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Thursday, July 27, 2006

Scoop 

Woody Allen’s been in a slow decline for a long time now. Most would say his last great comedy was Deconstructing Harry, way back in 1997. And that his last great drama was — depending on who you ask — Crimes and Misdemeanors in 1989, or possibly last year’s Match Point. For my money, Match Point was a brilliant and cynical update of Crimes, and a welcome return to form. The preview for Scoop seemed slight and sitcomy, but I was optimistic. Maybe one of the pivotal American directors of the last half-century was on his way back.

Turns out we should keep waiting. An exhaustingly perky young reporter named Sondra (Scarlett Johansson) is informed by the departed spirit of legendary journalist Joe Strombel (Ian McShane) that a British lord’s son (Hugh Jackman) may be a serial killer. She snoops around him with the assistance of a cheesy stage magician (Woody Allen, playing himself as always) and falls in love. The question lingers, is he or isn’t he? That and that alone is the weight of Scoop.

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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Miami Vice 

Michael Mann is a voyeur. His best scenes, both in writing and direction, are of men and women sitting around and talking to each other. But these aren’t idle diner scenes, marked by colorful but trite dialogue exchanges and pop culture references. They take place in the VIP rooms of exclusive clubs, in mobile SUV offices, and in secret warehouses in Colombia. The people talking are more often than not at odds, and what isn’t said is doubly as important as what is said.

This holds true for Miami Vice, and that may surprise a lot of people. The movie is 2 hours and 10 minutes comprised mostly of conversations, plottings, dealings, and tracking shots of glamorous vehicles moving fast against breathtaking South Florida scenery. What “action” there is is brief and graphically violent; the protracted gunfights of Heat have given way to the sharper, starker, and much darker violence of Collateral. In short: If you want CGI explosion after CGI explosion, you will be disappointed. Fans of the trademark Mann dialogue-driven tension are in luck.

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Monday, July 24, 2006

Open Season. 

Open season?

No, this doesn’t mean you are now allowed to hunt us through the woods (our hides aren’t really worth the effort, anyway.) So what does it mean?

As you may have noticed, things have been a bit slow around here as of late. Those who have been gawking at us for any extended period of times knows that slow, draggy stretches are often — if not always — followed by something very large, shiny, and pretty. This time is no exception.

As of today, Dark, But Shining is opening its doors to submissions.

Yes, you read correctly. There is no catch. Well, okay, there’s just one. You first have to go and carefully read over the submission guidelines. We would also highly reccomend that you follow them.

But that’s that. No sacrificing barnyard animals, no getting us coffee, and no renaming of your first born sons. Easy enough, right?

So hit us with something good. We’re waiting.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby 

The first thing people ask me about Talladega Nights is, “is it as funny as Anchorman?” The short answer: No. Anchorman had a much stronger supporting cast, boasting names from Paul Rudd to Steve Carell to Tim Robbins. Talladega Nights is far more insular. It’s Will Ferrell’s ride all the way, and his brand of comedy is an esoteric one. He is not now, nor do I think he ever will be, a leading man.

It’s clear that this cluster of directors, actors, and writers are no longer creating films for a large audience. More and more they make movies for themselves, and ask us to join in. The formula is most clearly evident in Steve Carell’s Brick character in Anchorman: ridiculous statements juxtaposed with sweetly sincere people who are also functionally retarded. Everyone’s absurd, in word and deed; the joke is that we know it and they don’t. The joke only has so much mileage.

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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Little Miss Sunshine 

It’s been a pretty mediocre summer. The “big hits” have almost uniformly failed to deliver, and more and more the only place you’ll find movies that deliver what they promise are in documentaries. Even typing that out makes me sound like a snob—I love a big-ticket thrill ride as much as the next schlub, but these days all we’re getting are bloated fanwanks in desperate need of creative control. Little Miss Sunshine comes in late enough in the summer to act as a tonic to all those pirates and supermen. At least, that’s the promise.

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Saturday, July 15, 2006

Fables #51, A Man Called Kev #1 

Fables #51:

"Cinderella as black ops specialist,” while a hard sell, is at least something you haven’t seen before. The exercise is lightweight but oddly intriguing, which may as well be the summary for the entire run of Fables.

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A Man Called Kev #1:

There’s just something about Kev.

Kevin Hawkins, that is. He’s a career S.A.S. man, a successful and still-living veteran of one of the toughest special forces units in the world. And yet he’s a loser, in the Garth Ennis meaning of the word; bad things just keep happening to the poor guy. He makes some bad decisions, but so do we all. The suffering inflicted on Kev for his bad decisions, however, are downright operatic. And hilarious.

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Thursday, July 13, 2006

MLM: The End? 

Mommy’s Little Monsters is, for now, drawing to a close. It’s been a fun trip; I find that the process of writing about something I enjoy on a visceral level goes a long way toward deconstructing what it is about that material that intrigues you so much. Often I would approach the pieces with a vague idea of what I wanted to say, and trusted the rest to the spirit of the moment. You’d be surprised how much good work results from just that approach. What’s been most rewarding for me, though, is the conversations had in the comments of each MLM after it went up. It’s one thing to stand up and plead my case to the void, and quite another to actually bounce those ideas off other people who are at least as intelligent as me. Usually moreso.

But I’ve never liked forums. They’re too anarchic, too prone to breeding cults of personality, too often meandering without any real focus or purpose for existence. Not here, though. You’re a sharp bunch. You’ve done a lot to illuminate why I like what I like, and I can honestly say I now have a deeper understanding of several works of fiction, as well as a firmer grasp on why those works of fiction appeal to me. So, thank you.

Enough sap and a bit of history: When Rick first came to me about writing for the relaunched DBS, I spent a fair amount of time trying to decide on a focus for the column. I originally felt I’d just write a “whatever’s on my mind this week” feature, but Rick wisely steered me away from that course. That lack of focus, you see. I’d lose my way, and fast.

He hit on the idea of taking over MLM, and I liked the idea. Over the next few days I jotted down a big list of villains, monsters, sociopaths, and ne’er-do-wells to cover in the coming months. Some were added onto the list later, and some hit me out of the ether — I had no idea I was going to write about Strange Days until I sat down and the words came out.

Here, then, is a brief list of those that were considered but never written about.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Occult Crimes Taskforce #1, Devi #1, Battler Briton #1 

Occult Crimes Taskforce #1:

The idea of a special division of the NYPD tasked to cleaning up and containing supernatural horrors has a certain appeal. It’s ground that’s been covered before, but often by lofty globe-trotting governmental organizations like the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense in Hellboy. Grounding the setting with a pragmatic anchor like the day-to-day functions of the NYPD could give otherwise inconsequential material some weightiness; imagine a less cartoonish version of the Buffy setting crossed with The Shield or Gotham Central. Thematical play on the word “monster” could drive the series all by itself. Promising stuff.

But that’s neither here nor there with Occult Crimes Taskforce. This is standard fare through and through: Average beat cop stumbles into something supernatural, gets put on suspension, then indoctrinated into the OCT division of the NYPD. The World You Know is Fake, et cetera, et cetera. It’s a dark-fantasy unveiling-the-truth speech we’re so familiar with that all anyone can do is bring a new rhythm to the same beat. The variation in OCT is lukewarm.

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Devi #1:

The launch of Virgin Comics is a big one. Should the venture ultimately fail, they’ll be marked off as another CrossGen, picked apart for flaws in content and business strategy, and cast aside. Should Virgin succeed, they’ll be the first mainstream publisher to do so in over a decade. Devi, the tale of an ultimate human weapon created by a pantheon of gods to fight rogue deity Lord Bala, is their launch title.

The stated intention of Virgin Comics is to bring the rich storytelling tradition of India to the larger world, in much the same fashion as manga has done for Japan. There’s no doubt at all the mythology of India is rich and diverse, covering the complete spectrum of storytelling in a way unique to the region. India puts out more movies a year than Hollywood. As “Chief Visionary” and filmmaker Shekhar Kapur says, there are 600 million Indian teenagers ready to seize on an art form that speaks to them.

600 million teenagers. Think about that number. That’s twice as many people as there are in America, from infants to the elderly. One doesn’t have to squint hard to read between the lines: There is a hell of a lot of money to be made in India. And you don’t have to ape other cultures to do it; India has more than enough source material to work with.

So why does Devi look so much like something Top Cow would put out?

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Battler Briton #1:

Garth Ennis must be on a personal crusade. Save the occasional Sgt. Rock mini, he’s the only man in mainstream comics consistently writing war comics. Anyone who’s tracked his career wouldn’t be surprised: Ennis frequently ruminates on battlefield morality and how it stays with—and taints—even the best of men. It’s a good story and should be visited, but Ennis is now getting to the point where he’s asking the same questions and giving the same answers. One too many trips to the well.

Battler Briton is a welcome departure. It packs little in the way of surprises, but then it’s not meant to. Ennis himself acknowledges the tried-and-true formula for the original Britton comics: shoot down some Germans, get shot down by some Germans, beat up some Germans on the ground, get back home with a smile. Wash, rinse, repeat. In this issue, it’s 1942 and the Americans have just entered World War 2. Rommel’s mopping the floor with the Allies in Africa, and Robert Britton has just been asked to teach the Americans how to fight the Germans in the air. The Americans don’t like being told how to fight, even though they’re greener than apples. Rivalry ensues.

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Wednesday, July 05, 2006

MLM: Hannibal Lecter 

It is the gift of the best horror to make us complicit with the horrendous. Call it “sympathy for the devil” if you like. It's an effective device; if the horror in a story is kept unknowable or unreachable, we can only go so far before we reach the limit of our connection. In Lovecraft or in Aliens, there must ultimately come an unbridgable gap between ourselves and what we deem Evil. We may end up with dread (as in Lovecraft) or gore-soaked action (as in Aliens), but never do we tread all the way into personal horror. We cannot.

Hannibal Lecter. I can guarantee that if you're here, now, reading this, you know who Hannibal Lecter is. Saying the name will evoke certain images, thoughts, feelings, reactions -- perhaps you're thinking about that crucifixion after Lecter's escape in Silence of the Lambs, or his slithering tongue, or his encyclopedic knowledge of perfumes and aftershaves. Perhaps you remember how quickly he turned a phone call to his lawyer into a pinpointing of his captor's home. Maybe one of his memorable and oft-quoted lines, crafted and enunciated so perfectly as to suggest complete barbarism by way of utter civility.

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