There is an episode of South Park where a society of Gnomes want to take over the world. Their detailed plan goes like this:
Step One: Steal Everyone's Underpants
Step Three: Take Over The World
In Clark Gregg's film adaptation of one of Chuck Palahniuk's interchangeable Alienated Young Man novels, everything feels like it was made by the Underpants Gnomes, missing some essential step or piece of information to fill in an important gap. Take (as just one example) the film's premise-- Sam Rockwell plays a sex addict who pretends to choke on food in restaurants, leading to people saving him (Step One). Then he gets them to send him money (Step Three). The film tries to vaguely connect these two by saying that once you save someone's life you feel responsible for them, but I'm pretty confident that there are plenty of people who give someone the Heimlich and then go about their daily lives unchanged. Much of the movie, including its ending works in this manner, to increasingly frustrating effect.
This kind of sloppiness and lack of understanding of its subject is a hallmark of Palahniuk's novels, which try to use one sentence paragraphs and hyper-real bluster to blow past any concerns of logic, character, accuracy or plot cohesion. David Fincher and Jim Uhls' adaptation of Fight Club solved these problems by lending a satirical coherence and understanding to Palahniuk's worldview and creating a cinematic reality that could house its over the top antics.
Clark Gregg- who is quite funny in the film- decides to take a more realistic approach. The end result is that you see all the cracks in Palahniuk's methods and story. There's too much plot, and too much of what is aspiring to"thematic content"; no one component ends up having causal relationship with any other. Despite good performances from Sam Rockwell and Angelica Huston the movie never gets airborne, a disaster for a supposedly biting satire.
When the opening scene of your book concerns a conflicted Priest getting drunk in a fictional Latin American country, you can be pretty damn sure the comparison to Graham Greenn will come tumbling after. Robert Stone- who has labored under such comparisons for his entire career- won the PEN/Faulkner award for A Flag For Sunrise in 1981 when it was first published. The book braids together three different plot lines, two Greenian, one decidedly not. A nun named Sister Justin suffers a crisis of faith while trying to help a coalition of indigenous peoples and Marxist guerrillas overthrow a military dictatorship in Tecan, a fictional Latin American nation. Holliwell, an American businessman haunted by the specter of Vietnam and his spook past is asked to go to Tecan to find out what she's up to. Meanwhile, a Coast Guard deserter, speed-freak and all around badass named Pablo Tabor falls in with some smugglers shipping in guns to help fuel the revolution.
Weaving through themes of Catholicism, US intervention in Latin America, idealism and bravery, doubt and faith, A Flag For Sunrise is a slow burn. Just when any one plot line seems to get going, Stone shifts gears to sit in with a new protagonist. The wait, however, is worth it. Like any good epic, A Flag For Sunrise portrays the ways that individuals shape and are shaped by forces larger than themselves, and once the puzzle pieces are in place, the book becomes hard to put down. Whether the revolution will be successful or not, and what that means for the fate of the various characters, is left up in the air until the very end, and the last one hundred or so pages are particularly enthralling, emotionally and physically brutal and forcefully written.
If there's one criticism to level at the book, its the way the novel refuses to give us an insider's perspective on Tecan. Although like any good epic, A Flag For Sunrise shows how individuals interact with and are shaped by the larger forces around them, this remains a book about white people meddling in a foreign nation, and at only one point (for what smell like strictly expository purposes) do we get the perspective of any of the locals. In a way, the novel uses Tecan the way the characters in the novel seek to use Tecan to advance their own ends.
Our Brand is Crisis; Directed and Produced by Rachel Boynton; Documentary; 2005
In 2002, documentarian Rachel Boynton followed around
consultants from Carville Grennberg Shrum as they tried to help Bolivian
ex-President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada (aka Goni) get elected amidst
economic crisis and social upheaval. Goni is a kind of Clintonite figure who
combined implementing National Health Care and Social Security with
denationalizing and deregulating industry. At the time he was running for
President, his economic policies were blamed for the crisis, his demeanor was
widely believed to be aloof and arrogant, and voters openly called him the
Gringo.CGS was brought in sixty
days prior to election to help him eke out a victory.
It’s clear watching the film that
Boynton’s goal was to profile American political consultants mucking about in
another country’s electoral process. This serves as a kind of metaphor for
American meddling in Latin American economics and government in general. What she stumbled upon, however, was a
country on the brink of collapse that goes over the edge shortly after Goni
wins the Presidency, culminating in him being driven from office by riots and unrest.
you have to roll with the punches, something the film fails to do. Rather than
use the material she had to tell the dramatic story of the rise and fall of
Goni, she sticks relentlessly with the American consultants, turning
the film into a South of the Border War Room.Two thirds of the film is spent on the
election and less than thirty minutes on its aftermath. Very little time is
spent coving Evo Morales, even though he eventually topples Goni’s government
and key issues in the election (the disenfranchisement of indigenous peoples,
for example) are never explained.There’s a fascinating cautionary tale lurking underneath Our Brand Is
Crisis, but Boynton only rarely lets it come to the surface.
The Bank Job; Written by Bill Clement & Ian LaFranais; Directed by Roger Donaldson; Starring Jason Statham and Saffron Burroughs.
Presidential candidates aren’t the only ones who benefit
from the Expectations Game.A new
action film starring Jason Statham (Crank, War, Etc.) and his ubiquitous tough guy stubble does not immediately scream
“Watch me! I’m a Thing of Quality!” Don’t judge this particular DVD by the box,
however; just when you thought solid non-self-referential heist films had gone
the way of the dodo, the surprisingly good The Bank Job shows up
to remind viewers how its done.
Statham plays Terry Leather, a small time hood in London in
the 1970s who is recruited by an old almost-flame (played by Saffron Burroughs)
to rob a bank. What he doesn’t know is that the safety deposit boxes in the
bank contain the dirty laundry of much of London’s criminal underbelly,
including photos of a member of the royal family participating in an orgy.As Leather and his cohorts plot to rob
the bank, various players including MI5 (or is it 6?), a Black Power drug dealer and various pimps and bookies all try to outmaneuver each other to get what’s
in the bank.
Despite the rather convoluted plot, which trendily and
pointlessly jumps backwards and forwards in time, director Roger Donaldson
keeps the proceedings running smoothly and logically. You have to pay
attention, but you’re never lost.Only a certain bland salacious slickness to the visual style and some
troublesome racial politics (to call the Black villains cartoons would be an
insult to Bugs Bunny) keep the film down. It’s not quite as good as the films from the heist heyday in the 1960s and 70s, but
it’s a good, fun, actually suspenseful ride and, if the credits are to be
believed, (somewhat) true.
Having been on the freelance writing market for a little bit now, I've noticed that it's really quite important for job seekers to prove they can say things eloquently and insightfully in less than 300 words. So to help build up those skills, I'm starting a new feature here called "The Under-300". I don't know if it will all be reviews or not yet, but the goal is try to to write something concise, structurally sound and maybe slightly elegant. my first attempt, a review of the Brian K. Vaughan / Niko Henrichon graphic novel Pride of Baghdad.
So here we go... The Under-300: Pride of Baghdad
My local comic
bookstore proprietor informed me recently that Brian K. Vaughan’s Pride of Baghdad doesn’t sell very well, despite its author’s popularity.
This is a shame; Pride is amongst
the Y: The Last Man creator’s
best works. Consulting my patented Critic’s Wild Speculometron 2000, I’m going
to go ahead and say it’s the book’s premise that has done in its commercial
prospects.For 136 pages you
follow around four talking lions that escape from the Baghdad Zoo during the
early days of the United States’ invasion of Iraq.Oh yeah, and they
talk. About lion stuff.
Oddly enough, this kid’s book premise works wonders in this
very-much-not-for-kids story, although for people following Vaughan’s work, it shouldn’t
be that surprising. Brian K. Vaughan has made a career of taking what at first
seem like highly suspect premises- All the male animals on Earth die except for
a lame hipster magician and his pet helper monkey! A mediocre ex-superhero
becomes Mayor of New York!- and pulling them off with wit, depth, feeling and a
smidgeon of panache.Pride of
Baghdad is no exception. Vaughan and artist
Niko Henrichon are experts at evoking the visual and storytelling vocabulary of
children’s entertainment (especially Disney movies) while never letting you
forget that the main characters are in the middle of a deadly situation that
they cannot possible comprehend.
of Baghdad avoids didacticism while also communicating the
tragedy of war as it is visited on the beings that must struggle to survive
it.It also studiously avoids the
kind of forced relevancy and hipster trendiness that marred Shooting War. While
Vaughan will probably always be remembered for his lengthier works, Pride of
Baghdad shows that he can make a stand -alone volume vibrate with creativity