iran, yes. Moreso lately than usual. They’re angry that they don’t control more of the Middle East. They’re angry that there’s a war in Iraq that they aren’t benefitting from as much as they might otherwise be. They’re angry that various world powers are uniting under the theme of NOT letting them obtain a nuclear weapon. And, as always, they’re angry that neither they nor their ideological allies in Palestine have succeeded in wiping the Jews out of existance.

You’d think that’d be enough to be angry about for a nation of 70 Million people. But, apparently, no. Apparently with a major war looming right next door and their own President essentially begging to be attacked, Iran has still found time to work itself into a hysterical lather the type of which the Muslim World typically reserves only for newspaper cartoons and a women with a visible nose-bridge over the movie “300.” So says a Time magazine corespondent in Tehran:,8599,1598886,00.html?cnn=yes

Iran’s problem? Well, the film’s snarling villians are Persians, and what’s left of the once-mighty Persian Empire and it’s once-proud Persian People we now call Iran. Ironically, more Americans now know this BECAUSE Iran brought it up than probably ever knew it while going to see “300.”

This was bound to happen, and wouldn’t really be something I’d call newsworthy (again: Iranian anger is not news, in the same way that a wet fish is not news) save for the kind of special hilarity it provides with quotes like these:

“Everywhere else I went, from the dentist to the flower shop, Iranians buzzed with resentment at the film’s depictions of Persians, adamant that the movie was secretly funded by the U.S. government to prepare Americans for going to war against Iran. “Otherwise why now, if not to turn their people against us?”

I wonder if it’s even worth trying to explain to Iran that that isn’t the way things actually work here. Or, even better, that what they’re imagining is unfathomable in the current political climate: “Hollywood” and the regime that currently occupies the White House and Pentagon tend to view one-another in terms of lions-vs.-hyenas: natural born enemies. Of course, it doesn’t HELP that the expected wacko-contingent of the political “right” has been jumping up and down aiming to claim the film as “theirs” since before it came out, while the wacko-contingent of the “left” is slinging around their favorite insta-slams of “racism” and “imperialism.”

On the scale of such things, this isn’t quite as tragically-amusing as when Britian got angry about looking bad in “The Patriot,” if only because there was never the chance that Britian would fire off a missile or two over it. Still… you have to wonder if this can safely be called a case of a nation having it’s priorities obscenely out of alignment, and I mean even for Iran.


A small word of caution to any readers whom it may apply to: If you are yourself or are the concerned friend of a high school athlete with ANY games scheduled against one of the gazillion opposing teams in the U.S. called “The Spartans” at any time while “300” is still playing in theaters, please heed the following advice: Watch the hell out!

Yes, once again we dive into the “Braveheart”-birthed subgenre of epics that can be accurately refered to as Loose-History For Varsity Football Dudes and Frat Boys, with Zack Snyder’s ambitious “300” jockeying to unseat current-champ “Gladiator” as the default favorite “historical” movie of your local Atomic Wedgie Distributor. This doesn’t make it a bad film, not by any stretch, though it does aid in approaching the movie on the proper terms.

The film is a very literal translation of Frank Miller’s 1998 graphic-novel, itself a “cool-parts-only-and-cooler-parts-added” retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae (300 Spartan soldiers under King Leonidas versus a thousands-strong multinational horde under the Persian god-king Xerxes for those a little rusty on their Western Civ.) Most historical epics, for better or worse, aim to examine the deeper concepts of legendary events, or tie them to modern paralells, but you’ll find little of such here: This is a story of Sparta as the Spartans would’ve wanted it told. It casts it’s Greek heroes in the idealized (and profoundly homoeroticized) terms in which they cast themselves, and likewise Xerxes army appears as a clashing collective of beastial exotica that indeed captures the ghoulish identity ancient Greece assigned to her foes. The Spartans appear as expertly-oiled bodybuilder specimens who go to war naked save for their crimson capes and leather Chippendales speedos; while the enemy is either ugly, malformed or outright monstrous – at least two of the “heavies” are almost literal ogres, while Xerxes himself is a towering, peircing-adorned giant with a digitally-distorted voice.

On the one hand, historians will have something resembling a point when they meekly point out that Xerxes armies probably didn’t include a Jabba-esque executioner with giant claw-shaped blades replacing his forearms. But it seems to me a slippery slope to hold such gratuity against a film who’s area of history involves a clash between two civilizations so alien to modern audiences that even a “straight” retelling would have all the relateability of an unsubtitled clash between Aliens and Predators.

The nigh-extraterrestrial nature of the onscreen presentation is also helpful in allowing the action to be appreciated on it’s own merits: A sampling of any pool of reviews will reveal that critics are already too eager to read political subtexts into a film that’s more concerned with making every spear-to-the-gut kill cooler than the last, but I for one am not finding many such reviews worth taking very seriously. “Conservative” critics are largely making fools of themselves trying to cast King Leonidas (Gerard Butler, late of “Phantom of The Opera”) as some kind of Bush avatar, while their mirror-mirror dopplegangers on the “Left” are throwing a White Guilt hissy-fit over the fact that all the good guys are caucasian Greeks while the baddies are mostly, well.. not.

This is neither the time, the place nor the material for that kind of introspection – Greek Mythology doesn’t really “do” subtext. Thermopylae is here framed in the terms of the East vs. West clash of Grecian reason and Persian “mysticism and tyranny” that have been it’s default portrayal in verse, prose and portrait since it occured, and given the end result there’s nothing wrong with that: The film is “about” exactly what’s up on the screen: Balletic scenes of combat, loving-photographed spears thrusting through enemy torsos, gruesome enemies and thundering declarative narration. It’s a film of manly men doing manly things, and depending on your reading of that description you’re either going to regard it as High Camp, Holy Writ or some feverish hybrid of the two.

Created almost-entirely using green-screen “sets” and copious CGI, the film is painterly in the most literal sense: Every shot is practically a post card in motion, meticulously composed down to the last drop of spewing digital bloodspray. Every shot of the Spartan’s in combat is designed to linger on the striking visual of their battle poses, every sword-stroke and heroic leap looking like the result of a life of practice. Every shot of the Persians is a chance to show off the creativity of the makeup, costuming and armory crew. When Leonidas consults an Oracle, it appears in the form of a nubile girl doing a peyote-fueled cheese-cloth striptease. If there’s a “cool” way to behead, stab or slash an enemy using Spartan weaponry, you can bet Snyder and company have incorporated it; along with providing one of the better motion picture realizations of how a Spartan Phalanx likely worked.

When you come right down to it, “300” is essentially a single battle scene blown up to the level of a Wagnerian opera. And, as such, it’s a tremendously successful achievement. It’s not the transcendantly-excellent work that was “Sin City,” the previous high-style Frank Miller adaptation, but it neither wants or needs to be. It’s a brawl, writ-large and fully committed to building up it’s audience’s lust for digitally-stylized bloodshed and then leaving them more than satisfied. This kind of thing isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but approach it with and open mind and reasonable expectations and you’re likely to at least come away having experienced something altogether fresh.


Captain America

Most of the rest of the world, I now know, found out about this on the news throughout the day. I woke up and barely made it to work on time, then directly from work to the comic shop so… hadn’t heard a thing. I knew #25 would be a “big” issue, being the first Cap story post-“Civil War.” But I didn’t figure on this. Yeah, signs had been there for a bit, 20/20 hindsight and all, but in the actual reading this came as a complete shock to me (I had half-expected it DURING “CW”… but right after??) It’s a cracking great issue, yes, and coupled with the past year’s worth of stories about the character this may be the most “satisfying” comic book death since Captain Marvel… but, still… Wow. Ton of bricks.

And, yes, I did cry.

“O CAPTAIN! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
But O heart! heart! heart! O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.”
Walt Whitman (“O Captain! My Captain.”) 1891
“So forever in the future,
Shall I battle as of yore,
Dying to be born a fighter,
But to die again, once more.”
Gen. George S. Patton (“Through a Glass, Darkly.”) 1922

A Cold Day In Hell

That distinct sense you had over the weekend that they were ice-skating in Hell wasn’t your imagination: Anne Coulter finally pulled a stunt so crass that Conservatives are lining up to kick her out of the clubhouse, once and for all.

The problem arose when Coulter got up to do her signature verbal flaying of Democrat presidential candidates at The American Conservative Union Political Action Conference. It was televised, a sampling of potential Republican presidential nominees were present, and then this happened:

Coulter on John Edwards: She’d like to have said something about him, but “apparently you have to go into rehab if you use to word faggot.

So… a psuedo-pundit flamethrower who’s entire schtick is to say vile, shocking things so that they can be opened up for discussion through the back door uses the anti-gay equivalent of “nigger,” and “Conservatives” react by…

…um… actually acknowledging that it was a big deal? Really? The same “conservatives” who rally behind the openly anti-gay president? The same “conservatives” propping up the so-called “gay marriage ammendment?” What the HELL is going on here? Did I wake up in some alternate universe where political types act honorably? Has the Republican Party realized that being the party that’s “down” with hating homosexuals is a long-term losing prospect?

Here’s right-wing movie blog “Libertas” doing the right thing:

Over at the similarly firmly-conservative Hugh Hewitt site:

And most-importantly, all three “top” GOP candidates – Mitt Romney, John McCain (who wasn’t at the event) and Rudy Guiliani – all denounced her:

This isn’t about hate crimes laws or any such nonsense. Coulter is free to say whatever damn fool thing she wants to. But it’s also the right of others to distance themselves from her words if they find them offensive, and the right of the Conservative “movement” to kick her to the curb if they feel she is no longer helping them with this stuff.

This is the sight of the Political Party acting like a responsible movement of mature, tasteful adults. Hopefully we can look forward to more like it… but I doubt it.