Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Film Doctor Is In

Here is the main thing I want to say.
I'm working 24 hours a day.
I fix broken films.
You know I really can.

A long time ago, I figured out the only reason to create anything is that no one else has.  The books I want to write are the books I want to read, but nobody has written them yet.  The films I want to make are the films I want to see, but nobody has made them yet.

My wife used to drive me crazy by starting to fix films the minute we left the theater.  I don't think we've seen more than one or two films over the years she didn't have ideas about ways to make them better.  I wrote it off to her politics.  Well, hell, I'd say.  Go make your own film if you don't like that one.  Go make a film that fits your politics or your aesthetics or whatever. 

Lately, I've come around to her way of thinking.  Why not fix broken films?  Why not start with the idea that what's missing in the world is a better version of a film somebody made or a book somebody wrote?  Where does it say you have to start from scratch?

Now you take Passion Play (2010), a first film by screenwriter Mitch Glazer, for example.  That's a gorgeous little film that never comes together.  It has two pretty people: Mickey Rourke all broken down and Megan Fox just coming into womanhood.  It has Bill Murray, reprising the gangster he created for Mad Dog and Glory (1993), jazz, the desert, a freak show, LA, a woman with wings.  What's not to like?  The realization of the script for one thing.  And, ironically, the script itself for another. 

Rent the movie and come back.  We're going to fix it by making it clear that for most of the movie Mickey is dying or dead, and that the entire film, from the moment that Mickey is improbably rescued by Native American sharpshooters, takes place on the plane between life and death.

As a comedy writer, Glazer has never had to trouble himself with thoughts about what is real and what is not.  In fact, the unexpected is an essential element of comedy.  But, in a movie that mixes comedy with surrealism, allegory and film noir, keeping things orderly -- keeping images, characters and events on their proper plane  -- is what distinguishes the work of film makers like Fellini and Bergman from gutsy but unfinished efforts like Passion Play.  The problem with Passion Play is that everything exists on the same plane.  The viewer is forced to process everything in the movie -- winged women who learn to fly, broken down musicians, miraculous rescues by Native American warriors, ironic dialogue, cool humor, incongruous locations -- all on a plane that represents a gritty, slightly droll reality  -- in spite of the fact that the beat up, beat down, booze and drug-whacked brain of the Mickey Rourke anti-hero who rescues the winged girl and, in turn, is rescued himself, though not redeemed, seems perfect for processing alternate realities.

The quick fix for Passion Play is simple.  It mainly comes down to one shot.  At the end of the film, Rourke is being transported in the arms of an angel.  He looks down and, in a wide shot, sees his dead body, lying in a ravine and his murderer driving away.  Glazer intends for us to realize at that moment that the film has been Rourke's experience of his transition from life to death -- a dying hallucination that calls to mind the last scenes of Terry Gilliam's brilliant Brazil (1985).  What we need is a close shot of the body as Rourke leaves it behind to nail that moment of realization down in memory.

Passion Play (2010), Annapurna Productions and Rebecca Wang Entertainment

Glazer doesn't get close enough to Rourke's dead body to make that scene work.  We need to see Rourke's dead face.

It would help to fade out on the Native Americans and fade in on Rourke, walking in the desert, to mark the transition to the dying hallucination earlier in the movie, too.  And I'd cut the rest of the film in half. (The arbitrary length of "feature" films has done in more than one first film.)

I'd get Fox past the idea that she won't be taken seriously as an actress if she does nude scenes. I'm dying and I imagine Fox with her clothes on? Please.

That's the quick fix.  A complete makeover of Glazer's beautiful but personal film would require too much work.  The problem is that Rourke dies so early in the film that the revelation at the end of the film that the action has taken place on some spiritual plane feels like a clever gimmick.  Frankly, I'm not sure I care enough about the Rourke character for it to make a difference to me whether he's dead or not.  And does it really matter if the film is taken literally or not?  Would anyone care if Glazer left out the shot of Rourke's dead body altogether?  Is Passion Play some kind of filmic Book Of The Dead, full of hidden images and code words scholars could spend years discovering?

It could be that the best news about Passion Play is that a film as personal and esoteric as Passion Play can even get produced.

Or maybe it's that Megan Fox can act.  I have to wonder how smart Spielberg and Bay feel after seeing Fox in this little film.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


I just figured out that Siegfried is a teenager.

Of the operas in the Ring, Siegfried is my favorite. But there has always been something incongruous about watching men like Siegfried Jerusalem sing the role of Siegfried.

Time for dubbing? 3D and Imax? CGI? Time for a Siegfried who looks and sounds like a boy? Fans who just care about the music can keep going to the opera and suspending their disbelief. As for me, I'm ready to see Siegfried discover he's a Wälsung and not a dwarf, smash and re-forge his father's sword, jump into Fafnar's shit, off Mime, break Wotan's spear and power, and ravish Brünnhilde, all with the enthusiasm and attitude of youth.

Can you dig it? This guy might actually have a chance of running Brünnhilde down.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

This Certainly Explains A Lot

From the Yahoo! Contributor Network
Reasons content may be declined for Up-front Payment:
Content on the particular topic does not typically perform well online.

Such topics include:

■  Yahoo! Contributor Network tutorials
■  Humor
■  Creative writing (including memoirs, poetry, short stories, or any form of fiction)
■  Movie, music, television, or video game reviews
■  Opinion/editorial pieces
■  Recipes
Well, at least I've never written a Contributor Network tutorial.

Thursday, April 28, 2011


Web 2.0 has witnessed the rise of citizen journalism and a brand of publishing that reminds me of the wild, wild West, compared to the staid publications of the East Coast with their European sensibilities and, as Norman Mailer put it, their "bloodless, gutless restraint. "

Cyberspace tends to be combative and ideological. And Julian Assange, publisher of WikiLeaks, is one of the most combative and ideological publishers on the web. Assange and the leaked documents and videos he has published are now at the red hot center of the battle to control the flow of information over the world wide web. Although Assange is not the first publisher to make government documents available to the public, his publication of gun camera videos and U.S. Department of State cables is massive, both in terms of its sheer volume and in terms of its buzz. And it is the only leak around right now. In my view, there is nothing on WikiLeaks as sensational as the Abu Ghraib photos, and, in fact, nothing as shocking as some of the videos that have been up on YouTube since the start of the Iraq occupation, but Assange has made the leaks personal and part of a private war with the U.S. government. He has given the publication of leaks a human face. He has become the center of attention. That's too bad. Because it may be too hot at the center for Assange.

When I first saw the gun camera video Assange published, I was struck by the fact that the gunship was adhering to General Petraeus' regrettable rules of engagement for Baghdad. The rules should have been stricter, but at least they prevented the gunships from finishing off the wounded the way this gunship did.

This kind of video, depicting the actual murder of a wounded insurgent, has been available on YouTube for years, along with countless home videos put up there -- self-published, if you will -- by American soldiers and Marines, and also by insurgents. Most of the insurgent videos seem to have been removed quietly over the years on the grounds that they violate YouTube's terms of service. I say "quietly" because YouTube, a publisher whose significance dwarfs the personal soap opera of Assange and WikiLeaks, has never identified itself as a publisher with an ax to grind. In fact, YouTube doesn't pretend to be a publisher at all. Putatively, they are simply providing a forum for the free exchange of information. Therein, it seems to me, lies YouTube's safety, if not legally -- and I don't pretend to understand the legal issues around the free flow of information -- at least morally. For YouTube does not notice us -- unless we draw attention to one another. They have adopted at least the appearance of ignorance and neutrality. Assange has not.

Assange has, in fact, made quite a big deal out of knowing exactly what he's publishing. He has probably been led down that path by the establishment press who are very high on "responsibility" and insist on things like verifying sources, redacting classified information, and making a determination about whether the public's right to know outweighs the danger of exposing operators and operations. Having consented to work with the establishment in making those judgments, Assange has exposed himself to the moral, if not the legal, responsibility to get it right.

I suspect that is something Julian Assange is poorly equipped to do.

(Update. 3/24/2019. YouTube removed the video of an American gunship murdering a wounded insurgent.)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Is Julian Assange A Journalist?

Both sides of the WikiLeaks debate seem determined to misrepresent the issues in the Assange drama by hotly arguing over whether Assange is a journalist or not. Of course he isn’t. Assange is a publisher, and he’s entitled to the same protections — no more and no less – as any other publisher.

File this under topics for further research.

Do journalists have better or worse protections under the U.S. Constitution than publishers have? Are they held to different standards? Do people respect journalists more than they respect publishers? Who raised the issue of whether Assange is a journalist in the first place? Does being perceived as a journalist help or hurt Assange?

And what, if anything, do the charges a Swedish prosecutor — a woman who has a long history of prosecuting sex abuse and child abuse — wants to question Assange about have to do with WikiLeaks? For the record, I don’t think the charges have much to with the WikiLeaks drama at all. Sex shouldn’t be a death-defying act. If Assange did what the two women have accused him of doing — if he exposed them to the risk of AIDS by forcing them to have unprotected sex – he committed a crime under Swedish law. That doesn’t mean he’s not entitled to protection as a publisher when he publishes government tapes and documents.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


I've lost interest in the news.  The world wide web in general has become a collossal bore.  I was already starting to lose interest in the web sites I had developed the habit of visiting every day, when, suddenly, The New York Times fell apart.  Following current events seems so meaningless now, even as a spectator sport.  I feel like I'm bringing the plants and lawn furniture in for the winter, just when I should be putting them outside.  Sigh.

Spring has been a long time coming to the shores of Lake Michigan this year.

Following the YouTube links from It Might As Well Be Spring, I noticed that Dana Andrews was in the film. Andrews made some good films, including Laura and The Best Years of Our Lives. Sometimes I think my obsession with the auteur theory has caused me to underestimate the contribution actors make to films. Maybe they contribute more to the mise en scene than I've given them credit for. I've always thought Andrews would have made a great Phillip Marlowe.

As of this morning, there are 1,223 documentary films available to view instantly on Netflix (and many, many more available by mail.) I can't imagine being able to make a list of 1,223 things worth documenting, but I suppose it only took 1,223 people who were able to raise some cash to make a documentary to produce that body of work. Everybody does a little, nobody does a lot. The last documentary I watched was The Most Dangerous Man In America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers, a strange little film I played out of curiosity about the similarities (and differences) between Ellsberg, who was on a first name basis with Henry Kissinger, and Private Bradley Manning.

The government is going to risk holding Private Manning in "medium security" at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, while he awaits trial. The military has concluded that Manning is no longer a danger to himself or anyone else, and that he's not likely to be harmed by guards or other prisoners before he's tried. If the Obama administration is wrong about that, they will have a mess to clean up in the middle of a political campaign. Personally, I hope Manning is no longer in danger because he's cut a deal and given the government Assange.

The first page of the Netflix documentary list includes Modify, an 84 minute film about "branding, piercing, tattooing, tongue splitting and every body modification imaginable." The blurb says Modify has "an original soundtrack featuring more than 20 new musical artists." Might be worth a look for somebody, though probably not for me. I couldn't even sit through Ilsa: She Wolf Of The SS the last time I tried to watch it, and they don't even cut anyone for real.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Bradley Manning Makes The Big Time

The Associated Press is reporting that the Army will move Pfc. Bradley Manning from Quantico to Leavenworth soon. According to the Army, Private Manning will be jailed in the medium security facility at Leavenworth while he awaits trial, because the interview to determine his competency to stand trial has been completed. (Does that mean Army interrogaters have what they need from Manning, or that they've given up on getting him to implicate Julian Assange in the theft of Pentagon and State Department secrets?)

Manning's new cell opens on to a common area where he can mingle with other "pretrial confines."

If Manning is convicted, it will be a short walk to his permanent home. The military's maximum security prison is located at Fort Leavenworth, too. If he graduates to the maximum security block at Leavenworth, Manning will join William Calley, Hasan Akbar and Charles Graner, a guard convicted of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib. That prospect may have influenced the information he provided Army investigators.

Or maybe Manning's interrogation is still going on, and the Army wants him to get a good look at where he could end up if he doesn't cooperate.

Either way, Manning's move might mean big trouble for Assange. It is definitely a thumb in the eye for the blogosphere personalities who have been milking Manning's pretrial confinement. They are already complaining about the improvement in Manning's confinement conditions they so desperately sought. Kansas is a long way from Washington, D.C., where most of the "nattering nabobs" hang out.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Bad News For Bradley Manning

I finally got around to watching The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers (2009) last weekend, and I think Ellsberg's story is full of bad news for Bradley Manning, the young soldier accused of stealing secret files from the Department of Defense and the State Department.

Since he copied the Pentagon Papers and distributed them to the press in 1971, Ellsberg has continued to be a prominent figure in the chronic anti-war movement that periodically obsesses American Progressives. No question he's sincere. But I can't help thinking he should wear a t-shirt that says something like: Don't try this at home, kids.

Unlike Private Manning, Ellsberg wasn't in the military when he stole the Pentagon Papers from the Rand Corporation. He was a prominent defense analyst, on a first name basis with people like Henry Kissinger and editors and reporters at the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Ellsberg was charged with and tried for espionage. He faced life in prison, but he beat the rap. What was his pre-trial confinement like? There wasn't any. After his arrest, Ellsberg was released on his own recognizance.

The very bad news for Private Manning and his supporters is that, while the Supreme Court upheld the right of the New York Times and other newspapers to publish The Pentagon Papers, Ellsberg's acquittal had nothing to do with either the facts of his case or with the Constitution, beyond his right to a fair trial.

Ellsberg was acquitted when his judge declared a mistrial after Nixon blatantly tried to interfere with the trial and the judge concluded Nixon had made it impossible for Ellsberg to get a fair trial anywhere in America. Nixon ticked the judge off, and the judge let Ellsberg go.

The Obama administration is not likely to make that mistake.

Private Manning's conviction by a military court is a foregone conclusion. The only question now is whether or not the military will be able to get Manning to flip on Julian Assange. My guess is that when his trial date approaches and he figures out he's not Ellsberg after all, Manning will cooperate.

The film itself is a strange mishmash of historical and contemporary interviews, news footage and excerpts from the Nixon tapes. My favorite moment is an audio clip of Richard Nixon, urging Kissinger to think outside the box and support a plan to nuke Hanoi.

The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers (2009) is available from Netflix.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Kicking The Torture Syndrome

After years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, examining the conditions of Pfc. Bradley Manning's confinement at Quantico, Va., could be the first step in a process of national reconciliation. President Obama could begin that process now, with a simple act of compassion. He could direct the Department of Defense to find a better way to safeguard Private Manning while he awaits trial. The President will not be able to risk lifting the Prevention of Injury (POI) watch Private Manning is being subjected to, but he can and should make the POI watch more humane.

Sooner or later, Americans do find ways to reconcile their differences. For me, reconciliation after the Vietnam War came with the dedication of Maya Ying Lin's Vietnam Veterans Memorial, a sad, retiring monument to the fallen of a sad war. I've always felt the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was a more fitting conclusion to the Vietnam War experience than America's victory in the Gulf War, a victory that, according to George H. W. Bush, "kicked the Vietnam syndrome" and, it turns out, restored the confidence America needed to undertake further adventures -- adventures Private Manning is accused of trying to thwart by stealing classified documents.

In the case of Private Manning, as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan grind to a close, Americans have a chance to start reconciling our differences over at least one aspect of the conduct of those wars: our treatment of prisoners of war and captive "enemies" of all kinds.

We have a chance to kick the torture syndrome.

The Department of Defense's treatment of Private Manning has been opposed by the left for a long time -- especially by Glenn Greenwald and by bloggers at Jane Hamsher's Firedoglake -- but now Private Manning's physical and mental health, and the conditions under which he is being held at Quantico, have begun to concern more Americans. It has become clear that, whatever the reasons, those conditions include sleep deprivation, solitary confinement and intentional humiliation. They are conditions that have been denounced as "stupid" by the Department of State's top spokesman, P.J. Crowley, at the cost of his job.

There is something disturbing about seeing the force of the United States government directed against a single individual, in this case a 23-year-old soldier.

Understandably, the Obama administraton is angry at Private Manning. They believe he leaked embarrassing details about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and about State Department operations around the globe. Just as understandably, they would like him to implicate WikiLeaks -- the site that first published the documents they claim Private Manning stole -- in the theft of the documents. But does that anger and that desire to get at the publishers of the documents justify treating Private Manning in a way that many are beginning to describe as torture?

Facts about Private Manning's life at the brig are hard to come by. It's not clear if Private Manning is still being interrogated, or if he's just waiting for his trial. The military insists that Private Manning is being treated the same as any prisoner in his circumstances would be -- whatever that means -- and President Obama is content to take their word for it. But Private Manning and his lawyer dispute that claim. They say Private Manning is being abused and punished under the guise of protecting him.

Most of the information we have about Private Manning's confinement comes from him and his lawyer, David Coombs, and, to be fair, there are contradictions in their story. On the one hand, Mr. Coombs says Private Manning sleeps naked in a cold cell; on the other hand he says the brig has given Private Manning a blanket he can't tear. And Private Manning admits that, out of frustration with his living conditions, he has become upset, yelled and pulled his hair.

To be even more fair, the military has responded -- in a way -- to criticism from Private Manning's supporters. When Private Manning complained about having to sleep naked and stand inspection every morning in the nude, the brig gave him a rough garment to wear. (But then the Marine guards proceeded to mock and humiliate him by calling the garment a "smock.")

This much is clear. Private Manning has been held in solitary confinement since he arrived at the Quantico brig on July 29, 2010.

For 23 hours a day, Private Manning sits in his cell. The guards check on him every five minutes by asking him if he is "okay." He is required to respond. At night, if the guards can't see him clearly, because he has a blanket over his head or he is curled up, facing the wall, they wake him to make sure he is unharmed, forcing him to choose between sleeping without covers or not sleeping at all. He eats all of his meals in his cell. He is not allowed to exercise in his cell, and he only gets one hour of exercise in a closed room outside of his cell each day.

Considering the torture and abuse of prisoners by the U.S military at Abu Ghraib -- where the guards assisted interrogaters by softening the prisoners up -- it's not unreasonable for people concerned with civil liberties to demand an objective review of the way Private Manning is being treated. And it makes sense to wonder why the military is stonewalling attempts by members of Congress to get access to the brig.

On the other hand, it was the U.S. Military itself that uncovered and publicized the crimes at Abu Ghraib. And no one would dispute that it's reasonable for the military and the Obama administration to make Private Manning's safety during his pre-trial confinement a top priority.

Private Manning, his lawyer, and his supporters all want the military to lift the POI watch Private Bradley is living under. His lawyer cites brig psychiatrists who say there is no mental health reason for keeping Private Bradley under POI. But is such a demand realistic?

Preventing injury to Private Manning is a political issue. Simply put, the President can't afford to take the chance -- no matter how remote -- that Private Manning might come to harm.

There is plenty of reason to believe that someone might try to hurt Private Manning if they got the chance. And, while there may be no good reason to believe he would harm himself, his suicide, if it did happen, would deal a devastating blow to the reputation of the military and the Obama administration. It would undoubtedly lead to investigations, conspiracy theories, and attacks on the administration from all sides.

Political suicides are rare, but there have been enough of them to give President Obama pause. The suicides of the monk Thích Quảng Đức in Saigon and the Quaker Norman Morrison outside the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., for example, had a profound impact on the Vietnam War.

The risk of an individual throwing his body into a war machine to gum up its works may be something psychiatrists are less qualified to assess than politicians are. The Obama administration has no desire to see the young soldier who embarrassed them by showing that they couldn't protect their secrets embarrass them further by killing himself while in their custody. Forget about lifting that POI watch.

But let's make sure the watch is as humane as it can be.

There is no reason why the conditions of Private Manning's POI watch can't be modified to eliminate sleep deprivation and humiliation. And certainly his jailers can find a safe way to relieve the isolation of Private Manning's solitary confinement, including letting him exercise in his cell and get some sunlight and fresh air.

The brig needs to deliver Private Manning for trial unharmed physically -- and unharmed mentally as well. There is no justification for destroying Private Manning in the course of protecting him. If the idea is to prevent Private Manning from harming himself, shouldn't the military consider the fact that loss, hopelessness and isolation are all on the CDC's list of risk factors for suicide?

If he is convicted, Private Manning, whose motive for taking on the United States government may have been to stop killing and torture, will probably end up in Leavenworth, where, in further irony, he will join William Calley, Hasan Akbar and Charles Graner, a guard convicted of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib.

Maximum security prisons like Leavenworth subject some dangerous prisoners -- those who have attacked other prisoners or guards, for example -- to solitary confinement with the goal of conditioning them so that they can be returned to the general population. Private Manning, who no one has suggested is a danger to anyone else, will have done that much time in solitary before he ever comes to trial.

All of us, from the left and from the right as well, should demand that President Obama act now. He should direct the military to immediately cooperate with the Congress. He should direct the Department of Defense to devise humane ways to prevent injury to Private Manning while he awaits trial. If the Department of Defense can't do that, he should get them the advice of experts who can.

Wouldn't America be better off if the debate about Private Manning's pre-trial confinement could be shifted from whether he is being tortured to whether the treatment he is getting is a little too kind? Is there a society on earth that doesn't admire empathy, compassion and mercy?

No matter what we believe about America's role in the world, no matter what we believe about America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and no matter how much or how little damage we believe Private Manning may have done, if we cannot reconcile our differences over something as simple as the pre-trial treatment of Private Manning, a young man whose life is effectively over, we may not be able to reconcile our differences at all.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Madison Avenue

Madison Avenue hacks have been ripping off talented artists since the early days of advertising, but the rip offs seem to get worse every year.

The people producing ads these days don't have the art historical references to understand the work they're ripping off. Their knock offs aren't just unoriginal. They're bad.

The latest example is an AT&T rip off of Christo and Jeanne-Claude. The producer probably saw an article about Christo and Jeanne-Claude somewhere -- though I doubt he or she ever actually saw a Christo/Jeanne-Claude project -- and figured it would be a good idea to make a visual pun on the word "cover" by showing buildings and other landmarks being draped in colored cloth.

This pretentious commercial, the latest in AT&T's ongoing "coverage" war with Verizon, is a good example of how mangled art turns up in advertising, and it could have some unintended consequences for AT&T. That's what they get. As every school child knows, you're not supposed to "touch the art." If AT&T rethinks anything, they should rethink this ad, before Verizon jumps on it with an ad that takes the wraps off.

I see people working in an office with big windows and a fantastic view. Some of them are talking on their cell phones. Suddenly, their windows are covered by falling drapes, the room gets dark and the cell phones stop working. We see AT&T covering buildings, cities, a beach. Everything stops until Verizon starts tearing down the drapes, uncovering buildings, rolling up the fabric covering the beach. The cell phones start working again.

Here's a real Christo and Jeanne-Claude project from the Sixties. A study for a wrapped beach in Australia.

If the ad person who produced the AT&T ad had actually experienced a Christo/Jeanne-Claude project, he or she might have realized that wrapping an object confines it, hides it, interferes with it, shuts it up and closes it in. Something wrapped is limited by the wrapping. It's the unwrapping that's the significant event.

Christo's Valley Curtain at Rifle Gap, Colorado. The size and shape of the "waves" are based on Coast Guard research and designed to evoke feelings of dread.

AT&T has had to remake their commercial and add a disclaimer, saying that Christo and Jeanne-Claude have nothing to do with AT&T. One more obnoxious commercial like this one and I'll join them.

Sunday, February 27, 2011


I woke up early and went down to the Corner Bakery for a cup of coffee. I sat at the window, next to a table of Russians. I couldn't understand a word they were saying.

I was watching the raindrops race each other down the window, the big ones gobbling up the little ones that got in their way, and thinking about Raymond Chandler and The Long Goodbye, a Chandler book I'd been reading the night before, when it hit me that The Long Goodbye is Chandler's most personal and autobiographical novel.

They say Chandler's agent was disappointed by The Long Goodbye. He thought the Phillip Marlowe character had gone soft. Personally, I think Marlowe comes across as more bitter and cynical than he is in Chandler's earlier work, and more political, more angry at the rich people who shaped the West Coast.

Some people say: When you dream, everything in the dream is you. I've never looked at novels and films that way, but maybe I should.

Chandler died in 1959. He developed pneumonia after a binge.

The chronology that accompanies The Library of America's Chandler (Stories and Early Novels), ends with: "1959 ... Returns alone to La Jolla where he intended to live. Drinks heavily, develops pneumonia, and is hospitalized on March 23. Dies in Scripps Clinic at 3:50 P.M. on March 26. Buried on March 30 at Mount Hope Cemetery in San Diego."

Robert Altman made a film version of The Long Goodbye in 1973. In a send-up of the detective genre, Altman cast Elliot Gould as a mumbling, bumbling Marlowe who talks to his cat.

The thing about noir in books and films is there is never enough rain for me.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Green Hornet (2011)

He had it all.  Biomimicry, a gas gun that made a wierd sound, a big, fast car, called the Black Beauty, an Asian sidekick and The Flight Of The Bumblebee.  I listened to The Hornet on the radio; read the comic books; watched the movie serial on Saturdays.  Van Williams played the Hornet and Bruce Lee played Kato on TV.  There's a great scene of Lee taking a Green Hornet set apart in the Bruce Lee bio-pic: Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story.  So, I had high expectations for The Green Hornet (2011), the Seth Rogen and Jay Chou movie directed by Michel Gondry that opened this weekend.

But, once you get past the twist that the movie is a comedy based on a premise that would have made a good Saturday Night Live skit, there's not much there, unless you think it's fun to play Name That Team and come up with interesting duos that Rogen and Chou remind you of.  I figure Aykroyd and Belushi or Aykroyd and Murray or Aykroyd and just about anyone. 

Rogen was one of the Hornet's writers, and he's probably a better writer than a comedian.  Some of the gags and one-liners in The Green Hornet are laugh-out-loud funny.  But be sure to see the 3D version.  I imagine the film would be incredibly boring in 2D, mainly because The Green Hornet lacks an interesting villian.  Making a fun, comic rendition of a comic book is at least as good an idea as making an exceptionally dark one, but comedy or no, comic book heroes and comic book movies need interesting villains, and The Green Hornet's Chudnofsky falls flat on his face. 

Cameron Diaz is adequate in the Girl Friday role.  Her face is the only image from The Green Hornet that sticks in my memory.  It's as if she's the first real person I've seen in 3D.  Tom Wilkinson does a brilliant turn as the Hornet's dad.

Hollywood badly needs to come up with a new superhero worthy of sequels and prequels, and some blockbuster films to fill the 3D bubble created by Avatar.  The Green Hornet doesn't seem likely to fill either bill.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Jonah Hex

It's easy to be dismissive of Jonah Hex, Jimmy Hayward's box office flop.

The film grossed a meager 5 million bucks the weekend it opened, far behind Toy Story 3, and was universally panned by reviewers -- and not without good reason.

The plot is trite and hard to follow, the acting average, and most of the time Hayward's visualization of the comic book material is boring. Ironically, Hayward got his start in the Toy Story franchise. He was an animator on Toy Story and Toy Story 2.  But, watching Hayward's Hex, I was reminded of an old friend's put down of Midland, Texas. I spent a week there one night, he told me.

Josh Brolin, a talented and intelligent actor who has been on a roll lately, plods along in the title role. John Malkovitch seems to have dropped in for a couple of disconnected scenes. Malkovich can play villains like Quentin Humbolt, Hex's arch enemy, in his sleep, but there is so little connection between him and Brolin that you have to wonder if they were ever on the same set at the same time.

Megan Fox is billed as a star, but comes across as a bit player, making a cameo appearance. Fox badly needs to make the transition from teenager to woman to put the Transformer franchise behind her, but in Hex she comes across as a kid, dressing up in her grandma's clothes. There is something about her voice that works against Fox. She hasn't learned to make the slight disconnect between her body and her voice work for her the way Monroe did.

Hex won't appeal to fans of the Jonah Hex comic books, either. The writers left too much good stuff out.  Fox's Tallulah Black is a far cry from the disfigured female bounty hunter of the Hex books, and El Diablo and Lazarus Lane, two -- or one, depending on how you look at it -- of the books' most imaginative creations, are missing completely.

Tallulah Black and El Diablo

Unlike Watchmen, the seminal graphic novel that established the form, the Hex books spanned so many years and versions that the writers had to boil the comics down in an attempt to distill the essential Jonah Hex from the books. In deciding what to leave in and what to leave out, they invariably chose to use the most hackneyed elements of the comics.

The next blockbuster franchise and comic book superhero turned movie icon won't be Jonah Hex.  And yet, for anyone who is interested in pop culture and genre films, Jonah Hex is an important movie.  Jimmy Hayward has made a very bad film. But, in making it, he has -- inadvertently, perhaps -- tested the limits of turning graphic novels into films. 

Hex looks exactly like what it is, a first film by a director who knows absolutely nothing about the way real people move through real space. It ends up being a jumble of disconnected portraits, shots -- panels, if you will -- and, in memory, exists as an exact replica of a comic book.  Watching Jonah Hex is like spending 90 minutes reading a graphic novel. No one will come closer to literally translating a graphic novel into film than Jimmy Hayward has.

But will anyone want to? Is thumbing through a graphic novel what most of us go to the movies to do?

Genre films, especially action-adventure films, require a compelling narrative and fast action. Action that is suggested by the static panels of a comic book must be realized in film.  If you want to see what happens when a director ignores that basic truth, go see Jonah Hex. If not, save your money and catch Watchmen on cable TV.

The real Jonah Hex