I saw it coming...

My review of the new "Emo Rock Musical" now playing at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, posted today at The Front Page. I had hope to slip by a little hint of the f-bomb, but, as they say, no dice. This is the line as it appeared in the paper:

While BBAJ does have its amusing moments, my feelings were mostly dominated by the urge to check the time and a single, uncharitable thought that I generally avoid sharing in reviews but will make an exception for in this case: How stupid.

This is how I submitted it:

...uncharitable thought that I generally avoid sharing in reviews but will make an exception for in this case: How effen stupid.

I thought the effen was pretty funny, though,of course, what I really, really meant to say was:

...uncharitable thought that I generally avoid sharing in reviews but will make an exception for in this case: How fucking stupid.

But The Front Page isn't that kind of newspaper. I'm not bitter or anything, as it's not a big deal. I am amused, however, by how good my Fearless Editor is at catching me red-handed...


a brief interruption courtesy of mr. bond

I'm sorry to disrupt my chain of posts on From Hell, but I thought it might be fun to play a little game. Ready? Here we go: think of your favourite James Bond movie titles. Now, here are mine:

You Only Live Twice. (Nice!)
A View to a Kill. (What a thrill!)
Live and Let Die. (Perfect!)
The Living Daylights. (As in, I'm going to scare the living daylights outta ya! Yeah!)
License to Kill. (A bit pulpy, but I like it. It's tough.)
The World is Not Enough. (It certainly isn't. Why settle for a piddly little world?)
Die Another Day. (Almost as perfect as Live and Let Die)

Now let's look at some other, workable titles:
For Your Eyes Only.
Tomorrow Never Dies.
On Her Majesty's Secret Service.
Casino Royale.

You get the picture.

Now, let's throw in the freshly announced titled of the next Bond film, which has so far been referred to as Bond 22. Ready? That title is...

Quantum of Solace.

That's right. Quantum of Solace. Although it's the name of a real, bona-fide short story by Ian Fleming, the title makes me think of a depressed quantum physicist, no doubt plagued by Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. Quantum of solace? Let's put it in context:

Live and Let Die.
Die Another Day.
Casino Royale.
You Only Live Twice.
Quantum of Solace.

What a horrible, horrible title.


from hell: movie vs book - part 2

In From Hell, the novel, a stroke results in Gull experiencing what he interprets as theophany – a vision of God – in the form of Jahbulon, a trinity consisting of Yahweh (Jah), Baal (Bul), and Osiris (On). This is the trigger that sets him on his path. As he murders each woman in turn – leaving the bodies in locations that, from an aerial perspective, correspond to the points of a pentagram – he experiences visions of 20th century London, computers and all. His last mystical experience, as he lies dying within the cell of an insane asylum, sees him traveling through time to interact with other murderers as well as notable people like William Blake, followed by a second encounter with Jahbulon and, arguably, ascension to godhood.

Of course, there’s more going on then this synopsis can capture, beginning with the question as to whether Gull is insane or not and the implications of his state of mind for his mystical visions. On the one hand, it is valid to view his theophany as a hallucination brought on by the stroke. And, by the end of the book, his mental state has clearly deteriorated just as the post-killing mutilations of the sacrificial women increased in brutality. Throw in a subtext of sexual psychopathology, illustrated by early troubles with his wife and asylum staff having sex in his cell as he undergoes his dying mystical experience, and we could make the case that his mystical experiences are delusions. Yet, the content of his visions receives validation from us, the readers, because we know that, if nothing else, his visions of 20th century London are true. This raises the very disturbing prospect that his magical rituals, and the metaphysics underlying them, have a certain reality. Gull’s insanity is insane, yes, but also ambivalently tied to an accurate, transcendental awareness of reality.

But even if we accept Gull’s view that he gave birth to the 20th century and assured its male-dominated character, there are complications seemingly glossed over by Gull. In his most vivid vision of 20th century London, elicited by the last and most gruesome murder, he is struck by how lifeless people are, despite all the toys and women’s explicit sexuality. Could it be that the 20th century isn’t what he hoped it would be? And what does it mean when, on his second encounter with Jahbulon at the end of his jaunt through time, the deity points him in the direction of an Irish village, where Mary Kelly – one of his intended victims – is not only alive and well with the child, but can see and chase him away? The fact that he killed the wrong woman doesn’t so much cast doubt on the success of his mystical mission – he gets the 20th century he created, however it may deviate from his expectations – but suggest that the feminine cannot be so easily or completely suppressed. Whether he achieves godhood as be believes with his dying breath or is condemned to hell by Mary Kelly’s curse is unresolved and, frankly, not entirely relevant. His success, if it can be called that, is not complete.

My purpose in indulging this little bit of interpretation is twofold.

First, to offer a little taste of the book’s richness. Considering that the story also deals with issues of class – rich versus poor, of course, and royalty versus everyone else – From Hell is a densely layered book. While V for Vendetta, for political reasons, still resonates most with me, I’d rank From Hell alongside it as Moore’s best work – even above the much-vaunted Watchmen, whose deterministic view of time effectively eliminates free will and, in the process, robs the conclusion of its power to render the book an empty philosophical exercise. (In other words, I’m not too bothered about Watchmen.)

Second, to offer a baseline of comparison with the movie. When looking at how other books have been adapted into films and the problems encountered in the translation (see my review of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban for an example), we can see that the differences between From Hell, the movie, and From Hell, the graphic novel, go beyond adding or omitting particular scenes.

To be continued…


from hell: movie vs book - part 1

After watching the film adaptation a week or so ago, I finally finished reading Alan Moore’s From Hell. As is always the case with adaptations, it’s fascinating to see how the film and graphic novel differ from one another, and how that difference, so dependent on the medium, influences interpretations of the story.

Both the film and the novel center on the Jack the Ripper murders and a now-discredited solution proposed by Stephen Knight in his 1975 book Jack the Ripper: the Final Solution. In brief: Jack the Ripper is identified as the product of a royal conspiracy involving royalty and the police, coming together in Sir William Whitey Gull, Queen Victoria’s personal physician. Acting on her orders, he killed the five prostitutes to neutralize the threat, by blackmail, of exposing a royal scandal involving Prince Albert and the perfectly legitimate birth of his child to one of the women, Alice Cook, whom he secretly married.

In Alan Moore’s book, and in the movie to a lesser extent, freemasonry provides the story’s metaphysical and metaphorical scaffolding, although Moore takes great liberties with actual freemason doctrines. Gull isn’t simply performing a service for the Queen, but enacting dark and profound freemason rituals to achieve specific aims. This is where the book and the movie diverge, in that the movie, centered as it is on Chief Inspector Abberline’s (Depp) investigation, doesn’t get far beyond the fact that masons are, for unexplained reasons, involved in the conspiracy and Gull’s statement that he will be remembered for giving birth to the 20th century. The book, however, is all about the birth and character of the 20th century, with Gull’s motivation for serving as mid-wife at the forefront of the story. In particular, Moore develops the following themes:

-The metaphorical edifice - I choose the word deliberately – of pagan symbols, as revealed in London landmarks such as Hawkmoor’s churches, that points towards the domination of masculinity over femininity via pagan mythology and magic. Thus, the murders are a ritual intended to reinforce that domination in the 20th century, lest the feminine, as it had prior to the masculine rebellion, regain its overthrown power.
-The notion that all time co-exists and it is only our perception that creates discrete temporal sequences.
-The possibility of transcending time and ascending to godhood.

How Moore develops these themes is worth considering before continuing with a comparison of the book and the movie.

Stay tuned...


the polemics of "Juno"

There’s an interesting debate surrounding Juno, and it’s not whether Diablo Cody is guilty of overwriting the dialogue. The debate is more political in nature, centering on the endless controversy that is abortion, adoption, and teenaged pregnancy. Over at Alternet, Ellen Goodman gets in a tizzy over what she perceives as an appropriation of Juno as an anti-abortion poster girl:

we are in the midst of an entire wave of movies about unexpectedly pregnant women -- from Knocked Up to Waitress to Bella -- all deciding to have their babies and all wrapped up in nice, neat bows.

In Knocked Up, pregnancy from a one-night drunken stand transforms a slacker babydaddy into a grown-up. In Waitress, pregnancy empowers a woman to escape from Husband Wrong to Mr. Right. And in Bella, it's the belly that leads her into the heart of a warm Latino family.

Here is a cinematic world without complication. Or contraception. By some screenwriter consensus, abortion has become the right-to-choose that's never chosen. In Knocked Up it was referred to as "shmashmortion." In Juno the abortion clinic looks like a punk-rock tattoo parlor.

Perusing film reviews and discussion boards will expand on Goodman’s point, which is that Juno is an argument tailored for the (irritatingly named) pro-life side of the politico-cultural divide. But I think Amanda Marcotte, responding to this piece by a blogger named Publius, gets the conclusion right in her piece, "Sorry Anti-Choicers! 'Juno' Is Neither an Anti-Abortion or Pro-Adoption Polemic," although she doesn’t offer an explanation better than

Contrary to the many anti-choice hopes out there, the movie isn't an anti-abortion or pro-adoption polemic; on the contrary, it was a coming-of-age comedy plus teenage romance with teenage pregnancy as the hook.

The most critical reason why some see Juno as a polemic against abortion comes from misusing inductive reasoning and universalize individual situations. If a celebrity drinks a particularly drink, we should all drink it. If the cool kid does, so should we. If a woman is on the receiving end of a cumshot in a porno flick, then all women are being degraded. If Juno decides against having an abortion, we should all choose against having abortions. Of course, the second half of the previous sentences do not follow logically from the first halves; interpreting the individual to be symbolic of the whole is the problem with finding – that is, creating – a greater meaning in a particular story or event. In other words, and to use a bad metaphor, Juno is smoking a cigar that isn’t a phallic symbol.

Even if we granted that Juno could sensibly be layered with politics, a pro-life (or anti-choice) perspective isn’t necessarily the movie’s spin unless you severely distort the pro-choice position. I don’t know who advocates treating abortions like ear piercings, or who believes that abortions are “good” things. Pro-choice isn’t necessarily pro-abortion, but pro the individual’s right to make individual moral decisions – decisions that may involving choosing abortion over giving birth. Frankly, if a girl has a supportive and positive environment like Juno does and decides to have the baby, the response would be: rock on. Why not? It seems a far better situation to have a baby in than being pregnant without any kind of support, whether economic or familial. If anything, the film illustrates the right to choose, and as mistaken as it is to treat the film like a pro-life polemic, it’s also rather disingenuous to complain about exercising a choice by choosing to give birth rather than have an abortion.

All that’s a digression, though, a product of overthinking and overinterpreting. Maybe its in the pattern-seeking nature of our brain’s function, but we seem to be stuck with the bad habit of creating meaning where none is necessary.


stallone's death wish

IGN has an article on Stallone’s interest in remaking Death Wish, chock-full of quotes from the man himself.

You’ll recall the original film, which starred Charles Bronson as a peaceful man who, after his wife’s murder and daughter’s rape at the hands of intruders in their apartment, buys a gun and takes to stalking New York’s street. It had an element of exploitation, of course, but the story was notable in that it presented a rather disturbing moral dilemma: is Paul Kersey heroic for turning to violent vigilantism or has he crossed the line into becoming what he despises? Critically, it’s the viewer’s reaction that is tested, since as much as we want to support Kersey in his efforts to clean up, there is something questionable about the almost casual use of violence.

I haven’t read the novel by Brian Garfield that inspired the film, although it’s worth noting that “Garfield was also unhappy with the final product, calling the film 'incendiary', and even stated that each of the following sequels are all pointless and rancid, since they all depart to the advocation of vigilantism to what the novels are against.”

I agree about the sequels, but think the first and unquestionably the best film in the series had enough nuance to make it provocative and challenging rather than merely sensationalistic. So when IGN reports that “Stallone explained that his interpretation of the story would be deeper and more complex. ‘There's moral questions here that are being presented that have not been answered in 30 years. So by no means is it the pacifist [origin of the original],’” I can’t help but be a little skeptical.

"I think Death Wish, if it were done today, would be volcanic," Stallone said. "The idea of Jeff Goldblum being a mugger who breaks into an apartment is very simplistic. It gives you an idea how bad the elevation of violence has become. I would focus on defense attorneys, I would focus on [the people] allowing this crap to happen -- not so much the guy on the street. It's like, 'Who permits it?'

"What if it happened to you, that your daughter was grabbed and her eyes were put out? Would you want to sit there and defend that guy?"

Other than the fact that Stallone seems to have missed the recent spate of revenge thrillers, like The Brave One and Death Sentence (another film based on a novel by Brian Garfield), I can’t say that Stallone is displaying any sophisticated understanding of either Garfield’s story or the moral issues at stake. While it may be arguably true that violence has escalated (I question it, but I’ll grant it for argument’s sake), to ask – however rhetorically – if you’d want to defend a guy that did something horrible to you or a loved one is to miss entirely the point of the justice system. It’s worth reading that quote again: “I would focus on defense attorneys, I would focus on [the people] allowing this crap to happen -- not so much the guy on the street.” Maybe Stallone isn’t really implying that defense attorneys are “allowing this crap to happen,” but when he asks “Who permits it?” it doesn’t create any confidence that he has enough of a grasp of the story to deliver a “deeper and more complex” interpretation. After all, no one “permits” crime: that’s why it’s a crime. And the justice system exists to determine guilt or innocence, resting on the premise of presumed innocence.

If Stallone does go through with re-imagining Death Wish, perhaps he’ll come up with something surprisingly sophisticated instead of yet another cheap revenge thriller masquerading as moral philosophy. But considering that his vision changes the main character from a quasi-pacifist-turned-vigilante to an ex-convict returning to his violent nature after a traumatic incident (didn’t I just see this kind of character on “Criminal Minds” this week?, expectations are low.