Sunday, June 30, 2002

About a Boy (Chris & Paul Weitz 2002) - Should have been DOA. Is not. Guess why.


Somebody's library check-out slip found in a library copy of Life: A User's Manual, all titles due 12/13/2001:

Steven Feld - Senses of Place

Monika Langer - Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenology

Georges Perec - Things

Perec - W

Perec - Life: A User's Manual


eBay has perpetrated a major design botch with their update of the My eBay page. Formerly you could track auctions fairly easily but now there are multiple problems: (1) ended items are automatically moved to separate Won or Lost columns, so that following auctions is now a jumping game; (2) the numerous tiny image files make downloading take about twice as long; (3) the larger font and double-spacing makes the page take up a ridiculous amount of space.

Thursday, June 20, 2002

Bad stats for this week: An article on a new attempt to fight spam ( has the scary statement that "Internet researcher Jupiter estimates that consumers will receive 206 billion junk e-mailings in 2006--an average of 1,400 per person, compared with about 700 per person this year." Maybe I shouldn't even call this bad stats because it's not a statistic at all but simply an estimate that can't be confirmed for another four and a half years (ie, it can't be done before the end of 2006). But then, oh blah blah blah, think it out for yourself.

Tuesday, June 18, 2002

Another reading list. This time from Counter Punch is their Favorite 100 Nonfiction Books in Translation, Published in English Since 1900 ( Whew. Looks very solid and in the spirit of keeping count to see who wins I've read six and a third: Other Inquisitions, Brecht on Theatre, My Last Sigh, The Society of the Spectacle, History of Sexuality: An Introduction, The Films in My Life and the third is the first volume of the trilogy Memory of Fire (which was so bad--thoughtless, poorly constructed, dim-witted, y'know bad--I never bothered with the rest). Actually also read chunks of some of the rest but rules of the game require completeness.


Interesting site of Fictional Footnotes and Indices at

Monday, June 17, 2002

Yeah, I realize Warren Ellis is a tedious, unimaginative writer but descriptions of his work always sound so interesting that I keep checking it out. Ellis apparently thinks he's the second coming of Harlan Ellison, always loudly proclaiming how innovative and "sideways" he is while dismissing most other work so you'll know he's really far above all this. Too bad his own comics barely even come across as failed attempts to push the boundaries. It's like he feels so far above the superhero genre that he's just showing up for the paycheck while pretending to actually be "revitalizing" the whole concept.

You can see in the first eight issues of DV8 where the idea of a superhero team that's actually more supervillain (they kill, do drugs, proclaim their superiority, etc) could have potential. But almost immediately DV8 goes up against their genuinely evil equivalent and start to bond together, thereby normalizing the team so they're marginal anti-heroes now (which could possibly have been an editorial decision but Ellis still doesn't do much with this). You can see how much Ellis' issues plod when the new writer Mike Heisler takes over with issue 9 (I only read up to 14) when the dialogue improves and the stories gain focus. Doesn't help that all issues have those instantly forgettable covers that are an Image trademark; can't imagine how people ever kept from buying the same thing again. (You might compare this to Thunderbolts which plays out with real--though simplified--moral issues rather than tabloid sex-n-violence.)

Three Stormwatch TPBs show Ellis at his worst and by comparison best. I don't know where Force of Nature (collecting Vol 1, #37-42) fits into Ellis' career but it has all the signs of first work. If you're going to reference Nietzsche then do just that: explanations and glosses only drag down the story for no reason other than making the writer appear to be throwing out half-learning (from what's here there's no indication that Ellis even read Nietzsche let alone understood him). Lightning Strikes (#43-47) consists of routine superhero stories that mostly focus on Stormwatch members individually. You can see Ellis straining for shock effect (JFK & Marilyn Monroe's illegitimate son as a serial killer) even when it's off-key (an attempted militia bombing in Alabama that couldn't have been written by anybody who knows anything about Alabama or possibly even militias). Complete junk. By contrast A Finer World (Vol 2, #4-9) actually collects two decent arcs that are better than Ellis' work on The Authority (which follows from this). Both arcs are well constructed--I particularly liked the way the second makes you wonder what you've missed, possibly an idea borrowed from The World According to Garp--and unpredictable. Bryan Hitch's art is as clumsy as what he later contributed to The Authority but it works passably enough.

Wednesday, June 12, 2002

Haven't had time to write much so here are highlights, some of which I may get back to:

Clockwatchers (Jill Sprecher 1997) - Not many films show no intelligent life behind the camera from the first few seconds and then never proves that impression wrong. Totally worthless.

Heist (David Mamet 2001) - The best Mamet film I've seen. I particularly like the ambiguity of some characters' motives, such as Hackman's real intentions toward his wife.

Friday (F. Gary Gray 1995) - We need more naturalist, low-key comedies though certainly not more with Chris Tucker and not more with out-of-place endings.

Terry Pratchett Guards! Guards! (1989) - Pratchett's technique of narrative construction is interesting: He typically uses parallel narratives that appear to be ending about halfway through but only get faster and faster.

Shepard Krech III The Ecological Indian: Myth and History (1999) - Definitely worth reading.

Saw a peculiar alternate world episode of Friends where Joey is a big soap star, Chandler a struggling writer, Monica still chubby, etc. I missed the very opening scene and so don't know if this was explained in any way but couldn't help thinking how timid and unimaginative the whole thing was. Comics use alternative histories to explore character, expand background or simply go bonkers. It's hardly a surprise that the Friends writers couldn't see beyond the obvious. (Turns out there was a second episode of the same thing, both apparently from the end of the sixth season.)

Alias issues 1-9 - Amazing stuff; the second arc is some kind of masterpiece.

Saturday, June 8, 2002

The Sum of All Fears (Phil Alden Robinson 2002) - This may be the first Hollywood film where a Russian president is a better man than the American, and an ex-KGB agent is the secret hero. Otherwise the weakest of the Jack Ryan films: the others hinge on moral issues--however convoluted--but this is strictly straight-forward save-the-world stuff where manly men do manly things. Interesting that chronologically this is the earliest Ryan film but otherwise it takes place clearly in 2002, well after the other three. This sort of mixed continuity drives comics fans nuts but nobody else will much care (though you do wonder about The Hunt for Red October: shouldn't the characters there have been saying, "Ryan? Aren't you the guy that saved the world from complete immolation?").


If the Atlanta Film Festival has never been a disgrace it's also never been of any serious interest. Badly selected and ineptly promoted, it's the kind of festival that's geared more towards promoting second-rate student films (OK, they're actually independent films and the filmmakers struggled and sacrified to make them: doesn't mean they deserve any support) than anything dedicated to film as an art form. Proof was their screening of Shock Corridor which was not a film print but only projected video, something barely mentioned on the schedule. I would have considered it unthinkable that any festival would even consider showing a film on video except in extreme cases such as a retrospective where a missing work would otherwise be unavailable, something that clearly didn't apply here.


Four Weddings and a Funeral (Mike Newell 1994) - For the first hour there's enough decent dialogue and pleasantly charming acting that you can dismiss the hints of cynical middlebrow-ism (such as showing exactly how we should feel about the singing duo) as mere bumps. But halfway through, the film collapses so utterly into cynically obvious genre moves that any brightness in the first hour comes to seem like the bumps.

Thursday, June 6, 2002

Howard Chaykin & David Tischman American Century: Scars and Stripes (Vertigo/DC, 2001) - A complete misfire. Like in so much other recent hard-boiled fiction (comics or prose), the writers seem to think the whole point is how "shocking" they can be. There's the usual bed-hopping suburbanites, racist bosses, corrupt CIA agents, Latin American smugglers & incompetent politicians, etc. About the only "good" people are the blank protagonist, his cobbler pal and a black woman who appears for a few panels so the protagonist can defend her and show what a nice guy he is. Except for her, the women are all sex-crazed cheats even more than the genre's usual misogyny. As predictable as this all may be Chaykin & Tischman don't even appear to have much faith in their material as, say, Garth Ennis or Stephen Hunter do. They're running purely on automatic (why else would a major plot element--how a death was faked--be completely omitted?) which may or may not make the end result more cynically sleazy but certainly makes it quite dull. The final nail is wax-work stiff art by Marc Laming who may someday practice enough that he might be admitted to art school.

Wednesday, June 5, 2002

X-Force: New Beginnings (2001) - Probably in the wake of The Authority we'll be seeing lots of books like this where superheroes get caught in realpolitik. And plenty of gnarly violence. Writer Peter Milligan positions the X-Force team in a modern media environment of PR and marketing (this collects #116-120, the first issues of his and Allred's run) and does have a few surprises though it's unfortunate that he resorts to the hackneyed trick of deliberately withholding information (such as Wolverine's refusal to say at whose request he's helping--I mean we know it's Marvel's stockholders but whose request in the diegesis; Chris Carter used this so often in The X-Files that it should be a proud badge of incompetence). The greater hurdle, though, is Mike Allred's art. It's a broad, cartoony style that is so linked to comedy that it's hard to reconcile with the mostly non-comic story. In theory I like this kind of tension but here it didn't seem either subversive or raw enough. I'll certainly re-read this at some point so maybe will have different opinions then.

Tuesday, June 4, 2002

Under the Sand (Francois Ozon 2000) - You'd think a cross between L'Avventura and Repulsion would have at least some minor interest but while Ozon seems intent on capturing or at least recreating some tone of everyday life he's instead simply made movie gloss from nothing and back to nothing it shall go. Anchored by a truly ridiculous performance by Charlotte Rampling, this film displays no intelligence, no wit, no life, nothing but the purest contempt for its viewers.


Mrs. Walt Kelly & Bill Crouch Jr. (editors) Pogo Even Better (1984) - Walt Kelly himself doesn't get credited on the title page but he was dead by then. The highlight of this book are the 1949 and 1950 dailies (almost complete: parts of the 50 dailies are in another book and not repeated here). You can see hints of the cuteness that would years later become more pronounced in the strip (and threatens to engulf all comic strips today) but it's still pure Pogo. One of the 1950 strips even has a swipe at horror comic books of the era (a worldly mouse points out to a puppy "This is good clean fun--See, the hatchet murderer does all his work in the bathtub--what could be cleaner?"). There are also various odds and ends from throughout Kelly's career but most of it is of very little interest, especially since the editors don't bother to point out any errors (the 60s era historical portrait of a 1943 Pogo is a Kelly joke: the actual 43 character looked quite different).

Quotes from Porky Pine:

"Don't take life so serious, son--it ain't no how permanent."

"It's interesting to know that the confidence of ignorance has not died out!"

And when Pogo is recuperating from an attempt by a fox and cat to boil and then eat him, Porky Pine visits, sits in silence and then says, "We never know who's next."

Monday, June 3, 2002

I just discovered that when Saving Silverman was released in the UK the title was changed to Evil Woman which perhaps makes the film's misogyny more blatant than good marketing normally allows.


There's a good piece on the Spider-Man movie and comics by Geoffrey O'Brien in the New York Review of Books at

Sunday, June 2, 2002

J. Huizinga Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture (1938, English 1950) - It's easy enough to see why Debord loved this book, the first chapter anyway, though Huizinga is not an explicitly polical commentator/theorist. Actually, he's not even very rigorous, instead stating his theme and then expanding on it rather than arguing and supporting it. Huizinga does come across as a perfectly reasonable, observant person with an older scholarly style that's much more interesting and personable than most of today's academic writing. The chapter on etymology is pretty useless--I wouldn't go so far as to say this kind of stuff is meaningless but at best it can only be trivial. (Late in the book he refers to "perilous etymologies" which although referring to people who "outstrip their knowledge" could refer to the whole project.) Much better is the explorations of play on the origin of philosopy, law and poetry that connect dots both obvious and occult. Huizinga tends to focus more on these "serious" realms (though perfectly aware of doing so) which might tend to slight other forms of thought such as, say, music, design, film, comics, etc. When reading about slanging and insult contests see if the descriptions don't remind you of rap. Towards the end of the book when Huizinga moves closer to now-decades-past modern times he develops a Mencken-esque rant about the movement of "the half-educated masses into the international traffic of the mind," a feeling that must have been much in the air at that time. Today you'd get branded an elitist for such statements though considering that even colleges barely half-educate anybody (something much desired by the anybodys and not the fault of colleges) perhaps this is no longer much of a concern.


Michael Barrier and Martin Williams A Smithsonian Book of Comic-Book Comics (1981) - Though the commentary is barely routine (and their insistence of a cut-off date of 1954 has historical plausibility their insistence instead on the date as the end of vitality in comics almost disqualifies them as editors for such a project) the choices are generally solid. I wish they'd chosen some less heavily reprinted Batman and Superman material, three George Carlson stories is two too many (though I'm glad these are available somewhere), and the choice of Pogo comic book stories seems dictated solely by the desire to include Kelly's work since these are much inferior to the strips. I particularly was surprised at the Little Lulu stories: I hadn't read any of these since in decades and didn't remember that they're actually funny (not witty but laugh-out-loud funny) and tightly plotted. The illustration seems unduely simplified but look closer and you can see how carefully organized it actually it; the finale of "Five Little Babies" is nearly flawless. The pages to all stories appear to be straight photographs of original printed pages rather than republications. This allows for textures than many reprints don't have but also several printing flaws, the worst being a page of a Spirit story with severely misregistered color; surely this is sloppy editing.


Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 1 - This isn't really where it all began for Marvel--the company had been around in one form or another for years--but certainly where it began for the Marvel Universe. Stan Lee was mainly a marketing genius (past tense because he's done little creative in decades) and not much of a writer. Though I'd read a couple of these stories years ago the surprise now is how bad they mostly are. Admittedly there's a kind of goofy charm to stories where the group shrinks or Dr. Doom rockets the Baxter Building into orbit but you have to forgive a lot for these to work. Lee's penchant for third-rate faux pseudo-science--something that's infected Marvel writers ever since to some degree--is in full force. Lee and Kirby did fortunately have a knack for swift storytelling. Many of these one-issue stories would today sprawl over numerous issues to no real advantage (see Straczynski's recent Spider-Man: Coming Home which really is nothing more than a single issue Lee/Ditko story puffed out until it almost collapses). One reason is that today's artists tend to show more stages of a continuous action (almost like they're trying to be "cinematic") but Kirby and others of this era tended to focus on the high spots.

Alongside Reed's comment "If there's panic in the streets, then something serious must be wrong!" here's another choice exchange:

General: "Miss Storm, a pretty young lady can always be of help--just by keeping the men's morale up!"

Reed: "That's just the way we feel about Sue, General!"