Sunday, January 24, 2010

Yes, 2000-2009 Counts As a Decade. It Doesn't Matter That There Was No Year Zero. Look, Just Forget It.

The decade just past was a good one for comics.

There, I said it.

Yeah, I know, there were some bumps. OK, a lot of bumps. The kind of thing that might occur over the course of, y'know, a DECADE. But as I've said many, many times before, when you don't see comics through the prism of superheroes--and I, personally, do not--you come away with a much rosier picture of the medium.

I don't know if I've brought this up before on this particular blog, so I may as well go over it again. I read comics growing up, but they were mostly of the Archie/Tintin/Uncle Scrooge variety. I enjoyed them in the unselfconscious way that kids enjoy things. Plus, I was a really nerdy, weenie little kid who tended to hide under his chair at the most subtle note of horror in his entertainment, and as early as the mid-80s, superhero comics were too grim 'n' gritty for my liking. I was enrolled in the gifted program in Grade 3, meaning I was comfortably surrounded by other nerds, and I actually thought liking superheroes--which at the time meant X-Men, and plenty of them--made someone too badass to hang around me. D&D was the same way, with its lurid mystique of occult worship and teen suicide. I think I may have been the most pathetic child ever.

At any rate, the floodgates finally opened for me in the early 90s, when Ken Butland, who was and remains my best pal on this Earth, developed an addiction to the Image comics of the time, and as with so many other things, passed it along to me. I'll admit that one of the other things keeping me out of comics was my somewhat OCD nature which required me to start reading stories at, like, the beginning (how drearily pre-21st-century-schizoid-man of me). Having a brand-spanking-new comics line available for my perusal really helped me appreciate just how much fun modern, mainstream comics could be. Don't get me wrong--I quickly realized that Spawn and its ilk were pretty terrible, and graduated to stuff like Bone and Sandman. But I'm pretty sure you need a visceral kick to engage the reader at that crucial, adolescent time when comics fans are born, and Image squeaked me through just as the window was closing.

Anyway. The long and the short of it is that the Big Two have always had a negligible appeal for me, and watching them choke and sputter and circle the drain in these last few years hasn't had any kind of emotional impact whatsoever. Let them go. Spider-man's not going anywhere; he and his kind live forever in those giant omnibus collections we were so lucky to be blessed with in this decade. And when I say they're not going anywhere, I mean they're not going anywhere. Even as their history gets venerated, elevated to popcult iconography by the culture at large, their future in comics seems more and more limited. The superheroes' natural home is and always has been on the Hollywood silver screen; now that the opportunity to make that evolutionary leap has finally come along, the corporate gatekeepers aren't going to let those pesky comics from which they sprung interfere with the REAL money. Comics have always been a bit of an embarassment to those peripherally involved with them, the bratty nephew of pop culture, and that's both good and bad. But once the gold rush starts, as it has, you'd better believe that the corporate megaliths are going to make sure that bratty nephew straightens up and flies right. No more throwing shit at the walls, or starting awkward political discussions at the dinner table. In other words, superhero comics, don't make us look bad the next time one of your products gets a movie deal and causes the spotlight to tilt in your direction.

Of course this puts superhero comics in the position that unchecked capitalism puts all popular art in, only more so: the compulsion to keep the content coming, but not to do anything weird or different that might upset the status quo. Not exactly a recipe for greatness. Is it really any wonder we're at where we're at right now?

Um. I'm fairly certain I had a point around here somewhere...

Oh yes. Well, as much fun as it is to write about this stuff, I don't have any attachment to superhero comics, so they serve best by steering the industry in wise directions (by accident, naturally). And for the last decade, I'm pretty content with that direction. Like I say, divorce superheroes from the equation and comics have been on an uptick in just about every way imaginable. Granted, that was almost inevitable after the bottoming-out of the early 90s, when comics hit a nadir in quality and then lost the majority of their popular following through poor business practices (not that the two things are unconnected, of course). But the good thing about this--and trust me, I know, I was there--is that the only people who stuck around after the bubble burst were the ones who really loved comics. It's not a coincidence that the second half of the 90s saw a head-spinning surge in quality for the medium; complacency gives way to rebellion, and enforced lameness breeds vitality once the dam breaks.

I think that amazing turnaround made the past ten years seem a little less exciting by contrast, but this was the decade when comics internalized the lessons of the 90s: edginess is cheap, the past is ever-present, and comics offer a unique opportunity to be a cutting-edge maverick. Comics have always had the potential to blend the populist with the personal in exciting ways, but I think the Aughts is the decade when the world at large finally started to get a whiff of this. Between the web and the bookstore, comics started to rebuild their audience--and this time, they were smarter and hipper than before. (And, OK, more cultish and socially backward. But in that way too comics are on the cutting edge: it's the internet age.) Comics aren't the ones trailing pathetically along after Hollywood's leavings anymore; now its the funnybooks that set the tone, delivering all the best TV shows and movies that the homogenized Hollywood media octopus can't or won't deliver, until they see the sales figures. Many of the decade's most significant movies--for better or for worse--were either based on comics or significantly inspired by them. I'm not talking about superheroes, now, but rather the likes of Sin City and 300 and V For Vendetta and A History of Violence and American Splendour and Ghost World. This is where movies, and thus, the culture, is heading--there's lots more where that came from. Increasingly, comics are going to be steering the culture, even if lots of people don't realize it.

On the other end of the scale, we had the web restoring cheapness and accessibility to comics, and thereby bolstering the numbers of that always-significant audience: the comics readers who don't think of themselves as comics readers. I'm referring here to newspaper strips, which have always had a weird, detached relationship with their four-colour cousins; classically, people just haven't connected their love of Calvin and Hobbes or The Far Side with "reading comics", and the nerdier side of the family tree hasn't even attempted to build a bridge to this massive, potential mainstream audience. At any rate, that ship has mostly sailed, as print comics entered their decline and the web rose up to authoritatively take their place. Webcomics allow for pretty much anything, in format or content, for free, and with no gatekeepers to stand between the artist and the reader. The amount of suckage is vast, of course, but that's the glory of a truly populist medium--the chaff can be safely ignored, leaving lots and lots of wheat to be enjoyed. Provided you don't mind staring at a screen, of course. But hey! This was also the decade in which notable comics started to make the jump to print, often assisted by the old guard of the comics medium--Dark Horse has probably been best at seizing this opportunity so far, with their Achewood and Perry Bible Fellowship collections and moving Dark Horse Presents online, but most of the other companies have dipped a toe in the pool as well.

Anything else I could possibly say about webcomics has been said better already by Abhay Khosla, so go read that when you're done. In the meantime, here's


Seven Soldiers--What if DC had a giant multi-series crossover and nobody noticed? Of course, this was more a metacommentary on the idea of superhero crossover events than the real deal, since the characters featured didn't have their own books and were entirely at the mercy of Grant Morrison. But it's precisely because of that that we got such a tight, brilliantly told story made up of smaller stories with a firm authorial voice. Crossover epics were developed under the aegis of one man, Jack Kirby; it's only fitting that this, probably the last time we'll ever see it done properly, was also a purely one-man operation.

All-Star Superman--I got nothing. This is just the best Superman story ever, and possibly the best superhero story ever that isn't named "Watchmen". Everything I could say here is redundant if you've already read it, and if you haven't you're lazy and benighted.

Scott Pilgrim--See below.

Seaguy--It is what it is, and that's all that it is. Superheroes, cartoons, theme parks and vast media empires, all made to look very silly yet very serious. Morrison's work always has a deeper meaning, but this time out you're probably better just rolling with it.

We3--Dang, Grant Morrison again! My love of variety is tempting me to drop this just to give one of the other kids a chance, but it just wouldn't be the truth: Morrison is the best comics writer currently working. We3 is small but perfect.

Box Office Poison--This comic flirts with the kind of indie navel-gazing that I absolutely hate--hey, everyone, let's show how serious and important comics are by taking away everything that they do well!--so it should tell you something that it's on this list. Warm and true, this book is like hanging out with an old friend.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen--Yes, the whole thing. Yes, Black Dossier included. Alan Moore's disastrous Hollywood experiences seemingly led him to steer what had previously been "just" a tremendously fun adventure book with a neat hook into a "unified field theory of fiction", showing off comics' "multimedia" nature and making a statement about the nature of intellectual property which can only get more interesting from here...

Black Hole--I feel like the ending veers away from the darkness the book had been staring at unflinchingly up until then (like some kind, hole-ish thing), but that's probably just what felt most truthful to author Charles Burns. Otherwise, this is a deeply unsettling Freudian mindfuck and a masterful slice of atmosphere and tension.

The Umbrella Academy--Did I say superheroes were dead? Oh, I didn't? Well, they're not, at least, not as long as witty and enthusiastic fans like Gerard Way have something to say about them. As tends to be the case, starting afresh with new characters in the key. This is a satisfyingly knotty and emotional romp, equal parts Wes Anderson, Edward Gorey, Stan Lee and Mike Mignola.

Phonogram--Love of music is magic, a fact made literal in Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie's beautifully drawn valentine of a comic. Like Scott Pilgrim, this is a comic that manages to blend slice-of-life with the fantastical in a way that's uniquely suited to comics, and although it takes a more intellectual frame of reference, the creator's love is leaking out of every panel.


Scott Pilgrim--Can't claim to be objective about this one; it's like this comic was made for me, specifically.

Nextwave--Warren Ellis calls it "pure comics". He is correct.

Seven Soldiers

Y: The Last Man--It can grate a little in that Joss Whedon aren't-I-precious kinda way, but I have never seen anyone read the first volume of this and not instantly demand the second. Movies are often cinematic, but this is the first true "TV comic" (and I mean that as a complement).

The Goon--Warren Ellis does NOT refer to this one as "pure comics", but he would not be incorrect to do so.


She-Hulk (Dan Slott issues only)--Like all the superhero books on this list aside from All Star Superman, this book succeeds because it focuses on an obscure or purely original superhero character, meaning that there are still things that can be done with them. That said, this one does do a lot of bipping and bopping with the minutiae of the Marvel universe, but Slott's love for this stuff is so pure and unrestrained that he actually made me care. Me!

All-Star Superman

Top Ten (Alan Moore issues only)--The original run was probably the Magus's most satisfying story arc since the 80s. The two spinoffs, Smax and The 49ers, helped flesh out a world that sadly would be continued only in a halfhearted fashion by lesser (though not untalented) creators.

Runaways--What the--a Marvel comic starring NEW characters?!? And a great one, at that? Of course The House of Ideas managed to screw it up by delaying the later issues until all the heat around the book died down, but it never stopped being great. The true heir apparent to the sprawling soap operas of the 70s, only more fun.

I'm leaving off Bone because it was mostly in the 90s, and the second half wasn't as good. I haven't read Blankets, Asterios Polyp, Criminal, or any of Bryan Talbot's stuff. I *almost* included Conan, just for the spectacular first 15 issues by Kurt Busiek, but I felt like the rest of it wasn't good enough to rate a "best of" list. conclusion...the aughts were a pretty good time for comics. Certainly they were the beginning of some massive changes in the industry, though of course lots of them won't be for the better. Still, it could be that the 00s heralded a time when you could actually be proud to say, "Yes, I read comic books."

...OK, maybe we should give it a few more decades.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Thursday, January 14, 2010

It's All In The Mind...And It Should Have Stayed There


It's possible I heard about this a while ago and dismissed it as one of those ill-conceived ideas that Hollywood is always tossing out and which never seem to happen. It's also possible I repressed it.

Robert Zemeckis is doing a CGI mo-cap remake of Yellow Submarine. And it's apparently into the casting stage.

I'm not the kind of guy who turns up his nose at remakes; there are plenty of movies that could be improved, and sometimes a story is so strong that it genuinely deserves a modern take on it every few years (like the numerous Invasion of the Body Snatchers movies--the recent Nicole Kidman version is apparently lousy, but the other two remakes are both solid enough--the 70s version is brilliant, actually).

But I don't really need to explain why this plan sounds utterly stupid, do I? The original is nearly perfect, at least partly because it's a relic of its era, and while the Beatles themselves were only fleetingly involved in the original movie, it still FELT like part of their body of work. The Beatles were still a growing, dynamic creative force at the time, alive and vital, impacting the culture, their legacy still being written. 40 years on, that legacy is pretty much set in stone, and a new Beatles movie--no matter how much care is put into it--can only seem like a museum piece. No doubt it'll be packed with Beatles references to tickle our nostalgia bones, like that "Free As a Bird" music video--but by definition, it can't add anything to the Beatles legacy. And if it did add anything, it wouldn't be "The Beatles".

And that's assuming a hypothetical best-case scenario. Going further into the details of this actual production, we've got...Robert Zemeckis, once a tremendous filmmaker who has, bewilderingly, surrendered to that godawful mocap process which satisfies neither the desire for live action nor that for real animation. I sort of liked Beowulf, but having the characters be hyper-real, dead-eyed mannikins hurt the story, which would have been better served by a group of live actors or a traditional animated format. For some reason Zemeckis is married to this medium, even though it clearly isn't working yet, and may possibly NEVER work, no matter how great the technology gets. (Bringing animated characters to life is a matter of artistic skill, not coding. It requires time, care, and talent, not money and technology.)

At least Yellow Submarine's mo-cap characters wouldn't be bound by a pedantic need for realism, but still, what's the fucking point? It frankly smacks of a wrongheaded belief that CGI is somehow "better" than classical animation, and that this is bringing the original "up to date". That may not be what Zemeckis is telling himself, but that's how it comes off. You know how George Lucas only seems to exist to destroy everything that is good and wonderful about movies? At least he's mostly kept it to his own franchises. I can't say the same about Zemeckis anymore. Fuck that guy.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Kids In The Hall: Death Comes to Town

It was...OK. It's possible that being a kid when KOTH was on the air has made it seem better than it was, so I don't know if that was disappointing or par for the course. The setup is intriguing--I'm a big fan of The League of Gentlemen, so it's cool to see that structure being imitated by the Kids. I liked some of the insane, random imagery, and it certainly warmed the cockles of my nostalgia, but I'd be lying if I said it had me rolling with laughter.

The best stuff was Mayor Bowman and his food-theft and his special son Rampop, plus the return of the two cops. Death is sort of interesting as a plot device, but comedically those scenes were way too broad and "zany". And there was a disappointing lack of McDonald/Foley action.

That said, there was still plenty of potential for something good, assuming that this episode suffered from having to set up the premise. And nostalgia aside, this did feel at least worthy of an average episode of KOTH--I know they've had worse, or more baffling, sketches.

By the way, you can watch it online here (at least, Canadians can--don't know about the rest of the world.)


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Liveblogging Boll. Livebolling? ...Bollblogging?

Happy New Year! Guess what one of my resolutions was. No, go on, guess.

If you guessed “to blog more often”, you have a keen grasp of what every blogger on the internet is thinking. Anyway, in that spirit of snide optimism, here’s a big ol’ post!

Despite my fondness for bad movies--I've linked to the B-Masters Cabal before, and I will do it again--I don't usually get to see them very often, partly because I don't really get much time to watch movies at all these days, and obviously I'd rather watch one that's actually good given the chance. Still, what with one thing and another I've had a chance to see a few ripe ones over the holidays. My friend finally got me to watch "The Room", which is sort of what you'd get if Ed Wood and David Lynch had a baby. But the big event was meant to be my first viewing of an Uwe Boll movie on New Year's Eve. We threw on House of the Dead at my friend's party, only to discover that what we were watching was the "director's cut". This is a version made after the movie had developed a reputation as a complete stinkbomb, and made to cash in on this fact (as well as showing that Boll supposedly has a sense of humour about it--he shows up in a short intro at the beginning as a hostage to a terrorist group that's going to force him to watch his own movie). Which is all well and good, but this version of the movie turns out to be loaded up with pop-up video "snark", stupid "comedy" sound effects and music, and goofy outtakes spliced into actual scenes (even more horrifying, some of these allegedly "comedic" scenes actually seem to have been filmed just for this DVD). The result is way, WAY more painful than just watching a bad movie--it's like watching the creators of "Meet the Spartans" attempt to do MST3K.

I needed to cleanse the palette with a true, undiluted bad movie experience, one in which the comedy is unintentional and therefore funny, so I tracked down "In The Name of The King: A Dungeon Siege Tale". This is an Uwe Boll movie from much later, after the Lord of the Rings movies had made their mark, so I was kind of curious to see if this was as entertainingly gonzo and inept as "Dungeons and Dragons" or any number of terrible mid-80s fantasy flicks. And I kept notes as I watched, to amuse you.

01:28--Nothing kicks off an epic fantasy like shots of Ray Liotta smooching with Leelee Sobieski! And by the way, EEEEEW.

02:18—John Rhys-Davies talks to no one, then melts. Huh?

02:36—Jason Statham makes his appearance, farming turnips. So far I feel like I’ve been watching random scenes from three completely different movies, badly spliced together. And not the opening scenes, either—just random scenes from halfway through several randomly-chosen movies. At least this one feels like a proper introduction to the character. Music: twinkly and celtic, but also vaguely resembling that of a 50s western for some reason.

03:10—A boomerang. Statham’s character is a master of the boomerang. Why was I not informed of this?

03:20—He throws it at crows “so they don’t eat the crops”. Crows are known for digging up turnips, I guess?

03:36—PERLMAN!!! With a pig! Trading it for corn, for some reason, even though Statham is clearly a turnip farmer.

05:43—Domestic scenes with Statham’s character (as you’ve no doubt heard, he’s a farmer named Farmer), Perlman, and his wife (Claire Forlani) and son. Then the obligatory makeout scene with his wife, showing how happy and loving they are before his family is horribly killed and he swears vengeance (I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that’s what happens).

07:40—Farmer’s wife explains that Farmer took the name “Farmer” “because he believes that people become what they do.” Guh wha? Does he call everyone by their function? Does he call Perlman “Swineherd”? Does he call his wife “Wife”?

08:10—Introductory shot of Matthew Lillard, cramming his face with meat like Henry VIII, immediately followed by a shot of Burt Reynolds, looking like he’s already planning on jumping out the window to escape the movie.

08:30—Last Survivor Of Evil Army, who keeps randomly shouting “Krugs” in the middle of sentences. Krugs appear to be this movie’s Orcs. Aaaaand—that scene’s at an abrupt end!

09:07—Well, this movie *looks* pretty good, cinematography-wise. But it’s kind of hilarious how randomly everything’s been thrown together—you have costumes from a bunch of different historical eras (and some that belong in LOTR), white and black people, English accents and American ones, together with no logic.

11:40—Interestingly, it looks like Farmer’s going to be attacked while his wife and kid are away, rather than vice versa.


13:35—The action scene here is not terrible. In fact it’s pretty good. Even if there’s no explanation for why this farmer is such a badass.

15:11—And suddenly we’re cutting away in the middle of this two-pronged attack to watch Leelee do tepid Matrix-style swordfighting with a black dude. With a lousy British accent.

15:50—Lillard also has a bad British accent. And he’s playing a foppish nobleman. I love you, movie.

16:17—Every second Lillard is on screen is GOLD.

17:12—Time for the standard “raid the village” fantasy-movie scene. There’s been some talk about how Krugs are these mindless beasts and seeing them fight with weapons is clearly the work of dark sorcery, which is actually kind of cool, except Krugs are clearly humanoid. Is it really that amazing that creatures with opposable thumbs can swing a sword at you?

17:30—I love how Statham and Perlman, apparently with no help at all, can hold off a battalion of these things. Aragorn had to call in a bunch of elves and dead guys. Pussy.

18:42—Every evil fantasy army seems to hire that one guy just to wear badass armour, pose on horseback on a cliff or low structure, and do nothing to help.

19:08—POV shot of armour-wearing dude trying to ride down Farmer. He sees in BLACK AND WHITE!!! OOOOH!!!! SPOOOOOOKY!!! This is because he’s being remote controlled by Ray Liotta. Farmer kills the armour dude, which makes Liotta happy for some reason. And he congratulates Farmer, even though his avatar-guy is dead and there’s no way he can hear him.

23:29—Blah blah blah, battle’s over, lots of people dead. It just kind of ends. Farmer’s kid dead, wife missing. Music: sad chanting of sadness, which for some reason swells and gets intense and epic as he digs his son’s grave.

26:06—Surprise, Lillard is this movie’s Wormtongue! In that he’s a close confidant of the king (in fact, he seems to be the king’s only friend, judging from the earlier scene) who’s secretly working with the villain.

26:52—The king came down in person to sympathize with the villagers. I’d say something snarky about how phony that sounds, but since standard king procedure is to belch slightly and order a new dish of figs when informed that the peasants are suffering, I have to give him props.

27:00—Hey, Rhys-Davies is here too. He appears to be this movie’s Gandalf. Speaking of which, Perlman has a bow and arrows, making him this movie’s Legolas. And there’s this random dude with long hair hanging around—I think he’s Farmer’s brother-in-law? Maybe? I’m going to proclaim him to be this movie’s Pippin.

27:51—Farmer pretty much blows a raspberry in the king’s face for his failure to stop the Krug and black dude (the actor’s name is Brian J. White, the character’s name is Tarish) starts getting all huffy. King Reynolds tells him to hold off, because “That is not the way of Ehb.” Ehb is the kingdom they live in.

28:28—“Old, but still strong.” Statham and Perlman actually have awesome chemistry. This movie becomes pretty decent whenever they’re on screen together.

28:59—Farmer flashes back to the one scene he’s had so far with his wife. Rhys-Gandalf comes along and lectures Farmer on his duty to the king by telling him there are more important things than his dead son, who just died a hour ago. Don’t sprain something showing your compassion, Rhys.

30:53—Farmer and party send the horses back so they can zipline across a broken bridge. This is obviously a call back to the Mines of Moria sequence, except there’s no dungeon. In a movie called “Dungeon Siege”. That’s Boll for the course, of course—there wasn’t really a house in House of the Dead either. Music: flutey and zany.

34:29—Ye gods, Lillard is over the top. He’s in a totally different movie—everyone else is trying pretty hard, and often succeeding, at bringing this script to life, but Lillard seems to have an idea of who’s directing. By the way, we’re finally getting a bit of backstory—he’s King Reynolds’ nephew, and he’s helping Liotta so he can seize the crown. Now if only we knew who the hell Liotta was.

35:35—Leelee asks Liotta, “Must you appear so suddenly from nowhere?” “I don’t, I appear suddenly from somewhere.” Um, yes, good. By the way, the fact that the evil sorcerer’s plan involves banging the king’s daughter is kind of awesome.

38:32—King Reynolds on Lillard: “You have a knack for well-timed diplomacy.” (Pause) “I guess that’s something…”

39:59—Farmer (sarcastically): “People say God watches over the innocent.” Whoa, what? They’re monotheists in this fantasy world? That’s a first.

41:22—Forest spirits—elves, I guess—appear in a flurry of aspen leaves, looking for all the world like Cirque de Soleil performers. Come to think of it, that’s probably exactly who they are.


42:42—Wait—Leelee isn’t King Reynolds’ daughter? Is she Rhys-Gandalf’s daughter? Damn, Boll does a terrible job setting up the characters.

46:33—So Lillard’s run off with a battalion, and when the commander asks, basically, “What’s going on,” Lillard stabs him and then threatens the other soldiers with more of what that guy got if they ask questions. Dude, that only works if you can actually take the people you’re threatening in a fight.

47:25—Leelee finally has a scene with her dad, in which he basically tells her everything that’s happened is her fault (Liotta’s “tapping into their bloodline”, whatever that means, and it’s giving him lots o’ power). Again, two good actors sell this scene, but it’s hilariously abrupt. And Rhys-Gandalf is a jerk.

47:55—The elves, or whatever they are, are supposedly the reason no one goes through this forest, but when they catch the heroes they obligingly lead them through to the other side.

47:35—The king has been poisoned. Rhys-Gandalf crouches at King Reynolds’ bedside, stroking his hand tenderly. THAT WILL NOT MAKE HIM BETTER YOU STUPID MAGUS.

Some time in here—I’m too lazy to go back and check—Farmer and co. do the “knock out the bad guys and steal their armour to blend in with the evil army” thing. Except Farmer doesn’t bother, he just runs around in his usual outfit and ducks behind the odd wagon. Smooth.

51:13—Fakest looking CGI army EVER. Or maybe they just filmed a bunch of D&D miniatures standing outside a matte painting.

51:46—“In the name of EEEEEEEEHHHHHHHHHBBBB!!!!!”

55:33—Rhys-Gandalf, who so far has done nothing except slightly prolong the king’s life and make Leelee feel bad, has somehow been able to sense that Farmer’s in trouble, and rides up to help him at this convenient moment. If he needs Farmer so badly, and is willing to take time out to help him, why didn’t he just help him rescue his wife a few scenes back? That way Farmer would have owed him a favour, and his schedule would have been totally clear.

57:06—Leelee—and DAMN she looks more and more like Helen Hunt every movie—is so distraught over her bad breakup with Liotta that she’s breaking mirrors…WITH HER MIND!!!! A random Swedish girl comes in and consoles her.

58:04—Oh my God, now she’s suiting up in armour! She’s pulling an Eowyn!!!

60:02—At almost exactly the hour mark, Rhys-Gandalf drops the bomb that Farmer is the King’s son. Of course Farmer refuses to believe it, because, hey, who’d want to be the heir to the throne?

60:38—“What kind of joke do the gods play on me?” asks King Reynolds. So he’s a pagan, but the people are monotheists? FANTASY RELIGION IS CONFUSING. Rhys-Gandalf tries to soothe him with “Sometimes the Gods know what is best for us” and the king says “What the hell does that mean?!?” My sentiments exactly. Rhys-Gandalf’s all trying to pretend like it’s a good thing that his kid was abandoned for 30 years and raised without ever knowing his father, because he was “far from his enemies.” Except the rampaging Krugs, of course.

63:01—Statham’s voice is getting lower and growlier in every scene. I can barely hear him now.

63:41—Tarish faces down the defecting army under Lillard, and basically threatens to kill them all. Yes, that’ll win them back! Lillard says “We will offer no quarters!” OK, can you spare five nickels, then?

66:54—Farmer runs out in front of the front lines and draws his sword as the Krugs approach. Going to take on the whole army by yourself, are you?

68:00—Holy crap. The Krugs can burrow through the ground like Bugs Bunny and drag approaching soldiers down into the ground. This is retardedly awesome.

69:08—This giant battle seems to be this movie’s version of Helm’s Deep. Farmer is leaping around and doing kung fu flips with NO ARMOUR WHATSOEVER, and of course he’s killing more Krugs than any three men on the field.

70:02—Why does Lillard still have soldiers hanging around him? I thought they all renounced him and he stormed off in a huff.

70:35—The king has a whole squadron of ninjas in leather masks at his disposal. So this whole thing is like a LOTR battle on a teensy budget, but with Bugs Bunnies vs. ninjas thrown into the middle of it. Now we just need some zombies for no reason. Maybe a lightsaber or two wouldn’t hurt.


71:39—The Krugs have these big-ass catapults that throw flaming boulders at…nothing in particular. I mean, they throw one at Farmer, but for all they know he’s just a dude, and flinging them randomly onto the battlefield is just going to kill as many of their own men as it is their opponents, right? Liotta doesn’t care, he thinks it’s funny.

72:08—Now the Krugs are LIGHTING THEMSELVES ON FIRE and being THROWN IN THE CATAPULTS at the heroes, at which point they GET UP AND KEEP FIGHTING. I love you, movie.

73:28—What the?!? There’s some random guy in a white straw hat and a totally modern shirt wailing on the Krugs in the middle of the battlefield! And he’s right in the middle of the shot!

76:33—Farmer is running across the heads of the Krugs towards Lillard in a sequence that does not look wire-assisted AT ALL. I’m sure a lot of medieval warriors could have used that trick. You were born too late, Statham.

78:49—“Looky here!” I love this seamlessly archaic and Shakespearean dialogue.

80:31—Leelee isn’t at all freaked out by the killer vines and Cirque de Soleil elves, she’s just glad Lillard’s getting his. And she’s just randomly ordering the elves around, too! Is there a missing scene in here? Probably.

81:09—Awwwwww, Perlman’s toast.

82:20—Rhys-Gandalf strokes King Reynold’s hand some more as he lies dying. This guy is like Rasputin: poison him, stab him, he just…won’t…die. Reynolds has this perpetual look of befuddlement on his face through about 90% of his screen time, like he’s thinking, “Why the hell aren’t I dead yet?”

83:46—“Wisdom is our hammer. Prudence will be our nail.” So…we’ll beat prudence into the ground with wisdom? METAPHOR FAIL

84:15—What the…so Farmer remembers stuff his father, the King, taught him when he was a child? So in the 30 years he spent farming, he never went, “Hey, I’d kind of like to go back to that palace I used to live in, where they had good food and stuff and I was heir to the throne”? He’s clearly not an amnesiac or anything. Seriously, did they put any thought into this “lost son” bit at all?

85:22—King Reynolds is finally winning Farmer over with his knowledge of FARMING. Kings are expected to know all about farming, apparently. Music: triumphant-yet-sad strings. King Reynolds buys it, finally.

88:35—So Leelee presents Lillard to Tarish all bound up, and for some fucking reason Tarish is going to fight a duel with him instead of just, y’know, throwing him in the dungeon. AND we’re suddenly expected to believe that Lillard is this awesome swordfighter and Tarish is in real trouble. Uh HUH.

90:52—Tarish suddenly can’t kill Lillard because they learn the king is dead. Um, he’s clearly a traitor to the throne, so King Reynolds really ought to have had the smarts to disinherit him before he died. I guess they figure finding a new heir would be too much trouble, so better to suffer under the rule of this jackass. This AWESOME jackass.

92:00—Farmer’s real name is Camden Konreid. Again, was he just repressing this? Why did he hate the idea of being king so much?

93:14—So now Farmer’s saying they’ve got to march on Liotta’s evil fortress of Kristwind. Why, that would be…gasp…could it be? actual Dungeon Seige?!? Also, Rhys-Gandalf says “God save the king”, so I guess he’s suddenly not a pagan anymore.

95:52—King Reynolds gets his Viking funeral. Tarish cries manly tears.

100:32—So a few scenes ago, Forlani found out she was pregnant with Farmer’s child, because she was brought to Liotta and he “could sense him in you”. Which is actually kind of cool. But now she’s begging him to kill her, because…I’m not sure why. Farmer’s going to come anyway, he’d have no way of knowing she’d be dead. She’s just emo, I guess.

102:32—You know, it’s traditional to mount a siege with, like, siege engines. But never mind, the Krugs are helpfully coming out from their nice secure stone walls to be killed. They even let the heroes have the high ground, so they can drop boulders on them. How gentlemanly of you, Krugs.

103:05—Wow, we almost got through the movie without the de rigeur panoramic helicopter shot of the Fellowship—I mean, the, um, random collection of heroes—trekking through the mountains. Also, it’s suddenly daytime now, so I guess we missed the end of that epic battle that was going on a minute ago.

104:44—The elf throws a rope across a gorge to a mountain spire that appears to be about a mile away. I know elves have good aim and stuff, but that’s kind of ridiculous. Meanwhile, Rhys-Gandalf and Liotta are having their face-off and giving us their backstory—now, with 20 minutes left in the movie.

105:24—“How do ya like my Krug?”

106:50—Farmer leaves Leelee and the elf behind, meaning that Leelee is going to contribute pretty much nothing to the story since strapping on her armour. Suddenly, back to the big battle, and it’s night again. Is the back entrance to Kristwind in another hemisphere or something?

107:51—Oh, wait. Leelee’s tapping into her magical abilities and shit to teleport herself in. Y’know, as an armour-clad warrior babe AND a sorceress, she really ought to be contributing a lot more to the story. Heck, she’s got a better personal motivation to be the main character than Statham does. The villain is her ex-boyfriend.

110:14—Day. Night. Day. Night. Day. Night. Also: Forest. Mountains. Forest. Mountains. Also: Rain. Clear. Rain. Clear.

111:47—So, here’s the thing: even in the best fantasy movies, the portrayal of magic is often kind of a botch, because sorcerors don’t seem to have very well-defined limits on their power. They can usually do all kinds of awesome things, until the plot requires them to be powerless for no reason. This movie’s actually been pretty good about this, with the baddie only having a few powers, the main one being to control mindless creatures to do his fighting for him. But now we’re learning he can fly and throw stuff around telekinetically. And yet, when Farmer shows up, guess what? He engages him in a swordfight. Just because Farmer taunts him about fighting with magic being dishonourable. YOU’RE THE BAD GUY, DUDE. Honour is not really an issue at this point.

113:51—Liotta realizes swordfighting a random dude is pointless when he has magic powers, and launches an entire library’s worth of books at Farmer, which twirl around him without touching him, then they get sucked up to the ceiling together. Then he throws them to the floor. Did you really need to trash the bookshelf for that, Liotta?

114:15—Oh no! Some old guy died! NOOOOOO!!! Also, it’s night again.

114:58—AGAIN Liotta’s just causing books to swirl around Farmer for no reason, except he’s using a couple to clamp his wrists down. Leelee bursts in and…sets the books on fire?!? How the hell does that help? Are you a fascist, Leelee? You’re certainly blonde and pale enough.

115:04—Wha?!? Of all the characters, it’s Forlani who gets to kill Liotta? Well, I can’t say I saw that coming…

115:30—OK, Farmer gets to deliver the coup de grace via one of those Equilibrium/Underworld moments where the villain walks a few steps before realizing he’s been sliced up. But still.

116:57—The sun rises in a perfectly clear, rain-free sky, and just like that, it’s over. Roll credits. Music: jaunty harpsichord supporting a typically godawful song (though at least it’s not a faux-celtic smooth rock thing).

What, that’s it? No coronation scene? No resolution for the 5,000 other characters? We don’t even get to find out what happened to Lillard? Leelee is lying on the floor unconscious, for God’s sake!!!

I have to say: I had a fair amount of fun watching this. It wasn’t as generic as a lot of fantasy movies, and there are actually a lot of good ideas, even if most of them are essentially tossed out and then abandoned. I particularly thought Leelee’s character could have been really interesting if they’d let her take center stage and developed her relationship with Liotta a bit more, and if he hadn’t been a mustache-twirling villain, and if the sight of Leelee Sobieski making out with Ray Liotta didn’t make me want to take a scrub bud to my parietal lobe. So, OK, it needed work. But still, there was something there; the script actually didn’t seem that bad, despite some gaping holes (which are the kind of thing you can often lay at the feet of the director). And that was, as frequently seems to be the case with Boll, one heck of an amazing cast, most of whom were able to make the material work to a certain degree. I’d see a movie that reunited Statham and Perlman, or hell, even Liotta and Leelee (AS LONG AS THEY DO NOT MAKE OUT AGAIN).

Still, it’s just as obvious that Boll is really inept and doesn’t give a crap. The editing is haphazard, the continuity is nonexistent, and there’s no attempt to build a coherent world. And yet, Boll does clearly have his own personal style; he’s not a generic hack, he has a strong vision of what he wants, even if that vision is deeply stupid. The result is that the movie is never boring, even if it never reaches the level of unintentional hilarity that the best bad movies can achieve.

So, in conclusion: BOOMERANG!!!!