AN EMPIRE OF ONE

If you don't think the world's weird, you're not paying attention.

Archive for the ‘Film Directors’ Category

Kenneth Lonergan Puts Best Face Forward

Manchester by the Sea's Kenneth Lonergan reacts to losing Golden Globe screenplay award to La La Land's Damien Chazelle.

Manchester by the Sea‘s writer/director Kenneth Lonergan reacts to camera after losing Golden Globe screenplay award to La La Land‘s writer/director Damien Chazelle.

Written by David Kilmer

January 9, 2017 at 11:19 am

BUY THIS BOOK! THE CINEMA OF WONG KAR WAI

Cinema of Wong Kar Wai (Large)

I’m not going to spoil this book by posting any of its many, splendid pictures or attempting to describe what you’ll find inside.

All I should need to say is this:

If you’re a film fan, you need this book. You need THE CINEMA OF WONG KAR WAI by Wong Kar Wai and John Powers. Just buy it!

However, for those who need a bit more, I’ll say this:

Cinephiles often dream of a book by their favorite filmmakers in which the filmmakers do not shy away from any subject. In this dream book, the filmmakers talk freely, about the meaning of their films, how they did certain tricks, and even their personal lives.

THE CINEMA OF WONG KAR WAI is that book.

In it Wong talks personal, he talks meaning, he talks shop. Wong himself says he has not previously been willing to talk about most of the things in this book. Why the change? If you take the journey with Wong and John Powers from cover to cover, something I recommend, you will come to an end where Wong explains why he decided to open up and you will be moved.

To say more will spoil the book. Even to flip through the pages will spoil it. So save up your pennies (it ain’t cheap), buy it, tear off the cellophane, open the book to page one, and start your journey with Wong Kar Wai and John Powers. You won’t be disappointed.

9/10 stars (At least one star off for numerous typos. I counted four typos in Young Orson by Peter McGilligan (yes, I’m one of those people), but four was enough to drive me nuts. I don’t know if there’s even a word to describe what all the typos in the Wong book did to me.)

FYI: I paid for my copy. It was NOT a free review copy.

EXTRA: When a book is as expensive as the Wong Kar Wai book, why not treat it nice? First, if it has a dust jacket, Brodart it, that is, put a plastic cover on the dj. Second, to avoid bending, or even cracking, the book’s spine, do this:

HowToOpenABook2

Finally, I recommend putting the book in a plastic bag. Books hate dust, but plastic will keep them safe.

Maybe you think plastic bags are a bit much. Maybe you think it’s all a bit much. But do you really want your beautiful copy of The Cinema of Wong Kar Wai to end up like this?

MildewBook2

If you say, “Yes!,” please don’t try to borrow my copy. I won’t answer the door when you knock and I’ll hide in the dark until you go away.

 

Written by David Kilmer

May 20, 2016 at 2:41 pm

Orson Welles Died Thirty Years Ago Today

Written by David Kilmer

October 10, 2015 at 1:00 am

Posted in Film Directors

Tagged with

Comic-Con 2012: the Geek Brigadoon

This is the front of the line on Friday night for the Saturday programming in Hall H. The first panel, Quentin Tarrantino and his film Django Unchained, was scheduled for 11:30 AM, more than 12 hours from the time this photo was taken.

Everyone knows that when you go to San Diego Comic-Con, you spend a lot of time standing in line. You stand in line to get your ticket. (Luckily, this is a process that has speeded up quite a bit the last few years.) Then you stand in line to get in. Then you stand in line at booths for signings, merchandise, swag, whatever. And a big part of all of this is knowing that just because you stand in line for hours does not mean that the thing you are standing in line for will still be there when you get to the front of the line.

By the time we got in line Saturday morning just before 7 AM (the line was moved to this location, and we’re still moving in this photo), we were more than a mile from the front of the line. This was not the earliest we have gotten on line, but it’s by far the longest line we’ve seen at Comic-Con. It was also the first time we’ve seen people say, “I give up,” and leave the line. Our prospects did indeed appear grim at this point, but we stayed in line, and those who left the line may have made the difference.

Standing in line for hours to see someone present what amounts to nothing more than a promo for something that they want you to buy tends to put you in a philosophical mood. It certainly makes you more conscious than you ever were of lines outside of Comic-Con. Is there any place where we don’t find ourselves standing in line: waiting for the bus, waiting at the bank to withdraw or deposit; waiting in the checkout line at the grocery store; we stand in line at the traffic light. Wasn’t it Socrates who said: “Life is just one fucking long line to the graveyard?”

A few hours later we had gotten close enough to begin to hope that we might get under the tents before the sun broke through the haze, and when we finally crossed the road that separated our line from the Convention Center and entered the tented area, it was like crossing Bifrost, the Rainbow Bridge, to get into Asgard. Yes, we got into Hall H, which should be known as the Hall of the Gods, where the gods of pop culture deign to address us mere mortals, but it was a very close call.

But it also makes you more aware of something else: that there are many, many people who do not even have the privilege of standing in line. The truth is that many people never get into Comic-Con. Most because they don’t have the money, but many simply because there aren’t enough tickets. In other words, there’s a shortage of resources at Comic-Con. There’s just not enough to go around. But isn’t this true everywhere we look? We live in a society of scarcity.

However, the mother of all lines is the line for Hall H. This is a relatively new development at Comic-Con. I believe Hall H opened for the first time in 2006, and it was built mainly because of the demand for certain panels which were relatively new to Comic-Con: movie panels where directors attempt to generate buzz for their latest films. I say directors because most of the time the directors are there. The first ones I remember seeing at Comic-Con came before Hall H was built, and the big one was Sam Raimi for Spider-Man. He was all by himself. I don’t even remember him showing any footage. All he did was answer questions. That was in 2001. This year Raimi returned to Comic-Con with Oz, the Great and Powerful.

I don’t go to panels to see footage. I go to panels to see the people behind the products, whether comics, films, TV; and I go especially to be entertained. This year any panel that was hosted by Chris Hardwicke fulfilled the entertainment quotient, but there were no panels (if you don’t count Trailer Park) where I was thinking, “I wish I was somewhere else.” They were all at least a little entertaining or of interest in some way. However, there were still a handful of panels that stood out. Here are the best ones I attended. (Everyone talks about how much Comic-Con has changed since its origin as a comic book convention. The fact that most of the best panels I attended were not comic book related suggests that the time has come to change the name of this convention. The most obvious? Nerd-Con or Geek-Con.)

  • The Campaign. This had the ideal combination: great host in Chris Hardwicke, entertaining panelists Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis, and entertaining footage. They didn’t just show a trailer; they showed footage; and it was fucking hilarious. So, I’ll be first in line to see the movie, right? Nope. Why ruin the Comic-Con experience by seeing the film? And why ignore “The Comic-Con Effect, the scientifically proven psychological effect whereby all crap looks great at Comic-Con? (The people who line up to ask questions also help make panels entertaining. I felt sorry for the guy who said he was a failed stand-up comedian. They skewered him. Hopefully, he was a studio plant being paid to be humiliated.)
  • The Expendables 2. We saw the first Expendables panel two years ago, and were entertained enough to be looking forward to this year’s version. Stallone and his friends did not disappoint. If only he could bottle the spirit that comes through on these panels and put it in a film, we’d really have something. (We were saddened to hear about the death of Mr. Stallone’s son on Friday.)

Schwarzenegger is telling Stallone how much he loves him. Sly doesn’t look too happy about it. Arnie also joked that Stallone was his English instructor when he first came to this country.

  • Kevin Smith. There were a few dead stretches, but considering that this was mostly one man going non-stop for 90 minutes, it was amazing. Smith manages to be entertaining in a gut laughing kind of way without being a stand-up comedian. How does he do it? Perhaps it has something to do with his obsessions: body functions and fluids.

Did Kevin Smith tone down his language when he hosted a DC Nation panel the next day? The answer, according to my son? “Nope.” (A note to the future: what appear to be three bright dots at the bottom of the pic are, of course, phone screens.)

  • Jackie Chan. I loved it when he used his mouth like a jazz musician to make sounds describing what he said should be the rhythm of an action scene. (Unfortunately, the panel ended on a dull note when Chan introduced someone he brought in from France.) This was the only panel I heard anyone discuss later on when I overheard the owner of Giant Robot talking to Matt Groening about the panel. Groening’s reaction? “Jackie Chan was here?!” That was probably the reaction of many people when they heard the news. Sorry you couldn’t be there.
  • Marvel’s movie panel. Three words: ROBERT DOWNEY, JR. ‘Nuf said. But just in case it wasn’t enough, there was also Edgar Wright with the Ant-Man test footage we had heard about (the footage apparently was designed to answer the question: Can a ant-sized man still kick ass? A more interesting question: Would the Comic Con guards have been able to keep an army of ant-sized aliens out of Hall H? Of course, Wright should have shown his footage again); and Jon Favreau giving advice to new Iron Man director Shane Black (and Edgar Wright, wherever he was): “If you want to connect with the fans, you have to show your footage twice.” Black took the advice. (Is stuff like this scripted or truly impromptu? In any case, watching the footage again enabled me to confirm my first impression: it’s boring.)
  • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. If you’re going to live or die with your footage, this is the way to do it. Peter Jackson came all the way from New Zealand with more than 10 minutes of footage from The Hobbit. Bonus: we didn’t get to see Benedict “Sherlock Holmes” Cumberbatch on a Star Trek 2 panel because Paramount decided they didn’t have anything to show, but we did get to see  Martin Freeman, Cumberbatch’s Watson in the BBC series Sherlock, who, of course, plays Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit.

Inside Hall H for The Hobbit. Does the “H” in “Hall H” stand for heaven or hell?

  • The other Warner Bros./Legendary panels. Zack “Awesome” Snyder and Man of Steel; a Godzilla concept trailer with narration by J. Robert “I am become death” Oppenheimer; and Del Toro and giant robots. What more do you want?

One of the fans who enlivened the panels. Could this one be asking Zack Snyder a question about Man of Steel? Awesome!* (*see below)

  • I was entertained just watching the hands of the directors as they talked.

Zack Snyder: his favorite word appears to be “awesome.”

Someone just asked Guillermo Del Toro: “Just how big are those giant monsters and giant robots in Pacific Rim?” (Not really. But if someone had asked, he’d probably have said something like, “Fucking gigantic!”)

Quentin Tarrantino said Django Unchained was influenced by Sergio Corbucci. But who influenced his fashion sense?

Sam Raimi demonstrated his low-key, but effective style while answering questions about his film, Oz: The Great and Powerful.

But Tim Burton remains the master of gesticulation. Behold the master at work.

There was a great exhibit at the convention of the props and puppets used in Burton’s film, Frankenweenie.

We were disappointed that there was no Entertainment Weekly Visionaries panel this year. Hope they weren’t implying that there were no visionaries in attendance.

A note on the Firefly panel, which shows up on some lists as among the best of the show: I’ve never seen Firefly and I didn’t even try to get into that panel, but I have to wonder if all those people trying to get in were there as fans of the show or primarily as fans of the post-Avengers Joss Whedon. I’ve seen Whedon in action before, and I doubt he made his panel as entertaining as any of the panels on my list. Even though we passed on the panel, we did have a Firefly related moment Thursday morning. While in line for Hall H, we happened to end up immediately behind a friend of my wife who happens to be the wife of one of the crew members on the Firefly panel the next day. We hadn’t known she was going to be in Hall H, and we never saw her again at the show. Weird coincidences like this happen a lot at Comic-Con. Why not? It is, after all, a magical place, a Brigadoon for geeks and nerds.

A note about the first panel of the show, the Twilight panel. As most everyone knows, Gisela Gagliardi, who had been camping out with other Twilight fans, was killed after being hit by a car earlier in the week. David Glanzer, who I had heard of, but never seen till then, came out and said a few words about it, then the show started as if nothing happened. The truth is that what Glanzer said, or the way he said it, was a bit distasteful. Perhaps it would have been better if nothing had been said.

On Wednesday night, comic book legend Neal Adams signed ThrillKill: Artist’s Edition (if you blinked, you probably missed him) and Darwyn Cooke signed the latest entry in his Parker series at the IDW booth. I asked Mr. Adams if ThrillKill had been published in a fanzine prior to its Warren mag appearance. Why? Because I keep confusing it with another Adams story that I think is called “A View from Without” which appeared in Phase #1. Why does my brain want to betray me? (Scott Dunbier, the man behind the Artist’s Editions, is in the top right corner of the photo, sitting next to Cooke.)

Gilbert Shelton came all the way from France just to make the sketch below of Fat Freddy’s Cat for me at the Fantagraphics booth on Friday. He was also inducted into the Eisner Hall of Fame.

Fat Freddy’s Cat by Gilbert Shelton

Eddie Campbell, coming all the way from Australia, returned to Comic-Con for the first time in three years to sign our copy of Alec: The Years Have Pants.

Here’s Sergio Aragones signing my copy of Groo: Artist’s Edition.

Friday night we visited the Batmobile exhibit and was surprised to see Kevin Smith. He and Jason “Jay” Mewes had just recorded an episode of Smith’s “Fat Man on Batman” podcast, about the Batmobile.

Matt Groening talks to Brecht Evens (who came all the way from Belgium just for this convention) while getting his copy of Evens’ beautiful (or, as Zack Snyder would say, awesome) new book, Making Of, signed at the Drawn & Quarterly booth on Friday. Tom Devlin looks on.

On Friday we found ourselves standing in line next to Matt (Life in Hell/The Simpsons/Futurama) Groening. Here’s a making of video for the painting Brecht Evens did for Matt Groening. (I could have put up the video of Evens making the watercolor sketch he did below, but isn’t it more fun to use the one with Groening? Hopefully, Mr. Groening agrees.) Don’t expect to hear much talking – the audio mostly gives you an idea of how noisy it can get on the convention floor.

Brecht Evens and Matt Groening at SDCC 2012 from David Kilmer on Vimeo.

Here are some of the sketches that artists were kind enough to do for me:

A watercolor painting by Brecht Evens

John Carter by Ramón K. Pérez, who won an Eisner at the show for best penciller/inker on Jim Henson’s Tale of Sand. This is actually the only sketch I got myself. Kelly got the others.

Black Lightning by Trevor Von Eeden

You should be reading Superman Family Adventures by Art Balthazar and Franco which Art said should really be thought of as being Tiny Titans Vol. 2.

You should be reading Superman Family Adventures by Franco and Art Balthazar.

Roger Langridge won an Eisner at the show for Snarked, published by Boom! Studios.

The Image Comics 20th Anniversary panel was our last panel. I was at the first Image Comics panel at Comic-Con, which must have been in 1992. Robert Kirkman was not with Image back then and joked that he was filling in for Todd McFarland, who also was not on the panel in 1992. I only remember Liefeld, Valentino, and Silvestri from that panel, but it’s also possible that Jim Lee, whose name was not mentioned during this year’s panel, was there twenty years ago as well as Larson and Portacio.  I hadn’t seen any of these guys since that panel 20 years ago. They’ve aged better than most.

What a surprise it was to find Richard Kiel, who played Kanamit in The Twilight Zone episode, “To Serve Man,” signing at the Entertainment Earth booth on Sunday.

Kanamit from The Twilight Zone

If you want to win something big next year at the Marvel booth, here’s a hint: remember that Paul Bettany is the voice of Jarvis in the Iron Man movies.

Another Comic-Con has come and gone. Kelly tagged this setup for a photo near closing time, Sunday.

Every year people complain about this or that about Comic-Con. Some say they will never come back. I’m sure there are legitimate complaints to be made, but my only complaint was that it had to end.

But at least we know when the Geek Brigadoon will appear again: July 18-21, 2013. The countdown has already begun.

Brigadoon is a musical about two American tourists who stumble upon Brigadoon, a mysterious Scottish village that appears for only one day every hundred years. (revised slightly from the Wikipedia entry)

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS

1. Every year people lose their badges. It even happened to me a few years ago. But there’s something you should do that will make it more difficult to lose your badge. This tip I comes from my wife’s friend.

When you register you get a badge and a badge holder. The reason most people lose their badges is because the badge holder falls off of the lanyard. But you can make the connection more secure by attaching the hook to the badge holder so that it goes through the hole in the holder AND through the metal latch/pin, as shown in the picture below.

2. My wife, Kelly, has more words and pictures about SDCC 2012 here.

UPDATE: JULY 19, 2012:

3. Even though I said above that I have no complaints, recent developments have led me to write this. My son desperately wanted a My Little Pony figure from the Hasbro booth. He stood in line for hours Saturday morning only to find it sold out when he got to the front. (He also wanted a Bruticus, which was also sold out, but that’s another story.) Not only was it sold out for the day, it was sold out for the convention. But somehow Hasbro has dug up some more and has been putting them on their site the last couple of days, but they sell out within minutes. The problem is that many of the people who buy these “exclusives” are not buying them because they want them. They are buying them to sell them on ebay. This Pony figure, for example, is going for more than $200. Even at the Convention you will see booths selling the “exclusives” at inflated prices. Hasbro has limits on the number anyone in line can buy. For Pony, it was three. Why not one? At least for the first couple of days to give everyone who wants one a chance to get one. (Image sold a collection of Walking Dead comics that could only be bought after winning a lottery. But they stopped using the lottery after the first two days.) And why not scan badges so that the same people cannot get in line again and again?

But this has been the status quo for years about which many have been complaining for an equal number of years. Therefore, I will not be holding my breath in expectation of any change in this system for the better.

4. I’ve heard that some vendors did poor business this year. This doesn’t quite jive with my experience of finding so many sell-outs, but in any case vendors should obviously note what does sell at Con: exclusives, or at least the perception that you are getting something rare and wonderful. The easiest way to do this is with a personal appearance by an artist who signs the book. Exclusive means rare. Habro’s Con exclusives turned out not to be exclusive to Con. As I said, they are selling some of them on their website. But they remain hard to get and rare. Vendors who come to Con with nothing more than what Amazon offers, especially if it’s at a higher price, than what Amazon charges, are unlikely to attract much interest at a show like this. We go to see things that we can’t see elsewhere. This includes toys, books, comics, as well as panel events and even swag. We don’t want to be reminded of our ordinary lives before and after Con. It all has to be special. Offer me something special, and I will not only buy it at Con, I will line up hours in advance just to get a ticket that gives me a chance to buy it. If you are not offering me some kind of magic for my cash, you might as well stay home.

5. I might as well mention this, too: we had problems connecting to the internet with our Droid this year. This was a new development. We ran into at least one other person who had the same problem, but someone with the same carrier, Verizon, did not have the problem. He suggested that it was because he had 4G whereas our phone used 3G. Who knows? But the problem was real and persisted throughout the show. Hopefully, the cause will have vanished by next year.

Did Tim Burton Steal a Credit from Michael McDowell?

I first learned about the book that would become The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories when Steve Bissette cryptically who wrote in Taboo #8:

There were so many, many more [stories that had been completed, but not published in Taboo]: Michael McDowell and Tim Burton’s sardonic “The Oyster Boy,” completed but lost in the shuffle of Burton’s post-Batman career.

That comment was dated May 1995. The Oyster Boy story appeared in Burton’s book two years later, the longest and most substantial piece by far in the collection. However, Michael McDowell’s name did not appear as an author or co-author, and only made an appearance on the Acknowledgments page at the end of the book. Somehow, he had lost his status as an author of the story. This is the Michael McDowell who is credited as a writer on the scripts for Beetlejuice and The Nightmare Before Christmas. What happened? Unfortunately, McDowell cannot be asked because he died in 1999.

In 2000, Bissette wrote:

My only problem with this collection is the solo credit on the cover and title page proferring Tim Burton as the lone author. This seems deceptive at best. Through the events I’ve just described to you, I can attest to the fact that Michael McDowell wrote the Oyster Boy story; if you’re at all familiar with Michael’s own work, his voice rings loud and clear. I’d sure like to know who really wrote the rest of this book. Buried on page 115 are the acknowledgments, with “Thanks to” a number of writers — prominent among them Michael McDowell. It seems fair to assume the others listed had a hand in the rest of the stories and verse, too. Can anyone out there provide some credits and credentials here?

Here’s the acknowledgments page from the first edition:

(Eva Quiroz was Burton’s assistant through Sleepy Hollow, and Rodney Kizziah has a credit in Ed Wood as “Vampira friend.” Neither has a credit that would suggest having written anything in this book. But what of the other two?)

Despite suggesting that Burton stole McDowell’s credit as a co-author, Bissette concludes by saying:

Those misgivings aside, this is RECOMMENDED, and makes a great gift.

This is the same Bissette who recommended people boycott Marvel’s The Avengers movie due to authorship issues related to Jack Kirby. Why the double standard when it comes to Tim Burton and Michael McDowell?

FURTHER THOUGHTS

1. This curious case of disappearing credits on a Tim Burton project cannot help but remind me of what happened to Barry Purves on Mars Attacks!. Purves wrote about his experience here. Writing for Animation World Magazine in 1997, Wendy Jackson wrote:

To create the intricate Martian puppets, Burton contracted the services of model makers Ian Mackinnon and Peter Saunders. Mackinnon noted that, “It seemed a rather brave route to be taking, but Tim has always been a great believer in the artistry of puppet animation.” Within a few weeks, Mackinnon and Saunders had amassed a large team of sculptors working in L.A. and the U.K., who were busy building hundreds of identical 15-inch Martian puppets. Mackinnon, overseeing production in Los Angeles, was soon joined by contemporary master puppet animator Barry Purves, creator of such festival award-winning short films as Next, Screenplay and Achilles. With Purves acting as animation director, elaborate sets were constructed and filming began. “We spent months working on bizarre little Martian gestures and ways of moving,” Purves recalled. “The animation tests were looking good and suitably creepy.” But the newly formed “dream studio” of a stop-motion facility, dubbed “Stickman” was short-lived.

In November 1995, Warner Bros. decided that the time and technical demands of blending stop-motion animation convincingly with live-action were just too challenging a task to be dealt with in the year left before the film’s scheduled release. And so, nine months into the stop-motion production, the model animation team was dispensed with and replaced by 3D computer animation.

Not all of the model work was done in vain. Movements and gestures developed by Purves’ team were adapted to the computer characters. Mackinnon and Saunders’ puppets were digitally scanned and rendered into computer models, while the 15-inch puppets were cast into enlarged full-scale Martians to be used in several of the film’s live-action scenes.

While Mackinnon and Saunders and some of the people on their team received a credit under a “Special Effects by” heading, Barry Purves did not receive any credit at all, despite, as Jackson wrote, having developed movments and gestures that were adapted to the CGI characters. Recently the Tim Burton exhibit that originated at MOMA included some of the stop-motion test footage produced by Purves and his team. Some of the footage featured Purves playing a victim of a Martian raygun. Why can’t Warners release all of the stop-motion footage produced by Purves and his team? Burton described it to me, at a 1997 Oyster Boy signing, as being “beautiful.” Am I the only one who would love to see it?

Purves’ website is here.

Written by David Kilmer

May 23, 2012 at 11:12 am

Marvel’s The Avengers: Some Thoughts

with one comment

PART 1: Why do reviewers treat Joss Whedon as if he were the primary creator of The Avengers?

1. People who read the mainstream press reviews of the film who know nothing about the origin of the film might be forgiven for thinking that the film is the sole product of Joss Whedon’s imagination because these reviewers never mention the primary creators, who are primarily Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (and Joe Simon, who co-created, with Kirby, Captain America.) Why do these reviews give this false impression? Although the primary creators are mentioned in the film’s credits, their absence from 99% of the reviews suggests that Marvel’s PR pushed Whedon as the creator. That’s quite an achievement for someone who had yet to be born when The Avengers #1 appeared on the newsstand in 1963. Marvel could have emphasized the primary creators, and this emphasis would have been echoed in the reviews. But they did not. So instead of coming away from the film thinking what a great imagination Lee and Kirby had, movie-goers are more likely thinking about the “genius” of Whedon.

The film’s credits are also part of the problem. While the names Kirby, Lee, and Simon, as well as others such as John Buscema, Jim Starlin, and Roy Thomas, do show up during the seemingly interminable credits scroll, their lack of prominence clearly gives the impression to viewers that these creators were no more important to the film than someone such as Robert Downey, Jr.’s hair stylist. (Note, however, that none of these names are included in the full credits section for the film on imdb. Why is that? Perhaps because Disney or Marvel supplied these credits.)

Update, May 4, 2012: Kirby and Lee’s name now appear on IMDB, but in the writing credits section rather than as creators of the characters, which is how the names appear in the film’s actual credits. Other names are still missing. Guess how many credits IMDB does list for the film? 2001! Yet, there’s no room for people such as Joe Simon, Roy Thomas, or Jim Starlin, who are, as I already said, actually in the film’s credits. Whether or not they magically appear someday, the fact is that more than two weeks after the film’s release in the USA, they are not on the IMDB page for the film.)

But perhaps, despite not creating any of the film’s main characters, Whedon’s story is so original that he deserves the star auteur treatment. Let’s see if that’s true.

2. I’ve already pointed out that the comic book appeared in 1963 before Whedon was born (in 1964), so he certainly could not have created the concept of The Avengers as a team of super heroes. In fact, the team superheroes concept was not even new in 1963. Marvel itself had already begun publishing Fantastic Four in 1961.  But the first superhero team was created long before that: Justice Society of America appeared for the first time in All Star Comics #3, dated Winter 1940. In any case, this film was setup by Marvel at the end of the first Iron Man film. Whedon was hired to make an Avengers film. He did not go to Marvel and suggest that they should do an Avengers film.

3. But if Whedon did not create the team superhero concept, perhaps he had the idea to team up characters that no one else had thought to team up before. Unfortunately for Whedon, most of the primary Avengers, the ones who had films named after them leading up to this film, were already on the team in the first issue in 1963: Hulk, Thor, and Iron Man, although Hulk’s membership was temporary. And Captain America joined the team a few months later, in issue #4. Even the film’s major villain, Loki, was in issue #1 as a villain. The film’s other team members, Hawkeye and Black Widow, were also Avengers long before Whedon was hired by Marvel. At best Whedon can be credited with going back to the first Avengers comic, but this is more of what an editor, as opposed to a creator, does. But it’s more likely that he was handed the membership list and told that this is what he had to work with.

4. Now we come to something that seems to depart from the early comics. In the film, Nick Fury, who works for the US government, forms the team. The team is his idea. The original Avengers form after fighting a common enemy (Loki) when one of them, Ant-Man, suggests they form a team since they fight together so well, and the Wasp christens them, “The Avengers.” The original team had no government connection.

In the film, it appears that since the government forms The Avengers, the funds to operate the team also come from the government. Not so in the comic. Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, is the team’s benefactor and funding comes through a non-profit organization set up by him.

However, Nick Fury was already shown recruiting Iron Man for the Avengers Initiative at the end of the first Iron Man film. Once again, Whedon had nothing to do with this.

It appears that the general plot of the film is derived directly from The Ultimates comic books written by Mark Millar. There is already an animated version of that story called Ultimate Avengers: The Movie. It’s likely the decision to use this material for the film was made by Marvel before Whedon even signed on as director/writer.

The source for the most iconic moment of the film appears to have been Bryan HItch’s cover for The Ultimates #1.

5. American film critic Andrew Sarris is the one most responsible for introducing the idea that a director is the author of a film to America. He called it the Auteur Theory, as opposed to Auteur Policy, the term used by the French who were the true originators of the approach. I wonder if he thinks when he sees someone such as Joss Whedon hailed as a genius for a film like The Avengers. Does he have any regrets? Or is he simply proud for changing the way the public sees films?

UPDATE: MAY 24, 2012

In an interview on Hero Complex, Avengers production designer James Chinlund says:

I found the Marvel Studio to be an incredibly supportive and positive environment to work in, I have so much respect for the Marvel tradition it was an absolute thrill to step in and carry the baton for a while and help execute the design for “Avengers.” The process at Marvel is a very inclusive one, lots of voices and opinions, but all focused on a singular goal. In the early days there were epic roundtable presentations where we would present the work and discuss it with the Marvel team. I found these meetings to be always productive, Kevin [Feige, producer], Jeremy [Latcham, executive producer] and Victoria [Alonso, executive producer] all have amazing taste and such a profound understanding of the path they are on, I felt that every time I left the table the ideas were that much more focused.

This description of the filmmaking process as a collaborative art may seem obvious, but it nevertheless is not the image one comes away with from the reviews by critics brainwashed by the “auteur theory” who pin all of the credit for the film on one man, ie Whedon. Chinlund speaks of an “inclusive process” and “the Marvel team.” Although he mentions Whedon elsewhere in the interview, he does not feel the need to mention him in this paragraph.

Has the “auteur theory” gotten out of hand?

NOTE

For what it’s worth, I wrote the above before even seeing the film at a free screening hosted by HeroComplex. I also see that I’ve mentioned Whedon far too many times, doing the same thing that I said mainstream reviewers did. So to make up for it:

Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created The Avengers. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created The Avengers. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created The Avengers. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created The Avengers. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created The Avengers. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created The Avengers. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created The Avengers. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created The Avengers. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created The Avengers. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created The Avengers. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created The Avengers. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created The Avengers. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created The Avengers. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created The Avengers. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created The Avengers. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created The Avengers. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created The Avengers. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created The Avengers. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created The Avengers. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created The Avengers. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created The Avengers. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created The Avengers. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created The Avengers. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created The Avengers. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created The Avengers. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created The Avengers. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created The Avengers. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created The Avengers. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created The Avengers. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created The Avengers. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created The Avengers. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created The Avengers. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created The Avengers. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created The Avengers. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created The Avengers. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created The Avengers. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created The Avengers. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created The Avengers. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created The Avengers. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created The Avengers. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created The Avengers. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created The Avengers. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created The Avengers. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created The Avengers. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created The Avengers. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created The Avengers. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created The Avengers. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created The Avengers. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created The Avengers.

UPDATE: JUNE 14, 2013

Lego Batman The Movie2

The above are the character creator credits for Lego Batman: The Movie. Not only can you read them, but they are placed prominently: first credits at the end of the movie; before the film’s director’s credit and before the film’s writer credits. That’s how you do credits for a comic book movie! (Lego Batman, by the way, is pretty good.)

PART 2: The Film

What the film does right

1. The interplay between characters:  Thor and Iron Man beating the crap out of each other; Hulk  unexpectedly punching Thor; Iron Man’s wisecracks at the expense of Captain America. The characters are neither campy nor overly serious and grim. Whedon (I’ll give him the credit)  gets the balance just right. He captures the Marvel style almost perfectly. No surprise, Whedon having written Avengers comics before this movie. So many superhero team stories are like this: the team gets together, then the team breaks up and fights their separate fights, then they come back together in the end. This film is not like that. It knows that the best way to bring out the characters is by having them play off each other more so than play off their opponents. Loki is the official antagonist, but in a way his role is no different than any of the official Avengers. The heart of the film is the characters’ relationships with each other rather than their fight against space invaders. Loki is part of that and that’s why he’s treated at the end more like a naughty boy than a “war criminal.”

Stan Lee, in an interview done in 1967 for Castle of Frankenstein #12 (the issue is dated January 1968), cited the character interplay as one of the innovations Marvel brought to the superhero genre:

By getting this right, Whedon shows that he understands what made Marvel Marvel.

2. This is the first movie where they get Hulk almost perfectly right. But I think the secret to this success was to simply go back to the comics. For whatever reason, the people who made the first Hulk movies did not want to make the character in the comic books. Whedon and his team did. Kudos to them. (Lou Ferrigno, who played Hulk in the TV series, provided Hulk’s voice for the movie.)

3. The scale of the plot, like so many of the post-Jack Kirby Marvel comics, is cosmic. Big heroes need a big canvas against which to act, and there are fewer canvases bigger than an invasion of Earth by aliens from another dimension. (However, they should have been Skrulls, the default alien race invaders in the Marvel Universe. Is it true that Marvel could not use Skrulls because the rights to them are owned by another studio?) Super hero comics should stimulate our imaginations, and make us think big thoughts. A team of super heroes fighting off an alien invasion is at least a step in the right direction. It sure took a long time to get here, though. Remember the big fight scene in the first Hulk movie where Hulk fights off those most cosmic of all cosmic villains: dogs? Remember when Galactus was transformed into a cloud in Fantastic Four 2, thus proving that alien invasion plots can be screwed up.

It should be pointed out, however, that the alien invasion plot, despite having taken so long to find its way into these movies, is already becoming something of a cliché . Transformers: The Dark of the Moon movie as well as the upcoming Battleship both use similar plots. But it’s worth remembering that the aliens were invading Earth in The Avengers comics long before any of these movies way back in the Sixties.

4. The biggest surprise of the movie was neither Harry Dean Stanton, who, in a bit part, gets to ask Bruce Banner if he is an alien; nor the appearance in the post credits teaser of the Jim Starlin created Thanos. (Hero Complex has an interview with Starlin related to the film and this character. Finally, someone acknowledges that the film is based on work done by people other than Whedon and his crew, as well as pointing out that Jack Kirby is not the only creator to get screwed over.) The biggest surprise of the movie was seeing Polish film director Jerzy Skolimowski play a Russian general early on in the movie. Did anyone else notice him?

What the film does not do right

1. The plot is confusing. Critics talk of refrigerator logic: the kind that gets you through the film, but makes you wonder later what the hell was going on. Well, I didn’t have to wait for the refrigerator because I kept wondering what the hell was going on throughout the film.

2. Some of the dialogue, especially in scenes with Loki, is atrocious. However, the truth is that it’s no worse than many of the comics that inspired this movie. So if the goal was to mimic those comics, mission accomplished.

3. The weakest members of the team are Hawkeye and Black Widow. Hawkeye may have come through better if he had not been reduced to a zombie for much of the film. If he had not been a zombie in the employ of Loki until the climax, he could have benefited from being at the receiving end of barbs from Iron Man, just as Bruce Banner and Captain America benefit. But the real problem is that neither Black Widow nor Hawkeye  fit with the team, despite being on the team in the comics, is because they don’t have super powers. They begin as members of Nick Fury’s spy team, S.H.I.E.L.D., but eventually end up as Avengers. I’m not sure how that happens, but  if  some of the real super heroes in the Marvel super hero bullpen, such as the Vision and Scarlet Witch, could not have been used instead of them, then perhaps the fact that Hawkeye and Black Widow don’t have super powers should have been played up. Perhaps something like this: they never expect to be on the team, but they become members by accident because the moment demands their participation, and they perform above and beyond what, as mere mortals, was expected from them and become the equals of the real super heroes. This would have fit because the film already has Iron Man and Captain America questioning the hero credentials of each other. However, the film shows Hawkeye and Black Widow doing things that you would expect only from a true super hero without acknowledging that they are not really super heroes. (The same is true for Nick Fury. For example, one wonders how he, or anyone else, could survive the first scene of the film, let alone the rest of it.)

4. The aliens: Are they robots or organic beings? Or were they alien Iron Men, that is, organic beings in metal costumes? Whatever they are, they are a bore because they are something that someone such as Willis O’Brien, especially, or Ray Harryhausen would have been ashamed to have committed to film: monsters without personality. We don’t even know their motivation. (Yes, a hint of one is suggested in the post-credits teaser, but that’s something that should have come first, not last.) Doesn’t anyone know how to make good monsters anymore? CGI makes it too easy to create hordes of cookie cutter villains who all look and act the same. It’s rather sad to look at the hordes of artists who were enlisted to create these boring monsters. Did Whedon reject the use of Skrulls thinking that he had a better idea? If so, he was very wrong.

On the other hand, boring aliens help keep the emphasis on the superheroes and the relationships between the team members, which is what the film is really about. The aliens function as a foil and little more. Once the team comes together, the aliens literally vanish, their plot function completed. However, now that the team is formed, the next opponent cannot be similarly faceless. The Thanos teaser suggests that this will not be the case.

5. Loki. For the most part, he’s a cliché . He’s the villain who wants to rule the world and have everyone in it bow down to him. He should have more of the trickster about him, like the original Norse god from which he derives. There’s some of that in this film, but it’s not his primary trait. More of the trickster would separate him from the already overcrowded field of super villains who want to be world dictators, with still more coming soon such as General Zod in Man of Steel (Superman) and Khan in Star Trek 2.

6. Did we really need to see another villain, in this case Loki, turning people into zombie slaves? Is Loki’s mode of operation any different than that of the villains in countless TV cartoons and comics where villains turn people into slaves by controlling their minds? And just like many of those TV cartoons, the fate of the world in the end depends on one of the characters, a non-superhero scientist, somehow partially escaping Loki’s mind control to install a safety override on the device that creates the portal. This is the best that Whedon and his team could come up with?

Nevertheless, despite these major complaints, the film did a decent job translating what I loved about Marvel comics into a live action film. My ten year old self would have gone gaga for it.

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS

1. To what an extent is The Avengers, as a team, a stand-in for the United States as Earth’s sole super power and police force? The plot of the film centers on a cube of cosmic power that the government wants to use to develop advanced weapons system. The Avengers are created instead, but their purpose is pretty much the same. However, the relationship of the team and the government is not exactly smooth. Only Nick Fury knows their whereabouts, and refuses to divulge it to government representatives. We of course side with Fury at this point against the shady government figures. However, it should be remembered at this point that they are elected officials in a democracy, whereas Fury is part of a secretive organization that can override orders from democratically elected officials. In fact, in the film these government figures order the nuking of Manhattan. In other words, democratically elected officials are bad guys; unelected figures who are part of a secret, para-military organization are good guys. Let me say it again: the members of government who have been democratically elected want to nuke Manhattan, but the members of an unelected, secretive, paramilitary organization are the ones who save the day. The fascists, not the democrats (with a small “d,”)  are the good guys!

Of course, this is the standard mode of operation not just for comic books of the superhero sort, but of American pop culture in general where the heroes often are in conflict with the law and its representatives as much as the villains who operate outside the law. The masked superhero with a secret identity may be the perfect realization of the ideal American hero because he is part bad boy, outside the law and, in fact, untouchable by any law enforcer; part cop, upholder of the law. The Avengers end up being where most American heroes end up: neither completely part of the official law force, nor completely outside it. Of course, the home of the film’s producers, the United States, often operates in a similar way, sometimes ignoring, sometimes honoring international law, depending on its purposes. But don’t we all have ambivalent relationships with authority? Such is the world we live in. And that may account more than anything for this film’s popularity.

2. I grew up reading the comics this film is based on, alone in my bedroom. None of my friends read comic books, and comic books were considered just another weird subculture, despite the presence of Hulk and Spider-Man on TV at various times. In the Fifties they burned comics, and even decades after that it seemed that burning comics was the only use most people had for them. So it’s more than a little surreal to wake up in a world where a film that features superheroes that most people had not even heard of until a few years ago is setting box office records throughout the world.

3. The biggest lesson? That the best guy to make this type of film is someone who knows and loves the comics on which it is based. Of obvious as this may seem, it, sadly, is not always the case. I’m thinking especially of Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. Isn’t it obvious that the people who made that film had little to no love for the original comics, Fantastic Four 48-50, the Galactus Trilogy? They just didn’t get it, and it’s hard to make a good film about something you don’t get. Whedon gets it. That’s the difference.

4. One of my first thoughts walking out of the theater was that the words “Avengers assemble!” are never uttered. However, it’s clear that they don’t belong. We see the heroes assemble on their own and it’s the best moment of the film. If someone had shouted just before that moment, “Avengers assemble!,” it would have weakened that moment because it would be as if someone had ordered them to assemble. By coming together in a circle formation of their own volition, and without the benefit of someone uttering the famous catchphrase, the moment becomes an image of people with differences coming together despite their differences to unite against a common foe, Loki. Loki, in contrast to the way the Avengers are brought together, creates his team by turning people into zombies that work for him because they are controlled by him. When the Avengers assemble, making it seem as if they come together of their own free will creates a contrast with the formation of Loki’s team. It’s the difference between a volunteer army and one that is drafted.

AvengersCircle

5. I’m not the only one who thought the above “Avengers circle” moment was a highlight of the movie. However, I can’t keep myself from asking: Who would you rather have at your back, Hulk or Black Widow? There’s no denying that Black Widow and Hawkeye are weak links in this chain. If the same actors had been playing Scarlet Witch and the Vision, this moment would been a lot stronger. But as is, it does not survive “refrigerator logic.”

Related posts:

Every one of us is Jack Kirby

Written by David Kilmer

May 2, 2012 at 11:29 am

Dario Argento at USC

leave a comment »

On February 21, 2012, the School of Cinematic Arts at USC hosted “An Afternoon with Italian Horror Maestro Dario Argento and SUSPIRIA.” First, we were held spellbound for 92 minutes by the splendiferous visual and aural design of Argento’s masterpiece, Suspiria, as a 35mm film print was given an increasingly rare screening on the big screen in the Ray Stark Family Theatre. This was followed by a Q & A with the maestro, after which Argento stayed to personally meet us one on one. The video above includes most of the Q & A.

Recommendation: If you ever find yourself offered an opportunity to see either Suspiria on the big screen or Dario Argento in person, you should thank your lucky stars. And sit in the front row!

You can read an article from American Cinematographer on the cinematography of Suspiria here.

Additonal Thought:

Argento is the man after whom “The Argento Shot” is named.

Written by David Kilmer

February 27, 2012 at 4:39 pm