Manga for Your Quarter-Life Crisis

It is easy to find plenty of manga about intrepid boy ninjas or vampire boarding schools on the crowded shelves of your chain bookstore, but it is sometimes difficult to distinguish manga titles aimed at adults.  This column will provide an overview of the best manga out there featuring characters in their twenties.

Ohikkoshi by Hiroaki Samura (amazon)

ohikkoshi

This is a single volume of short stories by the creator of the sprawling samurai saga Blade of the Immortal. Samura uses the short story form to indulge in writing humor and as a result the episodes included in this book have a slightly manic edge.

Sachi is the hapless protagonist. He and his friends hang out at horrible battle of the bands shows and skip their college classes whenever possible. He’s hopelessly in love with Akagi, a woman whose boyfriend has just left to work overseas. Now is his big chance to ask her out, which he does in such an oblique stammering way it is easy to feel sorry for him. Sachi’s friends conclude “Our pale-faced friend is drunk with the turmoils of youth!”

Other stories in the collection include an epic tale of manga artist tribulation as a woman takes her editor’s advice, loses her comics gig, works in a coffee shop, becomes a kept woman, manages to attain mastery at the game of mah-jong, and ends up apprenticed to a mafia boss in a few short years only to finally become a manga master. A half-Italian half-Japanese teacher decides take revenge on Japan by sleeping with the country’s women until he meets two girls who are immune to his charms. Some of the elements in Ohikkoshi will appeal to fans of Brian Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim series. Characters break the fourth wall and comment directly at the reader. When Akagi and Sachi go on a horrific zoo date, information about the animals is listed in game stat format. Samura will often shift into alternate art styles for a panel or two. Ohikkoshi has a bit of a rough and frenetic feel, but it is hard not to be captivated by Samura’s sense of humor.

Office Ladies Need Love Too

Josei (manga aimed at adult women) is probably the scarcest manga genre translated in English, which is why I cherish any title that portrays the life of a post-college woman instead of a starry-eyed high school girl.

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Suppli by Mari Okazaki (amazon)

Minami is 27 years old. Her relationship with her boyfriend is going nowhere. Every morning she gets dressed for work feeling as if she’s putting on battle armor. She heads into the office on a Sunday only to find all of her co-workers already there. Minimai is paralyzed by the thought of ending up like her boss – a single woman in her 40s. When her boyfriend dumps her, she throws herself into work, trying to prepare new presentations and socializing with her co-workers. She tries to avoid being alone in her trashed apartment, but she lives so much in her own head that she doesn’t pick up on the crush one of her co-workers has on her. Okazaki frequently interposes nature symbolism like water, fish, or grass with Minami’s urban office environment. Suppli has a melancholy feel that reflects the anxieties of its main character. Sometimes Minami’s only connection with another person is sitting with a co-worker in a break room at the office, watching the sun rise.


Tramps Like Us by Yayoi Ogawa

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This fourteen volume series is sadly out of print but it is well worth tracking down. Sumire maintains an intimidating presence at her workplace. She reacts coolly when her boyfriend breaks up with her and her co-workers are afraid to comment to her about it due to her bitchy reputation. As she returns to her apartment after a long day of work she finds an injured boy sleeping in a cardboard box. Sumire takes him into her house and feeds him. She jokingly offers him a place to stay if he’ll be her pet, which means following all her orders. He accepts. She names the boy “Momo” after her childhood dog. Having somebody else to care for eases Sumire’s tension from work.
Momo is just as ambitious as Sumire, except he’s pursuing his studies as a modern dancer. Sumire and Momo enjoy domestic life together but things may change when Sumire gets a new boyfriend who miraculously fulfills her requirements for height, salary, and education. She seesaws back and forth between portraying her idea of the perfect career woman and indulging in wrestling TV shows when she’s at home with Momo. Tramps Like Us balances a light and fluffy chicklit quality with a sensitive portrayal of an unconventional but evolving relationship.

Inio Asano

Asano comes by his emphasis on aimless twentysomething characters honestly; he was in his early 20s when he started publishing his stories.

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What a Wonderful World by Inio Asano (amazon)

Toga has always been “the reliable one” among her group of friends, but she drops out of school and struggles with the idea of reactivating her musical ambitions. A schoolgirl engages in a dangerous contest to win social capital. A man briefly visits his daughter and ex-wife in a park. Aimless ronin studying for their college entrance exams have a memorable encounter with a basket case they meet in the street. Some of the characters are seen again briefly in other stories, making the lives of the different people in What a Wonderful World seem interconnected.

While reading about the lives of people who haven’t figured out what they want to might seem like an invitation to wallow in ennui, this manga lives up to its title. Asano captures the small moments that people use to define themselves. A change in hairstyle, the realization that the reliability of a relationship can be a comfort, and the loss of an apartment each contribute to a moment of reflection that lets someone move on with their life. As I was reading the manga and enjoying the combination of the prosaic and surreal in Asano’s art I realized that I was especially struck by the pacing and paneling. There was frequently a small jolt or surprise right before I’d turn the page to read the conclusion of a story, and this lent a dynamic feel to the manga even when some of the stories were just short sketches.

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Solanin by Inio Asano (amazon)

A later work than What a Wonderful World, Solanin shows what Asano can achieve with more maturity. Meiko works at a job she hates. She’s crushed in the subway on her way to work, and has difficulty listening when her boss yells at her because she’s distracted by his hideous nose hairs. When she goes home, she’s greeted by her boyfriend Taneda. He works part-time and aimlessly pursues his dream of music. Meiko’s horrible job pays well, and she’s saved up some money. One day she abruptly decides to quit.

She lazes around and tries being domestic, but quickly realizes that too much free time can be boring. Taneda can’t deal with the idea of being the breadwinner, and their relationship begins to suffer from the strain. Meiko encourages Taneda to pursue his dream of making music. Although Meiko is the unifying character, Solanin frequently makes narrative detours that show readers the inner worlds of other members of Taneda’s college band. The shifting point of view is a literary device that I enjoy in novels, and it definitely contributed to the depth of character development in this manga.

Small details in the way the characters’ interacted with their environment made their world seem surreal. Bunnies with Xs for faces appear on key chains and Taneda’s CD. Meiko watches a bizarre bear attack training news story on TV. Taneda has a “me summit” where all the aspects of his personality wear a different slogan on their t-shirts to comment on his life. Towards the end of Solanin Meiko begins to come into her own in an unexpected fashion. She’s still supported by her group of friends, but the conclusion is bittersweet. Solanin captures the restless feelings many people have as they move into adulthood.


Portions of this column appeared in slightly different form on TangognaT.

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News Briefs for Tuesday, March 2

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Paging Dr. McCarthy

So there was that Hollywood Life column that explicitly states that Jenny McCarthy has reversed her stance on vaccinations causing autism, and implies that she admitted her son never had autism, even though the Time magazine story referenced in the column has her saying no such thing.

The Time article does raise the idea that McCarthy’s son may have had Landau-Kleffner Syndrome, a condition that would have explained his symptoms, but there is no reference in the article to McCarthy’s possibility of acceptance of said alternative diagnosis. However, given the ambiguous way Hollywood Life conflates McCarthy’s position with Time‘s suggestion:

“And though her son may never have had autism, Jenny insists, ‘I’ll continue to be the voice’ of the disorder.”

…you can be excused if you find yourself thinking otherwise.

There is a reference in the Time article that McCarthy may have softened a bit on believing all vaccines are dangerous — generous of her, considering that the actual science by scientists who’ve gone to scientist school says vaccines are fine, and the study that kicked off the whole autism/vaccine connection in the first place has been withdrawn for a multitude of reasons. But even if McCarthy is easing up a bit on her claims, the damage has been done, and is continuing to be done.

Hooray for science by celebrity!

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Self-Titled Eponymous: Critical Exploitation of Scandal

[Author's Note: I write a lot about hip hop and the convergence of race, media, politics, and culture in music, with occasional dalliances into other genres of music]

I was listening to N.W.A. this week and “A Bitch is a Bitch” came on. For those who aren’t familiar, the song is exactly what you’d think it was. It was hailed as a misogynistic nightmare by early ‘90s critics, and the C. Dolores Tuckers of the world began their all-out assault on gangsta rap and its destructive effect on Main Street America. None of this should be a surprise, as rap and urban culture has long been painted in broad strokes as a misogynistic, demeaning genre, and at times, for good reason: insert your favorite 2 Live Crew lyric here.

From videos depicting women as mere sexual objects, to penning songs solely dedicated to the act of “bitches giving head” (take your pick: “She Swallowed It”; “Slob on My Knob”, et al), the genre at times digs its own grave, and we, as listeners, give it a pass. The lyrics of “A Bitch is A Bitch” are appropriately explicit and to most people, probably very offensive. And it’s become one of the resounding classic anthems of West Coast gangsta rap since its release. Hell, I personally love the song dearly.

I was pondering this cognitive dissonance in my head when I passed by a magazine rack and saw this cover:

That’s the cover for VIBE’s Winter 2010 issue (they moved to a seasonal release schedule after the former owners closed out the magazine in June 2009); and yes, that’s Chris Brown. I’ve already written at length about the Chris Brown/Rihanna incident and music journalism’s coverage of it at my older site, so I won’t rehash that. With my history of lambasting hip hop journalism’s coverage of the scandal, I of course had to read it. And lo and behold, I found gems like this:
“His speaking voice is full of texture, adding an air of sincerity to his answer. You get the impression that he’s done some real soul searching.”

The quality of VIBE writing aside, there’s something both encouraging and unsettling about Chris Brown’s ostracism from all of rap and R&B culture, and the coverage thereof, after the charge of domestic abuse against Rihanna.

On the one hand, it’s encouraging that so many famous artists and personalities associated with rap and R&B were willing to take a stand against Brown for what was an undeniably atrocious crime, especially in a genre that has long abided by a “stand by your man” policy—often for understandable reasons. For a genre that is barely 30 years old, hip hop and R&B spent much of the early 90′s trying to escape the net of “fad of the moment” status that the likes of The Sugarhill Gang and Run DMC had to battle against as they became relatively popular acts.

In a culture that previously had not just supported, but elevated, acts with criminal records (the article itself mentions Lil Wayne, Snoop Dogg, Queen Latifah, and Aaron Hall of Guy as examples of BET Awards performers (1) with criminal records), the outcry against Brown is both a startling display of humanity from a culture that spent decades cloaked in thug and gangster bravado, but also represents a watermark moment of a genre that maybe, for the first time since its inception felt confident enough in its own cultural importance that the alienation of an artist that VIBE refers to as “The Future” was a blow that pop-urban music could endure.

On the other hand, it’s unsettling in the sense that Brown’s “long road to redemption” is still a viable media draw for commercial purposes. The magazine chose to give Brown top billing with arguably the biggest pop-rap act currently on the scene, former Degrassi star Drake, in a series of dual covers for its inaugural new-format issue. Moreso, the rehabilitation of Brown’s image and public persona says a lot about a culture that, for the most part, feels the need to somehow explain why the presence of even the most lovey-dovey R&B singer was, in essence, the worst fears of people who once feared the thug culture that groups like N.W.A., or even more palatable acts like Run DMC would bring to white suburbia.

Q: If it wasn’t for all this attention, do you think you and Rihanna would have gotten back together?
A: Yeah, if it wasn’t for the media and everything else, I think it would have definitely been that.

Brown’s story is simultaneously a stereotypical and universal example of the machismo extremism that rap and R&B (the male artists, at least) both feed into as well as originate from. Beyond anyone’s concern that Brown is specifically black, the fact that Brown beat a woman is the crux of the problem that now many media outlets will attempt to repair in the public eye, though his actions are as atrocious as they are completely predictable, given how rap and R&B treats its women. Gender, more than race, is the central concern here.

There’s no shock that men rule the rap/R&B genre, and as a result, get to shape the depiction and internal treatment of women. To this day, there hasn’t been an across-the-board successful female emcee (2) (sorry Foxy Brown, Lil Kim.) Contemporary R&B artists who dominate the charts are mainly men, while the most successful female artists are sexual objects as much they are singers. So it’s no surprise that the music media machine has always worked to rehabilitate the images of male artists who mess up, whether it’s the redemption of R. Kelly (still a wildly successful recording artist even after peeing on a fourteen year old girl) or the continued forgiveness of Michael Jackson’s follies and eccentricities during his lifetime (ironically one of Brown’s idols, probably now moreso than ever.) The same is happening with Brown, and this time it feels inherently dirty because Brown’s crime was an indisputable act of aggression and anger. (You can’t argue that Rihanna “wanted” Brown to savagely beat her, while some have argued the opposite for MJ or R. Kelly.)

VIBE’s cover story of Chris Brown is not shocking, or even surprising. It is what it is, and he will probably have a very successful career and continue to make great music (I was, and I guess technically still am a fan of his stuff, if I’m being honest). I don’t blame Brown for trying to cobble together a comeback, or even to sincerely repair the pieces of what I imagine is a (self-imposed) shattered personal life. Everyone is allowed to move forward after making a mistake.I blame the media for feeling the need to do it for him, when even in this instance, an artist as big as Jay-Z is very publicly damning him for what many would call an unforgivable mistake. You’d think that in this instance, they could take a pass because his crime was to blatantly abuse a woman.

“Behold the 20-year-old one-time golden boy as he finds his footing after a long slide that deflated his ego and demolished his public image.”

If you pick up the Winter 2010 VIBE issue and flip through the first few pages, the third advertisement is a two-page foldout promo for Rihanna’s new album, Rated R. On the right hand side of the page, she arches her back and displays cleavage in a skimpy dress. Turn the page again, and you see Chris Brown on the table of contents page, standing tall, arms extended mid-dance and dressed to the nines, with a note at the bottom detailing the fashion designers that dressed him. Sorry Rihanna, this is a man’s world.

(1) BET removed Chris Brown from its Awards Show, where Brown was slated to perform in the Michael Jackson tribute, shortly before the broadcast.

(2) Queen Latifah is the closest, but for as legendary as her status affords, her career spanned a total of about four years before she got out of the making music game completely.

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Cheers and Regards for the Week of 3/1/10

If you ever get an e-mail from a journalist, there’s one portion of it you should pay attention to more than any other. No, it’s not the part where they’re asking you about the drugs you’re selling out of your day care business; it’s the sign-off.

If it’s “Cheers,” you’re cool. You did OK. If it’s “Regards,” you pissed somebody off, and you better figure out how to fix things, quick.

We apply those same tenets here, every week.

CHEERS to Mashable, for providing a timely reminder that there is actually a way to block that REALLY FUCKING ANNOYING Farmville spam on Facebook. (DW)

REGARDS to the New York Times and The Huffington Post, for finally realizing that what journalists really need in this economy is unpaid work. Says Huffington Post editor Adam Clark Estes, “We expect that the byline and exposure offered by our millions of readers will be the best way to give credit.” (DW)

CHEERS to new Bay Area News Project Editor Jonathan Weber for trying to resuscitate the metro newspaper with a more conversational writing style and cooperating with other news sources to create a more collegial rather than competitive environment, while still holding on to enterprise reporting. Maybe, one of these days, news sites will actually link to someone’s reporting other than their own, if you could imagine such a thing. (MW)

REGARDS to the Justice Department, for doing a good old-fashioned Hey-Let’s-Do-This-On-Friday-Afternoon-So-No-One-Will-Notice-It release of a report from their Office of Professional Responsibility, on the architects of the policies that gave the United States the legal backbone to torture terror suspects. John Yoo, now a professor at Berkeley and columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer (!) and Jay Bybee, now a federal judge (!), were found to have used flawed judgment, but were not ruled guilty of professional misconduct. Kudos to Justice for showing everyone how this sort of thing should be done. (RJW)

CHEERS to Newsweek book critic Sharon Begley for doing some fact-checking on media critic Howard Friel’s The Lomborg Deception, which uncovers and exposes the many fraudulent and overblown claims made by climate change debunker Bjørn Lomborg. Begley is thorough, quizzing Lomborg on Friel’s research and taking Friel to task for frequently engaging in overkill. If only the non-book-critics at Newsweek and other publications had been half as thorough.” (KL)

REGARDS to Cheryl Jackson of the Chicago Sun-Times, who in an article about a legitimate complaint with Walmart’s selection policy for Black History Month, takes great pains to remind us that gangsta rap and everything associated with it is still kneejerk-reprehensible. (KL)

CHEERS to the Columbia Journalism Review for holding Bloomberg’s feet to the fire on their so-called “exclusive” reporting on Toyota. Now if we could just get the word “alert” back. (MW)

REGARDS to the AP for what we figure will be overcharging. Last week, AP CEO Tom Curley announced the creation of a new “strategic business (i.e. money-grabbing) division.” The first thing to come out of it? An app for the Apple iPad. Their Stylebook app for the iPhone is nearly 30 bucks, so with the iPad being about three times bigger, we expect this to be like $1,000, having done some Journalist Math. (MW)

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He Said/She Said: The Cutting Edge 3: Chasing the Dream

By Eugene and Anna

The Cutting Edge 3: Chasing the Dream is the Cutting Edge franchise’s attempt to duplicate the success of the Bring it On movies by adding mild racial tension to a figure skating pair that swaps the genders in the figure skater/hockey player formula of the first (classic!) Cutting Edge movie. Zack is a poor little rich boy figure skater with a dangerous reputation. When he causes his skating partner and ex-girlfriend to break her ankle in an ill-timed lift, he’s left without a partner before nationals! What can he do?! After challenging a team of Mexican hockey players at his grandfather’s ice rink, Zack meets Alex, aka Alejandra.

She’s a fiery Latina who gave up her dreams of figure skating but still manages to display some smooth moves when beating Zack at hockey. Zack asks her to try out to be his partner. The movie’s forgettable subplot centers around Zack’s former partner Celeste and her ill-fated romance with her coach. Of course, the best possible coach for turning a hockey player into a figure skater is Jackie Dorsey, the daughter of the couple in The Cutting Edge. Will Zack and Alejandra find love and figure-skating success? With a movie as predictable as this one, do you even need to wonder?

She Said: She Said

I have a fairly high tolerance for stilted acting and wooden dialogue, but the first few scenes of this movie made me wonder what I’d gotten myself into. Zack wakes up after a night of debauchery and spends his time eating Cheerios while shirtless and replaying videotapes of his most recent second-place performance. The opening displays a profound lack of chemistry between Zack and Celeste, although I enjoyed seeing the fan in the background who stalks Zack as he watches his partner being loaded into a ambulance. There’s a little bit of humor as Zack tries to beat a hockey team using figure skating spins and jumps, and the introduction of Alejandra was so cliched I found myself amused by the slow motion hair toss as she took off her helmet and revealed herself as a woman before punching Zack in the face. The moment this movie won me over was the introduction of Jackie Dorsey as the new coach. Of course she’s the only one who can coach a figure skater/hockey player team! And when she slapped down the yellowing sheets of paper detailing the deadly Pamchenko move I decided to just give in to the cheesiness of it all, despite the fact that the movie is incredibly bad. I enjoyed the way the rival skaters signaled their evilness by dressing in progressively shinier costumes and the use of fog machines and back lighting to disguise the stunt skaters for each routine.

It is too bad that there’s so little character development, with the filmmakers just content to vaguely evoke rom-com story lines without following them up. Zack has a strained relationship with his distant and wealthy grandfather. Alex keeps making vague comments about Zack’s lack of masculinity. Because the actors never react with any amount of depth to the dialog it is hard to feel much for the movie other than amused recognition of elements from The Cutting Edge. I have to admit that this movie did inspire me to seek out the trailer for The Cutting Edge 2: Going for the Gold and I am afraid I may have to watch Jackie Dorsey’s adventures with an extreme sports rollerblader. Likewise, I may find myself in front of the TV in a couple weeks watching The Cutting Edge 4: Fire and Ice. I can’t help it.  I may have an addiction to bad ice skating movies.

He Said:

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Anna acts like eating Cheerios shirtless is such a bad thing. I would like to say for the record, had the roles been reversed and Alejandra was introduced with a scene of her shirtless eating Cap’n Crunch, that I may very well have declared this to be the greatest movie ever made. Also, she clearly forgets the infamous Fog Machine Death March in Albertville 1988, where 300 figure skaters died. Never forget.



He Said
He Said:

The Cutting Edge succeeded because it gave us (i.e. men) the opportunity to shamelessly enjoy figure skating, while also feeding into our masculinity issues by presenting us with Doug Dorsey, tough-guy hockey player and all around dude’s dude, to relate to. The key to getting guys on board with the movie was giving us a guy we would like, then showing his struggles for greatness in both his personal and professional arenas.  By the end of the movie, you couldn’t care less if Doug was trying to win gold in shuffleboard, you wanted him to succeed, and you wanted them to fall in love. You were invested.

It’s no surprise that the straight-to-TV The Cutting Edge 3: Chasing The Dream is severely lacking in that very important aspect, instead presenting us with Zack Conroy, the handsome, rich and talented figure skater with a killer self-destructive streak.  To compensate for the fact that he is not only extremely unlikable, but also competes in an extremely emasculating sport, they have turned the male protagonist into a Lothario, a millionaire playboy that might as well have a flashing sign above him at all times saying “THIS IS HOW DUDES ARE!” On the other side, the female lead is Alejandra Delgado, a woman hockey player (sorta) who has always had a dream of being a great figure skater!

Furthering the whole movie’s construct of gender swapped roles, she is emotionally closed up, goes by a guy’s name (“Alex”), and is ethnic and urban in the sense that being ethnic and urban makes you automatically “tougher” and perhaps less “feminine.” The movie is a disaster of gender and race stereotypes (they regularly eat tacos in this movie), to the point where you wonder if the whole movie was based on the single sentence synopsis, “What if SHE was the hockey player,” and a roomful of a writers lazily filled in the rest of the details without any consideration for nuance.

The only times the movie works is when it invokes the spirit of the original movie. Yes, they do the Pamchenko. Of course their coach is the daughter of the couple from the first movie. Obviously, they make a toepick joke. And as unintentionally offensive as it may be, I won’t deny the fact that echoes of The Cutting Edge and the structure of an underdog story were enough to elicit some form of emotional reaction when you finally hear Alex’s answer to Zack’s original question, “Will you skate with me?” It wasn’t much of a reaction, but it was enough to make someone out there think that the The Cutting Edge 4 is a good idea (release date: March 14, 2010).

She Said
She Said:

It must be so tough, Eugene. Here you have this tremendous man-crush on D.B. Sweeney who “feeds into your masculinity issues,” yet it nurtures your affection for him because The Cutting Edge was one of the high points of his career. He’s mainly starred in forgettable TV shows like Harsh Realm, Jericho, and Life as We Knew It. We can only hope that one day he will strap on his (metaphorical) skates again to provide a relatable everyman focus to yet another romantic comedy.

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Coming Distractions

Ah, movie trailers. What was once a mere promotional tool for getting the word out about hot new movies has become something of a phenomenon itself. Just ask those of us who saw Wing Commander to see the Phantom Menace trailer back in the day. We’re still looking into reparations for that whole thing.

Like the movies they sell, trailers have fallen into their own predictable tropes, so it becomes that much harder to discern a movie’s true worth behind the trailer editor’s bag o’ tricks. Here, Bureau Chiefs Dorian Wright and Ken Lowery separate the wheat from the chaff in upcoming movies.

Predictably, they find mostly chaff. Ah, Spring!


The Ghost Writer

Wide release February 26

DW: It was fashionable for a long time to defend Roman Polanski, because the works of a great artist are more important than his deeds. And then it became fashionable to not defend Polanski, because holy shit, no matter what else the guy has done, he totally had sex, probably non-consensual, with an underage girl, and that’s creepy and gross by any reasonable person’s standards. It’s a shame that, as a film-maker, he is really good at thrillers and horror films and is capable of attracting strong casts and getting great performances out of them. Because what that means is that, in the end, I’ll almost certainly end up seeing this, and feeling extremely dirty because of that.


KL
: On the plus side, we have a new go-to director for film school 101 ruminations on separating art from artist. Take a bow, Leni Riefenstahl! You’ve had a good run!

As Dorian says, this really does look to have a top notch cast and a dynamite premise, offering a glimpse into the intriguing but unknown (to me) world of ghost writing before twisting the knife and turning it all cock-eyed. Pierce Brosnan as the heavy is an inspired bit of casting. I figure, after a few minutes of moral struggle (and strenuous avoidance of the Great Moral Outcry from people who won’t give a damn the other 51 weeks of the year), I will be there.


The Crazies

February 26


KL
: As a fan of George Romero’s work, it pains me to admit I have not seen the original The Crazies. From what I can tell, the premise—government-made virus gets into the water of a small Pennsylvania town, military quarantines the place, small band of survivors tries to evade their crazed neighbors and soldiers of fortune alike—sounds like a pure distillation of the general themes Romero’s been tackling his entire life. So, pretty cool.

This, on the other hand, is a remake directed and written by people who haven’t done much worth taking seriously. Do they care about things like theme, or are they just going to go for the easy scare? And while I do like Timothy Olyphant and Radha Mitchell, they’re not two actors who are exactly busy, if you follow me. The eternal optimist in me—the one that’s just waiting to be surprised—will have me catching this in the theater. But we all know better, don’t we?

DW: I have vague memories of watching this, or at least parts of this, as a VHS rental twenty-plus years ago. I’m usually not in favor of horror remakes, but my impression is that you could almost make a case for this one. Films in the seventies frequently feel, now, to have a padded length, and the themes of the film feel relevant enough to contemporary concerns that an updated, briskly paced redo might actually find an audience.

I’m still not in favor of it, though, because the only thing I find more tiresome than a zombie movie is an attempt to make a “they’re not really zombies” movie that plays exactly like a zombie movie. And I do like Olyphant too, but there are limits.


Mother

March 12


KL
: Bong Joon-ho wrote and directed The Host, the best monster movie in who knows how long, so he gets a free pass from me.

But aside from the fantastic “monster” part of The Host, the greatest strength of that film was the family dynamic. And here we have a mother trying to find the real culprit behind the murder her adult (but dependant) son has been found guilty of. One absolute guarantee? This one’s going to break your heart after wringing you up like a wet towel.

DW: Yeah, The Host is one of those films that, while I thought it was fantastically well done and I enjoyed it immensely, I just can’t bring myself to watch it a second time because I don’t want to go through that level of emotional intensity again. Which is quite a feat for what is essentially just a Godzilla pastiche. So I suspect that I’ll really want to see this, once. Which is a shame, because the best mysteries are the ones that reward multiple viewings.


Repo Men

March 19


KL
: For the record, this is NOT Alex Cox’s sequel to Repo Man. (That would be a comic book called Waldo’s Hawaiian Holiday, which is legitimately insane.) So settle down, fellow children of the ‘80s.

Instead, this looks like something from the Equilibrium school of sci-fi movie allegory: Jude Law and Forrest Whitaker are guys who reclaim advanced synthetic organs from people who can’t pay up for them, which neatly ties in pretty much every economic anxiety of the day. But in a twist that could only have been predicted by someone who’s ever seen a movie before, Law ends up needing a heart himself, and then finds out he can’t do his job anymore… and guess what? Gunplay ensues.

OK, I’m being catty. I might actually watch this, as I find Law and Whitaker to be two pretty watchable guys and there’s an off-chance this movie doesn’t become as dumb as it looks.

DW: I’d like to be charitable, but I’ve seen too many recent vintage science-fiction films with pretensions of political allegory either fall flat on their face or fall back on the easy morality of action movies, where egotistical assholes with guns are the final arbiters of moral authority (I’m looking at you, The Surrogates). And given the money that it looks like went into this, I’m pretty confident in stating that there’s no way the ending to this is going to be prone to any manufactured outrage. Which means a safe, uncontroversial, unambiguous ending, lacking even the subtlety of what we got with Equilibrium, which still went for the “biggest asshole with a gun makes the rules” conclusion.


Season of the Witch

March 19

DW: This is like an endurance exercise in counting contemporary horror visual cliches. All that was missing was the blurry face effects you get from slowing down high-speed film, and I wouldn’t be the least bit shocked to discover that the final film features at least one shot like that. And is that a nu-metal song playing that’s completely inappropriate for the setting? Why, I do believe it is! I want to like a horror film that at least branches out beyond the usual vampire and zombie territory, and I do like the idea of a horror film set in the Middle Ages, though the casual references to the Crusades and Iraq suggest we’re also in for some heavy-handed political allegory as well. But right now, the scariest thing on display here is Nicholas Cage in yet another terrible hair-piece.


KL
: Look, I don’t mind Nicolas Cage so much… most of the time. And I still hold a glimmer of hope for Dominic Sena, who directed the superior thriller Kalifornia before moving on to dumber fare like Gone in 60 Seconds and Swordfish. And like Dorian, I’m glad to see a mainstream horror film that isn’t a Saw sequel or something to do with vampires.

But holy hell, that Marilyn Manson song isn’t doing anyone any favors. The premise is a solid enough foundation for some fun, phantasmagoric good vs. evil shenanigans, but I have a feeling we’re not going to see much of that. In fact, I think we’re going to be bored as hell.

The Eclipse

March 26


KL
: You’d think that with the bevy of ghost stories coming out every year, more of them would feature actual grown-ups with jobs and kids. Ghost stories are about guilt and regret, and it naturally follows that the older you get, the more of those you carry around with you.

And here we have a widower with children who thinks his house may be haunted, possibly by his wife, who’s assigned as an aide to an author in town for a literary festival. She writes about ghosts, of course, and finds herself trapped by another novelist who appears ready to do anything to be with her. That’s good stuff.

I know little about writer/director Conor McPherson, but the trailer tells us he’s “acclaimed” and a quick glance through his filmography shows he’s worked with some top talent. And no one tells a ghost story like the Irish.

DW: I’m slightly torn here. On the one hand, I really like the idea of a haunted house film that focuses on the emotional aspects of the ghost story. It’s at the core of the genre, and it’s been forgotten in favor of flashy effects in many of the recent examples of the genre. On the other hand, I’m not a big fan of dramas that focus on problems that are essentially the fault of the main characters in the first place, and the story of a widower with children who gets between two writers in an adulterous affair is veering awfully close to that territory. I think what’s going to end up making the decision for me is whether or not the supernatural elements of the story are “real” or just a metaphor for the protagonist’s emotional state. If they’re “real” than great, I’m on board. If not, well, I guess I’ll just continue hoping for a good ghost film to come along.

How to Train Your Dragon

March 26

DW: I was really into dragons when I was a kid. Vikings as well. You’d think that a movie about vikings and dragons would energize that tasteless little boy inside every grown man. Instead, all I’m reminded of is how I can’t stand 3D films because of the terrible, ill-fitting glasses, and how ugly the computer animated films from DreamWorks tend to be. And while we’re on the subject, at this point I’m not sure that “from the makers of SHREK” is an endorsement for anyone above the age of 12, and if it is, those are the last people I want studios to be making films for.


KL
: Three things: One, the thought of having Jay Baruchel’s flat, nasal voice fill 90 minutes of screen time kind of makes me want to die. Two, that is one seriously uninspired design for a dragon, like they just took a gummi dragon and let it melt in the sun for an hour. Three, does this trailer leave any room for surprises? Can we not chart out the movie’s arc now, and reasonably guess the ups, downs, and act breaks within 95% accuracy? Feel free to send me $10 apiece instead and Dorian and I will just write the movie out for you. We’ll even throw in some Whoppers.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

April 30

DW: I’ve not been a fan of the recent trend for remaking horror films for a contemporary audience. Most of the films that have gotten the treatment are still modern enough to be effective and were good enough the first time around to have influenced the genre in some way. The original Nightmare films represent a trend for horror in the 80s that I think was bad for the genre; the quipping killer that becomes the focus and more of a heroic figure than the people actually opposing him. I don’t think I want to see that trend revived. About the only thing that I think could work with a remake is if they go full out gonzo with the surreal nature of dreams and make big CGI sets and environments and characters for the actors to interact with. What the trailer shows, however, is a bunch of practical effects on sound-stages and the usual assortment of pretty actors in their twenties playing one-note teenagers getting slaughtered for the audience that values gore and guts over tension and scares.


KL
: What a lot of people seem to forget is the films that launched the horror franchises of the ‘80s—from Nightmare to Friday the 13th to Halloween (which, yes, began in the ‘70s)—is that there was some pretense at mystery. In Nightmare’s case the question was: who is this nightmarish revenant, and why is he stalking the kids of Elm Street?

The makers of this revamp seem to recognize that everyone knows the answer to those questions, which you’d think would give them license to do something really fun with the series. But no, there’s at least two scenes shown here ripped directly from the original: the bath tub scene and the “floating out of bed” scene, both of which gave Little Ken some serious nightmares.

Producers, studios, I appreciate that you’re not so much in the art business as you are in the risk management business, and so you try to stick to as close to a “sure thing” as you can find. But this is just lazy.

Also: cut it out with that “pulsing soundtrack set to quick cuts and fades to black” thing in your trailers. I hate that.


MacGruber

April 23

DW: I can’t be bothered to watch post-2000 Saturday Night Live on the off chance that this particular episode will have their one funny sketch this season, so I’m not immediately familiar with this particular bit. What I do know is that padding out a joke that gets tiresome after three minutes to eighty has not ended well in the past. And in this case, the subject of the parody is a tv show that went off the air in 1992, so it’s not even something that the implied target audience of teenage boys probably ever even experienced for themselves. If this is what the producers of SNL think is their most marketable property, I’m less inclined than I was before to check out the show. Add in one of the most spectacular cases of “all the best bits are in the trailer” I’ve seen in years, and this just looks like cinematic torture.


KL
: Alternatively, you could just watch every hack comedian’s routine on action movies for 90 minutes and get about the same experience. What’s the matter, guys? Couldn’t think up a feature-length screenplay on how they should make the airplane out of the black box?

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