Thursday, 30 December 2010

Top 10 Films of 2010

I've not posted anything here for a few weeks but just before the year ends I'd like to squeeze in my top 10 films of 2010. When I thought about compiling this list I felt like I'd watched a lot of really great films this year, but in fact they were almost all from 2009! So I guess it's not been a really strong year for films as such, but there are a still some that have become some of my all time favourites. It's not my intention to review the films, but to just say a few words on why I liked them etc... So here we go, in at number 10 it's:

10. Four Lions

Released: 7th May
Directed by: Chris Morris

Being such a big Chris Morris fan I was concerned that my high level of expectation would ruin this film but it didn't. Four Lions inevitably attracted a lot of negative attention (mostly from people who refused to see the film, I would imagine) due to its subject matter centred around a group of wannabe suicide bombers. The way the subject matter is handled is testament to Chris Morris' talent as a film maker and writer, although (as with Nathan Barley) the humour can be subtle at times and not so much hysterical laugh-out-loud (though it does have some of those moments too). Morris makes us really care for the characters because he makes us see what they really are; misguided idiots like the rest of us.

9. Due Date

Released: 5th November
Directed by: Todd Phillips

As with 'The Hangover', Zack Galifianakis carries this film. Don't get me wrong, Robert Downey Jr is a great actor and he's great in this, but it's fairly easy to imagine someone else playing his role (although the scene where he punches a young child in the stomach is worth the admission fee alone). Some people might be wondering why I put this film above Four Lions; purely because of Zack Galifianakis, I'm just such a huge fan. I first saw him on 'Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job!' as acting mentor Tairy Greene and also as The Snuggler, then followed by a couple of his stand up shows. His brand of humour may not be for everyone as he can come across as being pretty creepy at times, but for me, those are the moments he's at his best.

8. Kick Ass

Released: 26th March
Directed by: Matthew Vaughn

First off I'll start by saying 'the comic is better - much better', but this is still a great film. For me, when I first read the comic, it seemed like it was one of those ideas that seemed so obvious; as in, why hadn't this been done already? Sure it's a post modernist take on the idea of a superhero, but this could have been done in the 80's surely? The film just seems to lack a little of what made the comic so cool; the dialogue and the unflinching, uncompromising, gratuitous violence. I also didn't care for the ending of the film too much. So why is this film even in my top ten?! Because the comic set the bar a little too high in my opinion, but yet it still manages to kick ass.

7. Iron Man 2

Released: 30th April
Directed by: Jon Favreau

I never used to be all that bothered by Iron Man, Tony Stark was Marvel's Bruce Wayne as far as I was concerned, and I prefer Batman any day of the week. I also used to not really think much of Marvel's films; that they were just throw away and not really worth my attention (apart from Spiderman - but that was because Sam Raimi was on-board, obviously). But now it seems Marvel have upped their game. The special effects actually look great and fully integrated into the action and not just a means to an end. The first Iron Man film was great, but this one is better, and that's down to the casting. Mickey Rourke as Ivan Vanko is inspired, it's hard to take your eyes away from the screen whenever he makes an appearance (although I'm not sure why you would as you're watching a film, nevermind). I'm still a little unsure about Samuel L Jackson as Nick Fury though, seems like a strange choice to me. There is a lot to like about this film, plus there's some good mech action too.

6. Tron: Legacy

Released: 17th December
Directed by: Joseph Kosinski

OK, I want to see this again on a small screen, perhaps even tiny, in black and white with the sound reproduced through at telephone, just to check it still stands up. I saw this on the IMAX in 3D and it blew me away. Pure, unadulterated, visual ****-fest. It was everything I hoped it would be, and more. But it wasn't just a visual eye-gasm, the film had great characters, great story and Jeff Bridges. The only part I didn't like was the overuse of Daft Punk in the club scene. A quick cut to them would have been sufficient, quite cool even. But to keep returning to them; pretending to make music or DJ or whatever it was just didn't work for me. Also, Disney should have put a few extra quid aside and paid David Bowie to play Castor instead of Michael Sheen (preferably in the costume worn in Labyrinth - he could have even duetted with Daft Punk; now that would have been good).

5. The Social Network

Released: 15th October
Directed by: David Fincher

David Fincher made my favourite film of all time - Zodiac. That film is a masterpiece, but this isn't the place. Benjamin Button was a detour, perhaps even a blip in an otherwise amazing career (ok, Benjamin Button wasn't so terrible, but it was just a little bit pants though wasn't it?) Anyway, the Social Network left me dizzy and out of breath, it was like the Gilmour Girls turned up to 11 - but, like, good. If you slowed the film down to it's actual real-time speed, the length of the film is actually a fortnight. This film is engrossing, I was completely swallowed up for the entirety of its duration, it's a master-class in film-making; a truly modern film. If you're into writing, this film would be worthy of investigation I'm sure. A truly, truly great piece of cinema.

4. Black Swan

Released: 21st January 2011
Directed by: Darren Aronofsky

Wasn't sure whether to put this in or not because, as you can see, it's not out until the 3rd week in January. But hey, I watched it in 2010, so er, that'll do for me. So again, another director who can't seem to do much wrong, and again following on from a successful mainstream film, The Wrestler. For me, Black Swan is a return to Aronofsky's inimitable style of claustrophobia, despair and mental illness; as it should be. His use of the camera is exquisite, at times reminding me of Martin Scorcese, if Martin Scorcese was a mentally ill stalking sex-offender. Natalie Portman is superb, as is Vincent Cassel, two actors who seem to be getting better with every new film I see them in. The (potentially) good news is that Darren Aronofsky is down to do the next Wolverine film, which I have to say I am salivating at the very thought of, bub.

3. Grant Morrison: Talking With Gods

Released: 26th October
Directed by: Patrick Meaney

The only documentary film in my top 10 and what a documentary it is. It's the story of a man who started out as a complete social recluse, lost in a work of comic books (I can relate to this film for some reason) who begins to write his own and becomes very rich off the back of a certain 80's superhero film. At the age of 30 he decides to start experiencing life and so begins to drink, take drugs and travel around the world. His experiences then began to seep into his comic book stories and his comic book stories began to seep into his real life. This is a great documentary, how you take Grant Morrison is entirely your decision, but to me he comes across as a really nice, warm, genuine but eccentric man.

2. Inception

Released: 16th July
Directed by: Christopher Nolan

"Ooh, it's too complicated, ohh, I don't get it, etc..." Just try paying attention, it's all there. In a previous post I basically copied and pasted some writing by Philip K Dick about what makes 'good' science fiction. Essentially it's the idea. And Inception, at its root, is a very good idea. The inevitable, and slightly predictable; is he asleep / is he awake ending could have been better I feel, but it certainly got people talking. But what lies at the heart of this film is an idea. Something that surely fascinates and stirs something in every human; dreams. In order to completely enjoy this film, you don't necessarily have to 'open your mind' because essentially the concept isn't that unbelievable, you just have to trust the world in which this film exists. It's all about ideas and concepts, stop being so practical and relax, let go and enjoy. There's an architect that designs worlds for you to dream in and then your subconscious fills the world; makes it believable. Just like the dreams in our own heads, dreams that in the moment can seem so real that upon waking, you are able to feel such strong emotion for a place or time that never existed but in the depths of your own mind. For me, Inception obviously raises more questions than it answers, but these questions aren't questions to do with the film-making or the special effects, but are of a theoretical nature, and that is what all good science fiction should do.

1. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Released: 25th August
Directed by: Edgar Wright

First off I'll start by saying 'the comic isn't as good - the film is much better', controversial? Don't know, don't care, this is a great film. Edgar Wright is one of my many heroes, I've watched Spaced many, many times and his style is dripping all over this film, in a good way. So what's wrong with the comic, I hear you say? Well, not much really, the story's good, the characters are great; I don't really care for the drawing style too much though, but perhaps that will grow on me in the future. But the film just brings the comic to life in a way that Kick Ass could only dream about in it's er, wildest dreams. Michael Cera is perfectly cast as Scott Pilgrim, essentially playing the same role he's played since Arrested Development but with more enthusiasm. And that's a good thing. From start to finish this film is an absolute joy to watch and the writing is superb. But for me, without Edgar Wright's passion for all things good, this film would have probably been nowhere near as, er, good.

So that's it, my top 10 of 2010, no doubt you won't agree, but this is my blog, so you know what you can do... Just, like, let me know and we can probably discuss it or something. Thanks.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Tarzan & Burne Hogarth

Edgar Rice Burroughs' classic tale is brought to life through the beautiful imaginings of Burne Hogarth. His psychedelic vision of jungle ferns and plant life is visually arresting. The following images are taken from the book 'Tarzan Of The Apes' published in 1972 by Watson-Guptill Publications, New York.

Friday, 12 November 2010

R. Crumb's Drawings of Buildings

Being a fan of R Crumbs' work I wanted to share these drawings of buildings from the book "The Sweeter Side of R. Crumb". There isn't any text to accompany the images other than the titles, but I know that he lives in the south of France, and so I presume that these are buildings that are near to his home. Anyway, I wanted to post these today because of, quite simply, how beautifully rendered they are. Although Crumb's work is pretty varied, it's nice to see some stuff that isn't just women's legs etc...
(be sure to click on the images to see bigger versions as the detail is amazing on these!)

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Drawing Now Exhibition

In December 2002 I went on a university trip to New York. Whilst there I visited the Museum of Modern Art which was running and exhibition called 'Drawing Now: Eight Propositions'. I was highly impressed with some of the work on show and bought a book as to not forget what I had seen. The work I saw that day made a great impression on me in many ways and below are a few examples of some of my favourites.

                      David Thorpe
                      We Are Majestic in the
                      Wilderness, 1999
                      Paper collage,
                      70 7/8 x 57 1/16" (180 x 145 cm)

                                 David Thorpe
                                 Evolution Now, 2000 - 2001
                                 Paper Collage,
                                 43¼ x 27½" (110 x 170 cm)

                                David Thorpe
                                Pilgrims, 1999
                                Paper collage,
                                46¼ x 68" (117.5 x 173cm)

                                   Paul Noble
                                   Nobspital, 1997-98
                                   Pencil on paper,
                                   8' 2½ x 59" (250 x 150 cm)

                                Julie Mehretu
                                Untitled, 2000
                                Ink, coloured pencil, and
                                cut paper on Mylar,
                                18 x 24" (45.7 x 61 cm)

                                           Yoshitomo Nara
                                           U-ki-yo-e, 1999
                                           Oil on book pages,
                                           one of sixteen parts,
                                           16 5/8 x 13" (42.1 x 33 cm)

                                Kevin Appel
                                Light Model: Northwest View (2), 2002
                                Liquid acrylic and pencil on paper,
                                22½ x 30" (57.2 x 76.2 cm)

                                Matthew Ritchie
                                Everyone Belongs to 
                                Everyone Else, 2000 - 2001
                                Ink and graphite on plastic
                                sheet, one from suite of
                                seven drawings, each 22 x 65"
                                (55.9 x 165.1 cm)

Images are taken from the book 'Drawing Now: Eight Propositions', 2002. The exhibition took place from October 17, 2002 to January 6, 2003 and was organized by Laura Hoptman.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Philip K Dick on Science Fiction

I am a huge Philip K Dick fan, I would go as far as to say he is my favourite author of all time. I would also say that I am a big science fiction fan in general, but for me Philip K Dick goes far beyond the genre; his novels explore metaphysical and existentialist themes, as well as sociological and political ideas. Dick actually described himself as a 'fictionalizing philosopher'.

 In the preface of "Beyond Lies The Wub" (volume 1 of his collected short stories), there is a fantastic piece of writing from 1981 in which Philip K Dick explains his definition and ideas on what is science fiction and what makes good science fiction;

"I will define science fiction, first, by saying what it is not. It cannot be defined as "a story (or novel or play) set in the future," since there exists such a thing as space adventure, which is set in the future but is not sf: it is just that: adventures, fights and wars in the future in space involving super-advanced technology. Why, then, is it not science fiction? It would seem to be, and Doris Lessing (e.g.) supposes that it is. However, space adventure lacks the distinct new idea that is the essential ingredient. Also, there can be science fiction set in the present: the alternative world story or novel. So if we seperate sf from the future and also from ultra-advanced technology, what then do we have that can be called sf?
We have a fictitious world; that is the first step: it is a society that does not in fact exist, but is predicated on our known society; that is, our known society acts as a jumping-off point for it; the society advances out of our own in some way, perhaps orthogonally, as with the alternative world story or novel. It is our world dislocated by some kind of mental effort on the part of the author, our world transformed into that which is not or not yet. This world must differ from the given in at least one way, and this one way must be sufficient to give rise to events that could not occur in our society - or in any known society present or past. There must be a coherent idea involved in this dislocation; that is, the dislocation must be a conceptual one, not merely a trivial or bizarre one - this is the essence of science fiction, the conceptual dislocation within the society so that as a result new society is generated in the author's mind, transferred to paper, and from paper it occurs as a convulsive shock in the reader's mind, the shock of dysrecognition. He knows that it is not his actual world that he is reading about.
Now to separate science fiction from fantasy. This is impossible to do, and a moment's thought will show why. Take psionics; take mutants such as we find in Ted Sturgeon's wonderful 'More Than Human'. If the reader believes that such mutants could exist, then he will view Sturgeon's novel as science fiction. If, however, he beleives that such mutants are, like wizards and dragons, not possible, nor will ever be possible, then he is reading a fantasy novel. Fantasy involves that which genral opinion regards as impossible; science fiction involves that which general opinion regards as possible under the right circumstances. This is in essence a judgement-call, since what is possible and what is not possible is not objectively known but is, rather, a subjective belief on the part of the author and of the reader.
Now to define good science fiction. The conceptual dislocation - the new idea, in other words - must be truly new (or a new variation on an old one) and it nust be intellectually stimulating to the reader; it must invade his mind and wake it up to the possibility of something he had not up to then thought of. Thus "good science fiction" is a value term, not an objective thing, and yet, I think, there really is such a thing, objectively, as good science fiction.
I think Dr. Willis McNelly at the California State University at Fullerton put it best when he said that the true protagonist of an sf story or novel is an idea and not a person. If it is good sf the idea is new, it is stimulating, and, probably most important of all, it sets off a chain-reaction of ramification-ideas in the mind of the reader, it so-to-speak unlocks the reader's mind so that the mind, like the author's, begins to create. This sf is creative and it inspires creativity, which mainstream sf by-and-large does not do. We who read sf (I am speaking as a reader now, not a writer) read it because we love to experience this chain-reaction of ideas being set off in our minds by something we read, something with a new idea in it; hence the very best science fiction ultimately winds up being a collaboration between author and reader, in which both create - and enjoy doing it: joy is the essential and final ingredient in science fiction, the joy of discovery of newness.

(in a letter)
May 14, 1981"

Below are a few scans of some novels that were published during the 1970's:

Art by: Bruce Pennington

Art by: Chris Moore

Art by: Unknown

Art by: Chris Moore

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Esteban Maroto

Today I present the work of Esteban Maroto. Born in Madrid in 1942, Esteban Maroto started out his career in the early 1960's working under the guidance of Manuel L√≥pez. His style was established in a series called 'Cinco Por Infinito' (published in English by Continuity Comics as 'Zero Patrol'), in 1967. This was followed by 'La Tumba de los Dioses', his 'Alma de Dragon' in Trinca magazine was also successful. 

As things progressed into the 1970's, he started to produce, in my opinion, some of his best work. One of my favourite and most inspirational books I own is the 'Dracula Annual', published by the 'New English Library' (NEL) in 1972. The strips originally featured in the comic 'Dracula', and were later compiled into this hardback book which featured;

'Wolff' - by Esteban Maroto
'Sir Leo' - by Jose Bea
'Agar Agar' - by Alberto Solsona
and 'A Horror Strip' by Enric Sio

I've seen many examples of artists working outside the limitations of panels before, but Esteban Maroto certainly has his own way of acheiving this. Instead of telling the story through a series of panels he'll often tell it through the arrangement and composition of drawings; the combining and layering of images. This helps to give the image movement as the eye naturally swings around the page. When drawing these comics, Maroto was more than aware of what it was that his audience wanted - strong overtones of sex and raw barbarian fantasy; and he always delivered.

Although his stories were usually short, he made up for this, I feel, in the quality of his rendering, a truely immaculate and elegant style. His ability to capture the female form is, at times, flawless. One area of Maroto's work that has been criticized is his writing. Many people claimed that he could never write a good fantasy tale, I however, don't see this as an issue. For me, there are different reasons for liking different comics, for example; some comics are to be enjoyed for their ability to tell a good story and may not always be drawn in a style that is particularily appealing. And then there are some that are to be enjoyed for their aesthetic appeal, and then there are some that meet both criteria. In my opinion, the majority of the stories in the Dracula Annual are to be appreciated for their aesthetic value primarily.

Also during the 1970's and 80's, Maroto drew comics for Creepy, Vampirella and Eerie. During this time he also worked for Marvel in black-and-white on 'Red Sonja' and 'Conan'.

Below, there are a few examples of his work from the Dracula Annual' and also the full strip from my favourite of the collection, entitled 'The Viyi'. I have also included some examples of his later work on 'Atlantis Chronicles' from 1990, and (the superior) 'Amethyst' from 1987 / 88 (both published by DC). Enjoy!

The Viyi


Atlantis Chronicles