Sunday, March 18, 2007

Media catchup

Some stuff I wanted to talk about but didn't due to Will Eisner Week:

Oh, first I wanted to link to Jog's news about the anime anthology film Genius Party, from Studio 4°C. It includes stuff by Shinichiro Watanabe (Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo), Koji Morimoto (Memories, The Animatrix), and Kazuto Nakazawa (the anime part of Kill Bill), among many others. Check out the YouTube links Jog provides for examples. I'm super-excited about this movie.

Anyway, on with the commentary:

300 (2007, directed by Zach Snyder):

I just saw this yesterday, and it was pretty enjoyable. I don't have much to add to the general discussion, although I wasn't offended by any supposed political symbolism; you pretty much have to be looking for it to read that sort of message into the film. No, the real message of the movie is that it's fun to watch manly men kick ass in an awesome manner. I thought the visuals were very nice, often replicating Frank Miller's comic pages, although not as slavishly as in the Sin City adaptation.

In fact, most any complaints I have are about the material added to the story. There's one scene in which the Spartans come across a Greek village that has been razed by Persian scouting troops. It's not bad, until the find what the Persians did with the villagers: they killed them all and nailed their bodies to a tree. It's a nice image, the tree covered with bodies, but it kind of ruins the impact of the later scene when the Persians discover that the Spartans had built their rock wall with the bodies of the Persian scouts. That scene was pretty cool and horrific in the book, but it's lessened here because it seems like revenge for what the Persian scouts did earlier.

But that's not really that big a deal compared to the other subplot that gets shoehorned into the movie: Leonidas's wife trying to convince the council of elders in Sparta to go to war. It's incredibly boring, only serving to provide rest between intense battle scenes. There's none of Miller's trademark dialogue or narration, and there's an ugly scene where [SPOILERS, if you care] a corrupt councilman won't help her unless she offers herself to him. So she does, and he shoves her up against a wall, saying something like, "This will not be over quickly, and you will not enjoy it." Then when she speaks to the council, he calls her an adulterer, saying she tried to seduce him. Oh, he's such a jerk. I'm sure we're supposed to boo and hiss. So he's having guards throw her out of the council, but she grabs one of their swords and stabs the him, repeating his line back to him. Yeah, go girl! (sarcasm). And then a bunch of coins fall out of his tunic, and they all have Xerxes's head on them. Get it, he was being bribed by the Persians. So everybody calls him a traitor and decides to go to war. Yawn. [End Spoilers].Plus, poor Dominic West is stuck playing the villainous councilman. I think he's excellent in The Wire on HBO, but he can't seem to catch a break in movies, ending up in stuff like this and The Forgotten. Also, he's British in real life, but his faux-British accent in 300 sounds more fake to me than his American accent on The Wire. Weird.

So, anyway, I had a good time and enjoyed the movie, for the most part. I just wish they would have stuck to Miller's story instead of adding their own stuff to pad out the running time.

Andy Barker, P.I.:

This is a new show that debuted last Thursday on NBC (in place of 30 Rock, which I hope is not a bad sign for that show), and it's hilarious. Andy Richter (Conan O'Brien's former sidekick) plays an accountant who becomes a Private Eye because a client confuses him for the detective who used to work out of his new office. Richter plays the character perfectly; he starts doing the detective job out of boredom, and we see him start to get really interested, but he's ridiculously naive about the world he's getting into. He's searching for a guy, and when he finds him, a bunch of Russian gangsters pull up, grab the guy, and shove him into a van. Andy says to them, "Hey, no need to be so rough!" He projects that aura of innocence very well. He plays the part of a boring accountant well also. When he's first researching the case (on Google), he comes across an article mentioning the guy's tax return. His eyes light up, and he says, "Ooh, this just got interesting!" Funny stuff. Other good additions to the cast include Tony Hale (Buster on Arrested Development) as the guy who runs the video store downstairs from Andy's office and gets involved in the case (and, presumably, future cases); and Harve Presnell as the P.I. who used to work in Andy's office that Andy goes to for advice. They both play their parts excellently. It's an incredibly enjoyable show, and I'll be following it to whatever night it moves to once 30 Rock comes back to Thursdays. I recommend checking it out!


  1. Re: 300
    Haven't seen it yet, will do tomorrow (unless my plans are delayed again), though I have read it...I'm the sort of the that sees the political implications automatically, without looking for it per se. We seems to me split 50/50 with people in that its obvious/or you have to look, and I take it as a facet of personality and interest, rather than anything else. Mind you, I don't mean the invasion of Iraq as a topic (though its obvious why people would be trying that tack), but with 300 more Miller's take on masculinity and heroism. Like the virtue as manifest in physical aesthethics (that deformed dwarf survived the ritual baby killing, no? shouldn't that makes him the toughest Spartan there is?) or effeminate Xerxes (but that's a tradition in manly hollywood movies like Braveheart and Rob Roy and such. Maybe movies "about" the Scottish then). Anyway, my understanding is that Frank Miller's involvement was pretty strong, so he actually probably wrote that new additional material you didn't like. Miller's not exactly a subtle one, even in his comics.

    But I'm heartened to hear that it's not as slavish an adaptation as Sin City. Those sorts always seem to sap a bit of the energy when filmmakers (or whoever) create things to please fans, as opposed to say communicate their enthusiams or the good bits. If that makes any sense.

  2. Hey, thanks for your thoughts. Interesting stuff; I bet you'll enjoy the movie. I agree that Miller's not a subtle writer. He often seems to value macho, manly men and makes his villains effeminate, as you describe. I should mention, in the movie, Ephialtes (the deformed Spartan) says that his parents couldn't bear to kill him as a baby, so they moved away and left Spartan society so he could live. But he wanted to be a soldier, so he followed the army, using his father's spear and shield. I don't remember if that's what happened in the book. Eh, that's really a pretty minor point. Oh, and they also take out the scene where he throws himself off a cliff after being rejected by Leonidas. They show him on the cliff screaming, but then cut away. I don't know why they did that; perhaps to make it more plausible when he shows up later with Xerxes.

  3. I caught it this weekend and did liked it quite a lot. It was frequently beautiful visually, and pretty much always fun for me. Having seen it, agree that it doesn't have a specific political point to press--if any just the original one from Miller's original, mainly that of Alamo and that soldiers fight for each other. With the added material though, stuff like lines about "politicians who send people to get killed" and that freedom country talk, they kinda should have seen that reception coming. Not unlikey courted controversy actually.

    I think that Ephialtes scene was probably changed for the same reason they added that tree of bodies scene you mentioned. It makes the Spartans less harsh and cruel, I think, and more palpatable for the general audience. Leonadis in the graphic novel didn't over Ephialtes anything, I don't think, other than the bottom of his sandal.

    Now that I think about it, I think the reception 300 got fits Black Hawk Down more, another movie about soldiers in war that didn't have much to say about the war itself. It's more fitting there since with Spartan's it'd have to be metaphor if anything, but with that one the "characters" were all real and in recent memory.

  4. Good point about the added scenes. That's probably exactly why they were added: to make the Spartans seem less harsh. Too bad (in my opinion), but it's really not that big a deal. It's a pretty light movie, really. Fun to watch the violence, but that's about all there is to it.

    Oh, and Black Hawk Down is a pretty good comparison. Nicely done.

  5. matt brady said:But he wanted to be a soldier, so he followed the army, using his father's spear and shield. I don't remember if that's what happened in the book.

    well, it was not exactly like that, but Ephialtes in the book cursed his mother and father and said they where wrong.

    Now about the movie, you are absolutely right about the added scenes (with Leonidas' wife in Sparta). They shouldn't have been included. Not only because they are not part of the original, but also because, having studied a little Greek history (as I am Greek) it seems that Miller's portrayal of the Spartan society is pretty much accurate.
    I saw the movie for what it was (a violent, bloody depiction of the battle of Thermopylae, like the graphic novel was ) and did not think about the political implications... mostly because Miller wrote 300 long before the wars in Iraq and as hcduvall said, the only political points were the original ones.

  6. Cornholio: Sounds like we're pretty much in agreement about the movie. Thanks for your thoughts!