Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Walt Whitman says...

'Pour down your warmth, great sun!/While we bask, we two together./Two together!/Winds blow south, or winds blow north,/Day come white, or night come black,/Home, or rivers and mountains from home,/Singing all time, minding no time,/While we two keep together.'

-Walt Whitman (from 'Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking', Leaves of Grass, 1860)

Photography: Loving Mother Nature

Nature lovefest! Enjoy. Locations include Maple Ridge, Mission, Abbotsford, and Deer Lake, British Columbia.

All these photos were taken personally by me.

Monday, July 30, 2012

John Cleese says...

'I think when you get into taboo areas, that is, areas like dead bodies or limbs coming off, or anything sexual, there's always a little bit of anxiety, cause it is taboo, you see. But for some people, just a few, there's a lot of anxiety. So when the subject is raised, they kind of freeze up, they feel very uncomfortable, and they hate it, and they hate the fact that people around them are laughing so much, and they say 'I am being offended'. However, most people just have a little bit of anxiety, so what happens if you make them laugh, you get an even bigger laugh than you do normally. Cause you get the normal laugh, and then you get the extra energy that comes from that little bit of anxiety being liberated. So you get huge laughs when you deal with taboo subjects. And that's one reason why my humour has a pretty black quality to it some of the time.'

-John Cleese (Live Alimony Tour, 2011)

Dane Cook, Offensive Comedy, and Hecklers

It's tough to get a laugh these days, but it's always been easy to piss off the more sensitive-minded, especially if you're a comedian. Any time I hear about a comedian going too far with his or her act, or receiving backlash from a showdown with a heckler, I almost always find myself supporting the comedian and wishing people would lighten up. The latest case of a comedian getting in trouble happened last Thursday, when Dane Cook took to the stage and made a lame and poorly-timed joke about the Dark Knight Rises shootings in Aurora, Colorado. His comments came 6 days after the event and brought on the expected backlash, bringing the once-funny comedian back into the spotlight, but not in a positive way.

Dane Cook made a name for himself as a shock-rock comedian, full of spunk and a special talent for comedic rhythm, impressions, and sound effects. In my late teen years, I was a huge fan of Dane's comedic stylings. He was brutally honest, creative, and most important, he made me laugh. As the years went by, I grew out of Dane's comedy and paid little attention as he slipped into obscurity, doing a number of lame comedies and a few serious roles. I'll always appreciate his older material, but as a comedian and an actor, I am not currently a fan of his, he seems to have lost his touch and is obviously trying a bit too hard these days to get attention. No better way to get people talking (and blogging) about you than to find a touchy subject and tastelessly include it in your stand-up act.

When it comes to humour, I don't find myself offended very often. Even when I don't laugh, even when I feel that a joke crosses the line, I have enough perspective about the role of The Comedian in our society that I can easily forgive and forget. And while I don't usually enjoy the more try-hard offensive comedians who make a living pissing people off, I definitely enjoy a comedian who isn't afraid to go into taboo territory, one that isn't afraid to hold back. It all comes down to one important factor: is this comedian making me laugh? Could be about sex, death, incest, racism, sexism, mostly anything, and if the delivery and tone are well-handled, I'll find it amusing. For the most part, we embrace comedians because they say what most people are afraid to, because they point out the absurdities of our culture, because they have fun with the more taboo subjects. In terms of censorship, I probably have enough to say about that for a whole other post, but to put it briefly: it's always way easier to change the channel or get up and leave than it is to silence a comedian. Even bad publicity is publicity and offensive commedians live and thrive from it.

As I said, whenever I hear about a comedian getting in trouble with the public and media, I usually sympathize, since I personally find that people take things much too seriously in our society. However, in the case of Dane Cook, I wasn't necessarily offended, just bothered that he would kid around about such a tragedy so soon after it happened. When it comes to topical comedy and world-wide tragedies, there may be an eventual 'safe zone' where comedians can use the story in their material and get away with it. But 6 days after the event, when people are still mourning, in hospitals, and all the funerals haven't even occured, it was too soon for Dane to go there. As an ex-fan of Dane's, and as someone who was quite bothered by James Holmes's actions, I feel like he was taking a cheap shot, and not even a very funny one. The question remains: Was this an intentional ploy on the Dane's part to get his name back in the headlines, or was it just a moment of poor judgement? For those wondering, the joke he made was that he heard The Dark Knight Rises was so bad that people would have been asking to be shot 25 minutes in anyways. That's as far as the joke went, it wasn't part of a larger set-up, he made no further commentary about the incident, and there was no pay-off in the end. Just a stupid thing to say.

I've heard the recording of Dane's terrible joke, and I actually found it quite interesting. First, Dane's tone seemed off. I only heard a minute-long clip of a much longer show, so I can't speak for the entire set, but something about Dane's voice during the joke made him sound tired, like he wasn't in his usual rhythm, just going through the motions. I also found it interesting that, while Dane was destroyed in the media after the fact, the joke actually earned some laughs and cheers from the crowd. There are a few audible groans, but for the most part, people laughed, which makes me wonder. Could it be that this whole thing was blown out of proportion? Or were people laughing as a defense mechanism, since the joke was so awkward and offensive that they didn't know what else to do? Or was the crowd just responding to the effect of the punchline, where they were groomed through-out the set to respond with laughter, that they laughed without fully realizing how lame Dane's joke was? I listened to this recording as a regular defender of offensive comedians, with an open mind, and I honestly just didn't find the joke funny. It's about more than shock value, it's about good writing and even better delivery, and the joke just fell flat for me.

Usually when a comedian makes the news, it isn't because of one bad joke, it's because of an interaction with a heckler. It seems that wherever there's a funny-man gracing a stage, there's a drunken jerk or group of people ready to shout something out. Some seek attention, some just want to be a part of the show, some are genuinely offended, and others are just bored. No matter the reason, hecklers are a part of the comedy lifestyle, and a comedian's reaction will often backfire and land him or her in trouble. My opinion is that if you're in the crowd at a comedy show, it is your responsibility to govern your own feelings and to leave if the comedian is boring, un-funny, or offensive. As soon as you break the barrier between performer and audience and try to become part of the show, you are an open target for whatever the comedian unleashes on you. The comedian is up there, trying to get laughs, trying to remember his jokes, trying to kind and keep his rhythm, and the last thing he needs is someone stepping on his funk with a lame joke or complaint. It's on the audience to be polite, not the comedian. Comedians usually don't attack people unless they are provoked, and if they do, it's usually more playful and I've seen some comedians use crowd interaction quite well. But when does defending yourself against a heckler go too far?

There have been a few famous cases over the past several years. The most recent case of comedian vs. heckler is Daniel Tosh, a comedian known for breaking social etiquette and purposely trying to get under people's skin. On one particular night, he was in the middle of his act, going on about how rape is always funny, when a girl in the crowd shouted to him that rape is never funny. In my mind, it would have been much easier for this girl to keep her mouth shut and to leave if she didn't approve of Tosh's comments. Obviously, to any rational mind, Daniel Tosh is not a rapist and doesn't condone the violent act. In his apology, he explained himself by saying that as a society, we need to be able to laugh about the horrible aspects in order to cope with them. However, his reply, which differs depending on the source, was something to the effect of: It'd be funny if the heckling girl was raped by 5 guys. That's her version of it at least, Tosh has said that his comment was more like she had already been raped 5 times, which is why she's so sensitive. Either way, it was probably a bad move for Tosh to go there, and he paid for it with some media heat and the always-important public apology.

Another incident occurred a couple of years ago, in Vancouver, BC, a city very close to my hometown of Maple Ridge. Guy Earle, a comedian from Toronto, was heckled by a pair of lesbians. To defend himself, Earle unleashed a torrent of insults, focussing on them being lesbians. Wrong move. Gay rights activists freaked out about this and it was pretty big news for a while. In the end, Earle had to pay $22,500 to the pair as a punishment for his actions. While I don't necessarily defend Earle for his homophobic comments, that verdict is completely ridiculous. Just about anybody can walk into a comedy nightclub and walk out much richer, all they have to do is provoke a comedian to make offensive comments about their race, sexual preference, or religion. Just any topic that has support groups to back it.

Speaking of race, there's also the case of Michael Richards (Kramer from Seinfeld). Back in 2006, Richards made news for a racial attack on a group of black dudes who wouldn't shut up during his act. While they likely deserved some sort of punishment, Richards took it much too far, making comments about lynching and using the always-dangerous 'N Word'. I don't think Richards ever quite recovered from this incident, in the public eye at least. Dealing with hecklers is easily one of the toughest aspects of being a professional comedian, especially when the reply to the heckler can cost you money and fame. There's a fine art to silencing a heckler and winning back the crowd, but when the subject is rape, sexuality, or race, it might just be better to let the heckler have his moment and move on.

As long as we have tragedies, controversies, and differences between us, we'll have a comedian who gets on stage and tries to make a joke about it. While some comedians have made a successful career out of family-friendly material, adult comedy goes hand in hand with taboo subjects, swearing, and making light of tragedies. All I ask from my comedians is that they try to be intelligent about it. The joke shouldn't be hollow and forced, it should be phrased and delivered in a way that not only receives a genuine laugh (rather than an awkward chuckle or pity giggle), but also makes us think about the subject in a different way. When it comes to events like the shooting in Colorado, there is rarely anything funny about people being attacked without mercy, and most everyone agrees that this is a terrible event, so there's not a lot we can learn or discuss.

 The trouble with topical comedy is that by the time it's safe to joke about, nobody laughs because it's old news. I sure don't envy the role of The Comedian, but I do sympathize with them, because sometimes the very thing we pay them to do is exactly what gets us all upset. That being said, I hope Dane goes back to acting in lame movies, where I don't have to see him, and leaves topical and offensive comedy to the masters, the ones who know timing and delivery. It's up to the comedians to make us laugh, the audience to understand the nature of stand-up comedy, and the heckler to accept the consequences for interupting a live performance.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Chris (Leader of The Hunters) says...

'I don't think I had a chance to introduce myself before. I'm Chris. It's good to meet you. You probably think I'm crazy, and I understand that, why wouldn't you? But I'm not, none of us are. I don't expect you to believe that, but it's important for me to say it...Well mister, the good news here is that you're not dead yet. That's good right? And please, don't read too much into the word 'yet' -- It'll just drive you crazy. There's an order to how things work now, and it's unfortunate for some...the way things work...but my friends and I -- we didn't create this situation. We're just living with it. Just like you. We play the hand we're dealt. We don't want to hurt you. We didn't want to pull you away from your group--scare you like this...there aren't things we want to do -- they're things we have to do. So I promise you...none of this is personal...but at the end of the day, no matter how much we may detest the ugly business...A man's gotta eat.'

-Chris, Leader of the Hunters (Issue 63, Part 2/4 of the 'Fear the Hunters' arc, The Walking Dead, written by Robert Kirkman, 2009)

Visual: Michonne Kills (The Walking Dead)

Not much time to write today, so let's all enjoy a gross zombie murder. Michonne is a bad-ass character in the comic and I look forward to seeing her come to life in Season 3 of The Walking Dead. Shukk!

This page is from Issue 52 of The Walking Dead comic series, penciled and inked by Charlie Adlard, gray toned by Cliff Rathburn, and written by Robert Kirkman, 2008

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Will Self says...

'Regard yourself as a small corporation of one. Take yourself off on team-building exercises (long walks). Hold a Christmas party every year at which you stand in the corner of your writing room, shouting very loudly to yourself while drinking a bottle of white wine. Then masturbate under the desk. The following day you will feel a deep and cohering sense of embarassment.'

-Will Self (Rule #10, 'Ten Rules for Writing Fiction', The Guardian, 2010)

Excerpt from 'Parts of Noah' (5): Cash's Theory (kind of)

The sun ruled the sky outside but it was dreadfully dark inside Cash’s den. There was a mist of dust spread throughout and it looked abandoned, decorated with stains and shadows, containing only the basic tools for survival. How much do you need? The windows were covered with old sheets and even for the dead of summer it was freezing. I could see Cash’s breath and it reminded me to breathe. Cash, like anyone, has his own mysteries to be unlocked, but that's not what we're here for.

Walking past the living room, I saw who must have been his father slumped over on a wooden chair,  dead. He was already rotting but I couldn't smell him. Cash glanced around the living room and I wondered if he cared about anything at all. I followed him through a dim hallway maze to his bedroom but he shut the door before I could go in. There was a bloodstain in the shape of someone's face on the door, level with my eyes. I knew I’d seen that face before in its unbloodied form. I stood in that dark hallway and studied the only picture displayed: an ugly, frightened, little red-haired girl sitting on an old man's knee. I wondered what inspired that picture. A re-phrase: Nothing was interesting about that photo. Cash appeared with a t-shirt and pointed to the bathroom, but I didn't move. I just stared at the boring picture, motioning towards the living room with my head,

-How long's he been dead?

-Since the day I met him.

-Think he'll come back to life?

-I've got a shotgun under the bed just in case.

He pointed to the bathroom again and I took his shirt and walked over to the closed door. It was locked and I could hear faint crying from the other side. I turned to ask Cash who this was, but he was gone and the photo on the wall had been removed. I left my shirt hanging on the bathroom doorknob and put Cash's shirt on. I felt refreshed, and would not remember the dog’s blood on my face until I saw my reflection in Zeus’s eyes, but that scene comes later. I could hear Cash talking to someone deep within the house and followed his voice with my eyes shut, my hands held each other behind my back. Using only the sound of his voice as a guide I found where he was, crouched over in the feeding area, filling a pipe with some purple substance I’d never seen before.  He was mid-sentence and probably thought I had been there the whole time:

-...and the damn thing just blasts, y'know? It's insane to a mortal ear, sure, but it makes sense to me.

-I didn’t hear a word of that, my friend, but you shouldn’t repeat it.

He didn't turn around and was silent for a very long time.

The flick of a lighter snapped me out of my daze and I realized Cash was no longer in the kitchen. I decided it was time to leave that shithole and to achieve another plane of consciousness. I didn't say another word to Cash and didn't expect to say anything to him again.

(End of Excerpt)

This is original writing and copyright and all that fine print kind of stuff. Please credit this to Chessterr Hollowberry. Thanks!

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Narrator and Tyler Durden say...

'With one beer each, Tyler and I spread out on the front and back seats with me in the front seat. Even now, Marla's probably still in the house, throwing magazines against the walls and screaming how I'm a prick and a monster and two-faced capitalist suck-ass bastard. The miles of night between Marla and me offer insects and melanomas and flesh-eating viruses. Where I'm at isn't so bad. 'When a man is hit by lightning,' Tyler says, 'his head burns down to a smoldering baseball and his zipper welds itself shut.' I say, did we hit bottom, tonight? Tyler lies back and asks, 'If Marilyn Monroe was alive right now, what would she be doing?' I say, goodnight. The headliner hangs down in shreds from the ceiling, and Tyler says, 'Clawing at the lid of her coffin.'

-The Narrator and Tyler Durden (Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk, 1996)

Branch Bacardi (Mr. 600) says...

'The closest thing that comes to how the day felt is when you wipe back to front. You're on the toilet. You're not thinking, and you smear shit on the back of your hanging down wrinkled ball skin. The more you try to wipe it clean, the skin stretches and the mess keeps getting bigger. The thin layer of shit spreads into the hair and down your thighs. That's how a day like this, how it feels to keep secret. Six hundred dudes. One porn queen. A world record for the ages. A must-have movie for every discerning collector of things erotic. Didn't one of us on purpose set out to make a snuff movie.'

-Branch Bacardi (Mr. 600) (Snuff, Chuck Palahniuk, 2008)

Tender Branson says,,,

'The book the caseworker gave me was called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. We called it the DSM for short. She gave me a lot of her old textbooks to read, and inside were color photographs of models getting paid to look happy by holding naked babies overhead or walking hand in hand on a beach at sunset. For pictures of misery, models were getting paid to needle illegal drugs into their arms or slump alone at a table with a drink. It got so the caseworker could throw the DSM on the floor and whatever page it fell open to, that was how I'd try to look for the week. We were happy enough this way. For a while. She felt she was making progress every week. I had a script to tell me how to act. It wasn't boring, and she gave me too many fake problems for me to stress about anything real. Every Tuesday, the caseworker would give me her diagnosis, and that was my new assignment. Our first year togheter, there wasn't enough free time for me to consider suicide.'

-Tender Branson (Survivor, Chuck Palahniuk, 1999)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

TV Celebrities say...

Rule #1: Spoilers cease being spoilers two weeks after the standard episode, two months after the season finale, and one year after the series finale. -Nelsan Ellis, True Blood

Rule #2: When recommending television, general enthusiasm is permitted. Pointed enthusiasm, however, is strictly forbidden. - Andre Royo, The Wire

Rule #3: Spoilers spoken in pig latin, gibberish, or French, will still be considered spoilers. Mandarin is okay. -Julie Benz, Dexter

Rule #4: In conversation, if the up to date viewers are in the majority, they may ask behind viewers to leave. If the two groups or equal, they must roshambo for dominance. If the first two rounds end in a tie, the groups must engage in a last man standing knife fight. - Michael Trucco, Battlestar Gallactica

Rule #5: During the 24 hours after a show airs, aka the red zone, both up to date and behind viewers agree to be especially vigilant regarding spoilers. -Sarah Wayne Callies, The Walking Dead

Rule #6: Any sentence prefaced with any variation of the following phrase: "Okay, so this isn't really a spoiler, but..." will not only be automatically deemed a spoiler, but the person uttering said phrase will not be allowed to speak for the next 45 minutes. -Masi Oka, Heroes

Rule #7: Viewers shall seek out information online at their own risk. A spoiler alert is considerate, but should by no means be expected. -Nelsan Ellis

Rule #8: In spite of all these rules, if an up to date viewer spoils a show for you, you may spoil something for them in return. Revenge spoilers shall be limited to the medium of the original spoiler. -Sarah Wayne Callies

Spoiler Alert: The Great 'Spoilers' Debate

In this modern age of repeat airings, DVR, internet streaming, fan-sites, message boards, and all-around enhanced awareness, plot reveals commonly known as 'spoilers' are bound to happen. In terms of 'first-world problems', this issue is a hotly debated one. Beyond anything extreme, it's difficult to think of an easier way to piss a friend off than to blurt out an important plot point for a television show, film, or novel. Of course, it's tough to lay down a concrete definition of what constitutes a 'spoiler' and when it is actually okay (if ever) to reveal the ending. If you want to all-out ruin a friendship, try spoiling a character's death. People hate that. But for every spoiler-speaker out there, there's a group of minds coming together to try and establish set rules so that the public remains safe from knowing all-important plot twists until it's the right time. And we've also invented the 'spoiler alert' warning, which can be helpful and annoying at the same time. Sometimes, it's unavoidable, one wrong click on a link and *bam*, you got the whole ending when you just wanted to know a character's last name.

My inspiration for this post is the last two film reviews that I wrote, for The Dark Knight Rises and Savages. In these reviews, like all others that I've written and will write, I let the spoilers fly without warning. Sure, I could post the much-appreciated 'spoiler alert', but I'd be writing that for every review I do and it'd just get old. Plus, people are so terrified of having the tiniest plot point revealed that they'd avoid my blog altogether, which is not ideal. When I write a review, I don't want to scare people off, and I don't want to only speak about half the movie is vague generalisms. I like getting my hands dirty in the material, studying the choices of the writers, directors, and actors, and often talking about my impressions of the ending. I fully understand that this attitude is not a popular one and that people will call me inconsiderate (or probably worse). Let me make this clear: I never out-right attempt to spoil the ending for someone, but I also don't tip-toe around plot points when I'm trying to discuss a show or film. I think people get way too sensitive about spoilers and place way too much importance on the surprise factor, the twist ending, and plot reveals.

In my opinion, the term 'spoiler' is incorrect and misleading. To call it a 'spoiler' implies that some aspect of the piece of art in question is being ruined for the audience. I don't see it this way at all. I feel like the term should be 'revealer'. That doesn't mean to go ahead and purposely reveal the ending for me, I appreciate a shocker as much as anyone, but when it comes down to it, the twist at the end of the movie doesn't make or break the movie, I look at it as a whole experience from beginning to end. Some people act as if an entire film can be destroyed because they know the hero dies at the end. Well, whether you know it beforehand or not, he's still going to die at the end. As much as I hate that moment when I'm trying to express love (or hate) about a tv show or movie and someone shouts out 'don't spoil it!', I also respect the feelings of others enough to stop. Though it's always tempting to drop hints anyway. The way I see it, if the story is good, it's always going to be good. The worst is if someone comes across a spoiler and gives up on the film or tv show, saying 'what's the point, I know how it ends.' The point is, it's entertaining, and you choose whether or not knowing who the killer is at the end is going to ruin it for you. Surprise endings are over-used and over-rated anyways.

I'm about to ask a lot of questions, and maybe provide a few answers along the way. The point is to try and work out what makes a spoiler and what's safe to reveal. When it comes to telelvision, spoilers are very tricky to determine. With all the options we have for watching television shows, from good old live television, to PVR/DVR, to Netflix, internet streaming, DVDs, etc., we're all watching shows on different schedules.  So if I watch, say, Walking Dead while it's airing brand new, is it my responsibility to wait until everyone catches up before I post a review or try to discuss it on message boards or with fellow fans? Like I said, I do try to be considerate. My friend Merv Quantas is without cable or internet, so he watches Breaking Bad on DVD. Some shows, it wouldn't matter. But I totally respect the fact that a lot of the tension of BrBa comes from the fact that it is really difficult to predict what happens next. Since Merv's only caught up to the end of Season 3, I make a point to avoid discussing the events of Season 4 and, now, Season 5. But the whole process is quite annoying.

Furthermore, do spoilers only count for crime shows and dramas? Could I spoil an episode of, for instance, The Simpsons, by telling my friend how Homer gets out of the jam he's in? Or do spoilers only count for plot twists and character deaths? If an episode aired five years ago, but you haven't seen it yet, is it my responsibilty to keep my mouth shut, or should you accept the fact that it's an old episode to most fans and we should be allowed to freely discuss? Every fan of television and film has a different opinion on this. I feel like comedies shouldn't count when it comes to spoilers, let's keep spoiler alerts to serialized dramas where tension and unpredictability play a big part. But for me, knowing about plot twists (if they're well written) only enhances my enjoyment. Before watching shows like BrBa, The Shield, and Dexter, I did my research, which did involve coming across spoilers. I still enjoyed all three of these shows very much, though I knew where certain storylines were going. So I guess everyone has a different attitude and level of concern when it comes to the spoiler issue.

Then there's movies. This is the major red zone for spoilers, people go absolutely insane if you let a twist ending or death slip. But I'm wondering where exactly the line gets crossed? Does simply saying that something is good, or that the ending was sad, or that I liked a certain performance, constitute a spoiler? What if you reveal how a movie begins, or a scene you liked in the middle, does that count as a spoiler, or does it only pertain to endings? Some people do want to go in completely fresh. I can't stress this enough: Knowing the story before you see the movie should NOT ruin the film, if it's well executed to begin with. How about classics, can you still spoil classics? Everyone knows that Verbal Kint is Keyser Soze in Usual Suspects, that Bruce Willis IS dead in The Sixth Sense, and that The Narrator and Tyler Durden are the same person in Fight Club, right? What if the twist itself is embedded in our pop culture? Is 'Luke, I am your Father', a spoiler? When is a film no longer considered spoiler worthy? When it leaves theatres? When it's out on Netflix? When it's been a decade since its release? Or does it really just depend on people's individual experiences? If you haven't seen Fight Club, I'm sorry I just 'ruined' it for you. It's an amazing film whether you know the 'twist' or not. So calm down.

How about other forms of entertainment? Books are another major candidate for spoilers. People still read, right? Growing up, I used to skip ahead and read the ending first, so I could enjoy the journey to the end all the more. As an adult reader, I try and avoid this urge out of respect for the writer, since I could see how that'd really bother some of them. I figure, if the story is worth reading, knowing what the final page says won't change that. There's this commercial on TV that just kills me, where a mother takes a break from cleaning to read a novel. The daughter comes along and blurts out that 'the twin did it'. Kind of a bitch move, considering the mom is clearly in the middle of the book, but what does the mom do? She throws the book away like there's no point reading it. As a writer, reader, and all around lover of the arts, this bugs me to no end. What about music? Can you spoil a new album by telling a fellow fan which direction the artist takes with their sound? Or the lyrics to a song they haven't heard? Can you spoil a live performance? Can you spoil a painting?

For the official record, here's what I do consider a spoiler: If the television show/film/novel in question has not been released to the public yet (either worldwide or in a specific region), and someone with insider information reveals the twist or character death, then that is officially a spoiler. I figure, as soon as one non-related audience member has seen it, it's open for discussion. What this entire post has really proven to me is that we, as a society, take this issue much too seriously. There's crime, poverty, death, all those hot button topics, but we get all riled up because we found out that an old character returned in last night's episode. Are we too obsessed with being surprised by our entertainment, or are we just too obsessed with entertainment?

Since I couldn't find a fitting quote for today's post, I'll post a video created by College Humour a couple months ago, featuring television actors outlining specific rules for spoilers. As amusing as this video is, the message of the piece takes the whole spoiler issue way too far. Like I'm really going to wait a year after a series finale before I start openly discussing how the series ended. So, in closing, I encourage my fellow nerds to calm down a bit about the whole spoiler issue and I'll do my best to be respectful about revealing plot points. We don't need official rules, we don't need spoiler alerts, we just need some perspective about the true nature of entertainment and what's really important.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Oliver Stone says...

'There are twists and turns in this movie, and some of them are pretty wild. There are a lot of them, actually, if you start counting back. A lot of relationships are discovered, as you go, so it does pick up its momentum. I would say there’s a romantic way out, which was from the book. I see the world a little bit more realistically. I love the ending of the book. It reminds me of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I do think the drug world and the drug deals go on. We all have idealism. We think we’re healthy and then, all of a sudden, one day, you have cancer. The truth has a mind of its own. I think the whole film is an argument for the love or not love between three people. I had to deal with my own conscience on it.'

-Oliver Stone (from an interview with Christina Radish, Collider.com, 2012)

Film Review: Savages

Last night, I made personal history and attended the theatre for a second time in just two days. In all my life as a film-fan, I never had the reason or the chance to see two movies two nights in a row. This is probably because there is rarely more than one film that I'm interested in out at any given time. However, taking a look at the list of films coming out over the next few months, it seems like I'll be at the theatres a lot in the latter half of 2012. Oliver Stone's Savages, adapted from Don Winslow's novel, is the film that got me out to the theatres last night. Anytime I see a trailer for a slick and flashy crime thriller, I'm interested. So I, along with my action movie buddy Guy Dudeman, went to check out the film, which wasn't perfect, but definitely enjoyable.

I have only seen a handful of Oliver Stone's films, such as Natural Born Killers and The Doors, and while he isn't one of my favourite directors, I've always appreciated his style and knack for portraying drama and graphic violence in a cool way (though he can be a bit too politically motivated for my tastes). Prior to this, I had never seen a Taylor Kitsch film, and had only seen Blake Lively in The Town and Aaron Johnson in Kick-Ass. So although I knew the basic plot of the film, I wasn't familiar enough with the work of the director and main cast to know exactly what I was getting into. I was very skeptical about Salma Hayek's ability to portray a threatening villain, and I honestly thought that John Travolta had retired, so was surprised to see him pop up in the commercials for the movie. I'm always excited to see Benicio del Toro act and he more than delivered as a hilariously disgusting villain in Savages.

Here's the basic plotline of the film: Ben, a gentle and idealistic botany expert, and Chon, an Afghanistan and Iraq war vet turned cold and calculated enforcer, are best friends who have a very popular and comfortable pot growing ring. They share a girl named O, who is the narrator of the film. The trio love eachother intensely and share everything (yeah, everything). When Ben and Chon reject the offer of a Mexcian drug cartel, they kidnap O in a drastic attempt to change the duo's minds. Rather than give in, Chon uses his violent skills and Ben uses his talent for negotiation to attack the cartel and save their girl. Pretty typical storyline for a crime thriller, but the cinematography and some outstanding performances help the lackluster plot-line stand out more than it would in the hands of a less talented director and cast.

The style and tone of the film is apparent from the moment it begins. This isn't a straight-forward shoot-em-up style revenge flick, Stone and company obviously tried to elevate the material with the use of black and white, voice-over, beautiful scenery, and lots of characterization to kick off the film. That being said, Blake Lively's narration throughout the film was quite contrived and corny, and I honestly could have done without it. While Oliver Stone has established himself among the old-time directors, Savages is an blatant attempt to stay relevant, to appeal to younger generations, to show us that he's still cool. With flashy editing techniques, a satisfying amount of sex and violence, and a hot, young trio leading the cast, Stone accomplishes the goal of proving that he's still hip, though the delivery does seem a bit forced.

Here's a thought or two about the main performances: Taylor Kitsch has already proven that he can be an action hero (though John Carter and Battleship were apparently quite terrible), so the role of Chon seems like a breeze for him. He is quite a bad-ass in this movie, but I feel like he's over-shadowed by Aaron Johnson's Ben, whose character allows for him to show off more range in his acting chops. Johnson is one of the highlights of the film, playing the part of a laid-back hippie who is forced into violence really well. Regarding Blake Lively, I just don't see it. Maybe it's her voice, or how she carried herself as O, or her overall acting ability, she just seemed out of place in this film and I didn't buy her at all. Seems to me she'd be better suited to be a model. I never (ever) thought I'd say this, but Salma Hayek had one of the strongest performances out of the main cast. She didn't play her role as cartel leader Elaina as a straight evil villain, she brought a lot of depth and emotion to her character, which provided a great foil to her enforcer Laddo, played by Benicio del Toro. Benicio is always impressive, dynamic, and unique, and he didn't disappoint here, playing the truly evil Laddo in a way that makes you cringe with hate, but also look forward to whenever he pops up on screen. Finally, there's John Travolta. Who knew he still had it in him. He was believeable as Dennis the dirty DEA agent and while he didn't get a lot of screen time, he proved that he still has the ability to play it cool, freak out like a maniac, and be a bit of a bad-ass. Shout-out to Emile Hirsch as Ben and Chon's money launderer. I've been a fan of Hirsch for a long time now, he's one of the best young actors we have going right now and I felt that he even could have played the role of Ben, rather than the bit part he was given.

When I believed that the movie was wrapping up, I was ready to write a positive review and fully recommend it to other fans of the crime thriller/revenge drama genres. After a showdown between Ben, Chon, and the cartel baddies, the movie seemed to be ending with the duo reuniting with O. Laddo got the brutal death that he deserved and Elaina also dies for her sins. Ben's clearly dying, and Chon badly injured, so he and O decide to opt out and decide to die beside their beloved Ben. We're treated to a beautifully heart-breaking pan out of the trio convulsing and suffering, yet dying happily ever after together. Then, Oliver Stone, along with screenwriters Shane Salemo and Don Winslow, commits one of the worst offenses a film-maker can ever make: he takes it all back.

You see, the ending that we just witnessed was a cheap trick, just a fantasy in O's head. We rewind back to the beginning of the showdown, which actually ends with Dennis busting Elaina, Laddo escaping, and Ben and Chon getting out clean, with Dennis's help. The movie ends with Ben, Chon, and O far far away, reunited and safe, living the life they always wanted. What a rip off. If they had skipped the 1st ending and went straight to the happy ending, I wouldn't have minded. But to tease the audience with this tragic, memorable, satisfying ending, then not have the balls to follow through, that's unforgivable. Much like my reaction to the ambiguous Dark Knight Rises ending, I prefer to believe that the 2nd ending of Savages was the fantasy, and that the main trio really did die together on the desert ground, with all the bad guys dead too. The Oliver Stone quote that I'll post with this review helps to explain his choice to offer us a fake ending and a real one, but it in no way excuses it. So rather than come out of the theatre impressed by the style and substance of this crime thriller, I have a sickly sweet taste in my mouth from that Hollywood ending. Not cool.

Overall, Savages is a fun watch for any fan of stylish action films. The plot isn't very original and the delivery was corny at times, but strong and dynamic performances and gritty violence saved the day. And the violence isn't reduced to fist fights and shoot-outs, I seriously saw things in this movie that I haven't seen before and won't soon forget (for example, Laddo torturing Alex the lawyer with a whip, disgusting). Although Hayek, Travolta, and del Toro have nothing to prove, they did their best in the roles they were given. I'd rather not see Lively again, Kitsch will have a bright future as an action star, and I'll definitely be keeping an eye on Aaron Johnson, that dude has talent.

As for Oliver Stone, he shows that he still has some life left in his career and can hang with the younger generation of action/thriller film-makers, though he does come off a bit as the old guy trying to look cool for his kid's friends. Hopefully he leaves the political stuff alone from now on (unlikely) and sticks to fun movies like Savages from here on out. Though I'll never forgive him for that bait-and-switch ending. My recommendation: When you see the camera panning away from O, Ben, and Chon, just leave the theatre and consider the movie over. Hollywood endings are never satisfying for us Thinkers, I wish the big production companies would think of us once in a while.

Film Review: The Dark Knight Rises

Last night, I finally had the chance to see, study, and enjoy The Dark Knight Rises, the third and final installment in Christopher Nolan's interpretation of Gotham City and its characters. In the first film, Batman Begins, Nolan establishes Batman's origin story and sets the stage for the future films. In The Dark Knight, Batman is tested by the psychopath Joker, and his only hope of retirement, Harvey Dent, is transformed into the villain Two-Face, who Batman has to put down. The Dark Knight Rises picks up eight years after these events, with Gotham in peace-time, Batman deemed a fugitive, and Bruce Wayne hidden away in Wayne Manor, all but given up. However, an encounter with a cat burgular piques Bruce's interest, and soon he re-embraces his role as Gotham's hero, just in time to be faced with his most dangerous threat: a trained killer and psychotic genius named Bane.

Nolan pulls inspiration from many versions of the Batman lore, and he even takes some liberties to create his own unique take on the heroes and villains of Gotham City. His series is noted for it's darkness, grittiness, and realism, as he's avoided the more over-the-top plotlines and villains in favour for the more reality-based characters and stories. Of course, the series is still fantastical, and takes a lot of suspension of disbelief, but Nolan has paved the way for future superhero interpretations, and hopefully has helped sway the world away from the more cheesy, cartoony versions of hero vs. villain films. I found the first film, Batman Begins, to be quite dry, though the exposition and pacing was necessary to set up the next films. After seeing The Dark Knight Rises, I'd still probably name The Dark Knight as the strongest film in the series, though TDKR provides a lot to be impressed by.

Regarding the aspects of the film that I enjoyed, the coolest thing about these movies is seeing these settings, characters, and stories that have only existed in animation and less-impressive Batman films come to life like we've never seen before. To actually get a chance to see the Batcave, all of Batman's gadgets and vehicles, and of course, Gotham City's bright lights is a very cool experience for a life-long Batman fan. Since Burton, nobody has been able to capture the mood of the Batman comics the way that Nolan has. In this particular film, the pacing was also near-perfect. I've read criticisms that the first half the film is a jumbled mess, but I didn't find myself feeling that way. I sympathize with Nolan, there's a lot of story to tell here and everyone has a different idea of what makes a movie 'exciting'. I was impressed by the masterful mix of storytelling and action, and while the entire plot itself may have been predictable, you never quite know when a shoot-out is going to break out or when Bane is going to appear and cause some trouble. And while I definitely had problems with the overall story, I found that the execution of the film (the cinematography, the performances, the character/setting design) was so amazing that I was able to forgive rushed plot points and logical inconsistencies, the kind of things that internet trolls live for.

An all-star, ensemble cast is something that Nolan has become known for throughout his filmography. He never relies on one or two talented stars to carry his films, he chooses a wide array of seasoned dramatic actors who can elevate the material beyond just another corny superhero movie. In this case, he borrowed heavily from the cast of Inception, as TDKR features Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Marion Cotillard, and Michael Caine. And of course, there's Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway, Gary Oldman, and Morgan Freeman to round out the all-star cast.

Here's a sentence about each leading performance: Bale was believable and widely-ranged in his role as Bruce Wayne, but pretty typical in his Batman gear, I'm glad he toned down the voice a bit from the last film. Michael Caine is always amazing, he's my favourite old-timer actor, easily. I recognize that Tom Hardy is a very dynamic and talented actor in his other roles, but I found that he was lost in the character of Bane, with the character design and that weird, haunting voice, he was barely recognizable. Anne Hathaway just about stole the show as Selina Kyle, with her ability to switch from an innocent, timid girl to a seductive and dangerous vixen without warning, she was very spunky and likeable, one of my favourite aspects of the film. Gary Oldman IS Jim Gordon, he is totally believeable in that role and he was definitely the best choice to play this iconic part. Marion Cotillard just annoys me, I can't exactly place what it is about her, could just be the accent, but I never quite buy her delivery in anything I've seen her in. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who I am a proud fan-boy of, helps carry this film with his performance as detective John Blake, a character who I believe Nolan created for the purposes of this film. Then there's Morgan Freeman as Morgan Freeman, no surprises there. Finally, Cillian Murphy makes a surprise cameo, reprising his role as Scarecrow, and he uses his small amount of screen time to demonstrate just how fun it can be to be a crazy asshole villain.

While I definitely enjoyed the film and will likely return to it in the future, I did have one major problem with it: The Bane and Batman showdown. I know that it's always annoying to be the guy who complains 'that's not like it was in the books, they totally changed it!', but here, I feel like Nolan and friends missed a major opportunity. In 'The Broken Bat' arc in the comics, Bane comes to Gotham specifically to destroy Batman and take his role as reigning king of Gotham. He absolutely obsesses over Batman/Bruce Wayne, constantly studying, analyzing, and testing the hero over the course of 6 months. And finally, when Bruce is at his most exhausted, near death, stumbling back into Wayne Manor, that's when Bane shows up for their showdown, a violation of Bruce's sanctuary. It's an easy fight for Bane, but that's exactly what he wanted. He's not just a brute, but a master strategist, who allowed the escaped Arkham inmates to do most of the work for him. However, in the film, Bane's main motivation is not to rule Gotham, but to totally destroy it. I'm fine with this, as I expected Nolan to take his own liberties. What I'm not as fine with is the fact that Batman doesn't seem to be important to Bane at all, only a mere after-thought, a nuisance. He has much bigger plans, and beating the crap out of Batman is only another check on his To-Do list. So when Bane and Batman face eachother the first time, I didn't have chills, I didn't have excitement from the build-up, I just found myself thinking: 'Oh, so it's going to happen now'. The choreography of the fight itself was brutal and satisfying, but I also had a problem with the historic moment from the comics: Bane dropping Batman over his knee and breaking his back. In the comics, this moment is shocking, violent, and heartbreaking. In the film, Bane just bounces Batman off his knee and is done with it. Just not the epic showdown that I was expecting or hoping for.

For a movie that clocks in at 2 hours and 45 minutes, what I'm about to say may not be a popular opinion: I honestly could have done with another 20 or 30 minutes to flesh out certain plot points. I said earlier that I enjoyed the pacing, in terms of the mix of storytelling and action, but I found that a couple of important moments were kind of rushed. A major example of this is Alfred's exit. Throughout the beginning of the film, the audience feels tension between Bruce and Alfred, as Alfred wants him to leave Batman behind and move on to a new life. When he sees that this isn't going to happen, he decides that the only way to get through to Bruce is to leave. Their farewell scene is beautifully acted and heartbreaking, but I just found it to be too abrupt, too early in the movie, and a little too forced. They have their conversation, and Alfred is gone. I could have done with a scene showing Alfred packing his things and saying goodbye to Wayne Manor.

The finale of the film was also problematic for me. First off, being the experienced film-fanatic that I am, it was quite easy to predict that Bane was not the one who escaped from the pit prison, that it was a female child, and that the girl grew up to be Miranda Tate/Talia Al Ghul. So when the twist finally came, I wasn't shocked. Also, just a note to future action film-makers: Any time an atomic bomb is in play, the tension just disappears. We all know that the bomb isn't going to go off, that the world won't be destroyed, and that the hero will somehow move it away from the danger zone and detonate it safely over the ocean or in space or whatever. So when I saw that this was the route the film was taking, I was disappointed and a little bored, I knew then that Batman would save the day and that Gotham would be saved. I was still excited for the hero vs. villain final showdown, but the bomb aspect didn't add to my anticipation.

Then, of course, there's the hotly debated scene right near the end, where Alfred lives out his fantasy and sees Bruce living happily ever after with Selina, after we had been led to believe he had died while setting the bomb off. As a fan of sad endings, I prefer to take the stance that Alfred was merely imagining Bruce and Selina as a way to come to terms with the death of his surrogate son. Though I do believe that the film-makers are expecting us to take these scenes literally and come away thinking that Bruce did in fact escape with Selina. Then there's the final twist in the movie, the revelation that John Blake's first name is 'Robin'. All throughout the film, Blake is one of the heroes, like a young Jim Gordon, he will do the unpopular thing if it means doing the right thing. Blake is built up to be the man that Bruce was hoping Harvey Dent would be: Gotham's new protector, one that doesn't have to wear a mask. I've read speculation that Blake will become the next Batman, or even become Robin, but I took this ending to be more of a symbol. Sure, Blake knows Bruce's secret, and the film ends with him entering the Batcave, but I don't see this as a sign that he will become Batman, only that he is Gotham's new hero. The 'Robin' thing is just a nod to the comics, just a really obvious easter egg for the fans, just a metaphor for the hero that Blake is going to be. As much as I'd absolutely love seeing Levitt go on to star in a new Batman franchise, I also found this to be the perfect ending to the series, as Batman has finally found a new successor, one that understands him and knows how to protect Gotham.

All that being said, The Dark Knight Rises will be considered a classic for years to come. Sure, the internet haters are running wild with cries of 'plot-hole', but I suggest that you do not take this movie too seriously. If you can accept that a millionaire orphan dresses up like a bat and battles freaks and mobsters to save a fictional city, then you should be able to forgive logical inconsistences and perceived 'plot-holes'. So relax. Regarding the future: Although Tom Hardy as Bane may not be as iconic as Ledger's Joker was, he played the part well and will likely be recognized for that character for the rest of his career. This film has also helped Levitt cement his position as an established leading man and he's only going to get better from here. For the future, I hope that Nolan keeps creating entertaining and thought-provoking films, as I've been a fan of his since Memento, but I'd love to see him wipe the slate clean and try his magic on brand new actors that he hasn't worked with before.

In terms all film versions of Batman, TDKR is ranked pretty high in my books. I liked it much more than Batman Begins, and a million times more than Batman Forever and Batman and Robin, but I still consider The Dark Knight and Tim Burton's Batman and Batman Returns to be the best adaptations of the Caped Crusader that I've seen. Despite the problems I had with The Dark Knight Rises, it's a must-see for any comic-book or action nerd, just don't take it too seriously. Have fun with the movie and it'll reward you kindly.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Christopher Nolan says...

'Let me put it this way: If I don’t need to be directing the shots that go in the movie, why do I need to be there at all? The screen is the same size for every shot. The little shot of, say, a watch on someone’s wrist, will occupy the same screen size as the shot of a thousand people running down the street. Everything is equally weighted and needs to be considered with equal care, I really do believe that. I don’t understand the criteria for parceling things off. Many action films embrace a second unit taking on all of the action. For me, that’s odd because then why did you want to do an action film? Having said that, there are fantastic filmmakers who use second and third units successfully. So it all comes back to the question of defining what a director does. Each of us works in different ways. It’s really helped me keep more of my personality in these big films. There’s a danger with big-action fare that the presence of the filmmaker is watered down, it can become very neutral, so I’ve tried to keep my point of view in every aspect of these films.'

-Christopher Nolan (from an interview with Jeffrey Ressner for the Directors Guild of America, 2012)

Monday, July 23, 2012

Dr. Simpson Flanders and Harry Mann say...

''Back to the Harry Mann show. Our guest is Dr. Simpson Flanders. He's here to try and make sense of this whole Arkham situation. We've got a city paralyzed with fear. The streets are full of wackos with assault weapons. And you think you've got the solution?' 'I do, Harry. You see, all of this panic and stress has created a hostile environment for the inmates. Fear feeds on fear, and only serves to make matters worse.' 'You're saying that by being afraid of an army of homicidal maniacs loose on our streets, we're antagonizing them?' '...Exactly. As detailed in my book I'm Sane and So are You, the mentally divergent should be made to feel at ease in our environment. A climate of mistrust and suspicion only tends to make them feel insecure in their choice of lifestyles.' 'We've got a body count heading toward the triple digits. That's a life style?''

-Dr. Simpson Flanders and Harry Mann ('Crocodile Tears', Issue 4 from 'The Broken Bat' arc in the Knightfall series, written by Chuck Dixon, 1993)

Comic Review: Batman's 'The Broken Bat' arc

Tonight, I'll be heading to the theatre with my favourite lady ChinaCat Sunflower to (hopefully) enjoy the long-anticipated The Dark Night Rises, the finale of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy. In preparation for this event, I decided to catch up on some of the old Batman lore that I had missed out on over the years. Up until now, I've only read side-projects such as The Long Halloween and The Dark Victory, and the one-off The Killing Joke. Reading the Knightfall series is my first crack into major Batman comic continuity. Although Nolan borrows from many different series and arcs to shape his own version of Gotham, the Knightfall arc is arguably his biggest influence for The Dark Knight Rises, as it features an intense feud between Batman and the toughest foe he had ever faced, Bane, who is the lead villain in TDKR. The Knightfall series stretched out through the entire DC Comics universe and lasted for a year, between 1993 and 1994.  I am currently working my way through 'Who Rules the Night?', the second major arc of the Knightfall series, so for this review, I'll be discussing the first arc of the series, 'The Broken Bat'.

'The Broken Bat' arc is written by Doug Moench, Chuck Dixon, and Alan Grant, and consists of 11 issues between the regular Batman series and Detective Comics. The arc begins with a prequel trilogy which introduces Bruce Wayne's exhaustion and Bane's plan to push Batman over the edge and take Gotham for himself. While Bane is the central villain of the arc, various issues also feature appearances by Killer Croc, The Mad Hatter, The Ventriloquist, Poison Ivy, Two-Face, Firefly, Victor Zsasz. Also, throughout the arc, The Riddler schemes to get recognized as a major threat, and The Joker and Scarecrow team up to manipulate Gotham's Mayor Krol into doing their bidding. At the beginning of the arc, all of these villains were locked away in Arkham Asylum. However, in a (very successful) attempt to test Batman's limits, Bane uses explosives to bust open Arkham and flood the streets of Gotham with psychopaths and murderers. Over the course of six months, Bane watches closely as Batman burns himself out chasing down the dangerous escaped criminals.

For anyone that's read the Knightfall series, it shouldn't be very surprising that Christopher Nolan chose Bane to be Batman's final nemesis. In other incarnations of the Batman universe, such as cartoons and the films from the 90s, Bane is usually depicted as a steroid-freak goon, just a killing machine. In the 'Broken Bat' arc, the writers depict Bane as a much more complicated villain. Sure, he is psychotic, power-hungry, trained to kill, and uses a substance simply known as 'venom' to pump himself up as an unstoppable beast. However, this Bane also shows a very high level of intelligence and intuition. All through the first 10 issues, he acts as a tactical leader, sending out his henchmen to survey Batman's performances against the various villains. There are also a few scenes where we see Bane quietly sitting in front of the television, watching and studying expert opinions about Batman's character and psychology. At this point, Batman is aware that there is a baddie named Bane out there, but doesn't fully realize the trouble he's in. With all of this research and critical thinking, he feels that he intimately knows Batman, and even manages to deduce his true identity as Bruce Wayne. There is already a level of interest when a hero takes on a huge scary villain, but when you put a genius brain into the beast, it gets really interesting.

Beyond the main storyline of good vs. evil, the 'Broken Bat' arc highlights many themes about morality, the limits of human will, friendship and partnership, and how society treats its criminals. Obviously, one of the major themes is Batman's absolute exhaustion and refusal to accept any help or to quit his efforts. It's interesting to note that the events in this arc take place soon after Batman's ally Superman is killed by Doomsday, so his depression may be connected to those events. Batman's side-kick, Robin (Timothy Drake) is very clearly worried about Batman and does his best to be a good partner and to help him out, but their relationship becomes strained when Batman leaves him out and refuses his assistance. It's nice to see that the Dynamic Duo aren't always peachy and that there is potential for some drama between the two. Pushed to his furthest limits of pain and fatigue, Batman manages to defeat all of the escaped Arkham criminals, leaving himself as an easy target for Bane, who strikes where Batman least expects him: in Bruce Wayne's home. Although he can barely stand, Bruce accepts that he is the only one who could ever defeat someone like Bane, and puts on his Batman cowl for the final battle, which really doesn't go well for him. For any Bat-fan, it's always exciting to see Batman goes up against the odds and take out a dangerous villain, but it's rare that we get to see his human limitations portrayed so realistically, with many scenes of Batman sighing, collapsing, doubting himself, and screaming out in frustration.

The writing in the 'Broken Bat' arc is very impressive for an early 90s comic series. I was expecting a lot of cliche one-liners and back and forth banter, but the writers managed to add a lot of depth and humanity to their over-the-top characters. The conversation between Bane and Batman before they finally face eachother is full of heart and tension, you really get the feeling that Bruce knows he's done but can't just lay down. Although it's anything but a fair fight, Bane has truly outsmarted the Caped Crusader. Regarding the animation of the arc, I wasn't as impressed as with the writing, or as blown away as I've been with the other series (especially The Killing Joke). Maybe I've grown accustomed to Jeph Loeb's super realistic portrayal of the Gotham characters in Long Halloween and Dark Victory, but a lot of the issues in the 'Broken' arc were a little too 'cartoony' for my tastes. Sure, there were some amazing animation and images, as I've shown over the past couple of days, but the overall design of the Gotham universe isn't my most favourite. I like Loeb's animation style in Halloween and Victory, which is much like Nolan's style in the movies, where you can believe that these are real people in a real world. In 'Broken Bat', you're definitely aware that you're reading something in 'cartoon physics', something fantastical.

For anyone that's interested in learning more about Batman's history and getting into the comic series, 'The Broken Bat' is a great arc, but not the first that I'd recommend. It satisfies my craving for hero vs. villain, features Batman at his most human, and the final showdown is both entertaining and heartbreaking, but it was more of a fun read than something I'd take seriously and think a lot about. There is a lot of social commentary and psychology involved, but the delivery of the content (the animation) should have been darker and more realistic. There were a few forgettable issues, but there were also very impressive and exciting issues that I'd return to in the future. My favourite episode featured a lesser-known villain, Victor Zsasz, a slasher who carves a line into his skin for every victim he's had (his body is covered in scars).

I'm very interested to see how 'The Broken Bat' arc ties into The Dark Knight Rises film, and since I've avoided spoilers up until this point, I'm very interested to see if they include the most infamous moment of the Knightfall series, Bane breaking The Bat. Tomorrow, I'll post a review of the film, and then maybe I'll move on to other subject matter for a while, I've had my Batman fix for now. Though I'll be sure to post a review when I finish the 'Who Rules the Night' arc, where Bane is in control of Gotham and Jean-Paul Valley takes his new role as Batman way too far.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Alfred Pennyworth says...

'With respect, Master Wayne, perhaps this is a man you don't fully understand, either. A long time ago, I was in Burma. My friends and I were working for the local government. They were trying to buy the loyalty of local tribal leaders by bribing them with precious stones. But their caravans were being raided in a forest north of Rangoon by a bandit. So, we went looking for the stones. But in six months, we never met anyone who traded with him. One day, I saw a child playing with a ruby the size of a tangerine. The bandit had been throwing them away...Well, because he thought it was good sport. Because some men aren't looking for anything logical, like money. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.'

-Alfred Pennyworth (played by Michael Caine, The Dark Knight, written by Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan, and David S. Goyer, 2008)

The Dark Knight Rises Theatre Shooting

On Friday, July 20th, at 12:30am, a man by the name of James Holmes entered a theatre in Aurora, Colorado, shot and killed ten people, and injured 60 more, with two of the injured later passing away in the hospital. Following the attack, Holmes peacefully surrendered to police, and is currently awaiting his first court appearance. The film that James Holmes violently interupted was the highly anticipated The Dark Knight Rises, the final installment in Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy. At this point, if Holmes has offered an explanation for his actions, law enforcement has not released it to media. We do know, however, that Holmes was prepared for a shoot-out, and wasn't expecting to return to his home, which was set-up with explosive traps. Anybody with access to the internet or a television is now likely fully aware of this tragic story, so I won't go into any more specific details about the massacre. However, I feel the need to spend a bit of time discussing this event.

I first heard about the shootings on Friday morning, when I opened my laptop to work on some freelance editing. I always briefly check my internet homepage to get caught up with the news of the world and on this particular morning, there was only one story being reported. I was immediately saddened and enraged by what I read, and at that point, very few details were released. All I knew is that some random stranger decided to enter a theatre and fire away on innocent movie-goers. This tragedy upsets and affects me on a number of levels. I understand that terrible things happen every single day, all over the world, to innocent people. Depending on our own personal history, we find ways to understand and relate to these kinds of events, and some resonate more than others. First, just as a human being living in a society, I am saddened by the senseless loss of lives and my sympathies go out to all the victims of this attack.

More specifically, as a film lover, I am enraged by the violation of one of my favourite forms of entertainment. The main reason that our society gets excited about films and rushes to the theatres every weekend is because we crave that escape from the real world, we look forward to losing ourselves in characters and story and music. We try to find ways to relate films to our real lives, but at the heart of it, movies are about forgetting our own bullshit and being entertained for a short while. The shootings in Aurora, Colorado is an absolutely terrible reminder that no matter how excited we get, no matter how we try to avoid reality, some evil bastard is waiting around the corner to show us just how shitty things can get. And it's usually for no good reason.

I'm sure, in his twisted brain, James Holmes had a perfectly logical reason for doing what he did. There's the obvious ones, like general disgust for the human race, or the hunger for fame at any cost, or maybe he wanted to send a message of some kind. No matter what his own rationalization is, it isn't good enough. Sure, there's the chance that he had a mental breakdown and wasn't in control of his actions, but most people wouldn't be satisfied with that excuse, myself included. For most sane members of our society, we constantly make the choice to be good and to do the right thing, every day. We have laws keeping us in order, but I like to think, for the most part, that people choose to be kind and peaceful on their own. Regardless of what he thinks his reason was, James Holmes could have just stayed home and gone to bed, and those twelve people would still be alive, and we'd all live on. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case, and that fact is just so difficult to accept. For every group of people wanting to have a good time, we get one psycho who wants to ruin it, and all we can do is mourn, deal with the aftermath, and try to learn from tragedies like these.

On another level, specifically as a fan of the Batman universe, I am disgusted that one man's actions will forever overshadow what should have been an exciting and satisfying movie premiere. I've been looking forward to The Dark Knight Rises for several months now, and tomorrow night, I will finally get the chance to see it. But no matter how enjoyable the film itself may be, I'll very likely be thinking about the pain and suffering of the victims of the Colorado shootings throughout the course of the movie. I've even considered holding off on seeing the film, because I'll honestly feel weird and guilty about trying to enjoy this movie, knowing that others weren't so lucky. And now, of course, the production companies have pulled advertising, premieres were cancelled, and everyone involved with the creation of Dark Knight Rises is stricken with guilt for being a part of something that lead to such a horrible event. The choices of one asshole affected the lives of many good people, and we're expected to accept it, and watch as this guy goes to court and is forever infamous for being a murderer.

Of course, everyone has an opinion or theory about why Holmes did what he did. And inevitable, the violent nature of TDKR is going to be called into question. Personally, I look at it as more of a 'the chicken or the egg' situation. Are people like James Holmes motivated by violence in films like this one, or, are we fascinated and entertained by figures like Batman because we already have individuals like Holmes in our society? It chills me to the core to think that people who were going out to be entertained by a movie with fictional villains and staged violence were forced into real violence by an actual villain. We watch crime-drama television and movies because we seek justice in other worlds, since we rarely see it in our own. We love a figure like Batman because he doesn't exist in our world, because we all wish that regular citizens would take more responsibility, because we need to feel protected by a Hero.

Unfortunately, we can only find a hero like Batman in fiction, but the villains he hunts down exist in the real world. I only hope that James Holmes is convicted to the full extent of the law and that the media goes on to forget about it. In cases like these, our focus should always be on the victims, not on sensationalizing the criminal. Once again, my sympathy and condolences go out to all victims of the shootings in Aurora, Colorado, and I can only hope that this is an isolated event and future movie-goers are once again safe to escape from the daily grind and be entertained by fantasy.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Batman says...

'Then while you revel in it, Bane, I'm sick of death, sick of blood, sick of the chaos and horror you've brought to Gotham - and right into my home. I've spent my life fighting your kind of madness and evil, and now that lifelong fight has brought me to death's door, my own door...I realize you may well be the single greatest source of madness and evil I've ever faced. And in that case...one more time.'

-Batman ('The Broken Bat', Issue 11, written by Doug Moench, from the 'Knightfall' series, Batman, 1993)

Another Visual Loveburst: More Images from 'The Broken Bat'

Scenes from 'Crocodile Tears', Issue 4 from 'The Broken Bat' arc in the Knightfall series, by Jim Balent (guest artist), Scott Hanna (inker), Adrienne Roy (colorist), 1993

Scene from 'Crossed Eyes and Dotty Teas', Issue 1 from 'The Broken Bat' in the Knightfall series, by Norm Breyfogle (guest artist), Scott Hanna, Adrienne Roy, 1993

Scene from 'The Freedom of Madness', Issue 491 of Batman, prequel to the Knightfall series, by Jim Aparo (artist), Adrienne Roy, 1993

Scenes from 'The Broken Bat', Issue 11 from 'The Broken Bat' in the Knightfall series, by Jim Aparo, Dick Giordano (inker), Adrienne Roy, 1993

Friday, July 20, 2012

Bane says...

'You are already broken. It is over. You are nothing. A disappointment! Why don't you fight?! You've got no spine! You have nothing! Beg for mercy! Scream my name! I am Bane, and I could kill you...but death would only end your agony, and silence your shame. Instead, I will simply...BREAK YOU! Broken...and done.'

-Bane ('The Broken Bat', Issue 11, written by  Doug Moench, from the 'Knightfall' series, Batman, 1993)

Visual Loveburst: Images from Batman's 'Broken Bat' arc

The Dark Knight Rises was released into North American theatres today, and as a Bat-nerd, yeah, I'm excited. This is the first post of what will probably be a 3 or 4 day long Batman Lovefest. So much awesome entertainment happening in July, what a great month to be a nerd.

In preparation for the film, I've been reading Batman's 'Knightfall' series, which features a major feud between Bane and Batman, including a certain infamous back-breaking scene. So far, I've just read the 'Broken Bat' arc, but the series is made up of many arcs which crossover through the entire DC comics universe. I'll be seeing the movie on Monday, so keep an eye out for my review of that.

Today, I'll post my favourite images from the 'Broken Bat' arc. It's safe to assume (for anything entertainment-related that I post) that this will contain spoilers. This is your only warning!

I am absolutely upset and saddened about the massacre that took place at the midnight Dark Knight Rises screening in Colorado, but I'll share my feelings about this horrific event another day.

Scene from 'No Rest for the Wicked', Issue 10 from 'Broken Bat' in the Knightfall series, by Graham Nolan (penciller), Scott Hanna (inker) and Adrienne Roy (colorist), 1993

Scene from 'Burning Questions', Issue 8 from 'Broken Bat' in the Knightfall series, by Graham Nolan, Scott Hanna, and Adrienne Roy, 1993

Scene from 'Puppets', Issue 2 from 'Broken Bat' in the Knighfall series, by Norm Breyfoble (guest artist), Adrienne Roy, 1993

Scene from 'Die Laughing', Issue 9 from 'Broken Bat' in the Knightfall series, by Jim Aparo (penciller), Josef Rubinstein (inker), Adrienne Roy, 1993

Scene from 'No Rest for the Wicked' Issue 10 from 'Broken Bat' in the Knightfall series, by Graham Nolan (penciller), Scott Hanna (inker) and Adrienne Roy (colorist), 1993

Scene from 'The Broken Bat', Issue 11 from 'The Broken Bat' in the Knightfall series, by Jim Aparo, Dick Giordano (inker), Adrienne Roy, 1993

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Holden Caulfield says...

'Finally, though, I got undressed and got in bed. I felt like praying or something, when I was in bed, but I couldn't do it. I can't always pray when I feel like it. In the first place, I'm sort of an atheist. I like Jesus and all, but I don't care too much for most of the other stuff in the Bible. Take the Disciples, for instance. They annoy the hell out of me, if you want to know the truth. They were all right after Jesus was dead and all, but while He was alive, they were about as much use to Him as a hole in the head. All they did was keep letting Him down. I like almost anybody in the Bible better than the Disciples. If you want to know the truth, the guy I like best in the Bible, next to Jesus, was that lunatic and all, that lived in the tombs and kept cutting himself with stones. I like him ten times as much as the Disciples, that poor bastard. I used to get in quite a few arguments about it, when I was at Whooton School, with this boy that lived down the corridor, Arthur Childs. Old Childs was a Quaker and all, and he read the Bible all the time. He was a very nice kid, and I liked him, but I could never see eye to eye woith him on a lot of stuff in the Bible, especially the Disciples. He kept telling me if I didn't like the Disciples, then I didn't like Jesus and all. He said that because Jesus picked the Disciples, you were supposed to like them. I said I knew He picked them, but that He picked them at random. I said He didn't have time to go around analyzing everybody. I said I wasn't blaming Jesus or anything. It wasn't His fault that He didn't have any time. I remebmber I asked old Childs if he thought Judas, the one that betrayed Jesus and all, went to Hell after he committed suicide. Childs said certainly. That's exactly where I disagreed with him. I said I'd bet a thousand bucks that Jesus never sent old Judas to Hell. I still would, too, if I had a thousand bucks. I think any one of the Disciples would've sent him to Hell and all - and fast, too - but I'll bet anything Jesus didn't do it. Old Childs said the trouble with me was that I didn't go to church or anything. He was right about that, in a way. I don't. In the first place, my parents are different religions, and all the children in our family are atheists. If you want to know the truth, I can't even stand ministers. The ones they've had at every school I've gone to, they all have these Holy Joe voices when they start giving their sermons. God, I hate that. I don't see why the hell they can't talk in their natural voice. They sound so phony when they talk.'

-Holden Caulfield (Catcher in the Rye, written by J.D. Salinger, 1951)

Excerpt from Parts of Noah (4): The Man in Third Cemetery's Theory

-I remember, clearly as I’ll remember you, son, the day this world stopped trying to improve itself. Cloudy day it was, of course, human beings are powered by Mother Sun, it’s those damn clouds that drag our faces down, isn’t it?  Though I really shouldn’t speak like I’m still part of the team, I made that choice. This bullet of yours, my son, it came from miles and miles and miles away. I look at you, at those bored little eyes, I can know for sure you’ve seen death from all sides, haven’t you? But how many of them have you caused? You may never know and don’t look to me for any answers. You make your way just like anyone and you never do know who you’re hurting, do you? I know this and probably only this: we come in this world with the same number burned into our backs, and that number, my son, is ONE. Some lonely bastard could’ve been shooting cans in his backyard, never was aiming for your dog. Every second you live you’re taking time away from someone else, you know that.  That bullet could’ve come from a town you’ve never heard of, a drug land shoot out. You see, what turned my guts inside out was that I could do all the good I could fit into a day and it still wouldn’t matter if that drunk bastard blows a red light, does it? I could know all these obsolete laws and never see the inside of a prison, perfect law abiding citizen, a junkie would still stab me for my shoes. How I died was by my own will, every circumstance designed by me, owner of my life, owner of my death. Wasn’t about to wait for my body to rot, and I’d be damned if any other sack of flesh and bones was going to decide or design my ending. My last perfect meal still sits in my stomach, that last sad song still plays in my ears. I chose the time of day, I chose the place. Wasn’t going to die in the middle of the road, now was I? You want to know how, you can dig me and up and see for yourself, though no one’s ever gone to that sort of trouble. Whether it was an accidental misfire from some town whose name is forgotten now, or a poor shitty shot that failed to kill its real target, what I know is that even a dog deserves to have it end his own way. What’s all this for, then? You don’t ask but I know you’re wondering. Well, son, even a ghost needs to escape now and then. Hand me that sack.

(End of Excerpt)

This is original writing and copyright and all that fine print kind of stuff. Please credit this to Chessterr Hollowberry. Thanks!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Meursault says...

'Then, I don't know why, but something inside me snapped. I started yelling at the top of my lungs, and I insulted him and told him not to waste his prayers on me. I grabbed him by the collar of his cassock. I was pouring out on him everything that was in my heart, cries of anger and cries of joy. He seemed so certain about everything, didn't he? And yet none of his certainties was worth one hair of a woman's head. He wasn't even sure he was alive, because he was living like a dead man. Whereas it looked as if I was the one who'd come up emptyhanded. But I was sure about me, about everything, surer than he could ever be, sure of my life and sure of the death I had waiting for me. Yes, that was all I had. But at least I had as much of a hold on it as it had on me. I had been right, I was still right, I was always right. I had lived my life one way and I could just as well have lived it another. I had done this and I hadn't done that. I hadn't done this thing but I had done another. And so? It was as if I had waited all this time for this moment and for the first light of this dawn to be vindicated. Nothing, nothing mattered, and I knew why.'

-Meursault (The Stranger, written by Albert Camus, 1942, translated from French to English by Matthew Ward, 1988)

Excerpt from Parts of Noah (3): Zeus's Theory

Of course Zeus had a theory, what he claimed was a real life story.

-Had to have been eight years old, I’m telling ya. I never really had a guardian, you know, I’d just drift around from house to house, place to place, rely on the kindness of others for survival. I’m not saying I killed a dog, but I did play a part in sending a bullet off into the air, by way of microwave. Never told a lie and still have not, that’s what makes me a good dealer, a good friend, and a good man. Me and these two little buddies of mine, old man was just dead sleeping on the couch, and we start fucking around, you know, ripping the house apart, playing some treasure hunt game. Don’t remember a damn thing about my younger days, just the facts but no real memory, except this one. This little buddy finds me playing with the blue chemicals under the sink, he had a bullet in his fingers. Now we couldn’t find a gun no matter where we looked, but we had imaginations like little devils. I tell ya, we didn’t have a clue what the bullet was, but it was instinct that we’d knew it’d explode. It might have been my idea, who really knows where these things come from. Microwave was eye level with me on the counter in this clean little kitchen, this quaint little home of this family, these people that just invited me in. I opened the door, this little buddy of mine put the bullet in, I shut the door…

-No fucking way, Zeus. 

-Hey now..

-You’re telling me the bullet that killed my dog might have exploded from a microwave?

-It happened!  The only real memory I have and you’re not taking it away, though I never could tell you where that bullet ended up.  Hopefully not in a tree, that’s all I..

-Alright, okay.  It’s a theory, I guess.  Can we do some business?

(End of Excerpt)

This is original writing and copyright and all that fine print kind of stuff. Please credit this to Chessterr Hollowberry. Thanks!