2.27.2005

The 4j Road Trip: An Endangered Species?

Your comments are well-taken, and I shall try to keep the posts nice and lean. 500 words or less sound okay?

Anyway, I composed yet another kilometric one the other day, basically rating the road trips we j-boys have had over the years. (I was basically engaging in a little wishful thinking given that at the time, the long weekend was still something to look forward to and not something that was already winding down, which it is now). My word count: 1,250. Scratch that, then.

So I decided to simply reduce it to the question: what has made our road trips, regardless of the participants or the venues, so enjoyable over the years? I came up with what I feel are three principal answers. Camaraderie, adventure and well, for lack of a better term "coolness." Some of the trips I've thought of have had at least one of these qualities, but invariably (like you didn't see this coming), it's camaraderie that always counts the most.

As I compressed the "which is the best road trip in my opinion" essay, I suddenly found that picking an ultimate road trip (which, ironically, was one I wasn't even part of, namely the Dirty Half-Dozen's Mindanao Odyssey) was not as important as asking the question: is the 4j road trip fast approaching extinction?

I ran into Rhoch just yesterday and he mentioned Philip's invitation to Surigao, which in truth sounds rather lovely. At the thought of it, I was saddened somewhat as I realized that given my current circumstances, it was not terribly likely I'd be able to go. I wondered just then how many of us (that are even here in the country, and that could be another post altogether) actually could find the time and resources to swing such a trip.

As far as j-boys go, I realize I'm still in the (steadily shrinking) minority of family men, and I have the unique situation of having spent so much time without employment because of my bar obligations, but I nonetheless wonder: are our days of roaming the countryside done? It's not so much a dare or a proposal for yet another road trip, but a genuine question? How many of us still have both the time and resources to swing a group vacation? The logistics of it were tough enough when there were those of us still in school or just starting out, but now?

I don't have any answers to this one, and I guess I'm hoping that one of you out there does. Other than gimmicks, road trips were one of the cornerstones of the 4j bond throughout college, when many of us had gone our separate ways. I guess I'm really hoping it's a tradition we can somehow manage to maintain...

2.22.2005

New Look

Thanks to Rhochie for making me a moderator for the blog. First order of business was to change our look. After some extensive research, I felt like this one was pretty good. Of course, that's subject to change and I'm open to opinions.

2.21.2005

Dinner, Drinks, Blogs and Bob

The J Boys got together again last Friday to celebrate the return of Bob. Talk about short-lived celebrations. We're celebrating his despedida again on Wednesday.

We all met up initially at R-Jay's shop in Market! Market! After a few free eye exams and purchases we were ready to go for dinner. It was almost 9:30 so we were really raring to go for dinner.

Side note: One of R-Jay's salesladies said I looked like an "artista" but she couldn't place who. I didn't give it much thought but apparently she did and 30 minutes later, happily announced to the world that I looked like John Regala.

We went to Seafood Island where Mia and Joey had already started eating. At that point, it was Bob and Sara, TC and Elena, R-Jay and Ching and myself (Budoy) who joined the lovebirds. Rhochie and Micki arrived soon after.

The hot topic during dinner? Why, it was this blog! And how long its entries were getting!

(Jim, we love ya, but your entries are often too long (epic in nature) and the topics aren't really too well received by our audience (comics, movies, politics). We took a consensus and respectfully request that you could limit your entries to things that have to do with 4J history and folklore. The keyword here is limit. We appreciate the effort but it really is too much effort to read. We'll drop by your blog though. Promise.)

After sumptuous servings of seafood and verbal sparring (Sara to R-Jay: "Bakla! Bakla!"), we went for drinks at Belissima (despite TC's protestations). It was a feast for the senses as the drinks flowed freely and the eye candy was SWEET!.

Jigs, Miko, Dino and Conci (sans Tini) joined us there. Hopefully, Sara will have the picture up ASAP so you can check out the girl who jumped in and joined us for a group pic. Somehow, she was drawn to Miko Sales.

All, in all, a warm welcome for Bob. It's just too bad that John V. couldn't join us so we could do the same. Ah well, here's to Wednesday as we bid bon voyage to Bob!

2.20.2005


the chick behind her isn't bad either. the other guy is joel silver or something or other. he produced a few famous movies. die hard, matrix, lethal weapon, swordfish
BloggerBot by Ryan

hobnobbing with the stars

following the vein of tc's rubbing elbows with amanda griffin, here i am with "the girl next door."
while she unfortunately did not dedicate her autograph with a
"to ryan, with all my love"
i'll survive with the generic autograph.

i wonder how much this will go for on ebay.
BloggerBot by Ryan

with elisha cuthbert
BloggerBot by Ryan

2.18.2005

THOUGH I HONESTLY DON’T UNDERSTAND THE TITLE, I LOVE THIS MOVIE

Having seen what I feel to be two of his best films, I can say with certainty that Paul Giamatti is currently Hollywood’s most underrated actor. In American Splendor, Giamatti plays the ultimate schlep, Harvey Pekar with such authenticity that when the real-life Pekar appears in the movie as its narrator he’s the one who seems to be acting. He anchors his latest film, the Oscar-nominated Sideways with his subtly poignant portrayal of middle-school teacher/frustrated novelist Miles (which was mysteriously overlooked by the members of the Academy). That he is the strongest element of this film is quite a statement given that the entire piece serves as testimony to director Alexander Payne’s brilliance.

The plot is simple enough to sum up in two sentences. Wine connoisseur Miles takes his buddy Jack (Thomas Haden Church) on a weeklong wine-tasting tour of Napa Valley, California, as a sort of send-off before Jack, a washed-up soap opera actor gets married on Saturday. While on the trip, Miles grapples with angst over his failed marriage, strikes up a mutual attraction with the waitress Maya (Virginia Madsen), receives news regarding the publication of his quasi-autobiographical book, and tries his best to rein in a horny, confused Jack, who starts a torrid affair with wine shop sex goddess Stephanie (Sandra Oh).

This is the kind of movie that works better without movie stars. Although it was distracting to remember that Haden-Church once played the obnoxious fiancé in the equally obnoxious George of the Jungle (which I’m sure he’s trying his darnedest to forget) for the most part I really loved the way the actors really got under the skin of these characters, especially Giamatti. There is a smooth, easygoing chemistry between the four performers here that doesn’t feel pre-packaged and truncated, the way movie relationships generally do. The movie works as a comedy even though it’s only gently seasoned with one-liners and broad humor (which breaks out around the third act) because of its spot-on characterization. I laughed out loud more than once at Miles’ loser-in-denial and Jack’s alpha-male, commitment-phobic jackass.

What might come as a surprise, however, are the heart-rending moments where Miles deals with the reality of his divorce, and more specifically the discovery that his former wife has been able to move on. The scene where, drunk on several different kinds of wine, he sneaks away from his and Jack’s double-date with Maya and Stephanie to call his ex-wife is like an emotional sledgehammer even without any music cues or overwrought acting. The same goes for another scene much later in the movie where Giamatti’s facial expressions alone should have nabbed him an Oscar nomination. The swaggering Jack likewise has a vulnerable moment late in the film, but his display of emotion is more overt: he gets to blubber and sob. These scenes kind of highlight the biggest difference between the two principal characters, who have been friends since college. One appreciates the subtler pleasures of life, while the other just goes for more hedonistic. The worst thing that happens to one of them that he gets his heart broken, while the worst thing that happens to the other is that…well, something else of his gets broken.
My hands-down favorite scene from the film is the one where Maya asks Miles why he prefers Pinot (“pee-noh”) to other kinds of wine, and in reply Miles talks about the fragility of the grapes used to make it, as well as the patience required to properly transform those grapes into wine. It’s not one of the film’s more subtle moments, given that his discourse is clearly a metaphor for how the most beautiful, memorable things in life are so delicately fragile that they are practically ephemeral, and must be nurtured in order to bring out the best in them. It is, however, a truly soulful piece of dialogue. Whether they were part of Rex Pickett’s book on which this movie was based, or of the script co-written by Payne and Jim Taylor, those lines are simply magical.

Giamatti and Haden-Church play off each other wonderfully, with the moroseness of the former actually complementing the crassness of the latter, and vice versa. (I can’t quite think of a 4J analogue for Miles, but imagine pulling a road trip with Miko Sales the week before he gets married, and basically you have Jack.) Madsen’s Maya is simply gorgeous. Madsen, I’m fairly sure, is at least 40, and although it doesn’t necessarily show in her face, the wisdom of her years shines through in her character. Oh’s Stephanie, despite being the least-developed character in the script, still manages to hold her own, and she makes her mark with some pretty potent sexual energy in her very first scene.

In such a character-driven opus, you would think the physical comedy that suddenly rears its head in the third act is a bit out of place, but it’s actually woven quite skillfully into the story and never feels gratuitous. When the belly laughs came, I nearly busted my gut. (And I wasn’t even thinking of Miko at the time.)

There is one word of caution I feel I must give, especially to those of you who watched and disliked Payne’s last movie prior to this one, About Schmidt. Payne seems to have a penchant for using onscreen nudity for shock value, perhaps as a tongue-in-cheek reference to Hollywood’s tendency to bare only the beautiful and nubile. In the aforementioned Schmidt, Payne blistered our eyes with a frontal shot of a butt-naked Kathy Bates stepping into a Jacuzzi with Jack Nicholson. Well, there is a similar scene here, although it’s eventually used to great comic effect. If nothing else, rest assured that Payne does not subject us to a naked Paul Giamatti.
Given the Academy’s history of passing up comedies in favor of big, loud and often weepy epics like Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator, I don’t expect this movie to grab more than a couple of Oscars at most out of its five nominations, possibly for the acting nods for Haden-Church and Madsen, more likely for its adapted screenplay. I will go out on a limb and say, however, that of the movies up for the Best Picture Oscar, this is the purest one, undiluted by concerns like accurate portrayal of true-to-life subject matter or controversial endings. This is a distinction of which Giamatti, with or without an Oscar nod, should be truly proud.
P.S. If someone finds out/figures out what the title means, please let me know. It doesn’t feel right to not understand the title of a movie I enjoyed so much.

2.16.2005

SOME REALLY GOOD COMIC BOOK ARTISTS

In first year high school, I used to talk about comic book artists with JB Santos and Patrick Uy-Tioco, our classmates in 1K. Back then, the choices were rather limited: JB, Patrick and I compared Art Adams to Todd McFarlane (the two of them preferred the former while I, a certified Spiderphile preferred the latter). In second year, Patrick and JB left our noble (snort!) section, the former having repeated first year while the latter moved sections and then countries. Consequently, I discussed my preferences with TC, AA and Allan F., and artists like Jim Lee, Marc Silvestri and Whilce Portacio then entered the discussions, especially when Jim Lee’s “X-men” #1 broke sales records. Oddly enough, I found myself taking up the cudgels for Art Adams, even though no one else cared much for him. I had already found myself disillusioned with McFarlane who in a prelude to his “Spawn” years starting drawing my favorite comic book character with complete disregard for dimension, anatomy, and even aesthetics.

Two years ago I bought a trade paperback containing all of Art Adams’ early X-Men work and was surprisingly disappointed. His art, in terms of storytelling and pure aesthetic value, was sadly flat, and it seemed to me as if he had actually benefited from the way newsprint and pre-digital age color separation sometimes caused his art to look faded and murky. You were right, TC, AA, and Allan.

Fortunately, there are a number of new artists (and even a few resurgent old ones) that have more than compensated for my adulthood disenchantment with two of my old favorites. I realize those of you actually collecting out there may be more into writers, but I’ve noticed that there seems to be a greater variety these days among mainstream artists than writers, and I feel it’s something worth celebrating in this blog. Rather than name artists and their body of work, I feel it would be a better indication of their talent to name what I feel are skills crucial to comic book artists and then name those who excel at this particular facet.

STORYTELLING

Former Spider-Man editor Jim Salicrup once said: twenty-two pages of words without art is a script. Twenty-two pages of art without words is a portfolio. Only when you put them together do you have a story. This is not entirely true. An artist can actually tell a story without words, but it takes a very specific kind of talent to give the reader a sense of fluidity in the action from panel to panel, which not every artist has. To my mind the medium’s top storyteller is veteran artist JOHN ROMITA JR. (Amazing Spider-Man, Wolverine, Black Panther). In the limited series Daredevil: The Man without Fear, one really gets a sense of dynamism from his art, especially in chase or fight sequences. Another master storyteller is definitely BRYAN HITCH (Ultimates). It’s amazing how paces his stories and at the same manages to put out such incredibly detailed work. Finally, FRANK QUITELY (New X-Men, We3) is remarkably creative with his technique, as can be seen from the recent We3 Vertigo limited series which had minimal dialogue and an experimental but striking use of panels.

ANATOMY

To be perfectly honest, next to nobody gets this right. It’s actually part of the way comics are marketed that impels artists to perennially depict impossibly perfect bodies, whether it’s women with D-cup breasts or men with 28-inch waistlines and 45-inch chests. There are a few guys, however, who still manage think outside the box, and give us more believable (and varied) human shapes, with results that are still amazing to look at. QUITELY can also draw both lanky and bulky characters on superhero teams and isn’t afraid to give women thick waistlines when the story calls for it (see the aforementioned We3). HITCH also fits in this category, even though some of his lead characters are still godlike. I hesitate to add ROMITA JR. to this list because although he is not afraid draw his characters lean, sometimes they look a little too lean. He makes it to the list because for the most part his characters, skinny or big, look good and more importantly believable.

RENDERING

This is one of the harder things to do in comics; it requires a lot of painstaking attention to detail, and yet a surprisingly large number of artists are quite adept at it. The king of rendering, to my mind is TRAVIS CHAREST (Wildcats). He has not worked on a book for awhile, but the ones he has done are still a joy to behold. The detail this guy packs into each panel is mind-blowing. HITCH, with his aforementioned photo-realistic style, makes this list as well. Perennial favorite JIM LEE (Superman, Batman, X-Men) is another rendering champ in my opinion, but his eternal problems are that 1) his characters all look the same and 2) they always look like they’re posing for the camera. Although artist JOHN CASSADAY (Astonishing X-Men, Planetary) doesn’t fill his art with cross-hatchings or other similar devices, he imbues his work with a photo-realism that is striking to look at. QUITELY also invests his art with considerable detail, which shows in the delays between his books. MARC SILVESTRI (X-Men) also renders well, although he seems to run out of gas towards the end of a storyline or even a single issue; by the last few pages his artwork can start to look scratchy and rushed. By contrast, DAVID FINCH (New Avengers) whose style is best described as Silvestri meets Lee can draw consistently detailed work, although he seems a bit deficient in the storytelling department. BRANDON PETERSON (Strange, Ultimate X-Men) has been something of a revelation of late; the guy can do pretty impressive detailing in his work, although his style is not all that distinctive. Relative newcomer STEVE McNIVEN (Marvel Knights 4) seems influenced slightly by Charest but has a somewhat better command of anatomy and dynamics. JIM CHEUNG (Young Avengers) also shows a lot of as-yet-unrealized potential. Another promising newcomer is BILLY TAN (X-23), who I’m sure is a Filipino. Of all the Top Cow artists who have made a living cloning Silvestri, he is one of the few who seems to actually be developing a style of his own. Of course, the name GEORGE PEREZ (JLA/Avengers, Crisis) is practically synonymous with ultra-detailed art.

AESTHETICS

Obviously, everybody that’s on the first three lists makes it here, because if their stuff didn’t look good I wouldn’t even bother checking it out long enough to notice other pleasant little nuances. Still, there are some artists who, to my mind don’t really excel in storytelling, anatomy or rendering but who still produce pretty pictures. One of them is ED McGUINNESS (JLA: Classified). His art, while occasionally a little too minimalist and anachronistic for my liking, is still pleasant to look at. TERRY DODSON (Marvel Knights Spider-Man), whose stuff can also look dated with his Betty Page-inspired cheesecake designs, draws well nonetheless and is particularly remarkable because in a relatively short span of time, his style has really evolved. From the rather bland artwork he did for Kevin Smith’s Spider-Man/Black Cat, he has, less than two years later, turned in some really eye-popping stuff for Mark Millar’s Spider-Man. An artist with a style similar to Dodson is FRANK CHO (Spider-Man, Shanna the She-Devil), who appears to be the new Jim Lee. On a radically different note, PHIL HESTER (Green Arrow) draws in a dark but fetching style reminiscent of Batman: the Animated Series. It’s got its own appeal, simple though it may be. Relative veteran JOE QUESADA (Daredevil) truly hit his stride drawing Daredevil; his stuff was brilliant to look at. Another long-time fan-fave, KEVIN MAGUIRE (Formerly Known as the Justice League, JLA: Classified) has the distinction of being able to draw some of the most expressive characters ever to appear on a comic book page. Finally, ADI GRANOV (Iron Man), yet another newcomer, impresses with his computer art and demonstrates how much that particular medium has evolved since it first appeared several years ago.

SPEED

Of all the artists I have named here, there is only one who has been able to put out TWO quality books a month, and that’s ROMITA JR. He has been doing it for over three decades now with books like Spider-Man and X-men and Iron Man and Daredevil. He is at it again right now with Black Panther and Wolverine, drawing both books with striking quality. The only other artist notable for speed is PEREZ owing to the highly-detailed nature of his art which came out on a monthly basis.

This is a good time for comics. Gone are the days of merely comparing Adams to McFarlane. Odd as it may sound after all a whole discourse extolling artists, it’s a good thing that the days of the artist-driven comic book are gone. It’s welcome news because it also means that the egos of pricks like Rob Liefeld (who sucked then and sucks now) are a thing of the past, and therefore instead of focusing on making a mint off their own derivative (e.g. Spawn = Ghost Rider + Prowler + Venom’s symbiote) and/or forgettable (e.g. Monkeyman and O’ Brien, Youngblood) characters, artists can just focus on drawing great stories. Creating new characters is something only writers can really do well, but that’s another post altogether.

2.13.2005

...30's Club continues...


Classic J-Boys pose at R-Jay's 30th birthday party. Posted by Hello

Girls and Boys in another children's party! Complete with dirty ice cream and cotton candy. Don't forget the shawarma! Posted by Hello

2.12.2005

Lining the Walls

This is a temporary interruption of the Jim Arroyo blog. Please standby...

Now that I have your attention, I was just wondering... what's lining your walls? I came up with this question after last night's party at RJ. Dropping by their condo unit, I saw again RJ's rather extensive collection (selection?) of rubber shoes.

This in turn reminded me that all of us-- whether just hitting 30 or mucking around at 29 or 28-- have these little vices that we've gone into now that we have the time and the money (what little we have).

For example, I'll be the first to admit that I have too many books. Not only books that I've read, mind, but also of books that I haven't read. Probably 500++ or so in my cabinet and bookshelves. Hopefully, these will grant me immortality as I cannot die yet without reading every single one.

But I'm also thinking of Ryan's large comic book collection: one time while he was still here I remember him telling me that he went on a buying spree of comic books-- at dirt cheap prices-- despite the fact that these were titles he weren't keen on (stuff like Image, etc.) . I presume he's expanded this collection while in the US. (Makes me wonder how much it cost him to ship all his comic books there.)

Likewise, Jay Tan has DVDs lining his wall. Pirated DVD, yes, but these are the clear qualities types-- no people suddenly standing in front of your screen, no laughs or screams in the background, no "for Oscar viewing purposes only" flashing suddenly on the screen or the movie turning black and white. Of course, a number of his movies are currently veering into those with lesbian love scenes but we won't get into that right now.

Joel Ilao-- ah, his walls (and cabinets) are a kid's dream. There are model cars, action figures from movies like Lord of the Rings, The Matrix, Sleepy Hallow. There are also a number of model toy robots like Mazinger Z, Aphrodite and Voltes V. I hear he has fend off his kid cousins and nephews from his collection whenever they visit.

I suppose in terms of porn, TC is still the man to go? I'm not sure how extensive his collection is though if ever you're curious who's the latest babe in the Fortune Tobacco calendars is, just check out his room.

I'm not sure about the rest: I could surmise that Miko Pogi has an extensive collection of girls but I don't know if that counts. Likewise, I know Rhoch is into model making but since I haven't seen his collection, I don't know how many model he has. (Toy models. Get your mind out of the gutter, pervert. Including you, Rhoch!) Sonny? Does his house count? I don't know again.

Anyway, that's all. This is your rebel blogger signal banzai cat signing off.

Now back to your Jim Arroyo blog...

2.11.2005

THE TEST OF TIME

Of the two Star Wars prequels, Episode II appeared to be more reviled by critics than the first one. My personal theory behind this is that because Episode I satisfied everyone’s sixteen-year Star Wars withdrawal, people were willing to forgive its shortcomings. When Episode II neared its opening date, however, everyone from Newsweek to local internet geeks all promised that George Lucas had returned to form, without having actually watched the film, of course. As it turned out, however, in what felt like an attempt to make Titanic money, Lucas built his movie around the clunkiest love story since James Cameron’s Oscar-winning opus but nonetheless failed to achieve similar box-office or critical results.

Anyway, more to the point, one of those scathing reviews of Episode II featured an interesting little anecdote about the making of Raiders of the Lost Ark. As most film freaks know, Raiders was Spielberg and Lucas’ homage to the adventure serials they had loved as kids. To get into the feel of things before shooting, they both sat down in a private viewing room and watched some of their favorite serials over again, only to be so depressed that shooting almost didn’t push through. I don’t remember which of them did, but one of them reportedly said: “These things don’t really hold up that well after twenty years, do they?” The reviewer’s point in sharing the anecdote was to predict that, twenty years from its original release, people would probably be saying the exact same thing about Episode II.

And this got me thinking. Our love for movies really flourished in high school, particularly after Paul Daza’s film theory class. It’s been nearly fifteen years since we took that class, and twelve years since we finished high school. It hasn’t exactly been twenty years yet, but the movies we loved then must have inevitably aged, what with changes in technology, storytelling techniques, acting styles and sometimes even geopolitics. I gave it some thought and came up with a list of movies, some of which were favorites of mine, others of which were the ones I feel were most influential for us as a class/batch, and my assessment of how well they stand up to scrutiny today. They are arranged by year, but other than that, in no particular order.

BATMAN (1989)

After Superman IV nearly killed the comic book movie genre, this film gave it some much-needed CPR, or electroshock therapy, depending on how you want to look at it. Batman was the first movie to gross $250 million in the United States alone since The Return of the Jedi (1983) and sold obscene amounts of merchandise as well. Although Batman’s rubber muscles looked and still look ridiculous, this movie was and remains a cultural phenomenon. Of course, Kim Basinger as Vicki Vale still kind of has an 80’s look to her, but the late, great, Oscar-winning Anton Furst’s haunting vision of Gotham City is timeless, and has yet to be equaled by anything designed for the subsequent Bat-films. And Danny Elfman’s theme is one for the ages. I don’t think even Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard, who team up for Batman Begins, will ever measure up to that music score.

DEAD POETS SOCIETY (1989)

The nice thing about period pieces is that the filmmakers never have to worry about the characters looking dated because in this case, they’re supposed to. But this movie goes beyond such a simplistic concern. It is, in my humble estimation, to this day the ultimate coming-of-age movie. Its themes of expressing oneself and being true to one’s own heart will never get old. Proof enough of this is the fact that Julia Roberts attempted her own version of it just recently with Mona Lisa Smile. Although Robin Williams anchors the cast, for me the stars of Dead Poets were Ethan Hawke and Robert Sean Leonard. It’s just a pity that the last time I saw the latter was in the Sylvester Stallone disaster Driven. I’m glad Ethan Hawke is still around, if only as some kind of assurance that the brilliant cast of that movie didn’t all just fade away upon reaching the age of 20. This is Peter Weir’s best movie ever, which says a lot considering he only just helmed the brilliant Master and Commander.

THE LITTLE MERMAID (1989)

Personally, I hated this movie. I hated the characterization of Ariel, who would have been named Air-head. I hated her song numbers, and I hated the way Gail Vitug always loved to sing them. In acknowledgement of its popularity, however, I have included it. This movie basically revived the animated musical which Disney had popularized many years before with hits like Sleeping Beauty. That well ran dry soon enough; it had its last gasp with Mulan. You didn’t see any of the main characters in Tarzan singing five-minute musical numbers, did you? The culprit, in my opinion: the CG cartoon. Yes, both Pixar’s and Dreamworks’ box-office and critical sensations have killed and buried the hand-drawn cartoon, with few exceptions. I think the durability of The Little Mermaid is best illustrated by the scene in Shrek 2 where Princess/Ogress Fiona tosses a somewhat familiar-looking redheaded mermaid to hungry sharks in the opening scene (which, incidentally, I loved).

GLORY (1989)

Okay, I loved this movie when it came out here early in 1990. I know I’m not the only one. For a while it was my all-time favorite movie. It is a multiple Oscar-winner as well, albeit for mere technical awards and Denzel Washington’s acting, but does that mean it holds up today? Well, its battle sequences, while gripping at the time it came out, have since been utterly dwarfed by films like Braveheart (aye lad!) and Saving Private Ryan (trust Spielberg to show everyone how it’s done). Its Oscar-winning cinematography by Freddie Francis is still nice to look at, but there have of late been a number of epic battle films since whose DPs are able to shoot grittier (Janusz Kaminski, Private Ryan) and prettier (Andrew Lesnie, The Lord of the Rings trilogy) scenes. What about the narrative? Well, it’s a true story, so you can’t really pick on that, but I was kind of disgusted when director Edward Zwick recycled the whole “valiant suicide rush” thing just a couple of years ago with the sumptuously shot but otherwise ridiculous The Last Samurai. So nowadays, I think it’s an okay film, and nothing much more than that.

GHOST (1990)

This movie actually started the whole ball rolling when I first conceived of this trip down memory lane. The fascination with the thought of love beyond death is capable of transcending time, so is this movie? Well, there is nothing about the actors’ attire or hair that places them in a specific period (although I’m sure everyone remembers how Demi Moore’s hair set a trend). The script holds up just fine. The only weakness I can think of would be the special effects, which even then kind of had a B-movie quality to them. However, the other elements still work to this day. Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore’s chemistry, pottery fetish or not, is still quite palpable, even though they’re only actually touching each other for the first quarter of the movie or so. Whoopi Goldberg’s Oscar-winning, semi-comedic performance still cracks me up. Maurice Jarre’s original score (and not the freaking Righteous Brothers’ song) is as haunting and powerful as anything that we hear in the movies today and that scene with the coin moving up the wall and then floating towards Demi still has genuine power to it.

DANCES WITH WOLVES (1990)

I really loved The Untouchables but I did not particularly care for this piece, for all its millions and its Oscars. That said, however, it still benefits from the period piece vibe, glowing cinematography and heartfelt performances by its Native American cast. This is a movie that can definitely stand up to a contemporary viewing, the same way that David Lean’s epics like Dr. Zhivago and Laurence of Arabia are still hailed by critics born after they were made. The only problem with watching this movie again is one can’t help but remember how lousy at dramatic acting Kevin Costner can be after having seen all of his subsequent disasters, most notably The Postman.

EDWARD SCISSORHANDS (1990)

I don’t know what kind of impression this movie left on everyone else, but it was probably my favorite movie of that year. To me, this was Tim Burton at his best: telling a compassionate story about a misshapen outcast. Stan Winston’s prosthetics perfectly realized Burton’s vision of a man with scissors for hands, and complemented Tim’s patented quirky direction, as did Bo Welch’s set pieces. Danny Elfman’s largely choral music soars and actually still serves as the cue for a lot of movie trailers today, the most recent being Burton’s Big Fish. Johnny Depp’s performance is absolutely heartbreaking, and for years after that movie I felt that Hollywood just wasn’t giving the guy a fair shake. And, of course, then-19-year-old Winona Ryder was a total hottie. Although there wasn’t a specific intent to do so, this movie almost plays like one set in 1950s suburbia, thus freeing it a bit from the “dated” trap. Anyway, longtime fans of Johnny Depp like myself can watch this movie again and feel vindicated and rewarded by the knowledge that our boy has starred in one of the biggest blockbusters of the millennium (Pirates of the Caribbean) and has not just one but two Oscar nominations under his belt.

AWAKENINGS (1990)

Another true story, this was a pretty darned powerful movie. Robin Williams and Robert De Niro play against type to Penny (Big) Marshall’s deft direction, with unforgettable results. De Niro’s performance here holds up well against both his previous and his subsequent stuff. If ever there was a time that Robin Williams should have felt cheated for not getting an Oscar nomination, this was it. It was amazing what these two guys came up with. It’s a pairing of two sublime actors that had not been done before and has not really been done since.

THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991)

Those of you unfortunate enough to have only seen Hannibal (2001) and/or Red Dragon (2002) should make it a point to watch this movie. This movie is pure, taut storytelling, and not only does it hold up well against its sequel and prequel but it stands head and shoulders above them. This is, by my estimation, the finest performances of both Jodie Foster’s and Anthony Hopkins’ careers. Anyone depressed by the thought that Hopkins, like a whore, revisited this character twice and seemed to be parodying himself as he did so should just watch this movie again. Incidentally, watching this movie again, one is likely to note composer Howard Shore’s amazing versatility; who would have thought someone who composed something as grim as the this movie’s score could compose the music for not just one but three Lord of the Rings movies, for which he would win just as many Oscars? I honestly remember being terrified after the first time I saw this movie, only to see it four or five more times afterwards. While I don’t exactly feel that this movie deserved to win Best Picture of 1991 (an honor I personally reserve for another movie on this list), there’s no denying how powerful it was and still is.

ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES (1991)

Well, I included this movie because of that insanely popular Bryan Adams song. I don’t know that it was that well-loved by anyone among us. I know I didn’t care for it much. It was really goofy actually, given Kevin Costner’s refusal to even try to speak with a British accent. In the age of British actors starring in larger-than-life fantasy epics, with their American counterparts striving mightily to put on British/Irish accents, I don’t really think this movie amounts to much today. Whenever I catch it on Star Movies or HBO I can’t help but think what junk it is.

TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY (1991)

You would think that in this day and age of digital men swinging through Manhattan or decimating each other on the battlefields of Middle-Earth, this movie would look embarrassingly dated. Surprisingly, even today James Cameron’s REAL magnum opus plays pretty well owing to its riveting storytelling, self-deterministic theme (no fate but what we make for ourselves), ass-kicking stunts and an appropriately (for once) robotic performance by Governor Ah-nuld. Fortunately, there’s an immediate point of comparison, namely the third Terminator movie, which, while competent at best, does not hold a candle to this action epic.

THE FISHER KING (1991)

Okay, I know two people who loved and still love this movie: myself, and Jay Tan. I don’t know if it was particularly influential, but I honestly hope it was. I loved Robin Williams’ crazed corporate zombie-turned-bum Parry, which incidentally earned him an Oscar nomination, and Jeff Bridges’ self-absorbed talk-radio host/disc jockey. This is a truly classic story of two men’s fall from grace and their subsequent redemption. Richard LaGravanese’s Oscar-nominated script was and remains brilliant, just like Terry Gilliam’s haunting visuals, such as the Red Knight, and George Fenton’s lively and touching score. I just find it a shame that Mercedes Ruehl, who won a supporting actress Oscar for her performance here, appears to have dropped off the planet. I have to say, I didn’t much care for her fake boobs, though.

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1991)

Hands down, this was my favorite movie of that year, although none of us got to see it till 1992. I was just…so…utterly…moved by it. The chemistry between the romantic leads was absolutely amazing, even if they didn’t exist except on the animation cels on which they had been painted. I fell in love with Belle even though she was only so many lines of ink and paint. Paul Daza was right when he said that this film was Disney’s crowning achievement. Nothing they had done before or have done since this movie has had such emotional resonance. The proof? To date, it remains the only animated movie ever nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, an honor I feel it should have WON. This is an achievement neither Pixar nor Dreamworks Animation has been able to best, especially since the Academy introduced a category just for animated features. I would say this is a movie I could watch over and over again, except that I already have, over twenty times by now.

HOOK (1991)

I loved this movie when it came out. I loved Dustin Hoffman’s campy, flamboyant portrayal of J.M. Barrie’s timeless villain, Captain Hook. I loved John Williams’ music, which soared at some points and whispered at others. I loved Robin Williams’ gradual transition from stuffy lawyer to manic man-child. I even loved Glenn Close’s cameo as a pirate who gets stuffed into a chest filled with scorpions. I saw this before Beauty and the Beast, and so this was originally my favorite of that year’s crop of movies. How does it stand up now, though? I’ve seen it enough times on HBO and AXN to make a fair judgment, I think. The problem with this movie is that is largely dependent on the technology of the time given that majority of its set pieces and backdrops are fantastical places. The wide shots of Never Never Land look hopelessly like matte paintings, and ILM’s flying sequences were, with the exception of the first one, surprisingly clunky. I still like the bit where Peter Pan flies through the Lost Boys’ lair and does a bit of a mid-air dance. Robin Williams’s energy and Steven Spielberg’s inner Peter Pan really shine through here.

THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS (1992)

Then and now, one word describes this movie: visceral. I remember hearing Constantino Manahan spout out random dialogue from this movie when we were in fourth year. I didn’t go quite that far, but I’ll admit that Michael Mann’s most violent film ever (a big thing, considering his resume includes Heat and Collateral) left quite an impact. Glory may have taken my breath away with its battle sequences, but this movie…this movie grabbed me by the hair and bludgeoned me with each stabbing, with each slashing, with each scalping, with each…well, I think you get the picture. I think I held my breath for majority of this film. Wes Studi (Mystery Men) played the evil Huron Magua as one of the biggest badasses I have ever seen. Although he admittedly doesn’t have much range, I still submit that this guy is one seriously underrated actor. Another period piece, this movie is similarly insulated from feeling dated.

ALADDIN (1992)

This movie was a lot of fun. Beauty and the Beast had already warmed me up to the Disney musical by the time this came out, and so I appreciated the songs, but I was also pleasantly surprised to find that the movie provided a hell of an action-adventure ride as well. Alan Menken seemed to channel John Williams in his fast-paced music. Sadly, he seems to have disappeared along with the hand-drawn musical (although with eight Oscars under his belt and millions upon millions from all the records he sold, I have sneaking suspicion he’ll be okay). I’ve honestly had a hankering for this movie since I heard the DVD was coming out, so I don’t know how or if I can assess it objectively, but I will say this; that technique Disney used to do in the 1990s of melding computer graphics with their hand-drawn stuff will undoubtedly look silly and half-baked nowadays, now that animated movies have gone 100% CG.

A FEW GOOD MEN (1992)

I feel that this was the last truly memorable movie to come out before we graduated from high school. It was truly brilliant back then, and although what people remember most from this movie is the line “You can’t handle the truth” (which ironically enough seems to ring true for a significant portion of the American people today) for my part, I loved the courtroom banter as a whole. I actually conceived of making a list of good courtroom dramas that really utilized legal wizardry to maximum dramatic effect, but this movie kind of eclipsed all the others. I actually appreciate this movie now more, having gone through law school. In goading Jack Nicholson’s evil Col. Jessup into giving his “you can’t handle the truth” speech, Tom Cruise’s Danny Kaffee uses a two-step technique known as “laying the predicate” and “impeaching the witness” which is another way of saying he got Jessup to contradict himself and then confronted him with his conflicting statements. I read on the jacket notes of the Laser Disc (yes, we’re that old) how the play on which this movie was based gave Kaffee and his litigation team an ace-in-the-hole piece of evidence, a witness, that enabled them to win the case, but I think that was rightly excised from the screenplay because…well…it was just more exciting this way. Even today this movie’s screenplay and performances just shine (which is the best part about movies that aren’t effects or technology-driven). One disappointing this about it, though, is to watch Tom Cruise acting at 30 and to realize that, at 42, he still acts pretty much the same way, without any real subtlety.

Well, as with my last list of movies, I only listed movies that I actually watched, but I honestly believe that a good percentage of this selection left quite an impression on most of us (especially Dead Poets). Maybe in another few years I’ll come up with the list of stuff we enjoyed back in college. Hmm…

2.08.2005

A LOOK BACK AND FORWARD AT COMIC BOOK BASED MOVIES

Recently, my Tita wrapped up her annual visit to the Philippines and returned home to Washington. Not long before she left, I noticed she had left a number of DVDs at my mom’s house. Some previewed, one brand-new. I had seen some and wasn’t interested in others, but the new one really caught my eye: it was a copy of American Splendor, based on a seminal if not necessarily popular underground comic book. I popped it in the player, and had some of the most enjoyable 103 minutes of my life.

Imagine a middle-aged, burned-out, Jewish Spider-Man without super powers, scientific acumen, or good looks and you have Harvey Pekar…played with moving authenticity by Paul Giamatti. I say authentic because the actual Harvey Pekar narrates the movie. It’s basically his life story, so it can get a bit self-indulgent from time to time, but it’s really laugh-out-loud funny and genuinely touching, even without manipulative music cues, moody close-ups or any of the other traditional Hollywood devices.

I don’t really want to talk too much about the plot so much as share vignettes from it. The guy is a file clerk at a hospital. He meets a comic book artist, gets inspired to write his own comics, talks his newly-befriended-artist-buddy into illustrating it, and American Splendor is born. There’s a love story (which, again has an endearing tongue-in-cheek quality to it), a story about friendship and even parental responsibility. It has something for everyone, in short.

There’s plenty of real life footage in the movie, such as the times that Pekar appeared on Letterman, which was actually sad because, well…I don’t want to give anything away. This notwithstanding, it has a perfectly satisfying resolution.

Suffice it to say, this is one of the best-comic book movies I’ve ever seen. Incidentally, watch out for the character actor cameos by Molly Shannon (Superstar, A Night at the Roxbury) and Donal Logue (Grounded for Life).

This movie has inspired me to come up with two lists of comic book movies that I like or admire. The first list is my top ten list of movies whose makers, in my opinion made the most out of the their available technology and budgets to craft some really sleek looking flicks, while the second list contains my sentimental favorites. Both lists, particularly the first, may meet with some disagreement, so I welcome suggested lists of your own or additions to the list.

TOP TEN COMIC BOOK FILMS IN TERMS OF CRAFTSMANSHIP:

1) Spider-Man 2 (you GOTTA love that freaking TRAIN SEQUENCE!!!)
2) X2: X-Men United (The White House sequence kicks ass!!!)
3) Men in Black (Spielberg magic was very evident here)
4) Superman 2 (the slugfest between Supes and the Phantom Zone guys rocked).
5) Superman (the first true flight sequences on film)
6) Hulk (hey, it may have been boring, but the effects were still topnotch)
7) Spider-Man (it had a lot of heart, but for their money they could have done a LOT better with the effects; this movie might have been higher on the list if “Spider-Man 2” hadn’t demonstrated that it is possible to do kick-ass web-swinging sequences that look convincing)
8) American Splendor (made for a song, this movie can really draw you in)
9) The Road to Perdition (bored a lot of people, but it was pretty well-shot, I think; and Tom Hanks and Paul Newman really fill the screen)
10) Blade 2 (shot on a B-movie budget, this movie somehow manages to achieve a chilling gothic sensibility and at the same time be a great action flick)

TOP TEN SENTIMENTAL FAVORITES:

1) Spider-Man 2 (all the heart of the original and spectacular special effects: my cup runneth over)
2) Spider-Man (I cried with joy just knowing this movie had been made; the acting and the story made me cry some more, and I know I’m not the only one)
3) American Splendor (see review)
4) Mystery Men (formerly number 3 on this list; this is or should be a cult classic)
5) Hulk (yes, I actually liked it; it was surprisingly faithful to the comic)
6) X2: X-men United (more characters, tighter narration, better effects than the original, and not as Wolverine-centered either)
7) Superman 2 (one of the first movies I ever saw in the theater. I remember feeling shaken to my core when a powerless Clark Kent was lying bloody in Lois Lane’s arms; ironically it was powerful to watch).
8) Men in Black (Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones had a wonderful screen chemistry that they just couldn’t replicate the second time around)
9) Blade 2 (genuinely scary. I found it exciting somehow).
10) X-Men (Marvel films’ first real splash on the big screen)

I also came up with a list of my ten worst comic book/strip based movies. Some of these were, I feel, noble endeavors with stupid scripts and/or directors and some were just schlock. I arranged them in descending order, so that my worst appears last:

10) Daredevil (I was happy to see a favorite character of mine get adapted, but not happy with how they did it)
9) Batman Returns (apologies to those who liked it, but this somehow dragged, and the effects were kind of lackluster; even certified Bat-philes Paul Daza and TC were disappointed)
8) Blade (smacks of Wesley Snipes’ narcissism)
7) Blade: Trinity (tailor-made for those with Attention Deficiency and Hyperactivity Disorder; this movie has caused the franchise to crash and burn)
6) Dick Tracy (smacks of Warren Beatty’s narcissism, this sucker almost put me to sleep)
5) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the title kind of speaks for itself, really)
4) Popeye (a true low point in Robin Williams’ career)
3) Batman and Robin (I don’t think there’s any contesting this choice)
2) Superman IV (yes, I actually bothered to watch it)
1) Howard the Duck (caught it on TV; this, in my opinion, is probably one of the worst movies EVER!!! I defy you to find a worse comic-book movie)

Enough looking back! We are in a new age of comic-book movies and there are several of them yet to look forward to. Here’s a brief rundown of some of what we can expect in the next three years or so in (more or less) chronological order, replete with pros, cons and my own personal prediction of how they will do at the box-office:

SON OF THE MASK (February 2005)

A Jim Carrey-less sequel to his 1994 breakout hit, this movie still has the effects muscle of ILM behind it, even though the storyline is completely different (no more Staney Ipkiss) and Jamie Kennedy seems to be playing a strangely docile role, given his reputation.

PRO: Not much, except maybe for ILM and Alan Cumming (X2’s Nightcrawler) as the villain. From the trailer it doesn’t look like Kennedy gets to flex his comedic muscles much.

CON: No Jim Carrey. No Cameron Diaz. An NINE-YEAR gap between films. Does anyone other than freaks like me even remember the original movie anymore?

PREDICTION: Bomb. This sequel seems like a REALLY belated attempt to cash in on the comic-book movie renaissance.

CONSTANTINE (February 2005)

Keanu Reeves goes supernatural for the first time since The Devil’s Advocate, albeit in an action flick. Is it safe to say that this movie is an amalgamation of that movie and The Matrix? God only knows. I never read the comic, so I can only nod my head when I hear or read complaints from comic fans about the casting.

PRO: Love him or hate him, Keanu puts asses in the seats. He also has shown a talent for picking movies that can obscure his dreadful acting, although you can never quite completely overlook it. The Matrix, sans sequels, was one of the best action/sci-fi extravaganzas of the last decade. I am not familiar with this comic book, but from the look of the trailer he has again selected a movie in which he can conceal his inability to act. Also, on the same weekend two years ago, the dreadful Daredevil opened huge with no direct competition.

CON: Keanu Reeves is possibly the worst actor on the planet. The director is a “music video veteran” a phrase which, with the exception of David Fincher, generally fills me with dread.

PREDICTION: Most likely a hit. Keanu. Big movie. No direct competition.

BATMAN BEGINS (June 2005)

In fairness to Warner Brothers, they didn’t exactly pack it in after the debacle that was Batman and Robin only to think up a sequel/prequel after Spider-Man shattered records. They did some regrouping and talked about reviving the franchise as early as the year 2000 or maybe even 1999. Sam Raimi was considered for directing the next Batman film at some point, even prior to Spider-Man. They also considered acclaimed independent filmmaker Darren Afonovsky (spelling?) as some point, before finally going with Memento’s Chris Nolan. This movie has been in gestation for awhile, so this could be worth seeing.

PRO: New, maverick director at the helm. In a very short while, Chris Nolan has made quite an impact on the film community. The last comic movie made by a previously indie/small-time director who was given a big budget was Spider-Man, so this is definitely something to watch out for. Plus, the casting sheet reads like a dream with high-profile talent like Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman and even that guy in 28 Days Later, Cillian Murphy. And lest we forget, there are no more nipples on the Batsuit! The trailer looks nice and gothic, just perfect for everyone’s favorite dark knight. Also, they’ve taken Akiva Goldsman (Batman and Robin) off script duties and replaced him with David S. Goyer, the guy who brought Blade to life in 1998. And like Constantine, it’s opening without any direct competition, with Star Wars: Episode III a month ahead of it and the July 4th slugfest between War of the Worlds and Fantastic Four two weeks behind it.

CON: Not everyone digs the new Batmobile. In addition, the last Batman movie left quite a lingering stench, which may not necessarily have washed away entirely. Warner Brothers may be quite aggressive with their marketing, using the old self-fulfilling prophecy tactic of calling their film “highly anticipated” the way they did Ocean’s Twelve, but if Nolan doesn’t deliver the goods this summer, this new Bat-movie will go the way of the heist sequel’s big weekend followed by a quick fade. Also, they’ve got a script by that idiot David S. Goyer, who just recently killed the Blade franchise with Blade: Trinity.

PREDICTION: Another likely hit for Warner Brothers.

FANTASTIC FOUR (July 2005)

Another Marvel wet-dream for me comes true as Jessica Alba slips into the navy blue tights of Susan Storm (not yet Richards). This movie has been in development hell for the longest time and Harry Potter’s Chris Columbus, of all people, has kept alive the hope of it being made. Avi Arad has finally made that hope a reality, by throwing together a cast and crew, and soon the world could be witness to something…fantastic (or not).

PRO: Saw the trailer, and the effects look like they can kick some serious ass. The Human Torch effects on Chris Evans are pretty much the first of their kind, and they don’t disappoint. Michael (The Shield) Chiklis’ Thing makeup looks pretty damn good too, and I cannot say enough about his casting, which I think is the biggest comic-book casting coup since Christopher freakin’ Reeve. If you’ve seen The Shield, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. The Dr. Doom armor looks pretty good, as do Sue’s force-field effects. I wasn’t too impressed by Reed’s (Ioan Gruffud) stretching, but three out of four is pretty good. The fact that I enjoyed the trailer is quite encouraging, especially considering that two months before this movie comes out, it is likely to get VERY good exposure during the screenings of Star Wars: Episode 3, which is being released by the same studio. I would say that being released against Spielberg and Cruise’s WOTW is a con, but the last time Spielberg and a big-name Tom (think Hanks) opened head-to-head with a movie from Twentieth Century Fox, Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller’s Dodgeball kicked their asses in a stunning upset. Plus the fact that the last Cruise-Spielberg team-up (Minority Report) struggled to outgross freaking Lilo and Stitch on its opening weekend, only to lose out in the final gross.

CON: This movie may have had a lot, and I mean a lot of the wind taken out of its sails by The Incredibles which featured not only similar themes (family, solidarity and all that) but similar powers (stretching, invisibility and force fields). What pisses me off about this is that the Fantastic Four actually predates The Incredibles by about forty years, and now they’re the ones who are going to look like the rip-offs. Brad Bird’s story was, if you watch it, even intended as a sort of homage to the FF, but I don’t know if moviegoers are going to see it that way. Plus, in what continues to be a disturbing trend, Marvel Studios chief Avi Arad has picked yet another nobody for a director (remember Mark Steven Johnson for Daredevil? I didn’t think so) in the person of Tim (Barbershop) Story in the hopes of unearthing another Sam Raimi. One can only hope, but in truth I really doubt it.

PREDICTION: As bold as it may seem, I predict that this movie will be a hit, although not of X2 or Spider-Man proportions.

SIN CITY (late 2005)

Jessica Alba tosses aside the tights for what appears to be a two piece. Beyond that, I do not really know what this movie is about. I do know it’s based on Frank Miller’s grim-and-gritty Dark Horse comic book, and that Miller himself is co-adapting it with Robert Rodriguez. Yes. Co-adapting, meaning co-directing.

PRO: Robert Rodriguez is the guy who gave us El Mariachi, Desperado, and Once Upon a Time in Mexico, all of which were nice, quirky and violent, just like Frank Miller’s writing. Oh, let’s not forget that bit about Jessica Alba in a two-piece.

CON: Robert Rodriguez is the guy that gave us the Spy Kids movies. And Miller’s last foray into film gave us Robocop 3.

PREDICTION: A small-time hit in the ballpark of Once Upon a Time in Mexico. It won’t exactly be making Spider-Man money, though.

SUPERMAN (Summer 2006)

Superman flies again! Nearly 20 years after the franchise crashed and burned, Warner Brothers, after something like five directors and hundreds of Clark Kent hopefuls has finally gotten Superman off the ground having signed a director (Bryan Singer) and having filled not just one but all of the major roles (Brandon Routh as Superman/Clark Kent, Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor, Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane, and Hugh Laurie as Perry White). They’ve also signed up the talented scribes of X2 to write another chapter in the Man of Steel’s continuing saga. It doesn’t hurt that Sony Pictures Imageworks (SPI), the geniuses behind the Spider-movies (especially Spider-Man 2), are making Superman, well, super, or that John Williams will be tapped to compose the music.

PRO: Bryan Singer. Sony Pictures Imageworks. John Williams. This is a dream assemblage. There is very, very little that can go wrong here, and they haven’t even started shooting yet. There hasn’t been a prepackaged hit like this since George Lucas announced that he was finally coming up with Star Wars: Episode I. They should just make sure that they don’t open opposite The Da Vinci Code, because that could actually be the Kryptonite to this film.

CON: The last Superman movie was a bomb of the worst order, although people are likely to have forgotten that. Plus Brandon Routh is no Christopher Reeve (but then, who is?) and is also rumored to be gay, a fact that could hurt the movie’s publicity somehow

PREDICTION: This is a definite hit. It will make at least Harry Potter money, unless Bryan Singer gets bad karma for screwing over the X-people (see next item).

X3: ???? (Summer 2006)

You did read the bit about Bryan Singer making Superman, right? Suffice it to say that four months after Warner Brothers and Bryan Singer floored Fox and Marvel with that announcement, the latter two are still trying to get their bearings. It’s kind of depressing considering that before Bryan Singer came along, the X-Men film was in development hell. Now after scaling the box-office heights with two hits in a row, the franchise is right back in limbo. Singer was really and truly the glue that held the whole enterprise together, and now he’s gone.

PRO: No more temperamental director means a better working atmosphere for the stars? I don’t know if there are any pros to this situation.

CON: No Singer [beyotch]. Incidentally, no more James Marsden as Cyclops either. ‘Nuff said.

PREDICTION: Hit? Bomb? The question we should be asking is: will this movie ever even get made???

GHOST RIDER (Summer 2006)

Nicolas Cage finally gets his wish of playing a superhero, after losing Superman when Tim Burton bailed out of the project. The problem is he’ll be directed by that Daredevil moron Mark Steven Johnson. American Beauty’s Wes Bentley will be the main bad guy, an obscure Marvel character known as Blackheart. And Eva Mendes (drool) has joined the cast too.

PRO: For all his goofiness, Cage is still an Oscar winner and did star in some pretty good movies like The Rock and Face/Off, so he may yet carry the day. Wes Bentley, a rather underrated actor, is a pretty good choice for a bad guy. He looks a little bit like Tobey Maguire’s evil twin. Oh, and let us not forget the charms of Eva (2 Fast 2 Furious) Mendes. This girl is hot beyond belief.

CON: Four words: Mark. Steven. Johnson. Daredevil.

PREDICTION: 50/50 chance of success or failure. It’ll boil down to who shines through more: Cage or Johnson.

SPIDER-MAN 3 (May 2007)

Top Marvel writer Brian Michael Bendis called the Spider-Man movies this generation’s Star Wars. By gum, I think he’s right. Anyone who denies the box-office and pop-culture impact these two movies have had on our collective conscious is either living under a rock or is just so anti-Marvel that it has addled his brain. The script is allegedly in the works or under lock and key, depending on who you read, but the stars playing the main characters have signed up.

PRO: All the stars are in place. The director is back. SPI is back, and according to them, even better than before. And Columbia Pictures have come up with the brilliant marketing angle of not immediately disclosing who the Spider-villain will be, fueling speculation, and anticipation, like crazy. The most popular guess thus far is Venom, who would be incredible to watch.

CON: It is often said that the best movie in a series of three is usually the second. Is it possible that Raimi and company have peaked?

PREDICTION: To my mind the only question is how much over $300 million this movie will make. I dare anyone to forecast differently.

…And that’s more or less the roundup of superhero/comic book movies we can expect over the next three years. There are a few more currently in development, namely:

IRON MAN

Tom Cruise reportedly optioned this once upon a time and wanted to play Tony Stark, but it appears that ship has sailed. Recently, New Line signed Nick Cassavettes (John Q, The Notebook) yet another nobody, to direct it. This is a crying shame. There’s also allegedly a script by the Smallville guys, Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, and X-Men writer David Hayter.

SUB-MARINER

Chris Columbus (Harry Potter 1 and 2) is attached to direct this one. At one time the Rock was supposed to play Namor, but there is no other news available about the project.

HULK 2

The fact that Ang Lee’s Hulk set a record opening in June before also taking a record-breaking nosedive makes Marvel optimistic about making a second movie. They claim that there will be less Angst (get it? Hyuk hyuk) and more “Hulk smash.” To my knowledge, though, never in movie history has a franchise rebounded from a disappointing first installment.

After all this, there is to my mind only one thing left to say regarding filmmaking, comic-book or otherwise:

Those who can, do. Those who cannot, WRITE POSTS LIKE THIS ONE!!!

2.07.2005

ON ILL-GOTTEN WEALTH

Many of you know that I worked with the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) for well over a year. Although it was gratifying to know that, in theory at least, I was fighting the good fight, it was a physically and emotionally draining experience. For one thing, my office was right along EDSA, and to get there I invariably found myself walking a stretch of the road from the MRT station to the office in the early morning Mandaluyong smog. On top of this, my seat in the office (which was about all of eight square meters or something ridiculously cramped like that) put me right in the path of the air-conditioner. It’s not like I could have relocated; I took the only seat that remained unoccupied. It was emotionally draining because, reading about all the times that Lucio Tan and Danding Cojuangco and the pit bulls they call their litigation team made mincemeat out of the government was depressing. There was also the fat bitch who felt the need to throw her weight around the office. Since of the three of us who worked in that room, I was the only one who ranked below her, so…

In spite of all these little inconveniences, there was definite gratification to be had. The period spanning 2001-2002 was one of the most fruitful in the history of the Commission. It was in December of 2001 that the historic Coco Levy ruling came out, which was effectively the Supreme Court flipping the bird at old Danding. I remember reading about more than a few related victories after that, even after I had resigned. We all talk about being men for others and contributing to something greater than ourselves. Well, back then I felt like I was actually doing just that. In fact, one of the reasons I have, on very rare occasions, found myself defending the current administration, is the fact that the PCGG has, for the first time since its inception, made some real progress towards recovering ill-gotten wealth (the other reason is Bayani Fernando’s political will).

You’d think, then, that I would be nonplussed by the recent US Appellate Court’s decision not to award the $683 million to the human rights victims. According to the newspapers, all the US Court is saying that, since our own Supreme Court has ruled that this money belongs to the government, they are maintaining a “hands-off” stance. Of course, there’s probably more to this than meets the eye, but nonetheless, I find myself upset for a number of reasons:

1) I feel for the human rights victims. My Tita was a political detainee from 1980 to late 1985, and I saw what kind of conditions they lived in. The rats ate with the dogs and slept with the prisoners…that sort of thing. And those were just the detainees. This says nothing about the ones they electrified, or otherwise tortured. Because the Marcoses were, at the time the cases were filed, living in Hawaii, well, the Hawaiian courts kind of had jurisdiction, especially since what were perpetrated were crimes against humanity, punishable under international law. It just seems callous that the US Court should wash their hands of the whole matter.

2) That the US Courts are leaving the distribution of the money up to our government frightens me even more. I mean, I rather frankly hope the Marcoses never see that money again, but I’m hard pressed to imagine how this country can be better off if the ill-gotten gains of one family in power simply find their way into the pockets of another. The pronouncement that this money will go “into land reform,” without any specification as to how it will be used makes my skin crawl. It seems eerily familiar to Congressmen whining for their pork barrel. I hope to God it gets distributed, and soon, or the victims will likely never see that money. The award was made over a decade ago, after all.

3) The dismissal of the cases sets a precedent. I realize I have to hold off on my commentary until I really get to read something more substantial on what the rulings are, but the thing is this: people really died during the martial law years. They really were tortured and intimidated by members of the armed forces. Whatever else we might think about Marcos, the human rights violations that shook this country for over fourteen years and possibly longer were real. I know this because my aunt was one of those caught in the tempest of it. If as some people have interpreted the ruling, this is a dismissal of the victims’ claims, then this is kind of like pretending it never happened, when psychological and physical scars say otherwise.

I really pray that things do not take a turn for the worse from here.

2.03.2005

Simple Joys at the Workplace

I loved working in litigation. I say "loved" because it is not what I am currently doing. That said, however, my current job does bring a certain measure of satisfaction to it. I mean, I don't just mechanically churn out my work-product. A certain amount of research and preparation goes into each and everything I do, and this helps me feel a little bit better about waiting for the bar.

I came up with a list of things that ordinarily happen to me on any given working day that make it more pleasant for me. Even though I know the lot of you have different jobs from mine (and for the large part, from each others') I think coming up with a list of simple joys could actually help you through your day, even assuming you enjoy your jobs. These are the things that make the workday more joyful:

1. Researching a fairly difficult topic, and finding exactly what it was I was looking for. I often do the former, but not always the latter, so when the latter does turn up, it's a real treat.
2. Typing ideas down. I don't have to finish drafting a whole document; it's just somehow immensely satisfying when I write the things I'm thinking down, because it gives me this sense of security, particularly after I've backed up the file, that myh work product is "real" and not some ethereal thing that I've promised my boss without any kind of backup.
3. Quiet time at the library. One of the great things about my job is that leaving the office to go to the library is not a form of goofing off. I could actually do the same research that I do in the library up in my office, but at least down in the library I don't have the fucking air-conditioner turning my contact lenses (and even my hair) brittle and freezing my ass in the process.
4. Blogging during down time. Hey, as you can see, I am really getting hooked on this stuff. The last three posts here appear to be mine.
5. Realizing that for five minutes, I actually managed to not think about the bar. Ah, shit, there I go again. Find a happy place...find a happy place...

I guess this list will expand as time goes on. There are actually other things that make the workday pleasant, but they are not daily occurrences. Like I said, mundane things that occur during the job feel a lot more rewarding than fantasizing about stuff I get to do at the end of the workday or during my break. It's self-actualization, I think.

Jim

2.01.2005

It's all about character

I actually wanted to post this on my own blog, because for the first time in a long time I once again have the opportunity to write just for the sake of it, but this is sort of a topic that works better with an audience, even though I know there are only so many of you guys out there so interested in comics as to start discussions on them. Aaaanyway, before I digress too much...

...I happen to be one of those fiends who can read a comic book from cover to cover in the store before deciding whether or not to buy it. I once read an issue of a series called "Superman/Batman" only to raise an eyebrow at its conclusion.

Basically, Supes and Bats find themselves back in time, and Batman blows away the guy who was supposed to off his parents. Unfortunately, as everyone knows, without the anguish of losing his parents, Bruce Wayne no longer feels the need to avenge them and...no Batman. An interesting enough premise, I think.

What bothered me was how, in the scene before it's supposed to happen, Superman is about twenty yards away while Batman holds the gun to the would-be killer's head. His thought caption says something like "I couldn't be faster than a speeding bullet this time..." and sure enough, he is not fast enough to stop Batman from negating his own creation. I found this EXTREMELY problematic.

On a similar note I just finished the third issue of a new "Justice League" spinoff series called "JLA: Classified." I am not an avid fan of either the comic book or the television incarnations of the Justice League, but I did buy a dozen issues of writer Grant Morrison's run on the "X-men" just a year earlier, and his name was enough to get me to check the book out. Overall, I enjoyed the read. A bad guy threatens to take over the world in the first issue, and distracts the JLA by sending them into an alternate universe. They show up on the last page of the second issue and go on to kick his butt in the third issue. It was fun, but something was missing.

While contemplating these little snippets together, I finally realized why I had a problem with Superman being too slow and the Justice League being, well, invincible.

The problem I have and have always had with DC characters is simply that they are too tough. Superman is practically a god, his only known weaknesses being Kryptonite and magic, and most comic book writers today are pleased with themselves when they write him that way, and not as the whiny Clark Kent we see in "Smallville." Batman is written to be the smartest human being on the face of the earth, and Wonder Woman is, well, a goddess.

When they were conceived in the 30s it was all about how powerful they were, and what incredible things they could do. Their "secret identities" were just throwaway costumes they wore. "Bill" in "Kill Bill 2" was full of shit. Superman may be the only character whose human guise, is, well, a disguise (and, hey, Woman Woman is a frikkin' goddess too) but according to Frank Miller Batman sees Bruce Wayne as the charade. In short, the DC heroes' mythology was built principally upon what they could do, whether it was Superman's heat vision, Wonder Woman's lasso of truth or Batman's utility belt.

And so, when they try to tell stories of how flawed they are, they just look kind of...well, off at best, and stupid at worst.

How is it possible that Superman couldn't have stopped Batman shooting that guy? For that matter, how did Batman land several punches on Superman, even with a Kryptonite ring? I mean, in "Identity Crisis" (one of the titles Jay T. is constantly mentioning in his eternal bid to "convert" me to DC even though he, ironically enough, no longer buys comics) Superman can fly from Smallville, Kansas to JLA headquarters in the span of a panel/second, and in this other book, we're supposed to believe he can't stop Batman from shooting some thug from just a few lousy yards?

Oh, yes, let's not forget "Hush" where the "world's greatest detective" can't guess who the "mystery" bad guy is even though every reader above the age of ten knew who he was the minute the character showed up.

In short, while I have been known to enjoy the occasional DC story even though I am a self-professed Marvel die-hard, I really cannot quite process this dichotomy/contradiction that seems to emerge from the DC writers' attempts to "humanize" their superheroes. When they try to tell character-driven stories about people who are built around their powers, they somehow fall short.

Even Mark Millar, a comic book writer who has said he would die happy if he could die writing Superman, has said that DC heroes, fundamentally lack the humanity that Marvel characters have.

I've heard/read people's rants about how out of touch with continuity Marvel's editors are, and how screwed-up their corporate policy is regarding alternative covers and all that shit. Well, I don't pass up the chance to bitch about that too, but my Marvel fandom transcends that.

Marvel guys are not that tough. Throughout the 60's when Stan Lee still wrote him, Spider-Man got his ass kicked on a regular basis, and it's even a wonder he was able to win at all sometimes, even with his super-powers. But his powers, as interesting and as unique as they were, were not his selling point. Peter Parker was. And Peter Parker was not Spider-Man's attempt to fake out the good people of New York; it's who he really is.

I was once looking at a "Hulk" comic online, and someone asked me "what's so cool about the Hulk? What are his powers besides being really strong?" After telling him that it was the character's whole inner conflict that I found interesting, I couldn't help but think to myself "DC fan. Old school."

So people can rave on about how DC editors and writers are so cool because of their obsessive-compulsiveness regarding continuity but for my money I enjoy Marvel characters more because that's exactly what they are: characters.

J. Michael Straczynski said it best on the Spider-Man 2 DVD: "It's not about the powers."

Oh, I know I could have simply said "I like Marvel because..." but this is something I've really had on my mind for awhile. So no, I'm not converting any time soon.

Waiting for the bar...

If last year is any indication of when I should expect the bar exam results, I have about two months left to go before I find out if my six month seclusion (with intermittent social interactions, like my cameo at AA's wedding) has paid off.

I know conventional wisdom says I shouldn't talk about it lest I "jinx" things, but up front I just want to thank you guys. I want to thank those of you who showed up the night the shit hit the fan, and those of you who even "inaugurated" my new apartment/study den/batcave.

Will there be a need for a shoulder-to-cry-on brigade this year? I find it consummately presumptuous to prognosticate, so while I actually have my own private answer to that question, I think the best thing to say right now is: I'll let you know. But I guess the gist of what I wanted to say was: you guys are the best.

Incidentally, Theia and I were going over our wedding pictures, since we reproduced some for my aunts in the States. There's a real nice shot with some of you guys in it...the thing is there's an erstwhile j-partner in it too, so I thought I should clear it with...well, the parties concerned before I hand it over to TC for posting on the website. Does that thing still exist, by the way?

Anyway, I am also grateful that in the course of our last few get togethers there have not been a whole lot of "so when's the you-know-what results?" It's not that I don't appreciate the solicitude; it's just that I think about it enough times in a day, thank you very much, even without anyone reminding me how far I am from being a lawyer by title, even though I do exactly the same thing in my office as all the actual lawyers do.

If any of you start asking around March or even late Feb, that will be perfectly understandable considering that by then, it would be reasonable for me to say "any day now."

Incidentally, I just remembered...is anyone interested in going up to Baguio? It's like this, Theia's brother-in-law worked for the Asset Privatization Trust (or whatever it's called now) and they have, well, a sequestered house. AND I'll be heading up there anyway for the summer session for a week (or two) between March 21 to April 22, 2005. You see, it works for me NOT to stay on the Supreme Court premises, because my per diem will be twice what it would be if I stayed at the cottages, on the assumption that I would have to shack up at a pension house. But if I can get my accommodations free...anyway, if anyone's interested/free, please let me know. I'm planning on bringing Apel and his nanny so Theia will have time to study for the bar.