Views & Reviews From Writer Steve Miller
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Thursday, December 25, 2008

'The Spirit' is lacking

The Spirit (2008)
Starring: Gabriel Macht, Samuel L. Jackson, Eve Mendes, Scarlett Johannson, Louis Lombardi, Dan Lauria, Stana Katic and Paz Vega
Director: Frank Miller
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

The mysterious protector of Central City, The Spirit (Macht) squares off against the villainous Octopus (Jackson) over the secret behind The Spirit's powers and the key to world domination. But will triumph mean defeat for The Spirit? Has his long-lost childhood sweetheart, Sand Saref (Mendes), really joined forces with the Octopus?

The Spirit (Gabriel Macht, left), Officer Morgenstern (Stana Katic) and Commisioner Dolan (Dan Lauria)keep the streets of Central City safe for honest citizens. It's too bad they couldn't stop Frank Miller.

I've been a fan of Will Eisner's "The Spirit" since the very first story I read. It's a series that's unique both artistically and story-wise, and it's one that is well-deserving of the place of honor it holds in the minds of well-read comic-book fans and scholars who study the genre.

It was for this reason that I was a bit concerned when I heard that Frank Miller was going to be adapting "The Spirit" to the big screen. Miller has shown himself to be a one-trick poney when it comes to story-telling, and I was afraid that he would "Sin-Citifie" The Spirit by reshaping the property into the sort of stuff he usually does.

The fact that Miller has long been a very vocal admirer of Eisner and his work made me hold out hope, however. I hoped that Miller understood enough about "The Spirit" to recognize that he had to take a different tack than he did on "The Dark Knight Returns" or "Ronin" or any of the Sin City graphic novels (and especially the Sin City movie).

Unfortunately, I held out hope in vain.

While it's clear from the film that Miller has looked at the gorgeous art that Eisner produced--the Eisner hallmarks of falling snow/rain, the splashing water, the plunging buildings, the femme fatales dressed in clothes that will fall off if they sneeze are all present in the film's visuals--but I can't believe he actually bothered reading the stories.

Miller has imported some of Eisner's trademarks (and The Spirit's red tie) into a world that is visually Miller's, but he completely missed the... well, the spirit of Eisner's work. Either that, or Miller isn't half the admirer of Eisner that he claimed to be, and he figured that he knew how to "do it right."

Miller also seems to have misunderstood a number of Eisner's characters, or he viewed them through his "Sin City" lense. How else can one explain the merging of master criminal Sand Saref, black widow con-artist P'Gell, and international jewel thief Silk Satin into one character and failing to include the humor surrounding P'Gell, Silk Satin's honorable nature, or Sand Saref's fundemental vulnerability? How else can one explain him taking three great characters are reducing them to nothing more than a beautiful dame in a skimpy dress?

"The Spirit" movie is an empty shell of a movie that rehashes, poorly, the visual approach taken in "Sin City" and Miller's writing style on Sin City. What little that remains of Eisner's creation are echoes so distorted that they barely warrant mentioning. Even worse, the film is boring. It is, quite possibly, the most boring movie I've sat through this year. (And I did sit through the whole thing; I kept hoping it would get better.)

Take my advice: Instead of wasting money on this crappy movie, spend it on one of the collected volumes of the real "The Spirit." The series was at its best during the years featured in Vols. 12 through 19. The forthcoming Vol. 25 will feature the story that first made me fan of the strip, a near-wordless fight between The Spirit and Octopus, a fight that is far more powerful and engaging than anything that's featured in this film.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Majel Barrett Roddenberry dead at 76

Majel Barrett Roddenberry, the widow of "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry, has died. She was 76.

Roddenberry, an actress who appeared in numerous "Star Trek" TV shows and movies, died Thursday of leukemia at her home in Bel-Air, Calif., her representative said.

At Roddenberry's side were family friends and her only son, Eugene Roddenberry Jr. Gene Roddenberry died in 1991.

Her romance with Roddenberry earned her the title "The First Lady of Star Trek."

A fixture in the "Star Trek" franchise, her roles included Nurse Christine Chapel in the original "Star Trek," Lwaxana Troi in "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and the voice of the USS Enterprise computer in almost every spin-off of the 1966 cult series.

She recently reprised the voice role in the upcoming "Star Trek" film directed by J.J. Abrams.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Parents of Jihad Johnny ask for his release... again

From the AP...

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - The parents of American-born Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh are asking President George W. Bush to set their son free before Bush leaves office next month.
Lindh was sentenced to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty in 2002 to serving in the Taliban army, which violated U.S. economic sanctions against Afghanistan at that time.

American traitor: John Walker Lindh
At a news conference in San Francisco Wednesday, Lindh's mother, Marilyn Walker, asked the president to show mercy during the Christmas season by commuting her son's sentence.

Lindh initially asked for a commutation in 2004 and his lawyers have renewed the request each year.

The U.S. Department of Justice has never acted on the petition and a spokeswoman didn't immediately return a telephone call.

Why should anyone show mercy to an Islamic militant fanatic during the Christmas season? Because of the mercy they show Christians? This woman has only gotten stupider as the years have gone by.

It's a shame the Justice Department has never acted on the request for a sentence commutation for this piece of human waste. I think they should act by issuing a very short response: "No. Now, fuck off and die."

Taliban Johnny, a pathetic prick of a traitor, should have been put in front of a firing squad and executed. He gleefully allied himself with scumbags who delight in the murder of Americans and he should pay a price for it. Twenty years in prison is nowhere near enough for what he did.

Hell, Marilyn Walker should have been throughly investigated AND punished for any role she played in facilitating this asshole's excursions with the murderous psychos of the Taliban.

(Sadly, I predict that Obama's people WILL let Johnny 'Taliban' Walker go by the time B.O. leaves office.)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Latest 'Valkyrie' non-controversy controversy

As the puff pieces promoting the Tom Cruise WW2 vehicle "Valkyrie" become more and more prevelent, we're starting to see the first reviews... and a few columns featuring quotes from negative reviews.

A couple such columns have been penned by Roger Friedman of Fox News, who, at the earliest moment possible, did a round-up of negative commentary about "Valkyrie" in this column.

That column made sure he wasn't invited to the private New York press screening of "Valkyrie." Friedman followed it up with another column that focused on negative comments about the movie and its star, which you can read here.

I went and read Friedman's columns expecting to write a post about the habit that certain critics have in regards to watching and reviewing movies they know they're going to hate. With so many films to choose from, why bother writing up a film that you know you're going to pan? If you don't like Tom Cruise, why let your editor waste your time and his precious page space on sending you to see a movie that you're not going to give a fair shake?

The same goes for critics who pan every sci-fi or horror flick they see, no matter how good a film might be; they dump on it, because they are not the intended audience and they often don't get the film. I continue to think back with a warm, fuzzy feeling about how many critics revealed their cultural and literal illiteracy when they panned "Nacho Libre" and/or "Balls of Fury" as nothing more than a sports comedies when the first gets most of its humor from the fact that it's a blow-by-blow retelling of the "Epic of Gilgamesh" (as well as slavishly following Joesph Campbell's "Hero's Journey" theory) while the second is more of a spoof of 1970s Kung Fu flicks than sports movies. So many critics revealed themselves to be fairly ignorant and fairly untrustworthy thanks to those movies.

I'd figured I'd be able to grouse about Friedman in such terms based on his "Valkyrie" coverage. After all, Patrick Goldstein of the LA Times quoted United Artists marketing chief Michael Vollman publicist as saying, "If he'd [Friedman] indicated a desire to be open-minded and not telegraphed his intentions ahead of time, we would've acted differently. But when someone says 'I'm going to hate this movie,' you get the impression they have a closed mind."

He also stated that "Screenings are a privilege, not a right."

I agree with Vollman that screenings are a privilege not a right, and I also agree that one COULD interpert Friedman's column as telegraphing his intention to pan the movie; he was choosing his subject matter for a reason after all.

However, it is somewhat cowardly to silence potential critics before they've even really spoken out. UA's publicity department has shown themselves to have little faith in their product by not inviting Friedman to their screening. My guess is they didn't do themselves any favors, because all it got them was him writing another column full of negative quotes about "Valkyrie."

And they're not very interesting quotes at that, something that may be driving home the point that is further underscoring the sorry state of entertaiment journalism. Is that really the best Friedman could come up with for his spite-filled follow-up hit-piece on the film? Nitpicky little trifles that are neither insightful nor surprising as far as the criticism of Cruise's performance goes?

Of course, the quotes also reveal (or are out of context and thus make it appear) that Todd McCarthy is either petty or dim, because he seems to be blaming Cruise for something that's a flaw of the script. Quote the quote: "Cruise makes Stauffenberg a stalwart, flawed and honorable man, but reveals little sense of his stellar intellectual, artistic and family background."

McCarthy further coes on to kvetch about Cruise's American accent in a cast of otherwise British accents. Would he really rather that they all put on German accents like the actors in "Hogan's Heroes" and "Hitler, Dead or Alive"? I'm not sure what critic reveals himself to be the pettier--McCarthy for writing the initial criticsm or Friedman for quoting it.

I'm no fan of Tom Cruise. He surprised me in "Collatoral" and "Tropic Thunder", but otherwise I've been unimpressed by him as an actor. Yet the most insightful criticism that the oh-so-intelligent film critics can come up with is that he's not much of an actor, something that I observed long, long ago? And UA's publicist felt the need to ban Friedman from the screening for quoting a true statement?

Tom Cruise was a movie star. His star is fading. Based on the comments quoted by Friedman--comments that both Friedman and UA apparently felt were negative and damning but which I feel are words that Cruise and his agents should consider and take to heart when choosing his future roles--it seems that Cruise did a decent job as part of the ensemble cast that drives "Valkyrie." Cruise is starting to settle in where he should have been all along and in roles more fitting for his level of talent.

But, I digress.

Was it unkind of Friedman to do a column featuring quotes that said bad things about Cruise and "Valkyrie"? Sure. But that's a far cry from telegraphing that he was going to write a negative review about the movie. (He probably was going to, but I'm not convinced that one can draw that conclusion from the first column... unless one is already thinking that the movie sucks.)

UA were fools to not invite him. Hell, those who might be so inclined might even say that they were behaving true to the traditions of the Nazis that Col. Stauffenberg was so disgusted by in "Valkyrie"--they are trying to silence critics before they have a chance to speak out. Or, I suppose, one could say they are behaving like a Scientology propaganda machine. If one was prone to think such things.

Me, I'll make up my mind like I do with every movie that seems interesting to me--when I've seen it. If I thought I was going to hate, I'd not waste my time on it, something the so-called real critics and reviewers should consider doing. I will be seeing "Valkyrie" around the same time that Roger Friedman does, and we'll probably be posting our stories around the same time. (Although... please cry a tear for Roger Friedman. As he states in the second column on "Valkyrie" coverage, the poor baby will have to see the movie with the grubby hoi-poloi! Oh, the shame! Oh, the horror!)

'JCVD' among most fascinating films of '08

JCVD (aka "Van Dammage") (2008)
Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Francios Damiens, Karim Belkhadra, Jean-Francois Wolff, Zinedine Soualem, Anne Paulicevich and Fran�s Beukelaers
Director: Mabrouk El Mechri
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

Things seemingly can't get worse for action-movie star Jean-Claude Van Damme (Van Damme). He's just lost custody of his daughter to his ex-wife, he's on the brink of financial ruin, and he keeps losing parts to Steven Seagal. But then they DO get worse... when he ends up being taken hostage during a botched robbery, and the police assume that he is part of the gang (what with him being a down-and-out movie star and all).

"JCVD" is perhaps the most unusual film that martial artist and action star Jean-Claude Van Damme has ever appeared in. It's a film that will take both fans and detractors by surprise and it should appeal to both camps... it should even appeal to movie-goers who normally wouldn't even consider seeing a movie headlined by Van Damme.

The only action scenes that we usually associate with Van Damme happen on a movie set and in a fantasy--the only real punch he throws is very realistic in the way it's portrayed and the outcome is likewise. The film is so realistic and down-to-earth that even though Van Damme is basically a hero by the end of the day, the end is far from happy for him. ("JCVD" follows through on what would happen to an action hero if he were to engage in the sort of shenanigans and mayhem that is standard in those flicks. Van Damme, even though he essentially saves the day, still has to face severe legal consequences for his actions.)

This is a quirky movie that is funny both in the "ha-ha" sense and in the "strange and a bit off-kilter" sense. It is told in a disjointed and out-of-order fashion, ala "Pulp Fiction", and the flow of the story is further broken by a touching speech that Van Damme delivers directly to the audience as it becomes increasingly apparent that someone is going to die before the day is out. It's a speech about Van Damme's hopes, dreams, career, life, and how things both have and haven't worked out. It's a speech that will move even the hardest hearts in the audience and it's based in a number of personal truths from Van Damme's own life, such as his failed marriage, his floundering carreer, and a battle with drug addiction. Like the film in general, it's a meditation on fame, the sad state of the action movie genre at this point, and how things can be going wrong for someone even when they are seeming to be going so right. It's a film that brings out the human that exists behind the fantasy movie tough guy.

(It's also a film that might inspire some sympathy in those of us who have ever railed against an actor for making "bad choices" in their careers. We see Van Damme pleading with his agent to get him a role in a decent movie, but we also ultimately see him willing to accept any role just to pay the bills, thus worsening the downward spiral of a stalling career.)

"JCVD" is a creatively filmed movie that is acted by a talented cast. Regular readers of my reviews have probably already detected my appreciation of Van Damme, so it's not surprising that I feel he gave an excellent performance in this film. In fact, he provied he can act, something many of his fellow action stars have yet to do. (I'm thinking mostly of Steven Seagal, who is the subject of a running gag in the film that's used to illustrate exactly how dead Van Damme's action film career truly is.)

"JCVD" is one of the most unusual movies of 2008. I don't know if it marks a new beginning for Van Damme or whether it's his farewell performance, but deserves to be the former. It shows that he deserves a shot at a career outside the direct-to-DVD ghetto that he has been confined to in recent years.

Check out reviews of action films featuring JCVD at Watching the Detectives by clicking here.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Beverly Garland dead at 82

B-movie star Beverly Garland has died after a lengthy battle with ill health.

The actress, who starred in several Roger Corman films, including "Swamp Women". "Twice-Told Tales", and "Not Of This Earth", passed away at her Hollywood Hills home on Friday, December 5. She was 82.

Garland's acting career spanned more than 50 years and featured roles in more than 40 films. She gained popularity playing feisty females in low-budget movies before finding success as a sitcom actress.

She first played Bing Crosby's wife in "The Bing Crosby Show" during the mid-1960s and went on to land a regular role in hit series "My Three Sons", opposite Fred MacMurray.

She also made her mark in the 1980s and 1990s playing a series of moms in hit shows - she played Stephanie Zimbalist's mother in "Remington Steele", Kate Jackson's in "Scarecrow and Mrs. King" and Teri Hatcher's in "Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman".

She was also a regular on the. soap opera "Port Charles".

Born Beverly Fessenden in Santa Cruz, California in 1926, Garland also founded and ran Beverly Garland's Holiday Inn hotel in North Hollywood.