Sunday, July 29, 2012

Nolan's Gotham

*CAUTION: Spoilers!*

So I took this previous Saturday off to sit in the theater and play catch-up with some movies that I'd wanted to see for awhile: "Prometheus" and "The Dark Knight Rises." While I thought "Prometheus" was entertaining visually (but lacking in plot and story), it was "The Dark Knight Rises" that really got me thinking.

I remember hearing about the update of the franchise. I remember my initial reaction was a groan and a "why?" after the debacles that were the last several Batman movies previous. Clooney and Kilmer just didn't have the same panache that Michael Keaton's did (which is a weird thing for me to say, much less think), but those movies began with Tim Burton's appropriate level of camp and then simply devolved into nonsense and awful writing later on down the line. So it was some trepidation that I saw Nolan's first entry into the revamp.

To be frank, I loved this first film. Not only were we as an audience given two villains who had, as of yet, been put on screen (Ra's Al-Ghul and the Scarecrow), but we're also given a look at a Gotham City that is both natural and realistic while still feeling very dark and oppressive. The key to Nolan's success in all three movies has been with the absolute realism the superhero mythology has been treated. Batman is not a god, he is a rich man in an expensive suit. The Batmobile is not a slicked-out sports car, it's a military prototype with warts. The villains themselves aren't mythical or superhuman; they are intelligent, but supremely flawed men with certain gifts for science and knowledge. This is what superheroes and super-villains would look like in the real world; this is how they would operate in the real world. There's no camp here, it's all real danger being played out in the movie. These are people and events that could actually exist in our reality, which helps to heighten the level of excitement and danger.

And like I said, I was dubious. I already had a tarnished view of the Batman franchise, other than the first two with Michael Keaton. Burton's Gotham felt perfect for Burton. Nolan's Gotham feels perfect for Nolan. Two completely different approaches to the same character that both feel right for the men directing the vehicles.

Ah but then...then I heard about Heath Ledger being chosen to play the Joker. And then there were talks about the appearance of Harvey Dent/Two-Face in the next film and, while I was excited to see what Nolan had in store, my doubt reared its ugly head again. I remembered Nicholson's Joker and wondered how that could be topped. Who could possibly dance with that particular devil in any kind of light, moon or sun?

And again, my expectations were blown out of the water. Chaos, anarchy, the breaking down of morals and ethics - all things the character of the Joker stood for in the comics. Review after review said the same thing: this was the best Batman movie ever. And it wasn't just a few reviews, it was ALL of them. Even the critics who didn't completely love the movie couldn't deny that Nolan had stepped up his directorial game, that there was something undeniably stark and hard-hitting about this comic book movie that stuck in the maw of the viewer long after watching.

Ledger's death shortly before the movie came out was tragic. I had seen him in "Brokeback Mountain" and a few other flicks before, but I guess I had never realized the kind of acting range he had within him. His portrayal of the Joker was nothing less than stunning. Again, a realistic approach to a character that originated in something more fantastical and unreal (a vat of acid originally changed the man into the Joker in the comic books). Smudged white face paint, smudged red lipstick, scars leading out from the lips across the cheeks...he was walking terror and Ledger played him brilliantly. While Nicholson's Joker was great, Ledger's scared the hell out of me because I could see someone actually morphing into that version quite easily.

Again, it's Nolan's realistic approach to superheroes and villains that seems to elevate his trilogy beyond just a simple comic-book movie filled with costumes and explosions. He relishes tackling big, difficult ideas. With "The Dark Knight," it was the moral fiber of the common man versus that of the criminal and followed up with the idea of sacrifice and symbol working for the greater good to press on, to continue living after the fear subsides. There is deep, deep storytelling and morality play-work going on in these movies, which only serves to suck the viewer in further.

So as I sat in the theater yesterday, waiting for the lights to dim and the previews to scream across the screen, my doubts about this third and final nail in the Nolan trilogy were firmly laid to rest. I chose to purposely not read any articles or spoilers about the movie.

I had my own ideas about what would happen to Batman versus Bane (a character who, in the comics, breaks Batman's back severely, making him a paraplegic), but I've also got a pretty dark bent to my imagination and should've known better. In this final entry, Nolan sends us eight years after the end of "The Dark Knight." Batman is essentially a fugitive to the people of Gotham after having taken the blame for killing Harvey Dent. The Batman has disappeared, the cops have reclaimed the city, and things have mostly been quiet. Bruce Wayne has become a hermit and the world seems to be doing okay without the caped crusader.

Until Bane shows up and begins causing problems in the underground part of the city. I was a little confused at first as all these little bits of criminal activity didn't seem to fit together and then ka-blammo...the moment comes when it all hits, when the world starts crumbling around Gotham and leaves the city exiled and under Bane's control while Batman lies, back broken and ill, in a foreign prison only one person has ever escaped from; Bane himself.

In the comics, Bane is attached to several tubes that pump a drug called 'Venom' into his system, making him bigger and stronger as long as he takes it once every 12 hours. This particular aspect of his personality is removed while the mask remains (due to injuries he received years earlier in the prison). Bane is realistically strong without being campy and ridiculous, so it's no surprise when an already semi-wounded Batman gets taken down and imprisoned easily.

The side-story here is that of Anne Hathaway's Selina Kyle, aka, Catwoman. Where Pfeiffer's Catwoman walked a weird kind of bi-polar line, Hathaway plays the role in a more deliberate, apathetic way and it works. I read a few things and heard some people say they didn't enjoy her in the movie, but I totally loved her in the role despite having disliked the idea when I first heard she'd been cast. She makes for a great middle ground between Batman and Bane and even provides most of the movie's humor in great ways.

What happens to Gotham is feasible; what happens to Batman is feasible. This is both the beauty and the terror of Nolan's Gotham City. These aren't people with special powers, they're extraordinary people doing extraordinary things under extraordinary conditions. But it's believable, which lends it a power previous inceptions (ha!) of the movie didn't contain. The moral quandaries that Nolan proposes don't feel saccharine and over the top; they're real questions that demand answers. At the very least, they demand the viewer to think about what they themselves would do in the situation and that is what makes his trilogy so good.

Now, let's talk about that ending...

One: I'm a little disappointed that Batman/Bruce Wayne didn't actually die. That was my initial belief before the movie even started. But again, I should've known better as it's Hollywood and I've already read rumors of the franchise getting rebooted in a few years. Though I think the next person will have a really hard time topping Nolan. Either way, it's inferred that Wayne moves on and starts a new life with Selena Kyle at the end.

Two: It's also inferred that Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character would be taking over for Wayne, that he would be eventually donning the cape and cowl in an effort to protect the city on his own terms. I loved this. I also hated this as I know Nolan has said he's not making another movie and I think Gordon-Levitt would make an exceptional Robin (though at this point, he wouldn't be a sidekick and I'm sure the point was that he'd become the new Batman, not something else). Either way, that led to pretty mixed-emotions for me as I think Gordon-Levitt has turned out to be a pretty phenomenal actor in most of the things he's done recently. It'd be a shame if he weren't allowed to flex a little superhero muscle in another movie of this franchise, especially since he's got the youthful look a Robin needs to have. I'm hoping for spin-off, but I know better.


Thursday, July 19, 2012

New Flying Lotus Album - "Until the Quiet Comes"

From the brainfeeder site:

Flying Lotus has revealed the full details of his new album Until the Quiet Comes. As previously reported, the album is out October 2 via Warp in the U.S. (October 1 in the UK) and features a guest spots from Thom Yorke. In addition to Yorke (who sings on a track called “Electric Candyman”), Erykah Badu also appears on the album, as do Thundercat, Niki Randa, and Laura Darlington. Check out the full tracklist below.
Also below, find Flying Lotus’ new tour dates, which take him through North America, the UK, and Europe this fall. It kicks off with a show at the Hollywood Bowl with Animal Collective.

Until the Quiet Comes:
01 All In
02 Getting There [ft. Niki Randa]
03 Until the Colours Come
04 Heave(n)
05 Tiny Tortures
06 All the Secrets
07 Sultans Request
08 Putty Boy Strut
09 See Thru to U [ft. Erykah Badu]
10 Until the Quiet Comes
11 DMT Song [ft. Thundercat]
12 The Nightcaller
13 Only if You Wanna
14 Electric Candyman [ft. Thom Yorke]
15 Hunger [ft. Niki Randa]
16 Phantasm [ft. Laura Darlington]
17 me Yesterday//Corded
18 Dream to Me

Flying Lotus Gigs:
09-23 Los Angeles, CA – Hollywood Bowl *
10-07 New York, NY – Terminal 5
10-15 Toronto, Ontario – The Hoxton
10-16 Chicago, IL – Metro
10-18 Denver, CO – Ogden
10-19 Salt Lake City, UT – Urban Lounge
10-22 Vancouver, British Columbia – Fortune
10-23 Seattle, WA – Neptune
10-25 Oakland, CA – Fox Theatre
11-03 London, England – Brixton Academy (all-nighter, with two Flying Lotus sets)
11-04 Amsterdam, Netherlands – Paradiso
11-05 Leipzig, Germany – Conne Island
11-06 Paris, France – La Machine du Moulin Rouge
11-07 Fribourg, Switzerland – Fri-Son
11-08 Berlin, Germany – Gretchen
11-09 Manchester, England – Warehouse Project
* with Animal Collective


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

R.I.P. - Donald J. Sobol, Creator of "Encyclopedia Brown"

While I haven't read an Encyclopedia Brown novel since I was a kid, this is still unfortunate. Sobol's books were read ravenously in my house during my younger days. I'd be surprised if I hadn't read all of them.

Donald J. Sobol, the creator of Encyclopedia Brown, the clever boy detective who made bookworms of many a reluctant young reader, died on Wednesday in South Miami. He was 87.

The cause was gastric lymphoma, his son John said.

Mr. Sobol’s books have been translated into 12 languages and have sold millions of copies worldwide, according to his publisher, Penguin Young Readers Group. He continued to write every day until a month or so before his death, his son said. The 28th book in the series, “Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Soccer Scheme,” is to be published in October.

The first Encyclopedia Brown book came out in 1963 (after being rejected by two dozen publishers, something Mr. Sobol liked to tell aspiring writers to encourage them not to lose faith in their work).

Mr. Sobol found a winning formula and stuck to it. Each book holds 10 stories, each involving a mystery that 10-year-old Leroy (Encyclopedia) Brown solves by keen observation and deduction. He notices that the culprit has his sweater on inside out, or claims to smell flowers that are fake. The rest is self-evident. The solution is not spelled out in the story; readers are challenged to figure it out for themselves — or to flip to the back for the answer, as Jack Nicholson’s character in the movie “About Schmidt” does as he lies in bed, engrossed in “Encyclopedia Brown Gets His Man.”

Encyclopedia never ages and never charges more than 25 cents an hour for his detective services. Mr. Sobol wanted each book to stand alone, so that children could start with any one in the series and read the books in any order. The first story in each book always explains that his father is the chief of police in their hometown, Idaville — named, unbeknown to most readers, for Mr. Sobol’s mother. (The books also included characters named for Mr. Sobol’s children and their friends, as well as another town, Glennville, named for a son, Glenn, who died in a car accident in 1983 at the age of 23.)

The 28th book begins:
“Idaville looked like many seaside towns on the outside. On the inside, however, Idaville was different. Very different.

“No one, grown-up or child, got away with breaking the law in Idaville.”

Encyclopedia is not tough, but he travels with a protector, friend and sidekick — Sally Kimball — a girl who packs a punch. Bugs Meany, another recurring character, is a frequent troublemaker. The crimes include theft, cheating and property damage but not murder or mayhem, though an occasional nose gets socked.
 John Sobol said his father did not get rich from his work.
“My father was not a businessman,” he said. “His contribution was sort of inversely proportional to his financial compensation. He lived a comfortable middle-class life.”

In 1979, Mr. Sobol sold the rights to his books — for movies, TV shows and video games — for $25,000 to the producer Howard Deutsch. Mr. Sobol later contested the agreement, and the case was settled out of court, with Mr. Deutsch retaining the movie rights. HBO made an “Encyclopedia Brown” series in 1989.

Donald J. Sobol (his parents gave him the middle initial, but it did not stand for anything, his son said) was born on Oct. 4, 1924, in the Bronx. His father owned gas stations, which he later sold to Standard Oil.

Mr. Sobol graduated from the Ethical Culture School in Manhattan in 1942 and enrolled at Oberlin College. In the middle of his freshman year he enlisted in the Army and served during World War II as a sergeant in a combat engineer battalion in the Pacific. He returned to Oberlin in 1946 and later gave much of the credit for his career to an English professor there, John Singleton, who gave him a personal course in advanced creative writing.

He worked as a copy boy and then a reporter at The New York Sun and The Long Island Daily Press. In 1955 he married Rose Tiplitz, an engineer and writer, and in 1959 he began writing a syndicated fiction column called “Two-Minute Mysteries.”

In all, he wrote more than 80 books. In 1976, he won an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for the Encyclopedia Brown series.

Besides his son John, Mr. Sobol is survived by his wife; another son, Eric; a daughter, Diane Sobol; four grandchildren; and a sister, Helen Lane.


Thursday, July 5, 2012

The 2012 Paris Literary Prize

The Paris Literary Prize is an international novella competition for unpublished writers. Any topic is welcome.
Shakespeare and Company has a long-standing tradition of opening its doors to aspiring writers and in keeping with that philosophy, the 10,000€ Paris Literary Prize is open to writers from around the world who have not yet published a book.
We have long been admirers of the novella, a genre which includes such classics as The Old Man and the SeaAnimal Farm, L'√Čtranger and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. The Paris Literary Prize celebrates this small but perfectly formed genre while giving a unique opportunity to writers whose voices have not yet been heard.

There are three Paris Literary Prize awards:

The Paris Literary Prize award: 10,000 Euros
Two Paris Literary Prize Runner-up awards: 2,000 Euros each
All three winners will be invited to a weekend stay in Paris to attend the
Prize ceremony and read from their work at a special event at
Shakespeare and Company.
Last year, the winner of the Paris Literary Prize was Rosa Rankin-Gee for The Last Kings of Sark ; the two runners-up were Adam Biles for Grey Cats, and Agustin Maes forNewborn.

Selection Process & Jury
The selection process for the Paris Literary Prize occurs in two phases. First, our dedicated team of readers (numbering 12 in 2011) goes through each submission in search of exceptional stories, voices and craft and a long list of roughly 10% of entrants is then chosen for closer inspection. After many hours of reading and debate, this is again reduced to form the short list, between 10 and 15 entrants. This is where our Jury takes over, spending a month with the texts before selecting the winner and two runners-up.
To ensure the quality and diversity of the selections, each submission is considered by several readers (for instance, in 2011 each text was viewed at least five times).
The identity of all entrants is withheld throughout the process.

2012 Jury
Erica Wagner will again be chairing the jury for this year’s prize, with the remaining members to be decided shortly. For the list of 2011 readers and jury click here.

Eligibility & Requirements

The Paris Literary Prize will be awarded for a novella, written by a previously unpublished writer. Please carefully read all eligibility terms and conditions before entering.
Eligibility Terms and Conditions to Enter The Paris Literary Prize:
  1. Entrants must be individuals and not a company or organization.
  2. Entrants must submit their work using their real name.
  3. Entrants must be over 18 years of age at the time of submission.
  4. The competition is not open to employees of Shakespeare and Company, FestivalandCo, The de Groot Foundation or members of the judging panel. Family members of any of the aforementioned are also not eligible.
  5. The 2012 Paris Literary Prize competition is open to unpublished writers only.In the context of the Prize, this means that:
    • you are not eligible to submit if you have had any book, fiction or non-fiction, commercially published (under your own name or a pen name);
    • *only exception*: in the cases of poetry or non-fiction (and in these cases only), you can have commercially published a book as long as it was a small print run (total print run of 1,000 copies or less)
    You can enter the Prize if:
    • you have never published anything;
    • you have self-published a hard copy book or an e-book;
    • you have published pieces in literary journals or anthologies;
    • you have published your masters or doctoral dissertation;
    • you have published, in print or electronic form, up to 10% (maximum) of the work you intend to submit.
  6. Entrants cannot have any publishing contract at the time of submission (unless the work in question falls under any of the above cases).
  7. Entrants must pay the entry fee in order to be eligible.
  8. Only submissions received and paid for by noon Paris time September 1, 2012 or by the extended deadline of noon on September 15, 2012 will be considered.
  9.  Entries that are not paid for, incomplete, are corrupted or submitted after the deadline will not be considered.
  10. Long-listed and short-listed entrants will be notified by email when they have made the list.
  11. Unsuccessful entrants will not be contacted.
  12. No editorial feedback will be provided.
  13. The decision of the judges is final and no correspondence will be entered into regarding the judging process.
  14. The winners must be available on June 15, 2013 for the award ceremony, and on June 16, 2013 for their reading event at Shakespeare and Company.
  15. The names of the long-listed and short-listed entrants will be posted on this website after the Paris Literary Prize Award Ceremony June 15, 2013. Since this is a blinded competition, names cannot be publicized prior to June 15, 2013.
  16.  Prizes are not transferable. 
  17.  Entrants will retain copyright of their work. However, in submitting your work, you give permission to Shakespeare and Company and The de Groot Foundation to publicize and promote your work if appropriate (and use your names, title of work and photographs of you in such publicity).
  1. The entry must be the entrant's own original creation and must not infringe upon the right or copyright of any person or entity.
  2. A submitted novella must be a sustained narrative with a minimum word count of 17,000 and a maximum of 35,000.
  3. The novella is a work of fiction and can be set anywhere in the world and be on any topic.
  4. Linked short stories, or works aimed at children or young adults will not be considered.
  5. The work must be submitted in English.
  6. Translated submissions:
    • If a translated work is submitted you must note that on your novella entry and state which language it was translated from.
    • You may not submit a translated work that has been published in another language.
    • If a translated entry is chosen for a prize, the prize will go to the author and not the translator.
  7. Only submissions which meet all Eligibility Terms and Conditions will be considered.
  8. By entering this competition, each entrant agrees to be bound by these Eligibility Terms and Conditions.