On Neil Gaiman, Odds and Ends, and Somesuch: Being An Account, Of a Rather Dithering “Is He Really OK?” Sort, of My Recent Reveries on My Friend Neil, Prompted by a Recent Visit to a Bookshoppe; This to be Followed by a Rather Random But Hopefully Bemusing Potpourri of Virtual-Space Connections, Unexpected Delights & Dust-Bunnies, Gatherums, Brick-Bats, Curios, Oddities, and Things That Make My Bump Go Grind in the Night, and Yet Leaves No Wet Spots

While perusing the book store shelves this week, I came across no less than three new books by (in various capacities) my dear but distant friend Neil Gaiman, who by his own admission I have known since he was a mere teenage lad. Frustratingly, the three tomes all were tied into Neil and Dave McKean‘s new (first) feature film MirrorMask, which has neither screened nor seems to be coming soon to a theater-near-me. Also frustratingly, the total sum due, had I been so bold as to purchase all three lovely books, would have exceeded the right-now-rather-princely sum of $100 or more, which I neither had in hand nor could afford to drop, what with daily expenditures for the ongoing construction of my studio/library/office, which my beloved wife Marj summarily dubbed “the money pit” yesterday at about 12:35 PM.

In any case, the three books were and are quite lovely, and I spent a bit of my available down time happily perusing all three before resigning myself to placing them back upon their display shelves. (Lest you think I am, at this juncture, being either stingy, puckish, or perverse, allow me to hasten to include herein the titles of all three books, should you care to ferret them out for your own amusement and edification: they are, in no particular order, MirrorMask Script Book (Harper Collins), a handsome hardcover which is what it says, and which I perused rather cautiously, not wanting to betray any of the film’s narrative secrets prior to viewing the film itself; The Alchemy of MirrorMask (Collins Design/Harper Collins), another expansive hardcover, this one concerning the production of the film itself, plentifully illustrated; and MirrorMask, an illustrated novella based upon the film and aimed at juvenile readers and any progessive ages up from that target audience.) I also understand there is a fourth tome, MirrorMask: A Really Useful Book, upon whose relative usefulness or uselessness I cannot comment, save to note it is apparently scribed in invisible ink, which is a ploy only a writer of Neil’s stature can get away with in the current constricted book market. Do not take my word for it that these books are worthy of attention; I urge you to forthwith search them out for yourself, and in a manner permitting physical interaction rather than the sort of “online shopping” experience that passes for interaction these days. If you are indeed unfortunately addicted only to the latter, or have no bookstore worthy of the drive anywhere within reasonable motoring distance, or no vehicle to facilitate such travel, please allow me to steer your attention to the bookseller who seems to be Neil’s preference, in that this bookseller often offers (at no additional cost, in most cases) the opportunity for you to purchase copies of Neil’s books which have been graced with a signature from the very hand of Neil, thus affording those of you unable to personally interact with Neil in any reasonable venue the opportunity to purchase and possess a signed Neil Gaiman tome. The bookseller I speak of is

  • DreamHaven Books.
  • Forgive my leisurely prattling on, and allow me to arrive at the purpose of the above introductory statement. I indeed enjoyed my time with said tomes, all of which led me thereafter to muse a bit wistfully about my dear friend Neil, who I have not laid eyes on for quite some time. As happens when one works in the professions and the arts, one finds oneself feeling very close to fellow travellers at times in ways that would rationally seem quite incompatible with the rather fleeting time one gets to spend with these fellow travellers. Further compromising those brief times in which one indeed shares a bit of time, space, perhaps food and drink, with a heartfelt fellow traveller is the fact that such meetings of the minds and crossings of paths usually occur amid the din and clamor of massive gatherings none-too-condusive to any intimacy of expression or true fellowship, particularly when one or the other or both are therein the focus of much attention — as Neil most often is. When once Neil expressed his discomfort with the adulation and lack of personal space thus available at such cacophanous gatherings, I humbly pointed out that if Neil were merely to shed his black clothing and doff the sunglasses to dress in a Hawaiian shirt, shorts, and a John Deere cap, he might freely move about and go anywhere without interruption or the imposition of others upon him, Neil cocked his head and looked at me in a most curious manner, as if I had (for instance) just nibbled on the thorax of some unusual form of invertebrate, most likely an insect.

    Thus, we rarely actually see one another. That said, we have stolen some time in the past: a trip I made to his and Mary’s home in Nutley, England, prior to their move to America; a most pleasant sojourn to Neil and Mary’s new home in America, whereupon I met The Fabulous Lorraine and family and others in their circle, though that trip was blighted somewhat by an intractable pain in Neil’s neck which contorted his features and rather skewed his head akimbo for the entirity of my visit, thus demonstratably proving I am indeed comparable to a pain in Neil’s neck (though he politely, as is his wont, later ascribed said neck-agony to an allergy to coffee, which at the time he knew not of, but which his own father soon informed him of); a trip Neil made to Vermont to visit myself and my first wife Marlene and our children Maia and Daniel at tender ages; and most recently, a planned shared meeting, for two full days, at the summer horror writers’ convention Necon, wherein Neil and I roomed together, and spent one night laying in the dark talking about our lives and our children and life in general, just as one does as a lad camping out in a tent or under the stars, until we fell soundly asleep, despite the relative discomfort of the Necon beds, which is condusive to late night chats due to the difficulty one finds falling asleep therein. Neil has been at times among the most charitable of friends, once arranging for my daughter Maia to attend a Tori Amos concert; alas, that’s another story, which I shan’t go into here, but mention it only to affirm the generosity of spirit and care Neil has indeed extended in the direction of myself and my family, which endears him forever to us all.

    It is indeed true that I first met Neil when he was but a teenager, standing as an acolyte alongside none other than Clive Barker when Clive visited Alan Moore, John Totleben and myself at the annual UKAK in the mid-1980s. Neil was at that time laboring to establish his writing credentials, expressing himself via fiction and non-fiction in any and all available publishing venues, as we are all wont to do at that stage in our respective careers. I thereafter kept an eye out for his writings, including Don’t Panic and an incredibly entertaining book of dialogue quotes taken from countless cinematic endeavors of dubious merit, a tome co-scribed by Kim Newman, who is also a hale and hearty fellow. During these early years, I also secured (thanks to a fellow fan in the Boston area) a copy of Neil’s first solo book effort, being a pop-music biographical treatise on none other than Duran Duran, for which I had been “hungry like the wolf” since first hearing of its existence, and which now sits proudly upon my shelves alongside Sandman collections and the copies of Violent Cases and Mr. Punch both Neil and Dave McKean so lovingly scribed to me long ago.

    It’s been some time since Neil and I either met or chatted, but I must say part of the pleasure of having savored such relations means that one enjoys seeing the fruits of the other’s labors: it’s indeed a part of them, now here, in one’s hands, visible on bookstore shelves. It’s no balm for the distance in miles and time, but it’s something to be savored nonetheless. I greatly look forward to MirrorMask, if only to share 90 minutes or so in the creative company of Neil and Dave — of whom I’ve not spoken much of this morning, but one day shall — and bask in whatever that experience may hold.

    I shall further express and detail my musings on my friend Neil in a future post, this I promise. But for now, this is all that time permits. I shall therein mention more of our true experiences, and reflect upon what marvelous shared moments and gracious expressions of his caring he has shared with me over the years. Among our true experiences I may expound upon at some future time is our visit to what was, by all appearances, a “magic bookshoppe,” and I do mean magic, and one we both were convinced we would never be able to retrace our steps to again, should we ever try, for there we both found books we never thought existed, and many we each had individually sought without success and/or knew of and coveted but never beheld ourselves, and yet there they were. I may even humble myself so as to illuminate for you why it is that Neil refers to myself upon occasion as “Hamster Balls,” knowing, of course, that Neil may have already done so in a public venue, or may do so pre-emptively in his own blog. That is, always, his perogative — but I do still have that Duran Duran book in easy reach, and may be forced to retaliate, though I am loathe to do so, or even ponder such an action on such a fine Sunday morning as this.
    ___

    Amid other diversionary delights, might I recommend this fine Sunday morning (and it is a fine one, here in Vermont, and much more hospitably warm than it has been the past two days) that you enliven and invigorate this blessed Day of Rest with a non-labor-intensive, rather simple exertion of your finger to explore

  • this.
  • As the visual and text awaiting you there may prove beneficial to your spiritual well-being, and by happenstance might tickle the fancy or funny-bone of one or more of you, I offer it in good accord with this Holiest of Weekdays, and remind you that this diversion was not of my making nor of my discovery. It comes to you compliments of Joe Dante, Jr. by way of our mutual friend and constant compatriot Tim Lucas, and thus they are the gentlemen you should applaud should this diversion indeed prove of interest or slight value to you.

    I, for one, can only wonder what the artisans whose work brightens the other end of that link might do or have already done with more appropro vehicles for their mode of exploration, such as Red Planet Mars, in which G-d Himself speaks to we puny Earth inhabitants from yon Red Planet’s surface, or mayhaps When Worlds Collide, which given a moment to ponder, I might humbly suggest would make an ideal title for a revisionist cinematic science-fiction epic concerning the current culture-clash so prevalent in our news of late concerning the legal battles for the very souls of our youth over the teaching of (shudder) “evolution” in our schools. Alas, I shall table that controversial subject for another day, not wishing to disturb or in any way unsettle your own Day of Rest this fine Sunday morning.
    ___

    In another notable and altogether honorable focus of creative powers and interdisciplinary effort, I would like to further direct your attention this fine and fit morning to a new PaleoBlog posting by my fine Canadian friend, wee-fellow-compatriot in comics, and paleontologist-by-profession Dr. Michael Ryan, who has often illuminated my life and creative efforts (such as they are) with his considerable insights, knowledge, and passions (of the non-transgressive variety, I hasten to add). Of late, said Dr. Ryan, who I shall hereafter refer to as Michael, due to our long-standing friendship (hence, I am not being overly familiar, lest you fear I am being too forward), has taken it upon himself to articulate his current fascination and the considerable pleasures a book has recently instilled within him, being the latest handsome tome dedicated to the life and work of that most esteemed of illustrative geniuses, none other than

  • Roy Krenkel.
  • A mere click on his hallowed name will instantly transport you to Michael‘s reverent musings, which I believe and most dearly hope will further grace your Sunday with mirth and not a bit of melancholy.

    If I may be so bold, I would care to add my personal recall of having met the late great Mr. Roy Krenkel during my own wayward youth, as an aspiring cartoonist suitably humbled and in awe of the mere presence of Mr. Krenkel when we crossed paths at two consecutives comics gatherings in the New York City area. Mr. Krenkel was always remarkably gracious to others, particularly artists, and at one such occasion in fact invited my fellow cartoonist and Joe Kubert School classmate Tom Yeates to come, sit beside him, and peddle our own wares alongside the master. Mr. Krenkel thereafter produced a series of nondescript, unadorned boxboard boxes — such as those typing paper might be purchased or stored within — and removing the lids, exposed to all those passing an extraordinary array of his own sketches, in both pencil and pen, primarily etched upon tracing paper and a thin vellum. These were all miraculous renditions of those subjects nearest and dearest to Mr. Krenkel‘s heart, being exquisite miniature renditions of all manner of prehistoric peoples and creatures, armored and weapon-wielding warriors, ancient architectures and structures, fantastic beings of the imagination, and living animals, all delineated with a precision of line and effect that was truly breathtaking. Some were mere fragments, smaller than one-inch-by-one-inch, while others were folded vellum masterpieces, which at their full length would fill a frame of 11 inches by 17 inches or more. All were offered up by Mr. Krenkel for either the pleasure of perusement, or for purchase, should one be able to afford either as little as $2 or up to $50 (for a couple that were further embellished with either watercolor tints or colored pencil strokes, if not both). Being an impoverished student and merely an aspiring artist at that juncture of my own career arc, I availed myself of the pittance in my pocket (thus condemning myself to missing lunch, though the sacrifice was then and today well worth it) to purchase as many of Mr. Krenkel‘s tiny tracing paper sketches of antediluvian animals (as that is my own passion) as I could possibly afford. Later in the day, Mr. Krenkel seemed highly amused and even a little touched when Tom and I diverted our humble earnings from our own table sales and sketch income to the purchase of more of his marvelous art, ensuring one last exploration of all that remained in Mr. Krenkel‘s boxes at the end of that day of conventioneering.

    Those precious, exquisite miniatures reside still in my collection, lovingly cradled in one of my favorite tomes collecting Mr. Krenkel‘s work. I will leave it to you to avail yourself of the link to Michael‘s PaleoBlog, which I have provided so thoughtfully above, to cast a light upon the life and labors of the late Mr. Krenkel, a beacon further illuminated by the insightful writings of none other than Mr. William Stout, who has himself followed in Mr. Krenkel‘s footsteps as both a fantasy artist extraordinaire and paleontological reconstructionist, wielding pencil, pen, brush, ink, and all manner of colors and pigments to recreate in two-dimensions that which once walked, crawled, slithered, swam, and flew upon this planet.

    I will also add, though it is of a rather intimate and provocative nature, and perhaps too ribald for a fine Sunday morning such as this (for which I beg your indulgence and forgiveness, lest I have transgressed in a manner I earlier promised I would not), that Mr. Krenkel was not shy about his delight in the female of the species, particularly those who would be considered by others rotund or “big-boned,” as some choose to politely put it. I have it from knowledgable sources that Mr. Krenkel was known, for instance, to have once rhapsodized over a femme who’d caught his fancy as being “a veritable sphere of a woman,” and hence abundantly desirable. Within my own collection resides a published portfolio of Mr. Krenkel art of a most peculiar nature, being delicately-rendered portraits of rather obese Amazionian warrior-women astride various species of Dinosauria, some of Mr. Krenkel‘s invention. These curious portraits are quite lovely and uttery beguiling, further reinforcing the truth of those tales of yore I’ve heard over the years concerning Mr. Krenkel‘s affection for the fairer sex writ large in the flesh, and thus making sense of a couple of comments Mr. Krenkel himself shared, in a hearty “good fellow” manner, with Tom and I that convention day, as a variety of women of all ages and dimensions passed by our tables. It is with some devotion that I add, by way of providing a final morsel of curious lore, that Tom later told me he keeps a sword he was given by Mr. Krenkel, or a sword that once belonged to Mr. Krenkel that Tom somehow acquired in his travels, beneath his bed. That sword has served Tom admirably, and no doubt has offered some measure of protection at times.

    There is much similar and curious cartoonist lore that we of the inky trade share among us, some which is best left unexposed to the light of virtual space. My knowing these things is just a fact of my chosen profession, and one we cartoonists often muse over, for private and occasional public amusement. They are in and of themselves of no consequence and yet sources of great delight at times, particularly when shared, though one must at all times remain discreet and practice discretion in such airings. For instance, while there is certainly no harm in Mark Martin having revealed to the masses that Kevin Eastman rubs his bare feet with his socks after having removed them, or that I choose to seperately consume my breakfast cereal and glass of skim milk each morning for breakfast, or my mentioning here that Eddie Campbell has been observed in my own home reclining with the perfect rigidity of an unwarped board upon the bare floor with not so much as a pillow beneath his head, and thereby napping soundly, despite the giggles of my own children in their youth, astounded at the spectacle of this Scot-from-Australia sleeping thus, it would be untoward of me to say anything more about the late Mr. Krenkel, lest I inadvertantly imply or infer a level of intimate knowledge I neither have, had, nor wish to mislead any reader I might have had, concerning any details of Mr. Krenkel‘s time on this earthly plane.

    Being a gentleman, I will leave it at that, and beg your indulgence one last time for perhaps transgressing, if indeed you feel I have.

    And with that, I bid you, constant reader, a fond adieu, and ciao.

    Enjoy the day, and ponder the blessings which are yours at this time, as I shall, without coveting your own.


    “Bossth! The Room! The Room!”

    I can almost taste it — in fact, phwaaw — cough, cough! — I can. I just cleaned it!

    The workspace/library room will be almost complete by this time next week. A lot of work was done this week, including the completion of all sheetrocking, I slapped up two coats of paint within a 15 hour period on Wednesday, and since then Olivier and his co-workers have completed 2/3 of the massive shelving units and yesterday he prepared, cut, and sanded the two-tier computer/writing desk. I’ll be polyurethaning it this weekend so it can be installed on either Monday or Wednesday.

    When I rechecked the measurements yesterday morning, my drawing board will indeed fit into the room as well (giving me two drawing studio spaces within the home, a major change from the past seven years of drawing on the kitchen table or counter).

    Next weekend, we’ll still have the final installation of the heating baseboards and electrical/lighting fixtures to see to, then I’m moving in. Oh, man, I can hardly wait… I’ve been wrestling with the lack of dedicated work space for so long, due in part to the life changes, shifting around in living space, and (most overwhelming of all) the sheer quantity of books/archival material/artwork/etc. I’ve accumulated in 30 years. This is the winter of final organization, accessing, and having a proper work area, and it’s become exciting this past week as the light at the end of the tunnel grows closer –


    “Bossth! The Room! The Room!”

    I can almost taste it — in fact, phwaaw — cough, cough! — I can. I just cleaned it!

    The workspace/library room will be almost complete by this time next week. A lot of work was done this week, including the completion of all sheetrocking, I slapped up two coats of paint within a 15 hour period on Wednesday, and since then Olivier and his co-workers have completed 2/3 of the massive shelving units and yesterday he prepared, cut, and sanded the two-tier computer/writing desk. I’ll be polyurethaning it this weekend so it can be installed on either Monday or Wednesday.

    When I rechecked the measurements yesterday morning, my drawing board will indeed fit into the room as well (giving me two drawing studio spaces within the home, a major change from the past seven years of drawing on the kitchen table or counter).

    Next weekend, we’ll still have the final installation of the heating baseboards and electrical/lighting fixtures to see to, then I’m moving in. Oh, man, I can hardly wait… I’ve been wrestling with the lack of dedicated work space for so long, due in part to the life changes, shifting around in living space, and (most overwhelming of all) the sheer quantity of books/archival material/artwork/etc. I’ve accumulated in 30 years. This is the winter of final organization, accessing, and having a proper work area, and it’s become exciting this past week as the light at the end of the tunnel grows closer –


    More flicks and pix…

    THE CONSTANT GARDENERJohn le Carre‘s novel marked a thematic shift in his work which this excellent adaptation adheres to, positing a post-Cold War villain (the pharmaceutical corporations) audiences can relate to while dramatizing the human toll exacted by the unholy wedding of governments and corporations. The complicity autopsied here is the government-sanctioned (on multiple levels) appropriation of beneath-the-radar Third World (African) populations for medical experimentation, and the fate of those principled ‘rogue’ individuals who seek to expose the powers-that-be. Rachel Weisz is the journalist, wife of timid Brit career diplomat Ralph Fiennes, determined to unveil the veiled ‘health procedures’ perpetrated against impoverished Kenyan citizens under the guise of ‘care’; alas, Fiennes’ diplomatic superior (perfectly played by Danny Huston) has interests in both getting into Weisz’s panties and preserving the status quo complicity of the British government and drug companies, and it takes the disappearance of his wife to begin to tear the blinders from Fiennes’s eyes. All this duplicity and espionage could have been dry as African sand, but director Fernando Meirelles — whose City of God crackled with immediacy and terrifying energy — forges from an excellent script a gripping drama that gets under the skin in all kinds of ways, aided considerably by its sterling cast (including Pete Postlewaite and Bill Nighy in key supporting roles). This isn’t a dogmatic political tract: in keeping with the strengths of LeCarre‘s novels, it has the heat of the heart in every frame. What sets this film apart from others of its ilk is its emotional core: Meirelles opens us up to the true scope of the tragedy, from its most base humanity — the warm intimacy between Fiennes and Weisz, the bonds of friendship and conviction between Weisz and her African compatriots, and Fiennes‘s awakening to the consistency of those bonds in the light of Huston‘s maladroit attempts to portray them as betrayals — to the cruelity of those in power so callously indifferent to the human toll of their crimes. The massive tragedy is horrific, but it’s the sorrowful arc of Fiennes‘s character, LeCarre‘s Constant Gardener, that grounds it in something one can almost touch and taste. Timely, agonizing, and potent, Meirelles exposes all levels of this contemporary corruptive network to the sun, from the highest levels of power to the sordid fly-blown remnants of the disposal operations that maintain the silence necessary to such criminal extremes of unchecked globalist policies. The film circles one such crimescene from its black heart — in which we and Fiennes visit the sad scene of Weisz’s final moments — to its heartbreaking finale at the same remote beachhead. A remarkable film, highly recommended.

    THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE — One of the late summer’s surprise hits, this rather curious fusion of 1970s bookends The Exorcist and Robert Wise and Frank DeFelitta’s forgotten reincarnation opus Audrey Rose is arguably an extension of the current cycle of studio remakes of 1970s horror films, revamping The Exorcist into a more “life-affirming faith-based” crowd-pleaser. Actually, it’s closer in tone to The Runner Stumbles (Stanley Kramer’s sad final film) than Audrey Rose, but I’d be surprised if anyone had heard of, much less seen, that curio — so, let’s stick with The Exorcist and Audrey Rose analogy, shall we? The particulars, from its Catholic orientation and claim of basis in a true story to the gender and exorcism of its possession host (effectively portrayed by Jennifer Carpenter), are almost identical to The Exorcist, save for the courtroom framing device and resulting reorientation to the case history at hand. Supplanting Pazuzu with a more traditional demonic presence, skirting scatalogical extremes, and eschewing the sparks between secular amorality of Exorcist director Friedkin‘s pragmatic approach to Exorcist author Blatty‘s passionate faith-fueled Christian content and intent, Emily Rose director Scott Derrickson is clearly on the side of the angels from the get-go. Thus, its the dramatic tension between courtroom opponents Laura Linney and prosecutor Campbell Scott in the trial of Roman Catholic exorcist/priest Tom Wilkerson that is the arena of this spiritual battle, not the frigid bedroom-and-barn locales in which Wilkerson sought to exorcise Carpenter. In short, it’s Perry Mason sugar-coating a pro-Christian horror flick, as such an extension of the ongoing fundamentalist Christian horror cycle (e.g., The Omega Code, the Left Behind series, etc.) and Hollywood satellite productions (from indies like The Rapture to studio efforts like The Seventh Sign, Stigmata, and others). That said, Derrickson spices the courtroom/prison cell/late-night-home-alone-in-the-apartment crisis of faith character arc Linney suffers in the thrall of Wilkerson‘s faith with some mighty effective chills. Primary among these are the flashbacks to Carpenter‘s gradual collapse and possible possession, including one startling classroom hallucination that had me jumping and involuntarily muttering, “Jesus Christ!” That wins my heart in the horror department, so I’ve got to recommend this despite the sanctimonious piety of the courtroom proceedings and reassuring agenda of the film as a whole.

    GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK — Highest recommendation! George Clooney‘s maturation as a filmmaker and actor continues with this crisp, unpretentious, straight-forward and remarkable “you-are-there” account of premiere TV journalist Edward R. Murrow‘s determinative decision to expose and derail the witch-hunt mounted by Senator Joseph McCarthy. Despite the caveats of some critics, Clooney‘s decision to work with extant archival footage of McCarthy, the Senator’s investigations, and the televised hearings is a masterstroke: while the fidelity to its period (the early 1950s) and performances are sterling across-the-board, the galvanizing power of the McCarthy footage cannot be overstated, nor its relevence to the post-9/11 national environment we find ourselves steeped in today. David Strathairn has always been among my favorite character actors of this generation, and he inhabits Murrow with unwavering focus and gravitas (including the framing farewell speech to a broadcasters gathering, Murrow‘s sobering parting shot to the very medium and its corporate captors who were intent upon trivializing democracy in its race to pander to consumer culture). The supporting cast — Clooney, Patricia Clarkson, Robert Downey Jr., Jeff Daniels) — are just as good, but Frank Langella is arguably best of all as the CBS honcho who backed Murrow‘s stand against McCarthy while tending to the harsh mistress of business — which, after the crisis, claims her pound of flesh. This is brilliant populist filmmaking, the courage of its convictions (and determination to “speak truth to power,” as they say) anchored primarily in its determination to dramatize a key turning point in American history by simply telling the story, sans flash, flourishes, or embellishments. Note that Clooney is the second ‘liberal’ filmmaker to incorporate a telling archival clip of General & President Dwight Eisenhower at/as a critical point in its tapestry (the first, of course, was Oliver Stone with JFK). Clooney ends with a succinct Eisenhower clip that stands in harsh historic contrast to current President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney’s pro-incarceration-without-due-process (and torture) policies; indeed, decency and shame seem distant from our current government’s members. Like so much else in this film, it’s impossible not to draw the unfortunate parallels — how far astray we’ve wandered from our espoused ideals, as a country, as a people, and as a world power. But whatever your politics, see this film — it’s a solid piece of work, and a perfect companion feature to Michael Mann‘s excellent The Insider (1999). Together, they offer sobering accounts of the rise and fall of CBS News and American television journalism as a whole. Clooney lucidly locates the seeds of the destruction Mann potently dramatized, both evident in the closed-door office rooms meetings so central to both stories. Another link they share are those ‘coffin nails’ — a lot of cigarettes are smoked in Good Night, and the only commercial Clooney includes in his tapestry of 1950s TV is a hilarious cigarette ad of the period; The Insider neatly caps and concludes that component of Good Luck in spades. Again, Good Luck and Good Night is not to be missed — among the year’s best.

    More this weekend –


    More flicks and pix…

    THE CONSTANT GARDENERJohn le Carre‘s novel marked a thematic shift in his work which this excellent adaptation adheres to, positing a post-Cold War villain (the pharmaceutical corporations) audiences can relate to while dramatizing the human toll exacted by the unholy wedding of governments and corporations. The complicity autopsied here is the government-sanctioned (on multiple levels) appropriation of beneath-the-radar Third World (African) populations for medical experimentation, and the fate of those principled ‘rogue’ individuals who seek to expose the powers-that-be. Rachel Weisz is the journalist, wife of timid Brit career diplomat Ralph Fiennes, determined to unveil the veiled ‘health procedures’ perpetrated against impoverished Kenyan citizens under the guise of ‘care’; alas, Fiennes’ diplomatic superior (perfectly played by Danny Huston) has interests in both getting into Weisz’s panties and preserving the status quo complicity of the British government and drug companies, and it takes the disappearance of his wife to begin to tear the blinders from Fiennes’s eyes. All this duplicity and espionage could have been dry as African sand, but director Fernando Meirelles — whose City of God crackled with immediacy and terrifying energy — forges from an excellent script a gripping drama that gets under the skin in all kinds of ways, aided considerably by its sterling cast (including Pete Postlewaite and Bill Nighy in key supporting roles). This isn’t a dogmatic political tract: in keeping with the strengths of LeCarre‘s novels, it has the heat of the heart in every frame. What sets this film apart from others of its ilk is its emotional core: Meirelles opens us up to the true scope of the tragedy, from its most base humanity — the warm intimacy between Fiennes and Weisz, the bonds of friendship and conviction between Weisz and her African compatriots, and Fiennes‘s awakening to the consistency of those bonds in the light of Huston‘s maladroit attempts to portray them as betrayals — to the cruelity of those in power so callously indifferent to the human toll of their crimes. The massive tragedy is horrific, but it’s the sorrowful arc of Fiennes‘s character, LeCarre‘s Constant Gardener, that grounds it in something one can almost touch and taste. Timely, agonizing, and potent, Meirelles exposes all levels of this contemporary corruptive network to the sun, from the highest levels of power to the sordid fly-blown remnants of the disposal operations that maintain the silence necessary to such criminal extremes of unchecked globalist policies. The film circles one such crimescene from its black heart — in which we and Fiennes visit the sad scene of Weisz’s final moments — to its heartbreaking finale at the same remote beachhead. A remarkable film, highly recommended.

    THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE — One of the late summer’s surprise hits, this rather curious fusion of 1970s bookends The Exorcist and Robert Wise and Frank DeFelitta’s forgotten reincarnation opus Audrey Rose is arguably an extension of the current cycle of studio remakes of 1970s horror films, revamping The Exorcist into a more “life-affirming faith-based” crowd-pleaser. Actually, it’s closer in tone to The Runner Stumbles (Stanley Kramer’s sad final film) than Audrey Rose, but I’d be surprised if anyone had heard of, much less seen, that curio — so, let’s stick with The Exorcist and Audrey Rose analogy, shall we? The particulars, from its Catholic orientation and claim of basis in a true story to the gender and exorcism of its possession host (effectively portrayed by Jennifer Carpenter), are almost identical to The Exorcist, save for the courtroom framing device and resulting reorientation to the case history at hand. Supplanting Pazuzu with a more traditional demonic presence, skirting scatalogical extremes, and eschewing the sparks between secular amorality of Exorcist director Friedkin‘s pragmatic approach to Exorcist author Blatty‘s passionate faith-fueled Christian content and intent, Emily Rose director Scott Derrickson is clearly on the side of the angels from the get-go. Thus, its the dramatic tension between courtroom opponents Laura Linney and prosecutor Campbell Scott in the trial of Roman Catholic exorcist/priest Tom Wilkerson that is the arena of this spiritual battle, not the frigid bedroom-and-barn locales in which Wilkerson sought to exorcise Carpenter. In short, it’s Perry Mason sugar-coating a pro-Christian horror flick, as such an extension of the ongoing fundamentalist Christian horror cycle (e.g., The Omega Code, the Left Behind series, etc.) and Hollywood satellite productions (from indies like The Rapture to studio efforts like The Seventh Sign, Stigmata, and others). That said, Derrickson spices the courtroom/prison cell/late-night-home-alone-in-the-apartment crisis of faith character arc Linney suffers in the thrall of Wilkerson‘s faith with some mighty effective chills. Primary among these are the flashbacks to Carpenter‘s gradual collapse and possible possession, including one startling classroom hallucination that had me jumping and involuntarily muttering, “Jesus Christ!” That wins my heart in the horror department, so I’ve got to recommend this despite the sanctimonious piety of the courtroom proceedings and reassuring agenda of the film as a whole.

    GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK — Highest recommendation! George Clooney‘s maturation as a filmmaker and actor continues with this crisp, unpretentious, straight-forward and remarkable “you-are-there” account of premiere TV journalist Edward R. Murrow‘s determinative decision to expose and derail the witch-hunt mounted by Senator Joseph McCarthy. Despite the caveats of some critics, Clooney‘s decision to work with extant archival footage of McCarthy, the Senator’s investigations, and the televised hearings is a masterstroke: while the fidelity to its period (the early 1950s) and performances are sterling across-the-board, the galvanizing power of the McCarthy footage cannot be overstated, nor its relevence to the post-9/11 national environment we find ourselves steeped in today. David Strathairn has always been among my favorite character actors of this generation, and he inhabits Murrow with unwavering focus and gravitas (including the framing farewell speech to a broadcasters gathering, Murrow‘s sobering parting shot to the very medium and its corporate captors who were intent upon trivializing democracy in its race to pander to consumer culture). The supporting cast — Clooney, Patricia Clarkson, Robert Downey Jr., Jeff Daniels) — are just as good, but Frank Langella is arguably best of all as the CBS honcho who backed Murrow‘s stand against McCarthy while tending to the harsh mistress of business — which, after the crisis, claims her pound of flesh. This is brilliant populist filmmaking, the courage of its convictions (and determination to “speak truth to power,” as they say) anchored primarily in its determination to dramatize a key turning point in American history by simply telling the story, sans flash, flourishes, or embellishments. Note that Clooney is the second ‘liberal’ filmmaker to incorporate a telling archival clip of General & President Dwight Eisenhower at/as a critical point in its tapestry (the first, of course, was Oliver Stone with JFK). Clooney ends with a succinct Eisenhower clip that stands in harsh historic contrast to current President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney’s pro-incarceration-without-due-process (and torture) policies; indeed, decency and shame seem distant from our current government’s members. Like so much else in this film, it’s impossible not to draw the unfortunate parallels — how far astray we’ve wandered from our espoused ideals, as a country, as a people, and as a world power. But whatever your politics, see this film — it’s a solid piece of work, and a perfect companion feature to Michael Mann‘s excellent The Insider (1999). Together, they offer sobering accounts of the rise and fall of CBS News and American television journalism as a whole. Clooney lucidly locates the seeds of the destruction Mann potently dramatized, both evident in the closed-door office rooms meetings so central to both stories. Another link they share are those ‘coffin nails’ — a lot of cigarettes are smoked in Good Night, and the only commercial Clooney includes in his tapestry of 1950s TV is a hilarious cigarette ad of the period; The Insider neatly caps and concludes that component of Good Luck in spades. Again, Good Luck and Good Night is not to be missed — among the year’s best.

    More this weekend –