What We’ve Been Reading
Clint’s Reading List
The Visual Language of Comics – Neil Cohn
This is a dry text but it contains many fascinating ideas. The gist is that Cohn, as an academic, is putting for the idea that sequential art exists as a language in visuals much like sign language exists through gestures. He uses cultural commentary, syntax, and a new and budding lexicon to make his argument. One of the most academic texts I’ve ever read, the book was hard to get through in places but it doesn’t ever get fully boring. If you’re looking to be entertained this isn’t for you, if you’re looking to check out a really solid argument on comics and graphic novels as a new style of linguistics then pick this up.
Christopher’s Reading List
Runaways Vol 1: Pride & Joy – Brian K. Vaughan
With a Hulu series adaptation and comic series revival fronted by YA author Rainbow Rowell on the way, I thought I would revisit this series I remembered fondly. At $2.99 a volume on Amazon, it’s a hard deal to pass up. Runaways follow a group of teenagers in the Marvel universe who discover that their parents may actually be supervillains, and for the most part the series is as I remembered it. Runaways still boasts solid plotting, fun reveals, and quick pacing. Some of the dialogue comes off as dated, with heavy pop culture references, and we get some awkward superhero names as a result of the series still trying to figure itself out. But all in all it’s a series worth revisiting and I look forward to what the adaptation and revival can do for the underappreciated series.
What We’ve Been Watching
The Dead Zone – I love me some Cronenberg, he’s just a blast to see. Most of his films are fascinating and uncomfortable, even grotesque in a gorgeous way. He commands blood and visceral entrails for the most part, but here we get one of our chances to see him do something more dramatic (especially in the first half of his career). Based on a Stephen King novel, the film follows Johnny Smith (yes, that was even the lazy name that King used and I hate it in both the book and film) as he is put into and woken from a coma that spans 5 years. He then proceeds to have visions when he comes in physical contact with people, seeing tangents of their lives and how they might or might not die. Christopher Walken is really commanding, evolving over the course of the film to really become…well, Christopher Walken. He grows from a bowl-cut doofus into this larger-than-life presence and it works. Martin Sheen stars opposite him as Senatorial Candidate Stillson, a dangerous but charismatic individual that might wind up killing us all due to his ego (I keep coming across randomly poignant stuff) and he plays this to a T. As a Cronenberg film the characters stand out as archetypes more than something nuanced, with the filmmaking and pacing taking precedence. It is, perhaps, one of the best cut together films I’ve ever watched.
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg – I waited a long time to sit down and watch this. Massive La La Land fan that I am, this was going to be essential viewing at some point but I had been led to believe that the similarities were so stark that it would ruin one or the other for me. People are full of it, you know that? The film opens on Guy and Genevieve, two young people in love in Cherbourg. They’re hiding their romance to a degree – Guy shading the truth from his godmother Elise and her nurse, Madeline, while Genevieve hides it from her mother. After a sexual tryst, Guy is called off to war while Genevieve realizes she is pregnant. From here we get a tale of love and loss, of reality and acceptance. Relationships are not just about love and chemistry, they’re also about timing, and director Jacques Demy explores this is a very blunt way. The sugary dressings, bright colors, and operatic musical style (seriously, every line of dialogue is sung) are all a mask to hide something grounded and forged in truth. Guy and Madeline would later have their names make an appearance in Damien Chazelle’s Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, the director’s first film, and the themes would pop up again in La La Land. Demy has shown here that he is the master of musicals and it continues to be one heck of a film to this day.
Dead Ringers – I hit a second Cronenberg this week, trying out one that I’d skipped before. Jeremy Irons plays twin doctors who become addicted to pills and decline. I had no idea that this is a film based on a true story, and it bothers me deep down. I have problems with…well, all of the performances outside of Irons for the most part. It isn’t that they’re bad, it’s that nothing stands out. This really is a one-man show and while parts of the film feel Cronenbergy it is a departure from his usual body-horror fare in a way. We get that, but it’s less visceral and more of a dramatic affair in this film. The magic comes from the two main characters as they manage to exist as different people, even when they’re confused with one another. It’s impressive, the way he differentiates them. I would also like to touch on the score. Howard Shore is a Cronenberg Staple, much like Aronofsky and Mansell or the recent Fincher/Reznor/Ross collaborations. There are many classic film scores that came from this team-up, but this one is more atmospheric and less impressive. It’s not at the forefront, which is usually fine, but being “fine” might be it’s only problem. It’s forgettable, and I think it could have been ramped up to match the performance of Irons just a little bit more.
Stalker – Holy shit. There really isn’t much other reaction to be had to this film. Set in a post-event Russia, it opens in sepia-toned browns and blacks as we meet The Stalker, our protagonist. We’re soon introduced to The Writer and The Professor, two people he is to lead into a place called “The Zone” where a meteor landed and imbued odd senses of sentience on the grounds. Stalkers are people who have a rare gift for navigating this area, and while we spend an hour getting into The Zone we are then really ready to understand the risk these people are taking. The film switches to color at this point and what we’re given is a tonal masterwork, a visual bit of glorious that Tarkovsky was known for. His most famous film, Solaris, is also included in this idea of long-shot visuals that really help to isolate the characters. There is a lot I could go into on this film but I think I need to do a longer discussion piece on it so look out for that in the future.
The Killers – After watching one of Andrei Tarkovsky’s masterpieces in Stalker I figured I should check out his early work and this student film is available on the internet for free (I’ll link it below). The short is based on a Hemingway story about two assassins who hold a diner hostage while waiting for a patron so they can kill him. At only 20 minutes it’s a breezy, tense watch and while you can see signs of who he will become it is interesting to see the director in his youth, the attention to detail and the interesting camera work already apparent but not yet refined. This is one of the most fun watches you could ask for if you can stand the subtitles (and if you’ve been reading our round-ups…you know there’s some rockin’ foreign stuff out there).
Wonder Woman – DC has put out their most coherent film to date and I actually enjoyed it, much to my surprise. That said…they just had to follow the Marvel formula. Origin story, slight ties to the wider cinematic universe, thin villain characterization that wastes prominent actors, all of those elements are present. This is a film about Diana, though, and it works on that level. Chris Pine does not fully steal the show from her, though he does a great job and remains memorable. There will be a full review coming this evening and will be linked at a later date. All I’ll say for now is that Wonder Woman is worth your time and money despite it’s flaws, but it does not quite live up to all of the acclaim it’s currently getting.
Kogonada – After viewing his visual essay on Solaris, titled “Auteurs in Space,” I checked out the rest of his catalog. The collection is available on Vimeo, and the man puts together wonderful essays that range from accessible to deep cinematic exploration. Fun ones include brief visuals on Wes Anderson’s obsession with symmetry and centering alongside his essay on Kubrick’s use of the one-point perspective. The deeper ones, however, are on Bresson’s use of hands or Italian Neorealism (this might be the best essay). My favorite, however, ties into the recent Tarkovsky obsession – “Auteurs in Space.” He explores the idea of the director as the author of the film, working on displaying the textures and color usage contained in the film Solaris and pointing out consistent thematics in Tarkovsky’s films. It’s a beautiful essay that really is fun and quite the gateway drug if you’re looking to start exploring film.
Colossal – Nacho Vigalondo’s latest tells a tale old as time. Girl meets boy. Girl meets alcohol. Girl loses everything. Girl moves home and discovers she has the ability to wreak havoc in the city of Seoul half a world away via a, some would say, colossal kaiju monster for a short period of time every morning. It’s a wholly unique premise that is used to great effect to tell the story of a woman trying to put her life back together. It’s told in a completely creative and engaging way, and is surprisingly emotional in abstract and unexpected ways, and I highly recommend checking it out without spoiling too much more.
Master of None: Season 2 – Aziz Ansari’s critically acclaimed Netflix series returned last month and I missed it more than I realized. In season one of Master of None Ansari told deeply personal stories in funny and refreshing ways, offering a unique bittersweet take on life in the vein of what Louis CK is doing on his FX series Louie. Although the first season was a success by any measure, it wasn’t without its pitfalls. Season one suffered from some shaky acting and dialogue while Ansari experimented with new styles, but the experimentation has paid off in the second season as he branches out in to new storytelling excursions with a renewed sense of confidence.